Moe England ’53: Craft sale

Spring 2018
Moe England '53 laughs over a frosty beer

Photo by Justin Kunz ’19

Craft beer sales account for almost 22 percent of the U.S. beer market, according to the Brewers Association. But that wasn’t always the case. Large, national breweries ruled the beer market until 1978, which signaled a change in the industry, says Moe England ’53.

That year, England and his wife, Elise, started an eastern branch of the importing company Merchant du Vin, a year which he says helped bring the craft beer movement to America. He learned about craft beer’s potential in the United States from a future business partner and ran with it. England and his wife traveled the East Coast trying to find wholesalers, who would then bring the beer to businesses. It took a number of years to get craft beer to sell in the United States, but England was eventually able to make it happen. He has since sold Merchant du Vin, but the Scene sat down with England to learn more about his contribution to American beer culture.

At Colgate, my roommate was J. Kemper Matt ’57, whose family owned the Utica Club Brewery. [The beer industry] was a business that, when I came back from the Korean War, my father was in, and I continued on with it.”

I was in the alcoholic beverage industry selling beer, wine, and liquor in Berkshire County, Mass. My second wife [started working] with a guy out in Seattle, and they started bringing in beer by brewing style. Back in the early days, you bought beer by the manufacturer: Bud[weiser], Miller, Schlitz.”

Because of my beer connection locally in Berkshire County, my wife met this fellow, Charlie Finkel, who was looking for someone to handle the East Coast with this idea he had to import craft beer to the United States. She and I went into business together. The three of us began brainstorming the idea of introducing high-end specialty beers created in microbreweries in Europe.”

We started bringing in beer by brewing styles, such as pale ale, nut brown, IPA. We were the importer, and we traveled around and built up what is now called the craft beer movement.”

The Merchant du Vin name was dreamed up by Charlie and my wife as a way to sell it because we wanted to sell beer like wine. Wine used to be sold by the name of the manufacturer. You buy Gallo or you’d buy Petri or whatever. Then you began to buy things like a beaujolais, in a style. That was the way we felt we could convey to the wholesalers that beer would be sold by style — like wine.”

It was fairly revolutionary at the time to bring in beer, especially expensive beer.”

[The wholesalers] didn’t know the difference between an ale and a lager. They didn’t know how beer was made, which today people are beginning to know that because they’re getting educated.”

What became known as the craft beer movement has become a huge business in the United States, but, looking back to 1978, you can see that it was a truly innovative concept that required much hard work and a long journey to be realized.”

— Rebecca Docter