Category: Beer

| Beer, Brewing, Craft Beer

Let’s Make Craft Beer Great Again

It may look like the golden years of the craft beer boom are over. But this is not the time to give up. It’s the time to remember why we’re here in the first place.

The bad news just keeps on coming. For as long as we can remember now, every day seems to bring more news of UK breweries that are closing or in trouble. Sometimes it’s someone you’ve never heard of. Other times, it’s someone you thought was too big, too popular to fail.

Among those who are still here, it’s very much survival mode. When I wrote the first Sheffield Beer Report in 2016, the city’s brewers were tiny, but two-thirds said they were planning expansion and investment in the near future. When we asked the same question this year, the response was “Are you fucking kidding?” Whatever cash reserves brewers once had are gone. For many, it’s a question of just hanging on until some unspecified scenario causes things to improve.

The problems facing small brewers are many. But they can be simplified to a sickening Catch-22: costs of production are soaring, so brewers need to either put up their prices or sell a lot more beer to remain profitable. But they can’t sell more beer because their routes to market are increasingly tied up by big corporations. And this means they can’t put their prices up because they have to discount their beer to compete for limited available spaces on the bar. The bar in turn has to buy on price because drinkers are themselves facing a cost of living crisis, which means they’re spending less in pubs and bars.

One by-product of all this is that the sheer energy and joy that once characterised craft beer is no longer the spirit that defines it. It is still there, in tap rooms and at festivals, but it’s slightly jaded. The naïve sense of adventure seems to have gone.

You could say the industry has matured. You could say it needed to. But it’s also in danger of losing what made it exciting in the first place.

As a humble writer, I can’t do much about routes to market and raw material costs. But maybe I can offer some context and commentary that might prove useful.

There’s a new generation in craft brewing now – drinkers, brewery workers, commentators – who don’t remember what it was like before all this happened. I’m conscious that, being older, I can develop a tendency to dismiss new things (I’m just not that keen on hazy, juicy pales, OK? Or brioche buns being used for bacon rolls. And I accept that some of that is my problem.) But at the same time, some younger people can reflexively dismiss anything that came before their time, and that’s at least as problematic. (Last year I was talking with a talented brewer who not only said that all IPAs are hazy, and that a clear beer cannot be an IPA, but that it had always been thus. He simply denied the existence of the clear IPAs we were all drinking until about twelve years ago.)

These people don’t remember what it was like before the craft beer boom – they were too young. So let’s look at the current situation with a bit of longer-term context.

For decades, beer and brewing weren’t interesting to anyone beyond people who worked in the industry (and not always then) and a handful of hobbyists. I began working in the industry as a strategist helping to create ad campaigns for Stella Artois and Heineken. Back then, many of my clients couldn’t tell you what beer was made of, what hops were, what the difference between ale and lager was, or the history of their beers. They said no one wanted beer to have flavour or character. They said people “drank the advertising.” They said beer was “fuel” for 18-34-year-old men on a big night out. And that was it. Oh, there was the Campaign for Real Ale, but they were all really old (i.e. over 40), set in their ways and fuddy-duddy, so there was no point talking to them. They said.

Every few years there’d be a pink beer aimed at women, with pictures of stilettos or jewellery on the label, and it would fail just as spectacularly as the last one.

The situation for good, flavourful, interesting beer back then was a lot worse then than it is now.

I started writing about beer instead of making ads because I thought my Big Beer clients were wrong. People were becoming more interested in flavourful food and drink, more curious about where it came from and who made it. I simply didn’t believe that this could apply across every single aspect of food and drink except beer.

And I was right. The introduction of progressive beer duty in 2002 created an explosion of small brewers. Then a few of us discovered American craft beer. Eventually, brewers such as Thornbridge, Dark Star and Roosters began experimenting with American hops, and reinterpreting American takes on traditional British beer styles, such as IPA, stout and brown ale, in a friendly game of transatlantic craft-brewing tennis.

This all came with a culture of openness, idealism and joyful optimism. We were a small community, and most people knew each other. People who met online would meet up IRL for “Twiss-ups.” We’d travel miles for the opening of a new craft beer bar. Beer blogging side-stepped the (still current) near-total blackout of beer reporting in mainstream media, to document the scene in real time as it evolved.

This spirit, this energy and optimism, helped make craft beer attractive to a previously non-beery audience. Mainstream beer had become something you bought on price, by the slab, from the supermarket. But within a few years, beer was cool again. It was new and exciting. It captured the public imagination. Its cultural value – which had always been there – was finally recognised.

Maybe I’m just out of touch these days, but it feels like this spirit has been lost. We seem to talk so much about the issues and problems in the industry, the gossip and scandal, the bad practice and culture, who’s gone under and who’s been bought out, that there isn’t much time for talking about the joy of beer and brewing and drinking.

Things are still way better now then they were back in the day. I still believe that craft beer has the potential to grow further if it remains interesting and fun. So if you are feeling jaded and wondering where to go, I’d like to offer some prompts to rediscovering creativity and joy.  

  • Remember why you got into this in the first place. What was the beer that made you go crazy about beer? What made you give up your old job or hobby for this one? Is that beer still around? Have you had it recently? How did it make you feel? What ideas did it inspire? Who did you share it with? If you had forgotten about this until now, write it down now and capture it. Because if you see someone drinking Madri and they seem to be having more fun than you, maybe you’ve lost your way.
  • Look to home brewers for inspiration. Ever since the first days of the North American craft-brewing revolution, home brewers have brewed the styles they yearn for but can’t get hold of commercially. This is how modern craft beer started. Today, it’s fascinating to judge home brews in competition, because if the beer isn’t everything the brewer wants it to be, they don’t send it in, so the standard of beers that do make it to the competition is very high. I’ve judged a couple of home brew competitions in Continental Europe recently, and they’re increasingly interested in traditional British ale styles. Partly they’re looking for session-strength beers, but with some interesting flavours. But is there something else behind it too? What will they look to next?
  • Remember you’re allowed to like more than one thing. Increasingly, social discourse is binary. Short attention spans reward constructs like, “Are you Team A or Team B?” “This random thing: good or bad?” The world isn’t like that. Not all big brewers are awful and not all small brewers are good. Mild doesn’t have to be either the coolest thing going or utterly irrelevant. You can enjoy both cask and keg, craft and macro, Batham’s Bitter and Vault City 24k Maple Caramel Carrot Cake. Drinkers do. Be more pluralistic. Less binary.
  • If you’re a brewer, read a book. It doesn’t have to be one of mine (but it would be nice if it was.) But books take a long, broad view, stepping back and taking things in. They reveal history and explain things. The best compliment I get as a writer from brewers is “You made me want to do this” or “You reminded me why I do it.” Maybe inspiration and joy still lurks on the shelves.
  • If you’re a commentator, do a brew day. I understood brewing on an intellectual level for several years before I actually went to a working brewery. It was only then that I truly got it. It’s the aromas – the stomach-rumbling breakfast cereal smell of mashing in, the heady perfume of the hop addition. Even today, after twenty years, any time I’m in a working brewery on brew day it reminds me why I do this, and I grin like a loon.  
  • Try something that’s not on-trend. But don’t do it because it’s not on-trend. It’s not about trying to make dark milds cool again. It’s about brewing and/or drinking a dark mild (or a tripel – please – or a wheat beer, or a saison – remember them?) on its own terms, and asking yourself, have I missed anything here?
  • Answer this question honestly. Why don’t you think of Timothy Taylor Landlord as a Craft Beer? Or Budweiser Budvar? Or Orval? You do? Great! You’re still in touch with what most people out there think of as craft beer. If you don’t – why not? Is it because you don’t rate that particular beer? Or is it because, secretly, your own personal definition of craft beer isn’t about quality and flavour and ingredients and process and intent, but about whether it’s new and it’s got a label with cartoons on it and it’s using this year’s cool new hop? If so, I’m afraid you’re starting to sound a bit like my old Stella and Heineken clients. Craft beer has always been around, even if it hasn’t always been called that. It always will be, in some form.

