Alaska beer crossing the pond

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

Though it's not yet distributed in all 50 states, Alaskan Smoked Porter soon will be sold in the United Kingdom, the company announced this month.

"At the Great American Beer Festival in Denver ... an importer and one of the largest retailers in England, a chain, approached us," said Geoff Larson, who founded the Alaskan Brewing Co. 20 years ago with his wife, Marcy.

The importer, a buyer for Safeway U.K., was interested in bringing a unique product to British beer drinkers, Larson said. Alaskan Smoked Porter fit the bill.

"It has a unique flavor profile, and the part of history that kind of spanned the concept of creating a smoked porter is a compelling story," Larson said.

When Larson brewed the smoked porter in 1988, it was the first time since Prohibition ended in 1933 that a smoked beer had been produced in the United States, he said. One hundred and fifty years ago, beer brewers in Alaska used alder wood to smoke the malt used in the brewing process.

The smoked porter has won awards at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, at the Brewing Industry International Awards in Burton-on-Trent, England, and at the World Beer Cup in Aspen, Colo.

The porter is at the top of its class in the United States, and likely will be popular in the U.K., where smoked porters are rare, said Charlie Papazian, president of the Association of Brewers, which hosts the Great American Beer Festival.

"I think for most British people, beer drinkers, it's going to be a unique experience," said Papazian. "I don't know that there are a lot of smoked beers that are brewed in England."

The mystique of Alaska will help sell the beer, Papazian said.

"Alaska has a wonderful mystique and tradition that I think people really appreciate around the world," he said.

Distributing Alaska beer in Britain may spark an interest in other Alaska products there, said Lance Miller, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council.

"This kind of thing is also a great opportunity for other products to piggyback," said Miller. "For example, if this porter is going to be sold in certain taverns, then this is an opportunity to sell smoked salmon, and other Alaskan products to start creating more of an Alaskan brand. Given the English like beer and the English like fish, one would guess there's a demand for those products."

Alaskan Smoked Porter is distributed in Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Northern California, Nevada and, in very small quantities, Japan.

"We actually have people on the East Coast getting mad at us, saying, 'Why are you sending it to the Brits when we can't get it in New York?' " said Larson.

But "interstate commerce is hard," said Larson, and the British distributors were willing to jump through all the hoops required to distribute Alaskan Smoked Porter in the United Kingdom.

"They tasted our beer, they wanted it, and they made it unbelievably easy for us," Larson said. "They did all the logistics of getting our beer to the U.K."

Safeway U.K. will sell the brew for 2 pounds 40 per bottle, about $4 U.S. The porter sells for about $2 a bottle in stores in Juneau, Larson said.

The smoked porter also will be on tap at two pubs in England, including the Whitehorse on Parson's Green in London, Larson said.

The brewery has sent more than 700 cases of the 2002 smoked porter to the United Kingdom.

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