Eastern Promises: B.C. craft beer looks to take on Asia

Parallel 49 created the Sweet n’ Sour Nitro Milkshake Sour Ale for the 8X8 Brewing Project—A Collaborative Brewing Festival in Beijing. Rick Green photo

Here in British Columbia we are lucky to have it all. Lush greenery, mountains, swimmable lakes and oceans, a temperate climate with crisp air and clean water. We also have more than 150 craft breweries spanning across the province, pumping out a stunning $1.1 billion in annual revenue.

Craft beer connoisseurs may think that our beloved brews stay local to B.C., however, craft bottles, cans, and kegs from around the province are taking on quite the global expedition, quenching a growing thirst for craft beer in Asian countries.

In Vancouver specifically, the option for brewery expansions is rife with red tape and financial strain. If a brewery wants to increase their volume, the costs for a larger space, along with new equipment, labour and ingredients, will weigh heavily on a businesses profit and product margins.

Local breweries importing their beer to Asia is not a clandestine operation-the growing market for craft beer in Asia has allowed breweries to expand their brand and reach an entirely new customer-base.

The question is, why is B.C. craft beer in such high demand overseas, and why Asia? After speaking with multiple expats, and Vancouver-based breweries and distributors, the answer was unanimous: As the cultural borders between Asia and North America continue to blur, with pop music, fashion and beauty at the helm, B.C. craft beer, and the culture it brews, has now gained significant popularity in Asian countries.

However, craft beer in Asia is also evolving on its own accord.

“In late 2014 [when I moved to Guangzhou], convenience stores and supermarkets essentially sold only domestic, big-brand beer,” says Matthew Bossons, the Digital Editor at That’s PRD Magazine in Guangzhou, China. “The only imports you would see were Bud and tall-cans of German beer.”

Now, craft beer is available everywhere—local craft breweries and taprooms, small bars and bottle shops that serve craft beer on draft and in bottles, major pubs, clubs and sports bars that have one or more craft beer options on tap.

“This issue is, craft beer creation and brewing in China is limited to what’s available,” says Bossons. “The quality is often less than what you would expect in Canada or the U.S. Beer in China is brewed with locally sourced water, which is not always the best, and there are known issues with [false advertising].”

Dan Wainwright (on right) and business partner Garett Senez of Pac Rim Distributors. Contributed photo

Connecting the dots is Dan Wainwright, the president of Vancouver-based company Pacific Rim Distribution Co. In the midst of the burgeoning demand for craft beer overseas, Pacific Rim helps breweries find foreign markets for their beer, while building and promoting their brand in these fresh landscapes.

Since its inception nearly a year and a half ago, Pac Rim has partnered with Phillips, Postmark, Parallel 49, Off The Rail Brewing Co. and Central City Brewing to name a few, and is now the leading global-exportation firm for Pacific Northwest craft beer and spirits.

Collaborations between B.C. and Asia-based breweries have been successful in establishing a place in the foreign market as well. Central City Brewing recently released Lucky Dog, a Kumquat Wheat ale in collaboration with Redpoint Brewing Co. from Taiwan.

“We took on this project to build on our export relationships in Asia but also to support a strong Chinese culture here in Canada, and more specifically Vancouver,” says Dustan Sept, head of marketing at Central City.

Parallel 49 has also had a successful time working in collaboration with TAPS Brew Pub from Beijing, China. In October, the two were connected while participating in the 8X8 Brewing Project—A Collaborative Brewing Festival in Beijing.

“Eight breweries from North America are put in partnership with eight breweries in China,” explains Marissa Mills, Parallel 49’s marketing manager. “There’s an email relationship that’s formed to put together a recipe. And then you come together in China, for the beer festival. There’s eight collaboration beers showcased and that are all unique.

P49 brewer Hiroshi Tsokada brews the Nitro Milkshake Sour for the 8X8 Brewing Project. Rick Green photo

“Together we created the Sweet n’ Sour: Nitro Milkshake Sour inspired by sweet and sour pork.”

Mills adds that from a marketing standpoint, gaining exposure amongst Asia’s incredible population will allow for more potential customers to see and try the brand.

“As Parallel 49 is such a visual, eye-catching [label], even with the language barrier, we have a competitive advantage in a foreign market,” she says.

Richmond-based craft brewery Fuggles & Warlock Craftworks opened in the spring of 2016, and has already been importing their beer overseas to Japan, Taiwan, and with strong focus in Korea, for over a year and a half.

“Craft beer in general is becoming more and more in demand on a global scale,” says Fuggles & Warlock president Tom Orange. “And there’s definitely some influence from the West. I’ve spent some time in Asia, and learned that the younger generation is very much into trends in the Western world, and they’re learning that there’s better tasting, better [quality] beer out there.”

Each country is different, Orange notes, but there are opportunities all over Asia as long as a brewery is willing to invest in building a brand with the right partner.

“I think too many breweries look at foreign markets as just an opportunity to dump a bit of volume, but really, we are not in it for that,” he says. “We frequently travel to these markets, and work closely with our import partners to build the brand.”

For breweries looking to export their beer to Asia, what can be somewhat arresting is the variation of market styles, laws and customs paperwork pertaining to each country. In China, the customs process is arduous and lengthy—a challenge for the short shelf-life of craft beer. In Singapore, the market is fairly easy to access, but it’s saturated. In Vietnam, the local craft beer scene is flourishing on its own, with a growing interest in craft brews and brewery culture taking flight. The palate pleasers, however tend to be the same across the board: sweet, hoppy beers are popular in Asia—according to Pacific Rim, their number one import to Thailand is Phillips’ Electric Unicorn.

“South East Asia is interesting; the craft beer market is only about one per cent of the market, and it’s taken on this renegade thing,” says Wainwright. “If you’re drinking craft beer you’re different, and you’re kind of badass.”

In Thailand, macrobreweries have conspired to make craft beer and home brewing illegal. In order to have a brewery, you have to meet maasive production quotas, making it impossible for craft breweries to enter the market.

“A lot of homebrewers have taken to the streets and are selling their home beer back-door style,” says Wainwright. “We’ve actually met a couple people who have gone to jail over this and they’re still out there doing it. If you really want to see a true craft beer aficionado, well, go to jail for craft beer.”

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