For my own part, I’m going to search for the good news stories. And when I find them, I’m going to share them. This is me relaunching my blog, after neglecting it for years. It’s Friday. It’s sunny. Let’s go drink something great.

| Brewing, Brooklyn Brewery, Cask ale, Thornbridge

Thornbridge and Garrett Oliver Save the Famous Burton Unions

A Bank Holiday Monday seems an odd time for Carlsberg Marston’s to announce a major story about Britain’s brewing heritage. But we live in odd times. Whatever – it’s good news.

Sometimes there’s a happy ending.

In January, Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company (CMBC) announced that they were getting rid one of the last remaining pieces of Burton-on-Trent’s brewing heritage. For decades, the old Marston’s brewery insisted that you couldn’t brew proper Marston’s Pedigree unless it went through the unique, eccentric Union fermentation system. Then suddenly, the story changed, and you could brew Pedigree even better in the same kind of fermenters everyone else uses.

Anyway, now it turns out that at least one of the Union “sets” has been saved. It’s currently being installed at Thornbridge in Derbyshire (photo above). This was announced, sort of, today by CMBC, who posted the tweet below. At the time of writing, the accompanying link is broken and there’s no relevant press release currently on the CMBC website.

Happily, Thornbridge will be providing clarification over the next day or so. And I’ve had a sneak preview.

The deal seems to have been orchestrated by Garrett Oliver, legendary brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery. Oliver has had a close relationship with Thornbridge for many years. And Brooklyn Brewery has a longstanding commercial relationship with Carlsberg. (It’s complicated – Carlsberg don’t own Brooklyn, but do have international rights to sell Brooklyn beers in Europe and other parts of the world.)

Oliver said:

When I heard that the unions were slated to go silent, I immediately thought that Thornbridge would be the perfect inheritors of this beautiful piece of British brewing heritage. I’m thrilled to provide the ‘assist’ on this historic play.” 

For their part, Thornbridge are going to do some really exciting things with the Union set that kick against the narrative that contributed to CMBC’s decision to discontinue the Unions: that cask ale is supposedly in terminal decline and brewers can’t make money from it any more.

For anyone wondering what the hell a union set is and why it’s important, this would be a good point to explain. It would be perfect if this news could have waited till after my forthcoming article in Ferment magazine on this very subject. But that’s going to be a week or two. And it’s now. So let me sum up briefly.

In the nineteenth century, Burton was the most important brewing centre on the planet, home of the OG IPA. The Union system emerged in the town in the mid-nineteenth century. It was a curious – no, let’s not beat around the bush – it was downright weird and strange and brilliant and British. A bunch of wooden barrels or a “set” – sat horizontally alongside each other in a kind of scaffold. Held in union. On top of this scaffold sat a big iron trough. Swan-necked spouts stretched form each barrel into the trough. After beer had been inoculated with yeast, it would be pumped into the barrels. As it fermented, the yeast pushed up through the pipes, foamed into the trough, and sat there happily for a bit before gradually running back into the barrels. It would keep doing this until it finished fermenting. Why? Apparently, it kept the yeast really happy and healthy, and that meant better beer. You want a definition of craft beer that’s actually about, y’know, the word “CRAFT” rather than who owns what? This was it.

That’s why it’s important that at least one Union Set has been saved. This is our brewing heritage. When Burton produced a quarter of all the beer in Britain, plus a big chunk of its exports, all Burton breweries used unions. To be fair to Marston’s, they clung to the unions decades longer than everyone else did.

CMBC cited “Low volumes due to the decline of the UK cask market” as the reason why “using the Union sets is no longer viable.” So why does a brewer like Thornbridge think they are?

Starting with a brew of their flagship beer, Jaipur, they plan to follow up by brewing other well-loved beers from their armoury, some brand-new new beers specifically designed for the Union set, as well as collaborations with other brewers who are keen to see what a union-fermented version of their beers will look like. I’m told at least one of these will involve Garrett Oliver, sooner rather than later.

Every aspect of this serves to premiumise cask beer, which is what cask beer has to do if it is going to thrive.

Let’s see what else Thornbridge reveal. Let’s see if CNBC can decide if they’ve issued a press release or not before then. I’m sure there’ll be lots of hot takes on this. But Britain now has an authentic union set brewing beer again. Which it didn’t have before this deal was struck.

| Beer

New Report to explore if Sheffield is STILL the best city in the world for beer!

The Sheffield Beer City Report, first published in 2016, is now being revisited, revised and updated, to be launched at the 2024 Sheffield Beer Week.

The report will once again be written by award-winning, Barnsley-born beer writer Pete Brown, and has again been commissioned by Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City, Culture and Public Engagement at the University of Sheffield. Jules Gray, founder and director of Sheffield Beer Week and owner of Hop Hideout, completes the team behind the report.

“The first report had a huge impact on how Sheffield is seen, particularly in terms of the Visitor Economy,” said Professor Toulmin. “But the numbers in it are now nearly eight years out of date. It’s clear that the report is valuable, so we have to have an updated version.”

“A great deal has happened in the beer world since 2016,” said Pete Brown. “Sheffield is still a great city to drink beer in, but like everywhere else, brewing and hospitality have been hit by Covid and the cost-of-living crisis. Some brewers have closed, but other new ones have opened. I get the sense that the Sheffield beer scene is actually more interesting and diverse than it was, even more of an attraction to the city and the region than it was in 2016, but I’m very keen to put some numbers on that and dig deeper.”

The team will be exploring the Sheffield beer scene at this week’s Steel City Beer and Cider Festival, held at the Kelham Island Museum from Wednesday 18th to Saturday 21st October. They’ll then be gathering data from brewers to produce an up-to-date snapshot of current activity and trends, and exploring deeper themes including the role of brewing in the regeneration of parts of the city, and the increasing role of women in the industry.

The 2016 Sheffield Beer City report found that:

  • The Sheffield city region could claim the title of birthplace of the UK craft beer revolution.

  • Sheffield had one brewery for every 23,991 people – 4.7 times more brewers per capita than Greater London.

  • On a typical day 400 different unique beers were available in the city’s pubs.

  • The city region’s breweries turn out over 1,000 different beers each year.

