In recent years the popularity of independent breweries has been rising fast and in the process the term ‘craft beer’ has emerged without a clear and consistent definition.
Specialists in beer from the world of real ale and micro-breweries have their own take on the term. Bob Baldwin and his wife Bev run the Penny Farthing micro pub in
Crayford, Kent, where they stock and sell a wide variety of beers form independent breweries including a number from the local Bexley Brewery. The Penny Farthing sells a wide range from blonde beer, through golden, amber, chestnut, stouts, mild, pale ale, brown, porters, winter warmers and stout.
Baldwin tells Innkeeper magazine: “Keg style craft ales have a longer shelf life and need little looking after, whereas a traditional cask ale does need to be cared for, to ensure its quality, both to the eye and taste. It has only a short life once vented and tapped and is really is best to be consumed within around four days.”
The Penny Farthing opened up in 2014. For five years in the 1980s he and his wife Bev ran a pub up the road in Crayford, The One Bell, where they sold a large amount of real ale, including Ind Coope Bitter and Burton Ale.
Now the specialist bar he runs has a high Google rating and sources its beers from a combination of local microbreweries and UK-wide wholesalers. “The variety available is definitely increasing,” he says. “Interest in craft beer is growing and more and more micro-breweries are opening up all the time. A lot of them produce one-off specials. Meanwhile a growing number of younger people are now drinking real ale,” he says. “We have a lot of customers in their early-to-mid-twenties – although we have a number of customers in their eighties too.”
Whatever the concise or accepted definition of craft beer, the independent brewers’ association SIBA is able to impart a certain amount of guidance to landlords of UK inns wishing to boost the attraction of their existing selection of ubiquitous beers.
Spokesman Neil walker tells Innkeeper magazine: “Pub-goers in the UK are more discerning than ever when it comes to the beers they choose, and it’s essen- tial that pubs serve a range of quality independent craft beers, ideally from local breweries if they want to keep customers interested.”
For pubs of all sizes it’s important to have a well-cho- sen selection of beers, whether it’s some interesting bot- tles and cans in the fridge or a selection of great quality cask or keg beers on the bar. “Customers expect a quality range and SIBA have developed various ways to make it easier than ever for pubs to achieve this,” says Walker.
For an inn owned by a brewery, SIBA has a certain amount of advice on steps the landlord can take to stock independent beers without contravening their contract or upsetting the brewery, but the subject is complicated, according to Walker.
“SIBA’s BeerFlex scheme allows publicans in pubs owned by the UK’s biggest pub companies to order beers from quality independent brewers in their area. The BeerFlex scheme works within the pub company’s existing ordering systems and allow you to offer the local, interesting craft beers that inns’ customers are increasingly seeking.”
Brewery numbers differ depending on the source, but all agree there has been a huge growth in breweries over the last ten years, Walker says.
“The genuine consumer-led interest in and demand for craft and local beers has created the most exciting environment for British beer in a generation. Today’s discerning drinkers demand the highest quality beers, wide choice, innovation, beers with genuine provenance and a range of styles and brands in all formats.
“This demand, together with a favourable regime of tax relief via Small Breweries’ Relief introduced in 2002, has led to an explosion in the growth in the number of small independent brewing businesses.”
The demographic of the craft ale drinker is widening, he says. “In recent years it has been fantastic to see the demographic of beer drinkers broaden to include more and more people. This is down in no small part to the huge range of different beers now available in the UK – there really is something for everybody.”
As this popularity grows, distribution networks are improving, he says. “Local beer will always be impor- tant and is a great way to support local business as well as ensuring freshness, but in recent years as distribution has improved we have seen more and more brewers begin to deliver their beer across the UK and to export abroad. One reason SIBA developed the BeerFlex distribution network was to make it easier for SIBA Members beers to get independent craft beers into the hands of the publicans.”
SIBA’s Assured Independent British Craft Brewer initiative was launched in August 2016. Walker says: “It has gone from strength to strength, with hundreds of SIBA members now proudly displaying the logo on their bottle, can or pumpclip artwork.
“Wherever customers see this seal they can be assured that the beer is brewed by a craft brewer who is relative- ly small, fully independent and brewing quality beer.”
Bexley Brewery launched in September 2014, a decade after Gordon Brown introduced a 50% tax relief for small independent brewers that essentially recognises the lack of opportunity you can get for cost savings with a small brewing operation.
Owner Cliff Murphy tells Innkeeper magazine: “A brewery is incredibly expensive to get going and keep the business running and profitable and pay duty. If you are paying the same level AB Inbev and Heineken are paying then it is disproportionate and favours the very large breweries.”
Before setting up the brewery Cliff was in IT and his wife Jane was a local teacher. Jane says: “Cliff was a happy home brewer and won a competition. That was the impetus for us to acknowledge neither of us was happy with the job we were doing and change careers, starting a local brewery.”
Being a teacher Jane was interested in local history and discovered there had been another brewery in the Bexley area that closed in 1956, Reffells Brewery.
