U.S. Trade rep Michael Froman tours Epic Brewing, touts sudsy Colorado exports

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman visited the Denver home of Epic Brewing on Monday to endorse the Obama administration's push for international exports and the jobs they provide, especially at small and medium sized businesses.

The stop at Epic was one of many on a tour highlighting the fact that Colorado exported $8.7 billion worth of goods in 2013.

See also: 20 of our favorite Colorado craft beers from 2013

Incidentally, Epic isn't a Colorado-born company. Founded in 2008 in Salt Lake City, the company opened a second brewery in Denver last year to sidestep brewing laws in Utah. The Denver operation will soon bypass the production of the Salt Lake brewery, however, making the Mile High State the focus of Epic's expansion, job growth and international export program. Epic has been exporting beer, in both kegs and bottles, to Brazil, Sweden, Japan and Singapore for around a year. The company plans to double its international exports this year, and then double them again in 2015.

Froman was joined by Mark Snyder, the export development program manager for the Boulder-based Brewers Association, and Steve Kurowski from the Colorado Brewers Guild. Kurowski in particular underscored the potential for even more growth for craft breweries internationally, although there are still barriers into the international market, especially for small craft breweries that haven't built a worldwide reputation.

"We're finding there's still a lot of education that needs to be done for the international beer lover," Kurowski told Froman. "There's still that reputation of the light lager beer in the United States."

Snyder noted the time and effort it takes to export by ship, especially as the beer must be kept constantly refrigerated. He then pointed out existing high export tariffs, including a 35 percent tax in Vietnam and per liter tariffs in Malaysia that can result in a 50 to 100 percent tariff charge. These prevent many companies from exploring the export trade.

It is a risky endeavor for any small business, let alone a craft brewery. Currently, only a handful of Colorado's swathes of breweries export overseas. They include Oskar Blues, Left Hand, New Belgium and Ska. Sometimes the reason for the move are sentimental: Left Hand co-founder Eric Wallace's Italian wife is the reason the brewery exports to Italy.

"No one has to export beer," Kurowski said. "They do it because they want to."

Nevertheless, the international export business has created a worldwide following for craft beer and Froman said that he sees small and medium businesses as the future of the administration's trade agenda. "This tour underscores that the export story isn't just about big business," he explained. "It's about small and medium businesses as well."

He specified that of the nearly 5,600 Colorado companies exporting internationally in 2013, about 88 percent were businesses with less than 500 employees.

And for Epic, exporting beer is working, not just from a financial perspective but by expanding the international community of craft beer drinkers. Jennie Richau of Epic Brewing said she gets fans from as far as Japan in the taproom.

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