As well as the report, in 2024 there’ll also be a series of podcasts and other online materials that will dive deeper into some of the issues explored in the report.

The report will be launched at the next Sheffield Beer Week, which will be taking place from 4 to 10 March 2024.

| AB InBev, Bass Ale, Beer, Beer Marketing, Brewing, Brooklyn Brewery, Cask ale, Craft Beer, Dark Star, Fuller's, Goose Island, Lager, The Business End

Who Really Owns/Brews Your Favourite Beer?

There are many reasons to drink craft beer or real ale. There are other reasons to drink exotic ‘foreign’ lagers. But if ‘authenticity’ or supporting small, independent brewers is one of your motivations, you might find this useful.

There’s no getting away from the economic reality that if something challenges a big player in any market, the giant will either try to destroy it, replicate it, or if that doesn’t work, buy it.

As craft beer went mainstream, it attracted a much bigger audience than just beer geeks. It sold at a premium compared to mainstream lager. Big brewers had commoditised their own brands, so they got jealous and wanted a piece of craft’s action. (You might think that’s unfair, but if you were working for one of these big brewers, that’s what you’d do too.)

Many leading craft brands have now been acquired by the giants. That’s just how it is. Now – the ownership structure of the beer industry may be of no interest to you. If you’re already drinking mainstream lagers from global giants and you just occasionally fancy something hoppier, that’s up to you. I won’t judge.

However, if one of your motivations for drinking craft beer – or just as importantly, cask/real ale – is that you want to support small, independent businesses, it’s not always obvious whether or not the brand in front of you is the real deal. Big corporations pay a lot of money to acquire the cool cachet of craft brands, and they’re not always eager to tell you the truth.

So I’ve compiled a list of who owns what. If your favourite brand is not here, then it is what it claims to be – independent at least, if not always small.

I’m passing no judgement here. Some of the beers below remain excellent beers, and there are quite a few that I regularly buy myself. I’m not telling you not to buy them. I’m just providing the information.

As I went through the corporate websites, I also encountered a lot of what we now call “world lagers.” People often buy these beers partially because they’re buying into an idea of the country of origin, believing that they have been imported to the UK. But most of these lagers are in fact brewed in the UK. Some of them have never even been near the place they are supposedly brewed. So all the beers below are brewed in the UK unless otherwise stated.

First, here’s a list of brewery/beer brands in alphabetical order, so if you want to check on a particular beer, you can find it easily:

AmstelHeineken
Asahi (Brewed in Italy/UK – seems to be moving aroubnd a bit.)Asahi
BackyardCarlsberg Marstons
Banks’sCarlsberg Marstons
Bass (Brewed by Carlsberg Marstons)AB-InBev
BeavertownHeineken
BecksAB-InBev
Blue MoonMolson Coors
BoddingtonsAB-InBev
BrahmaAB-InBev
BrixtonHeineken
BrixtonHeineken
Brooklyn (not owned outright but Carlsberg Martsons has brand rights in Europe – they brew and sell the beers here)Carlsberg Marstons
BudweiserAB-InBev
Caffrey’sMolson Coors
CaledonianHeineken
Camden TownAB-InBev
CarlingMolson Coors
CarlsbergCarlsberg Marstons
CobraMolson Coors
CoorsMolson Coors
CoronaAB-InBev
CourageCarlsberg Marstons
Dark StarAsahi
DesperadosHeineken
Deuchars IPAHeineken
Eagle (Waggledance, Eagle IPA etc.)Carlsberg Marstons
Erdinger (Independently owned and brewed in Germany. UK marketing and distribution by CM.)Carlsberg Marstons
Estrella Damm (Independently owned and brewed in Spain, packaged in UK. UK marketing and distribution by CM.)Carlsberg Marstons
FostersHeineken
Franciscan WellMolson Coors
Fuller’sAsahi
Goose Island (Brewed in UK)AB-InBev
Grimbergen (brewed in Belgium, France, Poland and Italy)Carlsberg Marstons
Grolsch (Brewed in Netherlands)Asahi
Heineken (Brewed in Netherlands)Heineken
HobgoblinCarlsberg Marstons
Hoegaarden (brewed in Belgium)AB-InBev
HolstenCarlsberg Marstons
JenningsCarlsberg Marstons
John Smith’sHeineken
Kirin Ichiban (Owned by Kirin, brewed and marketed in UK by CM)Carlsberg Marstons
KronenbourgHeineken
Lagunitas (brewed in Netherlands)Heineken
LechAsahi
Leffe (Brewed in Belgium)AB-InBev
Lowebrau (Brewed in Germany?)AB-InBev
MadriMolson Coors
Marstons (Pedigree and all others)Carlsberg Marstons
MeantimeAsahi
MichelobAB-InBev
Miller Genuine DraftMolson Coors
MorettiHeineken
Murphy’s Irish StoutHeineken
Newcastle BrownHeineken
Peroni (Really brewed in Italy!)Asahi
Pilsner Urquell (Really brewed in Pilsen!)Asahi
PorettiCarlsberg Marstons
PravhaMolson Coors
Red StripeHeineken
RingwoodCarlsberg Marstons
Sagres (brewed in Portugal)Heineken
San MiguelCarslberg Marstons
Sharp’s (Doom Bar and all others)Molson Coors
ShedheadCarlsberg Marstons
ShipyardCarlsberg Marstons
SkolCarlsberg Marstons
SolHeineken
StaropramenMolson Coors
Stella ArtoisAB-InBev
Tetley’sCarlsberg Marstons
TigerHeineken
TuborgCarlsberg Marstons
TyskieAsahi
WainrightCarlsberg Marstons
Warsteiner (Brewed in Germany)Carlsberg Marstons
Worthington’sMolson Coors
WychwoodCarlsberg Marstons

Now, here’s the same list sorted by corporation – just for interest really – so you can see who owns what:

