Three Bullet Tuesday – 31 January 2017

Cloudwater kings of Ratebeer, Brewery Growth Models, and the Ealing Park Tavern, Home of Long Arm Brewing 

  • Cloudwater: the Manchester-based craft brewer are the kings of Ratebeer, the popular beer rating site/app after picking up a swag of awards in a ceremony in Santa Rosa California on Sunday 29th January. Full details of the results will be released throughout this week, but according to their twitter feed they picked up at least 8 awards including best brewery in the UK. To be fair, I am unsure of who makes up the Ratebeer community here in the UK, but the award does carry certain weight, especially in the US where Ratebeer is more popular. Critics however compare this to a popularity contest. Either way, it’s a global awards ceremony that comes with a certain gravitas and I’m sure for them to pick up these awards in from a room full of their global peers gives them great satisfaction. As a result, I believe it should be celebrated.
Paul from Cloudwater doing his best Michael Phelps impersonation
Paul from Cloudwater doing his best Michael Phelps impersonation
  • Brewing growth models: the ‘year in review’ blogs of a number of craft breweries opened the kimono on the growth curve some find themselves on. I’ve been reflecting on the challenges these breweries are likely to be considering, plus those on different growth profiles using a bastardised version of the BCG growth matrix. The BCG growth matrix is a strategic tool designed for large corporations with a portfolio of businesses to use to determine strategic direction. In my growth matrix, the x axis is relative size of the brewery and on the y axis is the growth the brewery is experiencing.

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If we start in the bottom left, I’ve dubbed this group the Ateliers. This is breweries that are relatively small in scale and with a low growth profile. The archetype Atelier for me is The Kernel Brewery. I’ve interviewed Evin from The Kernel in a previous podcast and he makes it clear he believes the brewery could be capable of growing to be 15-20 times the size but is happy with the current size of the brewery, the quality of the beers they are making and the conversations he can have with his customers. The key challenge for Ateliers is finding a sustainable differentiator and for The Kernel, this is the stunning quality of their beers. The Stars are those breweries that are relatively small but are going through significant growth. Think Cloudwater, Five Points and Beavertown. Interestingly, they are all going about that growth in slightly different ways. Cloudwater are streamlining beer dispense to just can and keg and focusing on maximising the efficiency of their brewing. Five Points are facing growing pains in their current site and have started contract brewing to increase capacity. Beavertown are maximing their brewing schedule and expanding their current presence with one eye on moving to a big new premises in the near future. For these breweries the key challenge is likely to be managing the financials. When making capital investments a sharp eye on cash flow and expense management is critical. Ensuring the quality and consistency of their beers don’t suffer is another key challenge. The Cannonballs are those that have relative size and are also going through significant growth. BrewDog are the ultimate Cannonballs. They continue to expand their brewing capacity in Ellon, have set out plans to create Overworks, their Sour facility, expanding their bar network both domestically and abroad as well as launching BrewDog USA.  That is a huge agenda and good management, governance and control is critical to ensure they are delivering against all their plans. And finally the Cows. These are relatively large breweries experiencing low growth. Their challenge is how to push the business back into growth mode (or restructure). Whilst I wouldn’t put Fullers into this category (they seem to be focused on expanding their range of pubs), many appear to be responding to this challenge by doing things like rebranding or creating craft ranges to try to tap faster growing segments of the market. Some feel like half-hearted attempts at change given that authentic and sustainable cultural and strategic change takes more than some new packaging.

