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Something's Brewing in the Beer Market

September 28, 1988|ERIC SCHINE | Times Staff Writer

Want to chug an ice cold Mamba? Pop open a Xingu or down an Ace of Hearts Pilsener?

Most of these exotic beer brands are not available in Southern California. But they may be the next to sweep the Southland--and the rest of the country--now that thousands of beer distributors have had a chance to sample them, along with hundreds of other brands, at the National Beer Wholesalers Assn. annual trade show.

The show, a four-day affair that winds up today in Anaheim, attracted distributors from across the nation to sample the latest product offerings from domestic as well as foreign breweries.

"If you come away with one or two good new ideas, then you've done very well," said Ronald Jacobs of Riverside Beverage, an Everett, Wash., distributor.

And what better place than Southern California to launch a new brew?

"Trends start to happen here," said Geoffrey Skaggs, a Newport Beach importer who is marketing Ace of Hearts Pilsener, a pale brew from El Salvador that has been brewed by the same family since 1906.

Skaggs said he hopes Ace of Hearts, already popular among Southern California's Latino population, will become the next Corona, winning the hearts of beer drinkers everywhere.

Corona, a Mexican brew virtually unheard of a few years ago, now has about 27% of the imported beer market nationally, compared to Heineken's 35% share, according to Skaggs.

Imported beers account for about 8% of total domestic beer consumption, he said.

And Central and South America aren't the only exotic climes that produce good beers.

Jacobs, the Washington distributor, was particularly struck by Mamba beer, an African brew that has been available in Texas and Chicago and will be sold to West Coast distributors sometime next year.

Technically a malt liquor, Mamba is made and marketed under the name Celta in the Ivory Coast, where it is the "Michelob" of that country, according to Manuel Sanchez, president of Highland Distributing, a Houston importer-distributor that handles Mamba in the United States.

The beer features a large alligator sprawled across its label, as does Xingu beer, a dark Brazilian brew that has been a hit in Boston and will be available in the Los Angeles area within the next few months, according to Steven Dougherty, president of Mission Imports, a Los Angeles distributor.

Despite these exotic newcomers, sort of the the beer equivalent of Banana Republic clothing stores, fewer new brands were unveiled this year than in recent years, according to Mac Brighton, publisher of Modern Brewery Age, an industry newsletter in Norwalk, Conn.

Brighton said the high cost of developing markets for new brands and a general saturation of the market have slowed the pace of new foreign labels.

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