Right Beer, Right Now… Jason Caddy reports

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It was a very different world when I last wrote about beer back in March 2019. Times were simpler then and a feature like this would typically touch on the brands setting the heather alight and the buoyancy of the beer market and how customers were voting with their feet, and what was trending, etc. Fast forward a couple of years and you can add supplier issues, C02 shortages, and the pandemic to the mix. Then there’s sustainability and low and no alcohol beers too. Let’s unpack it all.

David Brown, owner of The Palais in Glasgow has been affected by the double-whammy of beer and gas supply issues but one is causing him more sleepless nights than the other. He said, “We get all our stuff from Inverarity Morton and they have been up there and done a really good job. Molson Coors has also been really upfront about any issues.

“It seems to be a keg issue on the whole. Brewers can’t get their hands on kegs in closed businesses that they simply need to empty and refill.

“If I can’t get a certain beer it’s not a huge problem, but if I don’t have C02 I can’t pull any beer and I’m having to shut down all 11 lines. I have to say that trying to get gas in the last few weeks has been an absolute shocker.

“I won’t name the company I use but they now offer no weekly service anymore – you must call in for one and, on top of that, I ordered our normal weekly supply and was told ten working days and so we waited and waited, but nothing.

“We must have called five or six times and were put on hold for about 40 minutes and then told it would be 15 days. Once it got to 19 days I just went to another supplier and filled up the back of the car and took it to the pub myself.”

This year’s Sunday Mail Pub of the Year winner, The King’s Arms, hasn’t felt the pinch yet, but it’s still a concern for co-owner Mikey Lennon.

He said,  “It’s all a bit of a worry. For the last six weeks, we have struggled with beer deliveries, but Star Pubs & Bars have been great and done everything in their power to give us any heads-ups and they have allowed us to buy out from them at wholesalers. Their main objective is to keep us operating.”

Many of you will also be aware of the fact that those pubs that are tied are set to gain new protection after MSP Neil Bibby’s Tied Pubs Bill was passed at Holyrood in March. His Bill creates a statutory code and independent adjudicator to regulate brewers in case licensees are being exploited by mark-ups.

With a scarcity of supply, I’m sure you’ll all appreciate your beer more than ever and perhaps it’s widened your suppler catchnet if you’re not tied and prompted you to buy in more craft beers from local breweries.

According to CGA, an extra 4,000 UK pubs, bars, and restaurants are now stocking craft beer on draught – meaning that 36% of all UK on-trade outlets had a craft beer offering in 2020. While the SIBA British Craft Beer Report says that 24% of customers are more likely to visit a pub with a decent craft beer selection.

Orkney Brewery is a case in point. It’s going great guns.

Said Commercial Manager Craig Steven, “Orkney Brewery beers are all about the quality of flavour. Their popularity has already ensured the small brewing team are back and busy, brewing our exceptional quality cask and premium bottled beers.

“Alongside our renowned and recognised established beers, we have added more new world hop flavours, with the introduction of Island Life Session IPA.  Our new beer heralded a revamp of the branding, strengthening our position, with a more contemporary appeal that still oozes Orkney class.

“Our Island Life IPA is special, much like life on the islands. Orkney has been regularly recognised as one of the finest places to live in the British Isles.  So, like the easy-going enjoyment of your personal island retreat, with Island Life Session IPA, your customers can take their time, relax and indulge.”

What about customers’ beer-buying behaviour post lockdown?

Said David Brown, who as well as The Palais also owns The Record Factory in Glasgow, “We are Molson Coors led and have a guest tap on a weekly rotation and we sell a lot of that and a lot more customers are looking to try new products.  I think that more people got the taste for craft during lockdown and this opened their pallets to trying different beers.

“Of course, 4 to 4.5 per cent lager is still our major seller but the split has evened out over the rest of the beers lately. IPAs sell well.”

John Gemmell, On Trade Category and Commercial Strategy Director at HEINEKEN UK concurs.  Quoting UK CGA on-trade figures, he said,  “While premiumisation remains a trend in the on-trade, it’s important not to forget the role of classic lager. Classic lager typically accounts for 54% of all lager consumed in the on-trade and delivers £3.7 billion in value sales, almost 30% of total beer value. So, you risk alienating classic lager drinkers and damaging revenue potential if you remove this altogether.”

But Stuart McPhee, owner of Siberia Bar & Hotel in Aberdeen, is noticing no slow down in the premiumisation juggernaut among his customers at least, despite the challenging economic conditions.

He said, “The main thing I have noticed is that we are selling loads of Birra Moretti since we re-opened after all the lockdowns. The move toward premiumisation is still with us.

“Customers are drinking what they want to drink rather than be driven by what they can afford and we are seeing the continuation of the shift away from the entry-level lagers to higher-end more and more. Red Stripe on draught is also doing really well.”

Then there are world beers. Said Scott McLardy, National Sales Manager for Scotland at Molson Coors Beverage Company who is quoting figures from CGA, “After the events of the last year, people are more likely to want to treat themselves and will be willing to pay a bit more when they go out, so look at how you can make the most of this with a range of more premium options.

“There’s also a growing market for world beer, which is growing ahead of the core category in the Scottish on-trade . To tap into this, we teamed up with La Sagra Brewery in Spain to create Madrí Excepcional, a crisp, clean and refreshing lager that captures “El alma de Madrid” or “The Soul of Madrid” for pubgoers here in the UK.”

The customers at The King’s Arms are looking for pints in the main and this could be an aftershock of the lockdowns.

Explains owner, Mikey Lennon, “What I’ve noticed most is that people want more pints and I am putting this down to people getting used to drinking bottled beers at home and perhaps from their own homemade bars, so when they come out they are looking forward to a pint.

“Home drinking might also be the reason we are not seeing as many beer drinkers at the weekend, and perhaps this also has something to do with social anxiety in some customers, which is understandable.”

Sustainability is just as big news in beer as it is in any other business and Heineken UK has embarked on a new trial to explore more sustainable ways of growing barley, one of beer’s main ingredients, to reduce CO2 emissions.

The first year of the pilot will begin with the 2021 autumn crop-sowing campaign. Ten farmers will take part and approximately 7,000 acres of winter and spring barley varieties will be grown, yielding 25,000 tonnes of grain; enough to brew 300 million pints of beer.

As are low and no-alcohol beers too of course as they continue to grow their market share in line with greater health-consciousness.

John Gemmell of HEINEKEN UK said, “A third of UK adults are now moderating their alcohol intake and 65% proactively try to lead a healthier lifestyle. With health and moderation becoming increasingly prevalent in drinkers’ lives, no and low alternatives are becoming a must-stock feature, so health-conscious consumers feel part of the occasion. At the start of 2020, the no and low alcohol sector was worth £94M in the UK (0.6% share of total Beer and Cider) and £8M in Scotland. “

David Brown did have a non-alcoholic beer on draught at one point. “Our non-alcoholic beers sell well. We used to have one on draught but it wasn’t shifting enough to justify continuing with it.

“The quality of available brands has definitely increased but we still only sell a very small percentage of it and I only see this growing.”

Carling, meanwhile, has aligned itself with a campaign to improve mental health.  A three-year partnership is well underway with CALM – the campaign against living miserably and its aim is to encourage conversations and inspire people to look out for each other and provide support when they can by using the common ground of football.

So there you have it. Let’s hope that when we next come to write about beer the world will have turned just the right number of times for us to be free of at least some of the challenges we’re all facing right now.

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Category: Drinks, Features
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