Bass (Brewed by Carlsberg Marstons)AB-InBev
BecksAB-InBev
BoddingtonsAB-InBev
BrahmaAB-InBev
BudweiserAB-InBev
Camden TownAB-InBev
CoronaAB-InBev
Goose Island (Brewed in UK)AB-InBev
Hoegaarden (brewed in Belgium)AB-InBev
Leffe (Brewed in Belgium)AB-InBev
Lowebrau (Brewed in Germany?)AB-InBev
MichelobAB-InBev
Stella ArtoisAB-InBev
Asahi (Brewed in Italy/UK – seems to be moving aroubnd a bit.)Asahi
Dark StarAsahi
Fuller’sAsahi
Grolsch (Brewed in Netherlands)Asahi
LechAsahi
MeantimeAsahi
Peroni (Really brewed in Italy!)Asahi
Pilsner Urquell (Really brewed in Pilsen!)Asahi
TyskieAsahi
BackyardCarlsberg Marstons
Banks’sCarlsberg Marstons
Brooklyn (not owned outright but Carlsberg Martsons has brand rights in Europe – they brew and sell the beers here)Carlsberg Marstons
CarlsbergCarlsberg Marstons
CourageCarlsberg Marstons
Eagle (Waggledance, Eagle IPA etc.)Carlsberg Marstons
Erdinger (Independently owned and brewed in Germany. UK marketing and distribution by CM.)Carlsberg Marstons
Estrella Damm (Independently owned and brewed in Spain, packaged in UK. UK marketing and distribution by CM.)Carlsberg Marstons
Grimbergen (brewed in Belgium, France, Poland and Italy)Carlsberg Marstons
HobgoblinCarlsberg Marstons
HolstenCarlsberg Marstons
JenningsCarlsberg Marstons
Kirin Ichiban (Owned by Kirin, brewed and marketed in UK by CM)Carlsberg Marstons
Marstons (Pedigree and all others)Carlsberg Marstons
PorettiCarlsberg Marstons
RingwoodCarlsberg Marstons
ShedheadCarlsberg Marstons
ShipyardCarlsberg Marstons
SkolCarlsberg Marstons
Tetley’sCarlsberg Marstons
TuborgCarlsberg Marstons
WainrightCarlsberg Marstons
Warsteiner (Brewed in Germany)Carlsberg Marstons
WychwoodCarlsberg Marstons
San MiguelCarslberg Marstons
AmstelHeineken
BeavertownHeineken
BrixtonHeineken
BrixtonHeineken
CaledonianHeineken
DesperadosHeineken
Deuchars IPAHeineken
FostersHeineken
Heineken (Brewed in Netherlands)Heineken
John Smith’sHeineken
KronenbourgHeineken
Lagunitas (brewed in Netherlands)Heineken
MorettiHeineken
Murphy’s Irish StoutHeineken
Newcastle BrownHeineken
Red StripeHeineken
Sagres (brewed in Portugal)Heineken
SolHeineken
TigerHeineken
Blue MoonMolson Coors
Caffrey’sMolson Coors
CarlingMolson Coors
CobraMolson Coors
CoorsMolson Coors
Franciscan WellMolson Coors
MadriMolson Coors
Miller Genuine DraftMolson Coors
PravhaMolson Coors
Sharp’s (Doom Bar and all others)Molson Coors
StaropramenMolson Coors
Worthington’sMolson Coors

This list is correct to the best of my knowledge but clearly things will change. I am more than happy to accept corrections and additions from either the brands and brand owners themselves or from drinkers who spot something I’ve missed. I will keep it up to date from now on.

| Beer, Brewing, Water, Yeast

What is beer? No, seriously.

I’ve been writing about it for twenty years and drinking it for forty. But after a mind-bending dive into beer history, I’m not even sure what it is any more.

Last weekend I was in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, at the Ales Through the Ages Conference. I was honoured to be giving the keynote speech, which was titled “The Highs and Lows of Researching Beer History.” (You can see the full speech and slides if you sign up for my Patreon.)

In the speech, I questioned some of our assumptions about history. I basically took 45 minutes to say what Hilary Mantel said far more elegantly than I ever could in a couple of sentences: “History is not the past – it is the method we have evolved of organising our ignorance of the past. It’s the record of what’s left on the record.”

And that record changes. As new technologies evolve and new discoveries emerge, the picture we have of the past changes: history changes. The past doesn’t change – obviously – but our understanding and knowledge of it does.

In a stroke of great fortune, these thoughts dovetailed perfectly with the opening speech of the conference proper. Travis Rupp, “The Beer Archaeologist,” spoke on the subject of “Defining Beer in the Ancient World.”

When I first started writing about beer, the consensus was that brewing began around 3000BC in Sumeria, because that’s how far the oldest evidence dated back. Within a couple of years, new carbon dating technology had pushed this back to around 7000BC. Then, in 2018, the whole ancient history of beer was rewritten once more.

Archeo-botanical evidence shows that the Natufian people of the Levant were fermenting grains 13,000 years ago, most likely to produce a drink for honouring the dead.

Does this make beer the oldest drink in the world?

Going into the conference, I’d followed the belief that mead must be older, because honey just got made in hives that hung around in forests. But Rupp completely disagrees. “It was very difficult, and very expensive, to gather enough honey to brew mead,” he says.

What about wine? Well, if we’re talking about something made from 100% grape juice, that’s pretty recent too. Wine was given a great press (so to speak) by the ancient Greeks and Romans, but before then, beer seems to have been dominant. New discoveries suggest the ancient Egyptians had commercial breweries capable of 5,000-gallon brews – way bigger than most craft breweries today.

But when we get back as far as the Natufians, we have to ask whether what they were making could technically be called beer. (For the purposes of this discussion, we’re ignoring the obsolete Middle Ages distinction between “beer” and “ale.” Hops were a very recent addition to beer across the total sweep of its history.)

I’ve always had a very simple distinction. All fermented drinks are based on sugars that yeast converts to alcohol. If those sugars come from fruit, the drink is wine (real cider is, effectively, apple wine.) If those sugars come from grains the drink is beer (which is why Japanese sake is technically rice beer rather than rice wine.) The domestication of grasses such as barley and Emmer wheat is pretty much the earliest marker for stable, permanent communities as opposed to nomadic wandering.

Ah. Says Rupp. But of the starches in the Natufian beer, only 34.2% came from grasses. The rest were a mix of starches from a wide variety of plants including lentils, tubers, leaves, even flowers. Fruit was likely added not primarily for flavour, but because the yeast on the skins would have started the fermentation.

So is this still beer?

For Rupp, it is. The key difference between the fermentable sugars in fruit and those in other plants is that the sugars in grains and tubers are stored as starch. Sugars in fruit will start fermenting as soon as yeasts can get to them. Starch needs to be modified in some way before yeasts can start to ferment. That’s why we malt grain in the brewing process, and why the evidence of Natufian brewing involves the grinding of both grains and tubers.

So for Rupp, “beer” is a drink that has been through a process we can loosely call brewing: it’s probably grain-based, but it has been mashed and heated in its production, before fermentation.

As the present changes the past, so the past changes the present. Just when you thought craft brewers had added everything imaginable to beer, let’s look forward to lentil, potato, rose and wheat beer…

Enjoyed reading this? Then please have a look at my Patreon and consider subscribing, from as little as £1 a month. It features exclusive and preview content and many other benefits such as free books, depending on your subscription level.

| Beer, Cask ale, Pubs, Real Ale

Six Reasons Cask Ale-Loving Publicans Should Immediately Whack the Price Up*

(*Relative to other drinks they serve)

It sounds counter-intuitive. Especially when drinkers face the prospect of losing any disposable income we may have had. But all the available market data suggests that the best way to sell more cask ale is to make it more expensive in comparison to other drinks on the bar. Here’s why, in six handy points.

1. People who already drink cask are perfectly happy to pay more

Cask drinkers have always been, on the whole, older, more upmarket and more affluent than the average beer drinker. They have a higher than average income, and spend more on average when they go out to the pub. In one survey of reasons why they drink cask, “price” scores 10th on a list of 13 options, with just 21% saying it’s important, versus 53% citing “flavour” and 39% saying it’s important that it’s “brewed locally.” In a separate study, “better value for money” comes 8th in a list of ten factors, with 25% saying it’s relevant versus 74% again claiming “flavour” is what matters. 72% of all ale drinkers say they tend to buy quality rather than quantity, compared to 44% who say they tend to be influenced by what’s on special offer.

