Japanese versions of Rogue Ales
It’s good to know you can be 8,000 miles from home and still get Oregon beer.
Newport-based Rogue Ales first set sail for Japan in 1994. Since then, Rogue has landed in 22 countries including Chile, France and China. It’s also conquered Guam, where it’s been the best-selling craft beer for 10 years, and Puerto Rico. This month, Rogue beer will hit stores in Spain.
“We like planting the Rogue Nation flag in these countries,” president Brett Joyce says. “That’s what’s fun for us.”
The move to Japan was put together by an American expat, Phred Kaufman, who persuaded the brewery to ship him beer to sell under his Ezo Beer label. Kaufman and Rogue founder Jack Joyce signed a contract on the back of a coffee bag after a night of drinking and gambling, and it’s been a productive partnership ever since. Some of Rogue’s recipes, such as Chocolate Stout, were originally created for Ezo.
“We never had a master plan to build an export business,” Brett Joyce says. “It’s more the fun of it, the risk of it… than any business or economic proposition.”
If it had been a business decision, it probably would have been canceled. Rogue’s international sales account for less than 0.5% of its revenue.
No other Oregon brewery currently ships outside of the U.S. and Canada. Most brewers have yet to conquer their home turf, says Brian Butenschoen, director of the Oregon Brewers Guild. “Just keeping up with growth within the areas that they distribute already has been a challenge.”
Portland-based Widmer Brothers sent an expedition to Asia more than 10 years ago, co-founder Kurt Widmer says.
“It was an exploratory endeavor that never went beyond the exploration,” he says, ticking off the reasons why. “We’re not large enough to send our own reps over to support the beer the way we think it should be supported. We insist on shipping our beer in refrigerated containers and by the time it gets to those locations, it’s quite expensive. Finally our experience has been that not every market in those areas has refrigeration so the beer isn’t always kept in what we consider optimal conditions. So we just decided rather than somebody getting a beer that was less than delicious, we’d rather not take the chance.”
Partnering with a foreign brewery to make and sell beer locally would make more sense, he says. “There’s no point in doing it just to send a beer off and say that you sell beer in ‘x, y, z’ countries.”
Rogue ships beer internationally without refrigeration most of the time, but a 12-oz. bottle of Dead Guy costs $6.80 U.S. by the time it gets to Australia. And Rogue’s “rebel” brand doesn’t translate, although the bottles still have big, bold logos painted on the glass. “The most important thing is that beer is universal,” Joyce says.
Beer may be universal, but tastes vary slightly from country to country. Brutal IPA is the best-seller in India; the wintry Yellow Snow IPA is the favorite in Canada. But Rogue has never had to retreat from a foreign market and will continue to expand its empire.