Beer: Making the grade

Beer has never come in a greater or more premium choice. As the proliferation and availablity of quality beers  continues, Bill Lumley looks at the experience of three premium independent brewers making a march into the bars of UK inns

Brewing technology and distribution techniques are improving all the time, with the effect that independent and brewery-owned inns alike are presented with a huge range of premium lagers and bitters from independent brewers in kegs, casks and bottles, all of them angling to take a space in the bar.

This can be both a blessing and a curse for innkeepers, who find themselves chasing improved turnover, tempted – some might say inundated – by a sea of premium beers, yet unclear until they have committed them to trial whether the punters will give them a try, let alone a thumbs-up.

One of the main problems is that a high proportion of the public is drawn into their local in the first place for a drink of their regular tipple. They know what they like, they know where the like to drink it, and in a majority of cases no amount of presentation of a new kid on the block will tempt them to sample it, let alone change from their favourite tipple.

Enfield beer was launched two years ago in May 2016. The eponymous North London brewer is seeing its on-trade sales grow fast, and they are almost doubling every month, according to director and founder Rahul Mulchandani.

Initially the brewery launched exclusively in bottles, he says. “For the past year we have been offering cask and kegs but have only really been going at full capacity for the past six months or so. We are finding our best seller in inns and pubs is our stout, London Porter. We are actually knocking out Guinness taps. Nine pubs have now replaced Guinness with London Porter, which is designed to be easier drinking than Guinness with more layers. Consumers have really picked up on that now, and it is starting to build traction.

“We’re focused on making great tasting beer inspired by the worldwide craft beer movement. We’re methodical about our approach to brewing, not cutting corners and innovating yet staying true to the four key ingredients that make our beers: grain, yeast, hops and water.”

As with so many other young independent breweries however, the main challenge Enfield Brewery faces, as a small brewery, is explaining to potential customers the difference between craft and mainstream. “We still get multiples calling us saying they want to buy us but that they are not going to pay more than a pound per bottle delivered,” Mulchandani tells Innkeeper magazine.

“It’s a challenge trying to explain to people and educate them at the same time that our beer costs more because it is small batch, hand-crafted, and that the labour involved in producing our beer is therefore a lot higher.

“Also, because we are not the size of the large breweries, we don’t get the same economies of scale to bring the costings down,” he adds.

One of the reasons for the increased cost – and with it the premium flavour of the beers Enfield produces – is that the brewery sources all its ingredients locally. “We don’t use European malts, which are generally cheaper, for example,” he says.

Within London he says Enfield is the only brewery to make its beers with fresh water. “All our beers are made with fresh underground London mineral water, which makes a very big difference considering water is 95% of the ingredients of any beer. A lot of people don’t realise that. Yet there are many people who won’t drink tap water. Our argument is that if it is not good enough to drink water from a tap then why is it good enough when it is in a beer?”

“We like to say that our London Porter is the only porter brewed with London water,” he adds.

Another independent brewery making inroads into UK inns is Bedlam Brewery in Albourne, East Sussex. The brewery currently offers four different cask beers on draft or by the bottle. Last year it brewed its first lager, a German styled Pilsner at 4.2% available in both cask and bottle. It has also recently launched a 4.8% New England beer that it calls “a sessionable pale ale that borrows inspiration from the US but uses UK grown hops resulting in a refined, more delicate beer yet still recognisable in style and packed with flavour”.

Communications manager Sally O’Connor tells Innkeeper magazine: “We are having great success, supplying inns and pubs with both keg and bottled beers.” The brewery currently bottles three of its beers – the porter, pale ale and pilsner – which it sells in inns as well as off trade.

She says: “The challenge is the number of beers out there competing for the limited space in the cellar of each inn. There are a huge number of incredibly good beers out there. We love to sit alongside other great beers. As an independent brewery, I think provenance is key.”

She sympathises with the perception that the younger inn-going drinker is likely to be more adventurous, and therefore more likely to try the unfamiliar premium beers that may be on offer, but she stresses: “The older generation are still very discerning. They are used to drinking traditional ales, but they are also now listening and realising there are some amazing beers out there to try.”

Last year the brand Hoffmeister, famous in the 1980s for its ‘Follow the bear’ slogan, was revived after being dormant for decades, and applied to a Bavaria-brewed beer, Hoffmeister Helles Lager.

Launched only last year it recently won the IWSC award for Best Lager of 2017-2018. The lager is now in just over UK 200 locations including a number of inns, bars, hotels and restaurants, and it has also just made it into the bar of its first five-star hotel.

The pace of growth in interest in the brand at inns and pubs in the UK is gathering momentum, according to joint CEO Spencer Chambers. “Whereas before we had been stopping door to door, and we are now finding people knocking on our door, which is always nice and asking for it to come in,” he tells Innkeeper magazine.

“We only started to sell kegs at the back end of quarter two last year, and you need to be able to build up your sales stories and get sales data from pubs. Compared to this time last year we now have examples of village inns where we replace d this that or the other beer, our rate of sale compared to what they were selling before, and so forth.”

The beer is a good profit proposition for landlords, he says. “Ours is a premium-priced product that comes in-between a Strayer and a Peroni in retail price, but the landlords are making a greater margin on our kegs. This means there are things we have been able to make up on and incorporate into our story. At the end of the day if people can sell an exceptional product, and if the inn and pub landlords are making more profit, then that isn’t a bad start.”

He admits the Hofmeister brand recognition has helped enormously. “We thought there was a story in the brand and that proved to be the case. When we launched, we received an enormous amount of national press coverage. We are at a City pub The Golden Fleece, part of Metropolitan Pub Company, itself part of Greene King, where it is doing fabulously well.

“They trailed the lager there, where it worked extremely well, and it is now going to be rolled out as part of their estate,” he says. “They are a big player that has clearly done due diligence before rubber stamping the brand. We also have presence around the country. In one village inn, Hoffmeister is outselling Peroni at a rate of three to one.”

The brand works well but it has a very broad spectrum appeal so it is harder to pigeon-hole it in any particular demographic. However, he says there is a split in those who know the brand and those who don’t. “Anyone 38 and over has heard of it and quotes the slogan ‘Follow the bear’, and literally anyone 37 or under has never heard of it before.”

It’s hard enough getting your beer on draught in an inn, and it’s harder still getting your beer into a punter’s hand, for they are used to having their usual which they go in to order, he says. “Converting them is where it has been really effective. I was talking to a Metropolitan pub manager who said he is amazed at the number of people who come in, see the brand, look surprised and ask if it is the same brand they remember.

“The answer is it is indeed the same brand, but it is now owned by a couple of guys, it’s brewed in Bavaria, and has just won the World’s Best La- ger, and people say ‘Really? Give me a try’. And that has been a real benefit to the innkeeper. It’s a risk putting something different on, but with our brand you can guarantee trial. It is a hybrid brew: an established brand and at the same time brand new.”

Meanwhile for the younger generation, specifically those 37 years and younger, they are more about discovery, he says. “They like trying new things, having a story behind them, and they expect excellence, so our proposition is proving to be working well for that age group as well.”

As we went to press Hoffmeister was under consideration by the own- er of the eight bedroom and two lodge Beckworth Arms near Salisbury.

Chambers says he de- scribes his inn as ‘about as British as you can get’. “He remarked recently that his customers would love the preposterous fact that Hoffmeister has come back and is now the best lager in the world.”

 

This feature was first published in the Apr/May issue of InnKeeper Magazine