American craft beer exports totaled almost $100 million last year, further signifying the popularity of the drink outside the U.S. borders, where top producers are eyeing expansion.

The estimated $99.7 million in craft beer exported to foreign countries in 2014 represented a 36 percent increase in volume at 383,422 barrels, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group representing the industry.

Given its proximity, Canada remains the largest market for American craft beer at 53 percent of exports, followed by Sweden at 12 percent, the United Kingdom at 11 percent, Australia at 5 percent and South Korea at 3 percent.

The fastest-growing market was Brazil, which was up 64 percent, followed by the Asia-Pacific region (excluding Japan), which saw a 38 percent increase; western Europe, which rose 37 percent; and Canada and Japan, both which had a 32 percent increase.

“Small and independent brewers are spreading the culture and community of craft beer around the globe,” said Bob Pease, chief executive officer of the Brewers Association, in a statement. “Beer drinkers internationally are embracing the innovation and flavors offered by American craft brewers.”

The export market for craft beers still is minuscule, as overall craft beer retail sales in 2014 were $19.6 billion, according to the association. Overall, craft brewing represents 11 percent of American beer sales. Sonoma County is playing a crucial role in driving the growth with more than 20 brewers, including top producers such as Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma and Bear Republic Brewing Co., based in Cloverdale.

But it represents a potential high-growth market as the craft beer trend, which has swept through the United States since the turn of the century, takes hold globally driven by younger consumers who appreciate the artisan craft and bold flavors, especially the hoppy India pale ales that the North Coast industry is known for.

In fact, Stone Brewing Co. of San Diego has announced plans to be the first U.S. craft brewer to open a European plant, with a Berlin facility slated to open by late this year or early 2016.

Tony Magee, owner of the fifth-largest craft brewer in the country, Lagunitas Brewing Co., has spoken of his desire to open a plant in the United Kingdom. The company opened its Chicago plant last year to better boost its U.S. growth. It exports to Sweden, England, Ireland, Scotland and Japan, according to Ron Lindenbusch, head of marketing.

Bear Republic exports about 5 to 10 percent of its shipments, said Marketing Manager Clay Grosskopf. Its beers go to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and parts of the United Kingdom.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.