It’s worth noting that cask ale drinkers are drinking less cask ale than they did. What are the drinking instead? Craft beer in other formats such as keg. 67% of all craft keg beer sells for north of £5 per pint, whereas over 70% of cask ale sells for less than £4 a pint.

Cask ale drinkers are telling us they care about quality more than price, and proving this by switching from cask to drinks that are far more expensive.

2. Non-cask drinkers already think – wrongly – that cask is more expensive than the fancy Mediterranean lagers they’re currently drinking. So what have you got to lose?

Get a load of this recent story from spoof news website The Daily Mash:

It’s a funny story – ignorant and badly informed, based on a premise that’s entirely false – but funny nonetheless. On average, cask ale is cheaper than any other pint on the bar apart from bog-standard cooking lager. And yet, the rapier wits at the Mash aren’t the only people who believe it’s eye-wateringly expensive.

In a survey of beer drinkers who do not drink cask ale, when asked what the barriers, are, “price” comes second in a list of 15 possible reasons, just behind “taste”, and well ahead of the clichés we all tell ourselves matter, such as the perception it’s warm (3rd), old-fashioned (6th) or flat (9th). Almost by definition, these people are already drinking beer that’s more expensive than cask ale is in reality. So putting the price up isn’t going to deter them any more than they already are. And they could afford it just fine if they had a reason to want to buy it.

But why do they think it’s so much more expensive than it really is? Partly, people assume darker beers are more expensive. Many also mistakenly believe cask is on average higher in ABV than other beers, and therefore more expensive. But the main reason, to my mind, is that outside the beer bubble, among the vast majority of drinkers and in places like the Daily Mash, people see cask ale and craft beer as synonymous. (And why shouldn’t they?) Check out this splash from a feature in the Guardian from 2019: A “craft beer enthusiast’s guide to Manchester”… illustrated with a pic of six cask ale handpumps.

If craft beer is expensive relative to other drinks (and it is) and real ale is the same as craft beer, then that’s also going to be expensive – isn’t it? Makes you wonder why the opposite is true.

In terms of price, non-drinkers of cask wrongly assume it is priced close to craft beer. You could always seek to correct this perception and point out how cheap cask is… but you’d be wrong to do so.

3. People are increasingly choosing more premium products across the board

“Premiumisation” has been one of the dominant trends in marketing for at least the past thirty years, and it’s not going away. For anyone above the poverty line, there’s a basic version of most consumer goods that’s easily affordable. As status-driven beings, we therefore actively seek out premium versions of the products that matter to us, to help us stand out and feel special. Yeah, you do.

In beer, this is why Peroni exists. The most recent example of premiumisation across the board is the performance of different beer styles as the on-trade had opened back up post-pandemic, versus their relative price. As a general rule, the more expensive something is (the blue bar) the better its volume performance when comparing 2022 with pre-pandemic 2019 (the red bar). The best performing segment in the whole of the on-trade drinks is “Mediterranean lager”, likely to be the most expensive mainstream beer on the bar, beaten only by craft. Standard lager and cask ale – the cheapest pints on the bar – are performing worse than anything else in the pub.

People are premiumising their drinks choices because they’re going to the pub less often and so need things to be a bit more special when they do go. It’s not necessarily that they WANT to spend more – but they are PREPARED to spend more rather than accept something they see as inferior.

4. This applies even – especially – during economic hard times

When money is tight, certain types of treat become more, not less, important. Premium versions of mainstream brands tend to do best during economic downtimes: “I can’t afford a nice holiday. I can’t afford a new car. Sod it, I’m going to splash out on a more expensive cut of meat/fresh orange juice/morning coffee.”

In June, CGA Strategy asked a broad range of consumers, “If your disposable income is reduced as a result of rising costs, which of the following do you plan to prioritise for spending over the next 12 months?” People were given 12 options for things they were most reluctant to cut down on, and invited to tick as many as they liked. The top answer was “visits to hospitality venues”, with 35% saying this would be important to them – double the percentage who cited entertainment packages such as Netflix.

Having said that, people still believe they will be spending less money overall on going out. But how are they planning on economising? The top answers revolve round going out less often, and drinking less when they do. Choosing cheaper, less premium versions of what they drink came second-bottom, with just 12% saying they’d consider this, just below visiting less premium outlets. More people said that the cost of living crisis will make them MORE LIKELY to choose quality/premium drinks (32%) than those who say it will make them LESS LIKELY (28%).

Economic hardship makes us more, not less, likely to choose more expensive/premium drinks.

5. Pub groups actively don’t want to sell more cask right now

So here’s a weird and slightly unsettling thing. At the beer industry seminar for which I gathered all this research, CAMRA and SIBA presented a new marketing campaign to get people to drink more cask ale. They’re seeking funding from across the industry to get it going. After the presentation, there was some grumbling from some people in the room who run groups of pubs. They protested that if the campaign were successful, it might make people drink cask ale rather than drinking other beers. Given that they were there because they are part of an industry body called Cask Matters, you might think they saw this as a good thing, not to say the whole damn point. But no: they were concerned about this possibility. Their pubs are struggling. The last thing they want just now is for people to stop drinking expensive world lager or craft beer, which pays pubs a decent margin, and start drinking more cask beer, which delivers a lower margin, instead. Therefore, with relative prices as they are, large pub groups are likely to OPPOSE any marketing activity that seeks to grow cask at the expense of other beer. We are in the ridiculous situation where companies selling cask beer – sometimes even companies that brew it – are potentially actively opposed to growing cask ale’s share of total beer.

Let’s be frank: if this remains the case, cask beer is utterly fucked outside the specialist independent pubs that make it their mission. The only possible way of changing this is to raise the price of cask beer relative to other beers on the bar.

6. Where cask is more expensive now, it actually sells more

If you still aren’t convinced, if you need one final argument, it’s this: where cask ale is more expensive on the bar currently, it actually sells more quickly. Surveying 4765 pubs across the country in 2019, CGA strategy found that in pubs where a pint of cask cost more than £3.70, it sold 32.5% more pints than in places where it cost less. Stripping out London and looking at the rest of the UK, it sold 9.5% more pints where it was selling for more than £3.45.

Now – chances are, these pubs were not just selling cask more expensively. They were probably nicer pubs charging a premium across the board. Interestingly, drinkers tend not to judge price in absolute terms. You know that in one venue, drinks generally are going to cost more than in another venue. If you’ve ever chosen to go to a nice pub instead of a nearby Wetherspoons, you know what I mean.

Across ale generally, the brands that are succeeding are the brands that are most expensive. Check out the growth in the top ten ale brands (cask and keg) between 2019 and 2022:

Beavertown Neck Oil has grown by 482% since before the pandemic – I guess not many people are too bothered by it selling out to Heineken. A substantial chunk of this growth will be due to Heineken’s powerful sales force shoving it out to pubs across the country. But even if simple distribution growth were responsible for, say, 70-80% of this growth, it’s clearly still selling like hotcakes in the pubs it’s flying into. This proves that drinkers have a thirst for a flavourful, sessionable pale ale – if it looks good on the bar, comes in a nice branded glass etc. The growth of Camden Pale makes the same point, somewhat less emphatically.

