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Brooklyn Brewery Expands Into France

Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster, pours in Paris.

 

PARIS — Garrett Oliver popped the cork of one of his specialty brews, swirled the amber liquid into a wine glass and took a hearty sniff.

 
Linda Hervieux

Eric Ottoway, left, the brewery’s general manager, at one of a series of tastings being held to acquaint Parisians with its beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment)s.

“It smells a little like cheese — in a good way,” Mr. Oliver said the other night at a tasting of his artisanal beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment)s.

Mr. Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, has a quirky way of describing his creations. He refers to the more complex ones as “a little bit barnyard,” “having a funky nose” or “like a good sourdough bread.”

But Brooklyn, the New York borough, has become a global brand, and Brooklyn Brewery is counting on that — and its beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment)s’ earthy complexities — to entice drinkers to try something new in a country where even construction workers are more likely to belly up to the bar for “un petit verre” of the house red than they are to ask for “un demi,” or a small glass of beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment).

This is no sure bet for Brooklyn Brewery. beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) consumption in France is Europe’s second-lowest, after Italy; only 16 percent of French drinkers choose beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment). With nearly two-thirds preferring wine, French consumers have proved so unfriendly in the past that few American craft brewers have bothered to cross the ocean. The only American beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) that has caught on to any extent is Bud, largely by dint of the distributive heft of its multinational parent, Anheuser-Busch InBev.

“France is a difficult nut to crack,” said Simon Spillane, senior adviser of the Brussels-based Brewers of Europe, which tracks beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) consumption by country. Added to the brewer’s challenge is the 160 percent increase in the French beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) tax that took effect Jan. 1, which is projected to raise the price of a typical half-pint of beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) by 20 to 30 centimes, the equivalent of 27 to 40 cents.

And yet, among younger French men and women there are signs of changing tastes. While consumption of all alcoholic beverages in France has been dropping for 30 years, beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) is nonetheless an industry with annual sales of 2 billion euros, or $2.7 billion. And even as overall beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) sales in France fell 1.7 percent in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, specialty beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) sales jumped 8.8 percent, according to the French Brewers’ Association.

Craft brewers, an American category for independent breweries producing fewer than six million barrels a year, and smaller microbreweries have been popping up across France. Numerically, they are the vast majority of the approximately 500 brewers now operating in the country, although their sales make up only 2 percent in a market dominated by Carlsberg, Heineken and Anheuser-Busch InBev.

“People are drinking less, but they want something that’s good,” said Simon Thillou, a former journalist who in 2006, tired of the usual “tasteless beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment),” opened La Cave à Bulles, a specialty shop in the Marais section of Paris. The shop sells 250 craft and microbrews, now including Brooklyn Brewery’s.

Mr. Thillou and others in the French industry attribute the drop in drinking less to a health kick than to an evolution in taste. The French, they say, are now willing to spend more for a better product, be it wine or beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment), even if they consume less of it. It is a trend that may bode well even for niche beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment)s that pack a bitter punch and test a French palate predisposed to lighter, aromatic flavors.

Expanding into France is a natural evolution for Brooklyn Brewery, the largest exporter of American craft beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment), with sales in 17 countries around the world. Foreign sales account for 20 percent of the privately held company’s annual sales of $50 million. Outside of New York City, Brooklyn’s largest market is Sweden, where the company plans to open a brewery by the end of the year.

“It’s a matter of focus and an investment of time,” said Eric Ottaway, Brooklyn Brewery’s general manager and, along with his father and brother, majority owner. “Selling beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) in France isn’t very different than in, say, Oklahoma.”

Brooklyn’s marketing strategy is to start small, selling in carefully chosen outlets where experts behind the bar, or the counter, will match the right beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) to the right drinker. That is the necessary strategy for France, industry experts say, where people are open to new tastes if the quality is high.

“You’re not going to put Brooklyn in any corner cafe,” said Joshua Fontaine, an American who is co-owner of three Paris bars. “The customers wouldn’t understand it, and they wouldn’t pay 2 euros more for it.” Mr. Fontaine’s bars include the Marais hot spot Candelaria, which specializes in upscale cocktails and sells Brooklyn lager.

With a bar price of 5 to 7 euros a bottle, Brooklyn lager is the same price as Bud. Both beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment)s go for twice the price of a half-pint of Kronenbourg, the homegrown perennial cafe favorite.

A price premium is not necessarily a drawback. “You have successful beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment)s today at the high end of the market, even in a difficult economic climate,” said Nikolaas Faes, an analyst who follows alcoholic beverage companies at the Paris brokerage Bryan Garnier & Company.

Inevitably, it is the comparison with a fine wine that is perhaps Brooklyn’s best selling point, said Elisabeth Pierre, a Paris-based beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) consultant. She said she planned to include Brooklyn beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment)s in her tastings, pairing, say, a nutty brown ale with a smoky Gouda cheese.

Over the last few months, Brooklyn Lager, the brewery’s flagship beer(microbrewery equipment| beer equipment|fermentor|keg equipment) and top seller, and Brooklyn India Pale Ale began appearing at 36 bars, restaurants and specialty shops in Paris. Other varieties and seasonal brews are available on a more limited basis.

The 25-year-old brewery is hoping also to cash in on the hipster cachet that Brooklyn conveys. Its distinctive label carries a cursive B designed by Milton Glaser, father of the “I (heart) New York” logo.

“Parisians adore Brooklyn — they can’t get enough of it,” said Camille Rivière, who exports natural French wines to New York.

“It’s a brand on its own. It’s America. It’s New York.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 13, 2013

 

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