While the brewery business in the United States has grown exponentially and is possibly approaching saturation, Brazil’s craft beer industry is taking off with a little help from Helena.
A group of brewers and suppliers from Brazil were visiting Blackfoot River Brewing Company on Friday for a day to share their culture and exchange ideas on business and brewing techniques.
McDantim, a Helena-based company that provides gas blending equipment to the beer industry, sent its President Justin Trafton to a trade show in Brazil in 2013. While he was there, Trafton met Marcelo Pena, a supplier to the beer industry in Brazil.
They’ve stayed in touch and worked together over the years. This week, Pena was joined by other Brazilians who Trafton says will likely be the group that will develop the model for how the beer market will grow in Brazil.
Pena said Brazil has 670 craft breweries, and while the industry is growing, it shares certain problems with American brewery owners.
In Brazil, the beer market is still dominated by large producers. Two brazilian breweries, Antarctica and Brahma, merged to create AmBev in 1999. In 2004, Ambev merged with Interbrew to form InBev. A later merge with Anheuser Busch created AB InBev. Growth for the biggest brewers has been stagnant over the years, but they still hold 70 percent of the market in Brazil.
Craft brewers in Brazil are working to attract people to smaller taprooms.
Leonardo Sewald, owner of Seasons Craft Brewery in Porto Alegre, said breweries are holding their own against bigger brewers. He said Brazilians share the strong beer culture that Americans do and are willing to spend more money to try craft beers.
“We are a very passionate people about what we create. We are very proud,” Sewald said.
Brewing has been around since Germans came to Brazil in the 1800s. Popular German beers, such as Pilsners, have been staples in Brazil. But Pena said people have started traveling more and trying other styles of beer. When they came back to Brazil and couldn’t find an IPA, they started home-brewing and eventually opened breweries.
Pena said one of the first things he noticed about American breweries was automation. He said the same operation in Brazil would take two times the number of employees.
The group is also looking for a way to commercially grow hops in Brazil, but hasn’t found the right climate. Until then, they have to pay expensive taxes to import hops from Europe and Yakima, Washington.
Brazilians are also working toward overcoming bureaucracy. They recently lobbied the government to change a policy that taxed small breweries the same as large producers.
“Things are changing as we speak,” he said.
Sewald said there are still essentially no incentives to open a small businesses and it’s a change that would encourage more entrepreneurship.
The beer industry is building local and state beer associations to have some representation. Sewald currently serves as the vice president of a beer association.
“I like to get involved to try and shape the reality of our market,” he said.
The Brazilians will travel to Imagine Nation Brewing in Missoula and will attend the Brewers Association Craft Brewers Conference in Tennessee at the end of the month before taking their knowledge back to Brazil.