When we get to cask, the only brand in the top ten experiencing similarly strong growth is Timothy Taylor Landlord – a beer that sells into the trade at a higher price than its rivals, is less likely to do deals on price, and therefore tends to cost more at the bar.

So there are lots of contributing factors to this, and it’s not necessarily a direct correlation. But the data shows that if you’re keeping and selling cask properly, you can charge more for it – and sell more of it as a result.

The cask ale industry is currently in a pricing death spiral. Pubs are looking to buy it as cheaply as possible, and among 2000 breweries serving a shrinking market, there’s always a brewer who will undercut their rival. This is stripping value out of the market, which is why small brewers are switching to keg, publicans are often keeping cask badly, there’s not enough investment in marketing it to make it relevant to image-conscious, promiscuous drinkers, so it’s staying on the bar too long, so it tastes shit, so even die-hard cask drinkers are going “Hmm… not sure about the quality in here. Best stick with a Neck Oil just to be safe.”

Just put the fucking price up, guys.

I was a marketer long before I was a beer writer, and I still like to keep my hand in. For more marketing insight, sign up to my regular industry newsletter, or get exclusive, paywalled content via my Patreon. If you’d like to have a chat about you business specifically, drop me a line.

| Beer, Dave Wickett, Kelham Island, Thornbridge

Sheffield’s legendary Kelham Island Brewery saved from closure

Back in May, the announcement of the closure of Sheffield’s oldest brewery felt too awful to contemplate. Now, a group including Thornbridge Brewery have stepped in.

The press release says:

Kelham Island Brewery, Sheffield’s oldest independent brewery, has been saved from closure by a group from Sheffield. 

The brewery’s rescue is a collaboration between Tramlines co-founder and Sheffield venue owner James O’Hara, his brother and financial analyst Tom O’Hara, Simon Webster and Jim Harrison of renowned Thornbridge Brewery, Peter Donohoe, founder of Sheffield based creative studio Peter and Paul and Ben Rymer marketing manager from beer festival organisers, We Are Beer. 

James O’Hara, who put the group together after hearing about the brewery’s closure, said: “Kelham Island Brewery, and its flagship beer Pale Rider, are known and revered beyond Sheffield. It’s heritage that we, as a city, should be really proud of. We couldn’t let that just disappear, it means too much within the city and to the UK’s beer culture for it to become another Wikipedia entry.”

Finally, some good news.

The closure of any brewery that is run by dedicated, enthusiastic people and produces good beer is a tragedy, and there have already been too many of those post-pandemic. But Kelham Island was more than that.

When the closure was announced in May, brewery owner Ed Wickett blamed “a whirlwind of problems,” a list topped by Covid and lockdowns. They were being hit by surcharges on fueL and other utilities, and at the same time the brewery was in a dilapidated state and needed new investment. In a broken cask ale market that is indulging in a foolhardy race to the bottom on price, there was simply no margin to survive.

Ed ran the brewery for ten years almost to the day following the death of his father, Dave. He has done a great job and devoted ten years of his life to Kelham Island. But I imagine somewhere in the sadness over the closure, there was also relief.

A generation of craft beer drinkers has emerged since Dave passed away from cancer in May 2012, aged just 64. I might be wrong, but it feels like his name is not known to many these days. But he was a pioneer in Britain’s craft beer revolution. Our beer scene today would not look the same without him.

Wickett the pioneer

Kelham Island Brewery was a trailblazer. When Wickett opened it in 1990, it was the first new brewery opening in Sheffield for over a century. Everyone told him he was mad. But they’d said the same to him when he opened the Fat Cat pub ten years previously. Wickett’s favourite beer was Timothy Taylor Landlord – it’s never been out of stock in the Fat Cat. The brewery were so sceptical of a new real ale-centric pub in the centre of Sheffield’s decaying industrial district that they refused to deliver to him. So Wickett drove a van up to the brewery in Keighley and picked it up himself. When he was back a day or two later for more, they started to believe in him.

Kelham Island’s flagship was – sorry, is! – Pale Rider, a pale blonde ale with pronounced citrusy hop aromas. It won Champion Beer of Britain in 2004 (the year everyone thinks Greene King IPA won – it actually came second.) But Pale Rider’s significance was far greater than that.

Wickett was a stubborn maverick who didn’t suffer fools gladly. He acknowledged that he wasn’t always easy to work for, and there was a steady revolving door of brewers in and out of Kelham. The thing is, when they left – either fired or storming out after being unable to work with Wickett any longer – they’d often go just up the road and open their own brewery. Grudgingly or not, they still wanted to brew pale, citrusy cask ales in Sheffield’s now post-industrial heart. There was a cloud of small, independent brewers around Kelham Island years before they started spreading across the country. And that pale rider-inspired blonde ale has become Sheffield’s signature brew.

The birth of British craft beer

Exact recollections of events vary between him and some of the people he worked with, but here’s how he told the story to me.

By the early 2000s, Kelham Island was struggling to keep up with demand. One day Wickett was visiting his mate Jim Harrison, who had recently moved into the magnificent but then run-down Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire. They went past an old stable block in the grounds and Wickett (everyone called him Wickett, never Dave) joked that it would be a perfect spot for a small brewery. They talked some more, and agreed that Thornbridge Brewery could be a handy overflow for when Kelham Island needed extra capacity. Instead of hiring some seasoned old cask ale brewer, Wickett interviewed two young men just out of brewing school, Stefano Cossi and Martin Dickie.

Neither was especially wedded to the Sheffield cask pale ale tradition. They were excited by new hops from America and New Zealand, which at that point had hardly been seen in Britain. Thornbridge began brewing British cask ales with American hops, used American style. Their flagship, Jaipur, went on to win just about every award possible, and Wickett ended up having to build a new brewery for Kelham Island instead. In 2007, Martin Dickie left to do some kind of start-up brewery in Scotland, and Cossi left soon after. But the Thornbridge blueprint was established.

Family saves the day

I don’t know too much about the other people involved in the consortium, but I do know Tramlines now defines Sheffield as much as the brewing tradition Wickett began. But it feels so right that Thornbridge is part of this move. Without Kelham Island, there would be no Thornbridge. Now, without Thornbridge there would be no Kelham Island. There couldn’t be a more perfect end to what started out looking like a tragic story.

Writing this has made me think a lot about the time Wickett invited me to the Fat Cat to do a talk about my second book, Three Sheets to the Wind, back in 2006. I had been invited to meet Thornbridge the following day, and they were putting me up at the hall that night. As Wickett took me out to the taxi, he said, “I’m jealous of you.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re going to Thornbridge.”

“But you’ve been loads of times!”

“Yeah, but you’re going for the first time. You can never get that feeling again.”

Welcome home, Wickett.

| Beer, Cask ale, Pubs, Real Ale

If you love cask ale… set it free.

It’s Cask Ale Week, and Britain’s ‘special’ beer style is in freefall. It’s time to cauterise the wound that’s bleeding out.

