This is a question I have been pondering for the last few years as I observed the rise and rise of craft beer in this country. Some breweries seem to have stepped forward and above others where as for some breweries, the fact they are making good beer doesn’t appear to be enough.
For the sake of argument, let’s draw a line in the sand and say the craft beer movement in the UK is ten years old. What’s not in question is that within that ten years there has been a huge increase in the number of breweries.
But why do some appear to flourish and others appear to flounder?
There is a thousand potential reasons but I have tried to summarise it into five key things. They aren’t all equal but those that are doing well appear to do all five of these things well.
Make Good Beer
First and foremost you need to make good beer. Whether it’s a core range, a mix of seasonals, or collaborations – it needs to be good beer that engages people. Doing this takes skill, attention to detail and commitment to quality. Take Thornbridge: they have a lab on sight and deliver beer of very good and very consistent quality. Weird Beard run a regular Friday quality control process. Magic Rock, in their Tap Room are ensuring quality in how their product is dispensed as is the Urban Tap House in Cardiff, the bar of the Tiny Rebel Brew Company.
The quality of the beer being made here is increasingly recognised with breweries in the UK winning awards regularly, both here and abroad. Oakham Ales won the Champion Cask Conditioned Ale for their Green Devil IPA at the International Brewing Awards. Beavertown Brewery were named the been named brewer of the year and Supreme Champion Brewer by the International Beer Challenge.
However some breweries appear happy to put out beer they are not 100% happy with and while there is a culture of discretion on providing feedback in these instances, the people that understand the industry and more pertinently have to try and sell this beer to the public know these breweries are.
Have a Good Spokesperson
Every band has a lead singer, every movie a leading actor or actress, every sporting team has a captain. For me, a craft brewery is kind of the same. You need someone at the front that embodies what the brewery is about and can clearly articulate that in an engaging way.
This is critical as when it comes to events such as meet the brewers, tap takeovers or craft beer festivals. These events give breweries the best possible opportunity to engage personally and intimately with their drinkers.
The spokesperson may be the founder or co-founder, or head Brewer or a combination of the two. In the USA, this is pretty commonplace. I’m sure most craft beer enthusiasts know of Steve Hindy and Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery, or Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head or Eric Salazar from New Belgium (who runs their sour beer program) or Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø from Eviltwin Brewing. While culturally the ‘rock star’ front man may be less relevant in the UK it’s still important.
There are a number of craft brewers that have a strong spokesperson: Logan Plant at Beavertown, James Watt from BrewDog, Justin Hawke from Moor Beer, Colin Stronge from Buxton. Others a little quieter.
Clear Mission and Values
You need to understand who you are and what you stand for, and what type of company you want to be. This is critical to attract customers (and also staff and potentially investors) and to keep them coming back time after time. Most beer drinkers are happy to try a new beer, but what keeps them coming back? Price? Product? Or a deeper connection to the brewery?
Lost and Grounded are a new brewery that is planning to open in Bristol in mid-2016. Run by former Little Creatures and Camden Town Brewer Alex Troncoso and his partner Annie they have been blogging about the process of starting up their brewery. One of their posts talks, in very articulate and sincere terms, about their values and purpose, which they summarise in four words; humble, inclusive, clever, raw.
Somerset’s Wild Beer Co are another brewery that is very clear on what they want to be as summarised here:
At The Wild Beer Co we want to produce Wild Beers that are different! We must re-write the rules, excite your taste buds and wildly challenge your perceptions of beer. We believe beer can be better and want to inspire people to drink beer differently.
Another that is crystal clear in this area is Cloudwater from Manchester. If you haven’t already read it, this great story about Cloudwater, written by London beer writer Matt Curtis for the Good Beer Hunting website is a fascinating insight into all things Cloudwater.
Others lack clarity on this. They are unsure of themselves, who they are and what they want to be. Might be worthwhile taking some time out of the brewhouse, talk to your drinkers about what they think of you, talk to your staff, and look deep within before writing this down.
Once you know who are and what you stand for you need to project that in how you present your products. That’s is where branding comes into it. Business dictionary.com defines branding as:
The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.
In an increasingly crowded market, having a product that stands out is essential whether its bottles, cans, pump climps, packaging, merchandising, website – all a branding opportunity.
There are a few that really stand out for me. The cans from Beavertown, Moor and Vocation are incredible. For me a real standout is Cloudwater. They have a great logo, their bottles contain artwork from a specially commissioned artist for each season and contain lots of information about the beer and its ingredients.
I’m sure you agree there are a handful of breweries out there that are doing the first one well, but fall down here.
Craft brewers don’t have huge marketing budgets. But they invest in the time to leverage social media. In the digital age more and more people are interacting online with each other and with businesses. The short form, instant and transparent channel that is social media is a very powerful tool to promote and converse with potential customers. It also gives you a platform to add a voice to some of the things we’ve covered above: what you stand for and your branding.
For me personally there are a few things I don’t like to see; mixing beer and politics, slagging off suppliers or worse, other breweries, being flippant in responding to feedback.
Not all of these are equal – if you don’t make good beer you’ll probably struggle. For me the breweries who are doing well, appear to be doing well across these five things.
What do you think makes a successful craft brewery?