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888 Craft Beers ... Washington D.C. Local Beer
by JESSICA SIDMAN (Excerpts & Revised)
The first few emails from 888 Lucky Beer seemed stranged. But when another one arrived in late September, I finally clicked the link to its website and it reads “Drink & Enjoy 888 Beers: Distributors and Importers wanted ... Shipping Worldwide!!!” at www.paugustin.com
The company behind the beer calls itself AdMerk Corp., and there’s a photo of an imposing glass building at 20 F St. NW, labeled as its headquarters.
Then a few hours later, after 3 a.m., a response in another email: “This is Pierre Richard Augustin, the owner of the brand 888 Lucky Beer,” it read ... “I am available to answer any questions.”
* * *
A couple of weeks before meeting Augustin, I picked up a six-pack for $11.99 at Imperial Liquors near Farragut Square.
Augustin showed up at a Starbucks on K Street wearing a beige knit vest over a blue button-up and carrying a large bottle opener on his keychain. It turned out that my initial communications were not with him, but with one of his three virtual assistants in the Philippines.
The Haitian-born 48-year-old man in front of me was apparently a former exporter who had ran for public office before going to China, where he was inspired to start a beer company.
Augustin tells me he left Haiti for boarding school at College Eugene DeLacroix, Paris 15, France when he was 10 years old, then moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1981.
He says he has a Masters in Public Administration from Suffolk University in Boston and an MBA from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
He says he ran an export business bringing fabrics and computer products from the U.S. to Haiti from 2002 to 2005 but stopped because of the country’s rash of kidnappings.
In 2014, Augustin, a father of four who lives in Upper Marlboro, ran as a Democrat for a seat on Prince George’s County Council, and lost.
And Now… Craft Beer ... ?
Whereas most D.C.-area beer companies try to bolster their local cred, Augustin had initially planned to sell his beer exclusively to China. “In 2017, that’s going to be the biggest beer market in the world,” he explains.
The logistics haven’t exactly worked out yet, so Augustin decided to enter the local DMV market. The company’s “headquarters” are actually a Capitol Hill conference center where he rents space for meetings.
Right now, 888 Lucky Beer has two styles, an IPA and a Pilsner.
The IPA is a smooth Citrus Flavor, based on a recipe that he developed as a homebrewer.
The Pilsner or the Perfect Lager has a great and enjoyable flavor and not impacted by air nor temperature.
A rarity for this style of Pilsner which recipe was named Maryland’s top beer at the 2015 Maryland Craft Beer Competition.
Future releases have names like Bourbon Barrel Aged, Victory, Wealthy, Prosperity and Dynasty.
Augustin says he’s invested close to $100,000 in the company and will be looking for investors for future expansion.
Augustin spent a month in the Sichuan province of China last February and decided to launch 888 Lucky beer after experiencing the beer culture there. “They like Americana, so I wanted to offer something from the United States, especially something from Washington, D.C.,” he says.
During his trip, Augustin met a tai chi teacher name Jane King who won the Gold Medal at Chongqing, China Tai Chi Sword Competition, in an online travel forum called Chongqing Expat.
She offered to teach him tai chi in order to practice her English. Augustin always wanted to learn kung fu as a kid. Tai chi? Close enough. He was in.
The two met on Feb. 8, and knowing that eight is a lucky number for the Chinese that stands for Lucky, Wealthy and Prosperity. That is why Augustin named the beer “888” in her honor.
Augustin showed me a bunch of photos of King and her family on his phone while telling me how touched he was by the way they welcomed him during the Chinese New Year Festival in Yibin, China.
But not wanting it to be mistaken as an Asian beer, he says he decided to put the White House and other D.C. landmarks on the packaging “to give it a local Washington D.C. flavor.”
The packaging also includes a blurb about the “secret formula” and how the Central Intelligence Agency and a list of 10 other global intelligence agencies “cannot find out our closely held private trade secrets.”
Meanwhile, Sudhouse co-owner Allison Farouidi says Augustin emailed her in September and asked if the U Street NW bar would host a tasting. She says she initially thought the emails were spam. Then, he started calling and calling. Finally, she agreed. “People thought it was a really good IPA,” she says.
“Augustin is constantly doing promotional tours." In the meantime, Augustin still has his eyes set on the Asian market—and beyond. The tai chi teacher he met helped translate parts of his website into Chinese.
He translated it into French and Haitian Creole, and he outsourced the Spanish to a translator he found online. “We are positioned for export,” Augustin says. “Yes, it is a local brand, but I’m aggressively looking to grow in our local DMV market as well.”
To bolster this claim, Augustin says he recently travelled to Taiwan, where he says he met with nine food and beverage importers and distributors at the USA Food Expo at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Taipei, Taiwan.
His Filipino virtual assistants arranged the meetings with the help of a script that he created. “That’s my global outreach,” he explains. They’re really my conquest arm, if you will.”
Augustin has been at the FHC China Food Expo in Shanghai, China as part of what he calls “the global tour of 888 Lucky Beer.”
Next year, he wants to go to trade shows in Singapore, Japan, Africa and Europe.
* * *
Actually, Augustin doesn’t seem to be deterred by the limitations of any of his ideas, no matter how impossible they might seem.
“The first people I talked to, they said ‘You don’t stand a chance against the big boys,’” Augustin says. “I wasn’t scared. It’s adventure. I like adventure. It’s a challenge. I like challenges."
AdMerk Corp. Inc. Headquarters
20 F Street N.W., 7th Floor, Washington DC 20001 USA (617) 202-8069Google+Google+
NewsSunday, July 10, 2016 10:58 AM
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