Draught beer: art of craft

BrewDog BristolThe range of craft beers available on draught is growing thanks to investment in microbreweries and new products, reports Mark Ludmon

After eight years of continuous growth, Box Steam Brewery in Wiltshire moved to a new site last year, boosting capacity from 65 hectolitres to 400. This significant investment was a reflection of the founders’ faith in the growing appetite for craft beers in the UK, with plans to increase sales through their south-west homeland and meet national demand. “We will see consumers trading and experimenting more with cask ales and beers,” predicts Andy Roberts, managing director of Box Steam. “This is a real opportunity for licensees and we want to encourage bars to stock more guest ales and consider hosting beer festivals and similar events.”

Box Steam has developed a broad range from a golden ale and classic bitters through to porters, demonstrating the versatility of beer for appealing to different palates. To make the most of this, bar staff need to be able to talk about the products they are serving, Andy says. “Education about the different styles of beer will be fundamental to ensure that consumers know which beers to try when being introduced to the category. Box Steam Brewery is working with publicans and bartenders to equip them with the knowledge they need about the quality and taste profile of our beers, how we make them, and which type of consumers they will appeal to.”

To support this, new pump clips for the beers feature notes on the flavour profile, such as a “smooth bittersweet old ale” on the clip for its Dark & Handsome. Consumers want to know more about the beers available on draught but do not feel informed enough to try them, according to the latest Cask Report, carried out by beer writer Pete Brown on behalf of Britain’s brewers. The research showed that 44 per cent of drinkers would try cask ale if they were given more information about it. The most common solution for tackling this is simply to try a small sample before they buy. “It’s a big ask to expect someone who doesn’t drink cask ale to choose from a line-up of handpumps that mean nothing to them and spend £3+ on a pint they might not like,” Pete says.

The growth in cask ale, which is in contrast to an overall decline in beer sales, is matched by the arrival of new microbreweries and the explosion of craft beer bars led by operators such as BrewDog, The Draft House and The Craft Beer Co. “The growth of craft beer bars is a great thing for the industry,” says Jeremy Houston, national account manager at Edinburgh’s Innis & Gunn Brewing Company. “Consumers are looking more and more for local products, with provenance being a key selling point for them.”

Innis & Gunn is well-known for its bottled ales such as Rum Finish, which is finished in oak casks that previously contained rum, but it has been growing distribution of its flagship brew Innis & Gunn Original on draught over the past two years. However, Jeremy says this has been done selectively with only 75 bars and pubs in the UK now offering it on tap, mostly in Scotland. “We will continue to build on this but only with bars where the brand has pride of place and the staff have the right training,” he explains.

Innis & Gunn continues to innovate with barrel finishes for its bottled ales, but in April it will build on its draught offering with the launch of its first craft lager. “It will be attracting consumers who are currently into premium world lager and bringing them back to British beer,” Jeremy says. He adds that this malty, hoppy brew is just one of a number of new products planned.

Seeing the growth in microbrewing, a number of the larger long-established producers are joining in. Thwaites in Blackburn, Lancashire, invested £200,000 in setting up a specialist craft brewery, Crafty Dan, just over a year ago and, in its first year, created 31 unique cask ales ranging from a chocolate stout and an American-hopped IPA to a 7.4 per cent Black IPA. As well as one-off ales and trial beers, it has been responsible for brewing the innovative Signature Range, 13 limited-edition seasonal beers, along with the Quarterly Favourites which are the four best-performing Signature ales from the previous year.

For 2013, Thwaites’ seasonal ales began with Big Ben, a 4.5 per cent ABV strong dark ale, for the winter, to be followed by TBC (Thwaites Best Cask), a 3.8 per cent ABV amber ale for the spring. Later in the year comes Australian-hopped 4.2 per cent ABV pale ale Little Bewdy and, for late autumn, Crafty Devil, a 4.3 per cent ABV ruby premium ale. “The range offers consumers a chance to be a little more experimental with their ale drinking and try something new,” adds marketing manager Lee Williams.

