Where Do the Imports Come From?

If you're a beer geek, you pine for beers from places like Belgium and Italy. Of course, you like a nice German or Czech lager or the occasional British bitter, too. But do your preferences mirror import sales? They do not. I was glancing through the annual Beer Institute numbers and was surprised to see which countries and regions were the main players in the market--and which weren't.

To contextualize it a bit, 13% of American sales are imported, for a total of roughly 27 million barrels (2.5 times the amount of craft beer). If you think about it a minute, it will occur to you that the biggest importer is Mexico (50.4%). Canada, at 10%, is number three. Care to guess who's number two? Well, you don't have to--your eye has already glanced at the list below. A bit of discussion follows the numbers.
By Country
50.4% - Mexico
20.6% - Netherlands
9.9% - Canada
4.5% - Germany
4.1% - Belgium
3.1% - Ireland
3.0% - UK
0.8% - Jamaica
0.7% - Italy
0.4% - Poland
0.4% - Czech Republic (1k fewer than Poland)
2.1% - All others

By Continent/Region
60.3% - North America
2.2% - Caribbean, Central America, & South America
37.1% - Europe
0.7% - Asia
0.001% - Africa
The Netherlands commands a 21% share of imports? That's a lot of Heineken. Conversely, the Diageo borg (Guinness, Smithwick's, Harp) sells relatively little. Give me the two countries and the two numbers and I would have reversed them (preference bias). Belgium looks fantastic until you consider Stella Artois--so don't think this number is based on Cantillon Iris. Britain, no matter what you consider, looks terrible. How is it we get and drink so little good British ale here? A travesty. Finally, are you as shocked as I am that Poland, with no serious national brand (apologies to Zywiec, Boss, and Okocim), outsells the Czech Republic, with Pilsner Urquell?

Worth noting: Mexico, buoyed no doubt by Grupo Modelo (Corona, Pacifico, and Modelo), only had about a quarter of the much smaller import market 15 years ago. In 1994, Mexican breweries sold only 1.6 million barrels; in 2010 they sold 13.6 million. That's where the real action is.