  • Ealing Park Tavern: after many aborted attempts, I finally made it to the Ealing Park Tavern for an early dinner on Saturday with the family. Its been on my to do list for some time, given its relatively close to where I live. Its also the home of Long Arm Brewing, the winner of RateBeers best new brewery in Greater London. For those unfamiliar, Long Arm Brewing is a new brewery that is part of the ETM Group, a restaurant and bar group with 12 venues across London and one venue in Suffolk. To date, I believe they only sell their beer in their venues. They also previous owned The Gun in the Docklands, which they sold in June 2016 to Fullers. The Ealing Park Tavern is a lovely pub, adorned with taxidermy and open fires, separate formal and informal dining areas, a beer garden, and a long bar with around 12 keg lines (including Beavertown Gamma Ray and Four Pure Flatiron Red), 6 cask lines and an extensive can and bottle selection (I recall seeing Moor cans and bottles of Wild Beer Co). We sat in the formal dining area where the ambiance was lovely, the menu engaging and the service attentive. I had a pint of Thornbridge Lord Maples, a 4% cask bitter to start and a bottle of Wild Beer Millionaire with my braised Herdwick lamb serviced with sautéed sweetbreads, smoked aubergine, chick peas, chilli and apricots. My one criticism is that while they have an extension wine list to accompany the food menu, they don’t extend the same courtesy to their beer. All in all The Ealing Park tavern is pub with a pedigree beer and wine selection, excitable food menu and enjoyable ambiance.

8 Predictions for 2017

As a new year rolls around, it’s time for beer bloggers to dust off their crystal ball and give their take on what to expect in the year ahead. I’ve penned a few quick thoughts on some of the key things I expect we will see in 2017.

Beer Styles

Many talk about which beer styles they expect to see emerge and dominate, which I believe is a fool’s errand. The beauty of the craft beer scene is the variety that breweries continue to deliver. Whether its traditional styles, lagers, low ABV, high ABV, murk bombs, sour beers, barrel aged beers, fruity beers – there exists great examples already available to consumers with many more to come.

One trend we will see is that wood-aged sours, wild, mixed and spontaneous fermentations will get greater attention. Burning Sky have taken delivery of a coolship, thought to be the first in the UK for some time. Beavertown’s Tempus project will no doubt start to see results. Cloudwater, Wild Beer Co and The Kernel have foeders that they will be playing with more and more in 2017 and BrewDog have announced plans to build a separate and segregated sour facility, Overworks, in Ellon, to be headed up by Richard Kilcullen, former head of sour production at American brewery Wicked Weed. Great news for fans of these types of beers.

Tooling Up 

If last year saw breweries scaling up, this year we will see breweries tooling up. Expect your Twitter Instagram feed filled with breweries taking delivery of whirlpools, centrifuges, lactic acid tanks, yeast propagators, canning lines (more on that later). Why? All in the name of improving quality, consistency and efficiency. This is important for the breweries as with all the choice out there, drinker’s tolerance for a beer that is not quite up to snuff is wearing thin.

Festival Fever

Craft beer festivals are mirroring the growth of the breweries they promote – scaling up and tooling up. The traditional craft beer festival catered for beer geeks, bringing together a select number of breweries who usually bring key personnel as well as a selection of core and experimental beers. Like-minded people mill about comparing beers and using it as a chance to catch up. There remains a big place for these types of festivals, but new ones will emerge. More focused festivals on types of beers (think HopCity), regions and breweries, as well as big events targeting mainstream punters offering an experience – something millennials supposedly value above all else.

The festival making the biggest splash is The Beavertown Extravaganza (great to see that word featured here), which promises to be massive, bringing together a huge array of the world best and hippest craft brewers and will also serve at the launch of the 2016 Rainbow Project beers too. But it has caused a splash in that it will clash with the Leeds International Beer Festival. My view is that there is room for all of these festivals. While the craft beer enthusiast will struggle to attend all (maybe 2017 is the year of FOMO management for the craft beer enthusiast), it should hopefully see craft beer expand into a wider audience.

Small Pack

Last year saw a point of inflection in beer buying patterns in the UK with off-trade purchase of beer exceed on-trade purchase of beer for the first time. This clearly translates to a big an opportunity for brewers to focus on packaging in bottles and cans for off trade distribution. We are already seeing some trends emerge for smaller bottles (Thornbridge moved to 330ml from 500ml), bigger cans (Magic Rock have released a number of beautifully designed 500ml cans in late 2016, Cloudwater landed on 440ml cans for their move to canning) and multipacks (BrewDog sell in multipacks and I have recently seen Five Points selling their cans as six packs at OddBins in West Hampstead). And I expect to see this continue in 2017.