Last week, at the launch of Cask Ale Week, I was asked to present a summary of all the market data and research that various brewers were willing to pool and share. I learned a lot. But here’s one of the most urgent points for cask ale brewers.

The whole on-trade drinks market is still recovering from Covid (just in time to be pummelled by a cost of living crisis and the collapse of the economy). But some parts of it are suffering worse than others. Standard lager is struggling as people trade up to “premium” options such as the newly invented “Mediterranean lager” category. Still white wine is having a rough time as people – especially young people – switch to cocktails instead.

It’s not looking good for cask ale

But down there at the bottom of the table is poor old cask ale. A quarter of the volume of the market had already disappeared in the decade to 2019. And as the rest of the on-trade makes its slow and difficult way back to parity with the pre-pandemic year, cask languishes a further 25% down in volume versus three years ago. The number of pubs stocking it is down. And in the pubs where it remains, it’s selling 18% less than it used to.*

There are far too many reasons for this to fit in one blog post – same as there are far more things that could be done to alter the decline. But what’s abundantly clear is that the strategies cask ale brewers, stockists and fans have been pushing up to this point are not working. If you want cask to survive, you need to change the conversation and actions around it.

When I write stuff like this, this is usually the point where some cask die-hards chip in with the “It’s snowing outside my house therefore global warming is a myth” argument. “I know loads of great cask ale pubs,” they say. “The quality and range in them is excellent. They are busy and punters are happy. Therefore you are talking bollocks, Pete.”

The premises of this argument may be true, but they don’t lead to that conclusion. Yes, there will always be great cask ale pubs that will make a profit from selling cask ale. And the people who love cask ale will seek out those pubs and drink in them. But what percentage of all cask ale pubs are like that? And if you look at the overall figures, how awful must the other pubs be to create such nightmarish headlines overall?

Well, now we know.

Throughput is king

One of the biggest of the many issues facing cask is throughput. While some brewers disagree, the industry consensus is that once it is on the bar, a breached cask should be sold in three days. After that, the quality starts to decline. It starts with it just tasting not as good as it should – not as good as an experienced drinker knows it could be – and it ends up tasting like vinegar. In pubs that are not core cask ale pubs, you probably wouldn’t take a pint back. If you did – trust me on this – the staff, who are not trained in perfect cask ale, will say, “Well, no one else has complained” or “It’s cask, mate. It’s meant to taste like that.”

The data shows that if you’re an experienced cask drinker, you’re 39% likely to never visit the pub again. You’d tell your mates not to go there either. But the vast majority of cask drinkers only do so occasionally. And what those people do is go, “Oh, I guess I don’t like cask ale.” They blame the drink rather than the pub. They order a pint of Neck Oil (up 482% in volume since 2019 – and no, that’s not one of my frequent typos) or a Negroni (on-trade spirits up 16% since 2019) instead.

This is a huge problem, and it’s getting bigger. Brewers would love it if publicans who don’t sell a cask in three days take it off sale. But as cost pressures on the publican mount, that’s the last thing they’re going to do. Only 24% of pubs selling cask sell enough of it to guarantee a maximum three-day shelf life. If you were to just look at the peak selling time of Thursday to Sunday, that number is 54% – but that’s down from 62% since 2019.

So pubs that can’t sell cask fresh enough are actively driving people away from drinking cask. And over the course of the week, that means three out of four cask pubs are actively turning people off cask. The industry has loads of quality and training initiatives. It also has loads of passionate landlords who pride themselves on their cask ale as the sign of a good pub. But they’re not in these pubs. So why are these pubs selling cask?

The Oxford Partnership looked at flow data measuring beer going through the pumps in a sample of designed to reflect the national average. They then segmented these pubs on the basis of how quickly they sell cask ale on one axis, and how big cask ale is as a share of all the beer that pubs sells on the other axis.

The results are interesting.

If you were a sandwich maker, would you put 20 fresh sandwiches into a shop that only sells three sandwiches a day?

Adding up the bottom row, we see that 21.7% of pubs are selling more than 72 pints of cask a day on average. No throughput issues here. These 21.7% of pubs account for 42.1% of all the cask ale sold.

Whereas look at the top left boxes. 39.3% of all pubs sell less than 48 pints of cask a day. Frustratingly, this is a different measure than the 24 pints per day that needs to be sold to keep cask in good nick. But the principle still holds. They’re not selling it quickly enough, which is why nearly 40% of all pubs selling cask can only muster 13.9% of all cask volume between them.

These are the pubs where there’s maybe one handpull on, or three with two turned round for most of the week. That handpull probably serves Doom Bar or Greene King IPA, because if you’re reducing your range after lockdown, in theory it makes sense to stick to familiar brands. But this simply reinforces the dull, staid image of cask, on a bar where spirits, cocktails, craft beer and lagers like Madri all have a bigger, more colourful presence than they did three years ago. And so the cycle accelerates.

So maybe it’s time to rip cask out of those 39.3% low volume, low share pubs, or at least a good proportion of them. (This is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of anyone involved in Cask Ale Week.) An additional 13.9% volume loss might seem unbearable on top of the volume loss the market is already suffering. But you’d be cauterising the wound. You’d be getting rid of the vast majority of shit pints of cask beer that are being served every day.

You’d break the cycle of poor quality pints turning off occasional drinkers. Only serve cask in outlets where it sells enough for the quality to be decent.

Once you’ve stopped the rot, you can start the recovery. Once you can be sure that curious, younger drinkers will be served a pint that won’t put them off for life, you can feel safe giving them good reasons to try it. But that’s another story…

*All figures Oxford Partnership research, Feb-April 2022

I was a marketer long before I was a beer writer, and I still like to keep my hand in. For more marketing insight, sign up to my regular industry newsletter, or get exclusive, paywalled content via my Patreon. If you’d like to have a chat about you business specifically, drop me a line.

| Beer, Beer Marketing

The 2022 Beer and Cider Marketing Awards: Winners Revealed!

It’s been a rocky road back after four years away, but last Thursday we once again pitted brewers and cider makers of all shapes and sizes against each other to celebrate creativity on the outside of the bottle, can, glass or plastic tub.

We did the first Beer Marketing Awards in 2015, and added cider in 2017. The awards last ran in 2018. This year, in conjunction with Brew//LDN, we revived the contest. The idea for this event has always been that it is for the whole industry: a craft brewer with an idea and a social media account can compete against a multinational with a seven figure budget if the idea is good enough. Everyone has the same amount of space on a can or bottle label, or the same 280 characters on Twitter.

We had also hoped to host an event where the whole industry could come together under one roof to socialise and network. By 2018, our awards ceremony had built a strong reputation as a breath of fresh air in industry events. But in these strange and uncertain times, most of our entrants preferred an online, virtual presentation instead. So we broadcast a short announcement last Thursday, which you can view here:

Hopefully we can all get together again physically next year.

We made awards in thirteen categories, with our overall Beer and Cider Marketer of the Year chosen from those category winners. You might notice a distinct absence of cider – we only had TWO cider entries this year. I hope that changes next year. Anyway, the results were as follows.