“It was a big step. We started in our late forties. It got to a point where you either do something or you look back in 10 years with regret because you realise physi- cally you can’t do it. To me it was important – I wanted a family business,” says Cliff.
The couple now brew a comprehensive range of ales which go both into cask and bottle, and they are classed as pale ales through golden ales and best bitter to dark beers such as stouts and porters, which are named after local places.
Bexley Brewery supplies around 150 inns and pubs, around a quarter of which are regulars of at least once a month, according to Bob.
“There are only a few in Bexley – Bexley is a very tied-pub area – but the ones we are with have been fantastic to us. We do venture into London such as Covent Garden and The New Inn in Islington but we also have a lot of pubs all the way along the Kent coast – Broadstairs, Westgate and then further into Kent we are in Maidstone,” he says.
The brewery also has a number of premises it sells to in Sussex but it has customers as far afield as Manchester.
Craft Beer Evolution
Interest in craft beers has evolved, according to Jane. “The term ‘craft’ is very trendy at the moment. Its definition is broad. Our understanding of craft is that you make it yourself, so you are not a huge brewery that has everything automated, and it is hand-crafted by you. But many people consider craft beer to be more of a keg rather than cask beer, to be more hoppy, more the American style of beer.
“It’s whatever your perception of the word craft mean, and depending on who you talk to you will get a different definition,” she admits. “People will think that ales are not craft because they may be deemed old-fashioned and drunk only by men with flat caps – there are all these preconceptions that still exist. This perception needs to be broken but it takes time.”
Cliff says: “I know a brewer in Thanet who told me he is not too worried because many of the keg consumers today will be cask consumers in 10 years-plus. People’s taste changes over time.”
He adds: “I’d like a brand new term for craft beer – artisan. That is unambiguous: it means small. It could be a sub set of craft beer or a superset including what people think of craft beer.”
The art behind the creation of craft beers is a great conversation point that ought to be imparted to all bar staff, he suggests.
“The landlady of a local inn comes to buy and I suggested she send her staff to learn about the product, giving them samples of grain malts, hops, I’ll explain to them and get them to taste it. I will give them half an hour of training so they understand what it is they are selling. For example we do bottle condition beer and we don’t do filtered pasteurised – what’s the difference? A lot of people in bars don’t know yet that knowledge really helps to sell beer and people will appreciate it,” he says.
The independent brewery also runs tours taking participants on a journey through history, learning all about the ingredients. “They taste the grain, they get hold of a hop, take it apart and smell it, and I explain this is where they are getting the aromas or the bitterness, and then we’ll talk about the process, look at the equipment, before trying a whole range of different beers that we make from standard to experimental beers that don’t go out to the public. We reach out to publicans and innkeepers and say we can train their staff as no overhead to us.”
Whether or not an innkeeper would be able to benefit from supplying craft beers appealing to the young depends to an extent on whether or not the inn is a free house. “If it is tied to a particular brewery then it is potentially limited as to whether they can buy our
beer,” says Cliff. But he says: “There is a certain amount of freedom, although sometimes the innkeepers are
not aware of it. We come across a lot of pubs and inns whose managers are simply unaware of a number of rules they can actually use to get independent brewers’ beer in, and we have got into a number of smaller tied pubs. It tends to be the much bigger ones that it is harder to penetrate.”
For example he says SIBA’s BeerFlex scheme, formerly Direct Delivery Service (DDS) is a scheme for registered association members who have passed quality audits to join which allows individual pubs within pub groups to actually place orders on behalf of tied pubs.
The systems are there, and there are some tied pubs with a spare pump for just that purpose.
He says: “The first thing is to start pushing the pub company’s head office and saying you want to get a variety of beers in tap. They should be asking questions such as why they cannot sell local beers, but I think a lot of innkeepers just don’t want to talk to head office – they may feel a bit intimidated or bullied in terms of targets they have to meet.
“However, if anything that should give bar managers at inns even more reason to put pressure on pub companies to contact them and stress that they can achieve better sales if they can buy locally.”
He says a number of local pubs are part of this national group that have made the effort to get our beers in. “The resulting sales are incredible: people like provenance. More and more they are looking for local produce, asking where it is coming from.
“We’re from Bexley and people do recognise and appreciate that, they feel an empathy with it – they want to get a local beer. It’s not just in our borough, for there are plenty of people that have migrated out of Bexley and retired to the coast and the interest in their origin is astounding. People love that attachment. They can relate to it and these innkeepers maybe don’t realise they have a huge retirement base that didn’t originate from that area, and they should be looking at independent breweries like us and finding out where their customers have come from. A bit of nostalgia goes a long way.”
There has never been a better time to be a beer drink- er in the UK, with more fantastic tasting beer styles being brewed than ever before by a growing number of talented, innovative brewers. However this growth in the independent beer market has not gone unnoticed by the global beer brands, who have begun to buyout previously independent craft breweries, or release their own products marketed as craft.
This feature was first published in the Feb/Mar 2018 issue of InnKeeper Magazine