Carlos Delpin is the president of Craft Beers Distributors and grand champion of Puerto Rico’s Beer Revolution. The 250 + labels in Craft Beers’ inventory have caused an earthquake in our beer drinking habits with entire pubs like Taberna Lupulo, Palmas Station, Taberna Boricua and The Office catering to the new consumer segment. A quick peek into the freezers of our favorite restaurants, delis, gas stations and just about everything in between are only further testament to how far craft beer has come in Puerto Rico in such a short time. Not one to rest on such triumphs, Delpin has translated the craze into a movement bent on transformative social causes like saving Oktoberfest in Puerto Rico (well we think it’s that important). Foodiepr.com sat with the island’s Godfather of Craft at Palmas Station in Cataño. Carlos ordered us a pair of the Affligen Blond, a crisp, yeasty beer with banana notes that paired well with the brutal summer heat.
Foodiespr: Was there a Eureka moment for undertaking this project?
CD: The Eureka moment came a long time ago when I was with Mendez & Co. in the 1990’s. Puerto Rico is a huge beer market in size but a poor one in choices. Somebody was going to do it. Later I worked with Conagra Foods and I was able to travel around the world and assemble a portfolio
Foodies: Did you expect it to be as big a hit as it is?
CD: No doubt. Every category that works in the US works in Puerto Rico.
Foodiepr: It seems that this has been one of the more important things to happen in F&B in Puerto Rico. It’s a fundamental and drastic change in how Puerto Ricans drink in a very short time.
CD: Actually it’s still very small, it is not a big percentage of the market. Growth has been very steady, we are recreating what took forty years to create in the US. You can’t outgrow steps. Draft has been a game changer(for us). Technology has helped carry the message. We have 80 draft beers in stock right now. The technology has helped carry the newness.
Foodiespr: What was the biggest challenge?
CD: Getting the portfolio. It took us 2 years to get the portfolio together. We knew that for all of this to be successful we had to have a variety of 100 to start with. We wanted them to look at a wall of different brands and say “Holy shit! NOW I get it!”
Foodiespr: How do you go about changing the beer culture in Puerto Rico?
CD: We had to focus on the category first and then the individual brands, people had to go to a place and see a wall of brands. No one drinks 100% craft beer. They have their preferred brands and we are not asking you to leave your favorite brands Coors/Heineken/Medalla, we are asking you to occasionally try these other beers. It’s like wine people, have their go-to brands but will adventure and try different varietals. We have people just entering the category and people who drink craft more than 3 out of 10 times. So we always bring new beers (to meet the demands of the different types of craft beer drinkers).
Foodies: How do you go about educating people about your brands?
CD: We have to train the resellers and the wait staff at the restaurants. That is on the business side. On the consumer side our website is brand new and can help you. We also have an app we are bringing out soon where you can find recommendations based on other beers you like. It is interactive and will be available island wide, though, we will release it in phases. We also have events. The San Juan Beer Festival is a great opportunity to try different beers. Puerto Rico beer week has different beer makers and dinners at different restaurants with pairings, we expect that to happen somewhere around March (2013).
We are also bringing 80 German beers for Oktoberfest. We are on a mission to save Oktoberfest!
Foodies: People who like wine seem to be able to get into craft beer?
CD: The complexity of flavors is even more wide here, you have 70 recognized beer styles. I am a big wine guy myself. But the complexity of beer surprises many people. I had a 15 year old Shimay the other day. Craft beers are fully alive and that is a message we want to communicate.
Foodies: But it’s more accessible. You can lay down $10 and have the best beer!
CD: Yes committing to a bottle of wine is a big commitment. With beer you will see a group of people sharing different beers and they can try a great variety in one sitting.
Foodiespr: How long can the craft beer breweries live under the same umbrella?
CD: There’s a certain point when it stops being fun. Mid size brewers tend to be happiest at a certain size and they realize that they are best together as a category.
Foodiespr: Three beers that you’re drinking a lot lately?
CD: I’m a hop head, its no secret. Racer 5, Bear Republic. Scolpin from Ballast Point. I like my Belgians also, Roquefort 10 for when I am at home.
Foodiespr: Last words for our foodiespr.com faithful?
CD: The future is going to be fun! We have many activities and events lined up.
Stay tuned to foodiespr.com for more info from Craft Beers Dist.