Best Branding/Design

Gold: St Austell – Korev

This is such a big step change from where the brand was and pulls it away from the traditional cask style branding previously being used. It created a clear set of assets that have been consistently applied, and delivers a broad appeal whilst still anchoring back to the brewery’s Cornish roots with the nice line, “The coast is our compass”, combined with imagery inspired by the Cornish coastline.

Silver: The Potting Shed – Little Big BrewCo

Great approach literally applying named identities to each of their range. Although using some tried and tested visual approaches from the craft world, the result is a clean look and feel that position the product well in the market place.

Highly Commended: Asahi – Dark Star rebrand

Highly Commended: Vocation rebrand

Best Community Engagement

Gold: Brixton – The Beer Exchange

The Beer Exchange campaign promotes keeping things in the spirit of the community, wherever you are.
The brewery has created a first-of-its-kind beer “exchange,” encouraging beer lovers in New York and London to buy each other a pint from across the pond. This transatlantic brewery collab came about in June 2021, as the Harlem and Brixton Business Improvement Districts started an exciting twinning partnership to celebrate the shared heritage, culture and values of the areas. Brixton Brewery has donated all the proceeds from the exchange to Norwood & Brixton Foodbank. 

Silver: No award made.

Best Corporate Responsibility Initiative

Gold: Place of the Way – Please/Thank You

The goal of this charity is to raise awareness of mental health issues in the hospitality industry, which it did with colour and verve. They worked with no budget, collaborating with brewers who paid for production and artists’ time. Otherwise, they pitched for investment, received donations (mostly people’s time) or did the project for free. A great way to help an industry that serves us with a smile, by donating towards one-to-one therapy. They created a truly big impact with minimal resources.

Silver: Toast Ale – Companion Series

No strangers to these awards, Toast Ale’s founding mission is to create great beer while reducing food waste. This year they amplified their message by collaborating with a range of brewers to create beers using food waste to rase funds for charity partners and to send a message to world leaders in the run-up to the COP26 climate summit.

Highly Commended: Portobello – Polari

Best Digital Marketing 

Gold: No award given

Silver: Untold Agency and Budweiser Budvar “Greetings From the Republic of Beer”

The aim of this campaign was to evoke the spirit of the Czech Republic in the minds of every Budvar drinker. The results were impressive across the board, resulting in Budvar overtaking its main competitor, Pilsner Urquell, to become the most successful export lager from the Czech Republic.

Best Experiential Marketing

Gold: Asahi UK, Peroni – House of Peroni

House of Peroni has been one of the most lavish and impressive experiential brand activations for years now. In 2022 they took the concept to BST Hyde Park, elevating the festival drinks experience in a way that was easily shareable with the wider world.

Silver: Cannabrew – Head in the Clouds

Not really experiential in the way we mean it, but what’s not to love about strapping your mum to the wing of a plane with a can of your new cider stuck in her hand in order to launch the new CBD-infused drink? Mum knows best!

Best Innovation

Gold: Signature Brew – Beer Grant

Signature Brew’s founding proposition is that music and beer go hand in hand. Giving beer grants to struggling live music venues post-Covid put their money where their mouth is, did genuine good and worked well for the brand too.

Silver: Place of the Way – Please/Thank You

A great charity initiative that raised awareness around mental health in the hospitality industry. The campaign put spotlight on a very important issue. 

Best Integrated Campaign

Gold: Lucky Saint – Dry January 2022

This perfectly executed 2022 Dry January campaign was run in multiple platforms, from socials to newsletters, from on-trade to off-trade, from e-commerce to PR, and from sponsorships to events.
A great job from a team that with a single beer has helped changed the perception of the Alcohol-Free category among premium brand drinkers.

Silver: Black Sheep – Drink Cask Beer

A lovely initiative to support local pubs and real ale, with a very simple message that’s executed in a fresh, modern way in a sector that’s often seen as conservative, old-fashioned and behind the times.

Best New Launch/Start-up

Gold: Anspach & Hobday – London Black

A nitro porter aiming to provide an alternative to Guinness. There’s a sly dig at Guinness with the tagline “Some beers taste better in Dublin. London Black tastes better everywhere.”  Also, the offer to install nitro lines free of charge and take professional photos of the pubs for them to use as promo shots, are both great touches in growing relationships.

Silver: No award given.

Highly Commended: Place of the Way – Please/Thank You

Best Public Relations Campaign

Gold: Heineken – No and Low Product Placement

Used product placement for the first time in soaps to market Heineken 0.0 by placing in the viewers’ subconscious that no and low products are available and now part of the normal pub landscape. A bold new way to market alcohol to a wide audience.     

Silver: Heineken – I am the twelfth woman

Used the opportunity of Women’s Euros to create a campaign to challenge gender bias in football. They created an advert with famous faces in men’s and women’s football in the UK and created and sold a T-shirt (I am the12th Woman) with all the profit going to Women’s Football. 

Best Trade Marketing Campaign

Gold: Anspach & Hobday – London Black

Although small scale, this approach is a really great example of a mutually beneficial approach to trade support. Providing hi-res photographic assets is a great value add to maintain distribution alongside sharing that content through brand channels to add further value and create great content. 

Silver: No award given.

Highly Commended: Magic Rock – Saucery

Best Use of Merchandise/Point of Sale Material

Gold: Brixton – Tap Handles

These US craft beer-style tap handles did a great job, helping the pubs that have decided to stock their beers as well as the brand itself, by creating really strong impact.

Silver: St Austell – Korev

The Korev rebrand that begins on the bottle and pump clip extends naturally and effectively into pubs and bars.

Best Use of Sponsorship 

Gold: Asahi UK – Fuller’s London Pride x The British & Irish Lions

A sponsorship idea that genuinely links the ongoing strategy of the the brand with a core truth about the sport being sponsored. The depth in the sponsorship is great to see in terms of the content created and the use of ambassadors, and content in and around the fixtures themselves. The trade customer activity really landed how well the brand understood the tournament, celebrating not only the Lions team but also the host nation. 

Silver: None

Overcoming Adversity

Gold: Place of the Way – Please/Thank You

The judges loved how the campaign managed to engage with a consumer base without the conversation becoming too heavy.

Silver: No award given.

Grand Prix: Beer and Cider Marketer of the Year

There were three or four strong contenders, with Heineken in particular deserving a special mention for simply owning the PR category for most of the history of these awards. To take both gongs in the category in the same year is an incredible feat.

But our winner – for the second year running – is St Austell, this time for the rebrand of Korev lager. It may have won gold in best branding, but it worked well across the board: great visual presence in outlet, and some nice activation activity outside. There’s a creative idea at the heart of it. It’s bold, eye-catching, linked to a strong sense of place and to the brand itself. The result: growth that outpaces even the runaway success of the world lager category.

Think you can do better? Look out for details of next year’s awards!

I was a marketer long before I was a beer writer, and I still like to keep my hand in. For more marketing insight, sign up to my regular industry newsletter, or get exclusive, paywalled content via my Patreon. If you’d like to have a chat about you business specifically, drop me a line.