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Boston Brewer Caters to Ethnic Minority Beer Drinkers

Percival Brewing Company, founded by Filipe Oliveria in 2011, is a craft brewery with a bold vision for Boston’s craft beer market. He’s taking his beer to the streets of Dorchester in the hopes of tapping into, what he says, is a very untapped market: ethnic minority beer-drinkers.

“The market is heavily saturated and is focused on the mainstream consumer, and it’s not focusing on anybody else,” said Oliveria. “The consumers we’re targeting are being introduced to the whole idea of fresh local beer.”

Oliveria is a first-generation Cape Verdean American, having immigrated from Lisbon, Portugal with his mother in 1977, and settling on Percival Street in Dorchester. For 35 years, the Boston neighborhood was Oliveria’s home. Although he currently resides in nearby Milton, Oliveria believes that Dorchester is the “gateway to Boston” in terms of marketing his product.

Oliveria brews twice a month out of Paper City, a contract brewery in Holyoke, Massachusetts. But brewing beer didn’t always come naturally for the 36-year-old software analyst.

“It was completely accidental,” he said. “I wasn’t really into home brewing, nor were my friends. It started at a BBQ at my sister’s house.”

Four years ago, friends and family got together for a cookout. Everyone brought a case of beer, and Oliveria noticed that certain beer brands were favored over others. Most people at the party steered clear of the hoppy, craft styles and opted for the lighter varieties.

“Some people drink premium beers, others drink a lot and cheap. So, I figure I could create something right in the middle,” he said. “It’s kind of like a metaphor for Goldilocks – not too heavy, not too light, but just right!”

His idea to target such a highly niched market – ethnic minorities who have little or no exposure to craft beer, and in neighborhoods specific to them, came from his observations of the market.

“The craft beer scene was dominated by beer snobs, and craft beer was being hijacked by deep-pocketed consumers,” said Oliveria. “Ethnic consumers were being ignored because distributors and brew houses didn’t have the acumen talk to ethnic consumers and retailers.”

A self-described ethnic minority beer-drinker, Oliveria explained that craft beer choices, for them, are limited.

“My desire to market to ethnic consumers is simple,” he said. “The majority of consumers in this space align themselves with European and Mexican imports. How come there’s no domestic alternative? Why should we be relegated to crappy, skunky beer while everyone else is indulging in fresh, local craft beer?”

His two current mainstays are the Dot Ale 1630, an amber ale, and Kompadre Lager. New brands in the works include Puddingstone Stout, a nod to Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood’s famous bedrock, and Saigon Lager, which will be marketed to the city’s large Vietnamese population.

Previously named “Hanoi Lager”, the beer was renamed to Saigon Lager following a conversation with the Vietnamese owner of Welles Liquors on Dorchester Avenue.

“I introduced him to the Hanoi Lager artwork, and he educated me about not using Hanoi, since it was seen as a communist stronghold,” said Oliveria. “Instead, he recommended that I use Saigon.”

The lager was crafted into a style similar to Heineken. Oliveria marketed the brew to the Vietnamese community on Vietnamese American Television (VATV) through Viet Aid, a non-profit organization in Field’s Corner.

Oliveria operates alone, and intentionally avoids collaboration with other Boston-area brewers. He’s carved out his niche, filling in the gaps he says exist in the market, and is going door-to-door to sell his product.

“It’s a bold move for sure. It’s very challenging from a sales standpoint,” said Oliveria. “But I don’t want to be a follower.”

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