Exotic imports take on local brews in craft beer scene

On an Arctic roll: Icelandic import carves place in craft beer space

By Lynda Searby contact

- Last updated on GMT

On an Arctic roll: Icelandic import carves place in craft beer space
Whilst demand for locally brewed craft beers is reaching saturation point, consumers are thirsting for exotic imports, according to Icelandic craft brewery Einstök.

Jack Sichterman, one of the company’s founders, told BeverageDaily this was a factor driving growth of Einstök in the US, the beer brand’s biggest export market.

“In California in particular, the focus is on local, but there is some saturation there, with hundreds of craft breweries opening up,” ​he said. “The 100th craft brewer isn’t that different from the first craft brewer, and at that point consumers start longing for something unique that still has the flavour and quality of a craft beer profile.”

However, a saturated market can make it difficult for imported craft beers to persuade distributors to take them on, said Sichterman. It uses its Icelandic intrigue to help it in this respect. 

“There are over 4,000 breweries in the US so the challenge is finding a distribution partner,” ​he said.

Arctic appeal: a point of difference

Einstök has been able to attract distribution by using its unusual back story. Located 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle in the fishing point of Akureti, Iceland, the brewery taps pure, glacial water to produce its craft ales. 

“Einstök delivers uncommon ales and a story that few brands in the world can match”,​ said Sichtermann. 

Einstök has gone from a standing start in 2011 to producing more than 6,100 barrels of beer in 2014, and is projected to double that figure in 2015. 

As the brewery’s domestic market has a population of just over 300,000, Sichterman and co-founder David Altshuler conceived the brand with an export strategy in mind from the start.

“Clearly we want to be an important craft brand in Iceland, but to be sustainable we need to be exporting and for that we need to be authentic,”​ said Sichterman.

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“From day one, we created the brand to be global in nature. A lot of Icelandic brands are high quality products but their owners give them names that are unpronounceable and iconography that doesn’t resonate around the world,”​ he continued.

This global outlook has established Einstök as Iceland’s number one alcoholic beverage export, accounting for 64% of all exports in the category in the first six months of 2015, according to data from Statistics Iceland. 

Livin’ the California dream

30% of this export production is shipped to the US, Einstök’s first and largest overseas market. Within the US, California, with its booming craft beer scene, is the most significant state for Einstök, representing 50% of US sales. 

Outside the US, Einstök is present in the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and - since the start of this year - Germany. 

Sichterman said Scandinavia represented one of its fastest growing territories, owing in part to Northern Europe’s viking heritage, and would be a hub for future European expansion. However it was the German reaction that had surprised him the most.

“The German ‘Reinheitsgebot’ heritage is engrained in beer drinking habits, and still influences types of beers that German consumers drink, but since entering the market this year, we have seen interest explode,” ​he said.

But whilst consumers are switched on to imported craft beer, Sichtermann said many retailers were grappling with the concept.

“They don’t know where to put it - with the Belgian beers and the Amstel or with Michelob and BrewDog,” ​he said.

Einstök is on the cusp of signing an agreement with a French distributor and is eyeing the Italian and Spanish markets, as well as a few more “strategic” ​US states such as Nevada. 

“Our growth strategy is two-fold: serving our distributors in the markets we are already in and strategically looking at new markets,” ​explained Sichtermann.

But he insisted the aim was not to be present in every major market, saying: “Craft beer is a huge billion dollar industry. One tenth of 1% of that is a meaningful global business. You don’t have to be everywhere.” 

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