Whilst talking of cans, one odd trend is the 360 degree, or topless can, that London Beer Factory are currently using. Unsure how widely this one will spread.

Re-branding (Visual Identity)

In an increasingly competitive market having a distinct visual identity is one way to stand out. We have seen a number of traditional breweries re-branding in 2016 to appeal to younger, craft oriented drinkers. In 2017, I believe we will see a number of craft breweries follow the lead of Redchurch Brewery and review their visual identity. Redchurch launched a new site in Harlow, refreshed their beer recipes and brewing techniques and announced their Urban Farmhouse brewery at their existing site in Bethnal Green. This resulted in a desire for a fresh look to go with it. We’ve already seen Beavertown move away from their original ‘B in a triangle’ and go full skull in 2017. Will BrewDog continue their look as they launch in the US, the Lone Wold distillery and the Overworks sour facility? My money is to expect a new look from them this year.

Merch Alert

2017 will be the year of merchandising. While breweries have dabbled in cheap t-shirts, badges and glassware, this year we will see more focus and quality in the merchandise breweries are willing to put their name to. Some breweries are really well positioned with a brand and visual identify that, if done well, would shine in a range of quality merchandise.

Failures

While many believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, in a competitive market, there will be winners and losers. Sadly we will see some breweries close. I would think this will likely be breweries that don’t have the resources, ability, or passion to continue. Smaller local breweries without; a taproom, strong link to their community, quality beers, ability to scale and social media presence will be most likely at risk. I don’t think we will see any large scale failures however.

Cross-Collaborations

Not in the traditional sense of breweries collaborating with each other, but collaborations across industries. This links to a Three Bullet Friday post I did last December. Think collaborations with coffee roasters, restaurants / chefs, sporting bodies (think local football teams, cycling brands, running clubs etc), music labels / brands / festivals (could we see a beer brewed usual wild yeasts found at Glastonbury?). This helps bring craft beer to a broader audience by looking at where beer drinkers’ interests overlap with other interests and vice versa.

That’s my views, looking forward to hearing some of yours.

Three Bullet Tuesday – January 17

Cask confessions, Meantime and Finding comfort in the UK craft scene

  • Cask confessions: Now that Pete Brown has made cask confessions de riguer, I have one of my own. I’m a caskophobe. Ok, maybe that’s a little strong – it’s not that I hate cask beer but as a preference it sits below keg, bottle, can…I guess it’s at the bottom of the list. Let me try and defend that stance. I didn’t grow up in the UK but rather the warmer climes of the anitpodes. Growing up in Australia, cold, carbonated keg beer is king and rightly so given the hot and humid conditions. Unlike in other parts of the world, it would be hard to argue that cask is revered by the Australian beer drinker – it’s perhaps seen as a British eccentricity and even derided as warm, flat beer. I’ve enjoyed reading the tsunami of content is response to Cloudwater’s announcement; in some corners reinforcing my own views and in others places educating me on what cask beer is all about. One irony I see in all this, at least in my own perception, is that as a (non-cask) craft beer drinker you tolerate the occasional bad beer from a small producer yet we frown at the poor quality of cask beer. But questions remain for me, so rather than remain ignorant, I am keen to learn more about cask beer to help me understand why it is held in such esteem by some – any ‘cask guides’ welcome!

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Note: Pete McKerry has kept track of a lot of responses to Cloudwater’s blog post on his own blog, check it out. I particular enjoyed this post from Siren Craft Brewery and another from Conor Murphy.

