Tommyknocker Brewery, whose logo and location in the Colorado foothills have given it a rustic, mountain-town image over the past two decades, has begun exporting that image overseas — to Helsinki, Finland. In March Captol Invest, a Finnish restaurant-investment group, opened the Tommyknocker Craft Beer Bar in Helsinki, serving eight different Tommyknocker beers. If things go well, the group would be interested in opening more Tommyknocker-branded bars and restaurants in the Scandinavian region — and even on board a cruise ship, says Tommyknocker head brewer Steve Indrehus.
“American craft beer over there is the rage,” says Indrehus, who met the Finnish investors in 2013, when they were in town for the Great American Beer Festival. “They were touring different breweries, and they came here for lunch and fell in love with it.” For now, Tommyknocker is just selling Captol the beer and letting the company use its name, but the Idaho Springs brewery could take an ownership status in the operation down the road, he adds.
American craft brewers have made major inroads overseas in recent years, according to the Boulder-based Brewers Association, which reported in March that U.S. craft brewers sent 383,422 barrels of beers to foreign countries in 2014, representing $99.7 million, a 35.7 percent increase over 2013 numbers.
The fastest-growing markets were Brazil, South Korea, Thailand and the U.K.; the biggest existing markets are Canada, Sweden, the U.K., Australia and South Korea. Sweden, in particular, has been good to Colorado brewers, and Tommyknocker believes the rest of Scandinavia will follow. To start with, Tommyknocker shipped 2,200 gallons of beer — including Hop Strike Black Rye, Pick Axe IPA, Imperial Nut Brown Ale, and IPA & A Half — to Finland. But the owners sold so much of it that they’ve already ordered a second shipment. The travel time for the beer is about two months.
So far, the Hop Strike and the Nut Brown have been the most popular, says Indrehus, who was in Helsinki for the grand opening in March. Most of the bars in Finland are laid out like Irish pubs, meaning the taps are on the bar so that the bartender never has to turn away from his customers. But the Tommyknocker bar has its taps on the wall, like an American bar, which is very unusual there, Indrehus says. Like other Finnish bars, though, it is small and quiet, without the TVs and noise of U.S. watering holes.
The mountain-town image was a particular draw for the Finnish investors as well as customers, and the bar is decorated with a mountain mural that Indrehus says radiates Tommyknocker’s brand even better than the original.
Captol owns its own small brewery, Mallaskoski, which may collaborate with Tommyknocker on some beers in the future.
And while Tommyknocker isn't yet serving food in Finland, the brewery is exploring the idea of opening a second restaurant and taphouse in Denver where it could make its beer, food and ambiance available here. Indrehus says he'd love to open a second brewery inside that taphouse as well, but isn't sure if that would be a part of any plan for the Mile High City.