Breweries look across the pond to begin UK distribution


written by: Ben Culbreth

The Brits are about to get more than a pint of American craft beer.

Several South Carolina breweries are taking their beer abroad for an extended stay as part of a United Kingdom-based distributor’s plan to deliver high-quality American craft beer to European customers.

The capital city’s Columbia Craft Brewing Company and Peak Drift Brewing Company, Charlotte-based Sycamore Brewing and Charleston’s Edmund’s Oast Brewing Company will be distributor Crescent Moon’s first shipment of US craft beer to England. 

Matty Cartwright, Crescent Moon founder and CEO, said he enjoyed visiting American breweries when he came to the States. But when he returned to the UK, he was disappointed in the lack of US craft representation.

“You’d have all this incredible beer and go back to the UK and all you could get was Bud Light or Coors Light,” Cartwright said.

Cartwright started thinking about the possibility of how to bring American craft breweries across the pond.

A chance encounter in September 2022 brought Cartwright into contact with a brewery that would become a critical part of making his idea a reality. 

A rugby enthusiast, Cartwright was involved with the USA Wheelchair Rugby League, and Columbia Craft was a sponsor of the league. 

Through this organization, Cartwright met Andrew Strauss, Columbia Craft’s business development officer and co-founder. 

According to Cartwright, event organizers and Columbia Craft wanted to ship beer to the UK for the Wheelchair Rugby World Cup, but weren’t sure how best to do it.

That was no problem for Cartwright. He handled the logistics and helped Columbia Craft deliver their product.

Cartwright said the response from event attendees was immediately positive. Several people asked him to keep in touch so they’d know when more American beer would be arriving.

The success of this initial shipment gave credence to the idea that US craft breweries could feasibly reach the UK market. 

American Craft into British Pints

For American brewers, one significant concern with exporting beer is maintaining quality during the lengthy transit across the Atlantic Ocean and the distribution process. According to Edmund’s Oast Brewing Director Cameron Read, shelf-life and quality are top of mind when planning a distribution strategy.

He noted that Crescent Moon has created a simple process that ensures the beer will stay fresh.

“It was never something we aspired to,” Read said. “But this was too fun and too interesting to pass up.” 

Breweries will send their beer to a Columbia warehouse for storage, Cartwright said. Forty-eight hours after arriving, the beer will ship to the Charleston port and be loaded onto refrigerated containers. Shipping takes 35-45 days and will be in Crescent Moon’s possession after clearing customs in London.

“The way I designed the export model was to make it as easy as possible for our brewers,” Cartwright explained.

Cartwright said the initial phase of the distribution plan is to focus on e-commerce. This part of the UK market has emerged as a critical channel to deliver products to consumers.

The UK’s size and dense population — 67 million people live on an island about the size of Colorado — also make distribution more manageable than what breweries face in the United States. 

“It means we can get beer to customers all over the UK within 24 hours,” Cartwright said. “We can reach, pretty much, 90 percent of the population within four hours of our facility.”

Strauss said that UK beer consumption and tastes make him optimistic the endeavor will succeed.

“There’s going to be this growth of UK, European craft beer,” Strauss noted. “So they’re going to have their own local. But there is this demand for American craft beer.”

Strauss is excited about the opportunity to create a pathway for American breweries to send their beer to a new market. He explained that the distribution model in the UK is less capital-intensive and has lower barriers to entry. It’s long-been something he and the Columbia Craft team have long wanted to explore.

“For us, we were like, ‘Wow,’ this is a cool opportunity to do something a little different,” Strauss said.

Taking the South Overseas

There’s a reason Crescent Moon is focusing on breweries in the Carolinas. 

“No matter where you go, there seems to be a great brewery hidden in South Carolina,” Cartwright said.

On his trips to the Carolinas, Cartwright said he’s watched the area grow, particularly Columbia.

“A lot had changed,” Cartwright said, describing what was different from the first time he arrived in 2012 until his next visit in 2019. “A lot had grown. Downtown had this hustle and bustle to it.”

As the distribution effort gets underway, local breweries see it as a unique way to expand their reach.

“Because of the system over there, it allows us an opportunity to grow our brand and have less challenges,” said Jason Snyder, vice president of sales and operations at Peak Drift Brewing Company, a new Columbia-based brewery on North Main Street.

Peak Drift’s large brewing facility and can-printing operation will allow the brewery to take on an additional role in the project. Due to its positioning in Columbia, it will handle contract brewing for breweries that may not have easy accessibility to the warehousing and port options.

Snyder, who has previous experience launching an American beer brand in the UK, said he’s encouraged by European demand for craft and hopes to see venue partnerships in the works one day.

Logan Temple, regional sales director of Sycamore Brewing, said this project speaks to the level of quality Carolina-based breweries offer.

“I think that lets a craft consumer know that the Carolinas are on the up-and-up in the craft beer scene and market,” Temple said.

All-American on Tap

After establishing the e-commerce operation, which will start in central England with the potential to expand to Ireland and Scotland, Crescent Moon intends to open taprooms with American craft beer as the feature. 

“As we grow, the plan is to open multiple taprooms where we will have all of our beers on draft,” Cartwright said. “We hope to have the only standalone US craft beer bar in Europe within the next year.”

Crescent Moon will focus on virtual “meet the brewer” events to build awareness and education.

“It’s all about that interaction, even though we’re 5,000 miles away,” Cartwright explained. He believes UK beer enthusiasts will be eager to learn and interact with the people who create brews they enjoy.

The Final Countdown

Crescent Moon and its brewery partners have their eye on Nov. 1; that’s the day the first shipment will leave port.

A logistical undertaking such as this has environmental implications, and Cartwright said they’ve considered their impact. Crescent Moon’s UK facility runs on 100 percent renewable energy, according to Cartwright.

“We’ve all got to do our part while growing our businesses,” he explained.

Cartwright expects to return to America for the launch and will work out of his US office, located at Columbia Craft, alongside Strauss, who orchestrated many of the connections that made this venture possible.

And while Cartwright admits his friends in the UK may give him a hard time about it, he has a strong opinion on US craft breweries.

“I genuinely believe American craft beer is the best beer in the world.”

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