  • Meantime: the Greenwich-based brewery took time out of being handed around by corporate owners to announce it was teaming up with well-funded, well-connected Silicon Valley start-up 23andMe.com to produce Meantime Bespoke, a new service that offers beer matching your DNA to our taste preferences. In an online post on their website this is explained as ‘assess hereditary variations in your oral taste receptors to reveal genetic variants that could explain personal preferences to ward specific flavour profiles’. Or in other terms, use science to tell you what you probably already know – your taste preference. All for the princely sum of £25,000 for an easily transportable 2,000 pints. The proclaimed benefit of all this? ‘Unprecedented bragging rights with your mates’. Good luck to them. But this is taking the concept of using your body parts as ingredients one step further than before. Australian brewery 7 cent made headlines with a beer brewed with yeast captured from belly button fluff for the 2016 GABS festival. Oregon’s Rogue Ale’s who brewed a beer using yeast cultivated from the beard of Brewmaster John Maier. I did try one of these beers not that long along, and while it was a decent enough beer, it was a little funkier than you would want from a beer of this nature. I would hate to spend my spare £25k to find out my DNA is farmhouse funk.

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  • Finding comfort in the UK craft scene: anyone who follows my twitter feed (@bushcraftbeer) would have seen that I was in Australia recently on holiday. The weather was great as was spending time with friends and family. Some of the beer was great too. My highlight was the Moo Brewery Pilsner. While it was great to try some new drops, the prevalence of 4-5% ABV Summer Ales, Pacific Ales and Pale Ales, many of which are brewed by ‘craft brands’ of larger breweries, left me wanting more. What I didn’t expect is that it left me really appreciating what we have here in the UK all the more.

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Three Bullet Tuesday

Tuesday 13 December 2016

  • The power of positive marketing: I’ve been thinking a bit lately about my choices. Having a choice is a brilliant thing but sometimes, when it comes to beer there are restrictions on how accessible the beers you want to enjoy are.  Social media however, does not restrict the access to information about and interaction with a brewery; which also influences your choices, both in a positive or negative way. I’ve made an attempt to map this out in terms of a perception versus frequency of consumption matrix using 8 breweries as an example. There are some breweries that I rarely drink but maintain a positive view on driven by their social media, communications approach and the opinions of people that I respect. I would put Cloudwater, Marble and Wild Beer in that category. Magic Rock was in this category until their canning line meant Salty Kiss, High Wire and Cannonball flooded the streets. Beavertown and Five Points are the two breweries whose beer I am most likely to have in hand. I remain a ‘reluctant customer’ of most of Fullers range given their stranglehold on West London and their lack of choice in their pubs (unless you like Fullers). Chorlton is an interesting one. Yes, their beer is fantastic, but their social media presence is at times, puzzling. Listening to the Beernomicon interview with Mike, Founder of Chorlton, he acknowledges this, but frankly doesn’t care. Each to their own, which is why having choice is a great thing.

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  • Aussie, Aussie, Aussie: this week sees the conclusion of the Pirate Life launch tour of the UK. Based in South Australia, Pirate Life is a relatively new brewery (est 2014) with a big reputation for great beer as illustrated by their performance in the annual Hottest 100 Craft Beers (where they featured 3 beers in the top 11) and winning Ratebeer’s ‘best new brewery in Australia’ in 2014. We’ve seen a few Australian craft breweries start to import to the UK, albeit it without the reputation of Pirate Life including Vale Brewing and Prancing Pony. I for one have a few questions. Where does the narrative of the start-up Aussie craft beer scene fit with the craft boom in the UK and the wave of imports from US brewers with a relatively well understood craft legacy? How will their highly regarded hop-forward beers fare on the long journey from Australia? Time will tell. I for one will refuse to comment until I at least try the beer!
  • Festival fever: how ambitious should craft beer festivals be in 2018 and beyond? With news that Beavertown’s birthday beer festival scheduled for 18th February sold out, London Craft Beer festival moving to a bigger venue in 2017 and IndyMan consistently sold out – is it time for craft beer festivals to think big? GBBF big?