A small microbrewery set up at the 138-year-old Wadworth brewery in Wiltshire creates experimental brews which are being released this year under the new name of Brewers Creations. Starting in January with a 7.1 per cent ABV stout, it has been followed this month with a highly hopped pale ale at five per cent. However, only about 10 firkins of each will be available to pubs within its estate. “As long-established regional brewers, we believe it is important not to get too stuffy or set in our ways,” explains sales and marketing director Paul Sullivan.

More generally, Wadworth has responded to increased demand for craft ales by restructuring its distribution and warehousing to allow its beers such as 6X and Bishop’s Tipple to be available across more of the south of England including London. It also builds on the growth of its nitrokeg stout Corvus, which has grown on the back of sampling, in a direct challenge to Guinness. “People are interested in experimenting on taste and are more educated about not being manipulated by big advertising and marketing campaigns,” says product marketing manager Christine Evers. “The resurgence of the cask ale market has had an interesting effect on stout. Whereas once it was a market dominated by big brands, customers are now showing more willing to try something new.”

For bars without the set-up for handling cask ale, keg is offering a way to meet demand for craft beers. Brewers such as Ilkley and Otley have been extending their offering by adding keg versions of their cask ale, with more planned for 2013. Last month saw the launch of two of Otley Brewing Company’s most popular ales in keg, the 07 Weissen, a cloudy but crisp German-style Weissen beer, and the American-style IPA, Motley Brew. “The brewing industry is continuously evolving and so expanding our keg portfolio is something that we’re going to be looking at doing,” says managing director Nick Otley.

Beers from outside Britain are also benefiting from this trend, with the world beer category growing by 17.6 per cent in the on-trade, according to figures from CGA Strategy. Czech beer Kozel, which is available exclusively on draught in the UK, has grown sales through investment in bar staff training, branded glassware, sampling and a striking font. At The Marquis of Westminster in London’s Pimlico, licensee Chris Hayes says stocking Kozel has been a real business boost. “We were looking for the perfect world beer to help deliver higher margins and drive profits and have found that it has done just that.”

Keg is the fastest-growing area for Fordham and Old Dominion beers from Delaware in the US, which are imported to the UK by Heathwick. Alongside a broad bottled range, the draught beers include Fordham Copperhead and Tavern Ale and Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout and Hop Mountain pale ale, with a new brew due in March. “More and more independent on-trade operators are looking for US craft beer on tap,” says Heathwick’s general manager Graham Richardson. “Consumers are becoming more educated about craft beer and want something more edgy, something they can really relate to.”

Molson Coors invests in craft brewing

After growth in the UK craft beer market, brewing giant Molson Coors UK & Ireland has acquired the Franciscan Well brand and microbrewery in Cork in Ireland and will be developing a new 75,000-hectolitre craft brewery, also in Cork. It is the first development from its new Emerging Markets & Craft Beer unit and joins the group’s portfolio alongside Sharp’s Brewery in Cornwall, which produces Doom Bar, and William Worthington microbrewery in Burton-upon-Trent. Its other brands include Carling, Grolsch, Cobra, Singha and Corona.

Niall Phelan, director of the Emerging Markets & Craft Beer division, said: “In 2012 alone, the craft beer market grew 13 per cent in the UK and 100 per cent in Ireland. For us, craft beer is about amazing beers from creative, inspired brewers that capture the imagination of the growing number of craft beer drinkers in Ireland and the UK.”

Franciscan Well’s brews include Shandon Export Stout, Friar Weisse, Blarney Blonde, Rebel Red and Rebel Lager. Pictured are Keith Fagan, Alan Wolfe and Niall Phelan of Molson Coors UK & Ireland with Franciscan Well co-founder Shane Long.

First published in the February 2013 issue of Bar magazine.

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