Craftsploitation

Should small ‘craft’ brewers worry about the appearance of ‘craft beer’ in JD Wetherspoon pubs? Or should they welcome it?

Wetherspoons Craft Beers poster.

Beyond major cities, this will be the first time many people will have had the chance to enjoy a sexily-packaged American-style IPA in a pub. Do you remember the first time you tried Goose Island IPA? We do. That eye-opening moment ought to lead at least some people to decide that’s their thing:’I’m well into the old craft beers, me.’ That would be good news for smaller brewers.

On the other hand, at £5 for two bottles or cans, this might be the moment when the rug gets pulled out from under the price structure of ‘craft beer’. ‘Spoons may not be able to compete with the Craft Beer Company or The Rake on cosmopolitan ‘vibe’ or variety, but you don’t get much for £2.50 at either of those venues.

If JDW can keep the range rotating, even if the selection is middle of the road, they might lure some beer geeks (like us) who had previously turned their noses up, and who welcome the thought of an extra tenner in their pocket at the end of the night.

It doesn’t hurt that many of the recent US-UK cask ale collaborations have been excellent — the Sixpoint/Adnams Make it Rain tasted so good on Sunday that we ended up drinking more  than planned, despite the frankly dismal surroundings, and still spent less than the price of two bottles of Orval in a pub round the corner.

Disclosure: as we mentioned on Sunday, JD Wetherspoon sent us samples of their new Sixpoint American craft beer in cans: we weren’t impressed.

34 thoughts on “Craftsploitation”

  1. Sixpoint is excellent, but it’s not enough to stem local innovation. The hallmark of craft is a complete and joyful absence of brand loyalty. That will continue regardless of pricing structures if America is any indication.

    1. Not entirely sure on that one – I could easily imagine the UK craft scene broadening out to serve both the manic neophiles who are happy to pay a bit extra to have the latest cool experimental thing from the hottest new brewery in town, and slightly more conservative types who like a lot of things about the craft movement – the interesting beer styles etc – but are happy to mostly stay with a smaller range of reliably good beers and pay a bit less.

      That would probably slow down the current (absolutely manic) rate of innovation and new things coming out a bit – as people who just want a decent imperial stout would have the option of not paying a premium to support the fact that the brewery are working on five new tiny batch experimental brews to come out in the next week – but would be a good thing for interesting beer at sensible prices…

  2. Just trying the Sixpoint Bengali Tiger in cans alongside a Brewdog Punk as comparison. Bengali Tiger is truly excellent and much better than the UK brewed cask version they had before. I welcome the fact that if the cask selection is poor (quite often in north wales due to poor local breweries) I can at least get decent beer at all times. In essence this what the craft beer movement is all about. I don’t see this as a direct replacement or competition for a dedicated craft beer bar however, but then again we don’t have one of those anywhere near us!

  3. I think it’s all great for beer. The chances of people being moved off of industrial shite toward, something, with “a bit more” of an interesting take on what they normally throw down their gullet, is all good for beer in general.

    What the issue is for me, is, I hope that is education of the servers and management to back up their offering, whether that’s the cans, the American Collab Brews; but ‘spoons means a lot of different things to a lot of people. Actually informing the average ‘spoons customer they are drinking something different/special, is important… and that is the first step on holding their (the customers) hand in the total beer experience, which I am sure you’re aware of, is that you’re just as much part of, just in a different way, like us.

    Access to, education and quality of service/product is what will help craft beers’ longeivity. It’s here, and here to stay.

  4. I think that the three in the banner provide a good idea of the sort of brewery that JDW will attract: Brooklyn has a joint venture with Carlsberg and most of its UK beer is made under licence over here, BrewDog is a marketing company whose beer has only just reached any sort of consistency and Goose Island is owned by ABInBev, so it probably won’t be long before it’s brewed in South Wales and Samlesbury. I hardly think that this is the start of JDW getting in the latest special from Magic Rock or Burning Sky. More likely you’ll get the ‘craft’ beers from regional brewers who are attempting to jump on the bandwagon by building a smaller brewery next to their main one – something that the head brewer of a regional brewery recently described as ‘dad dancing’ when I asked him if he was going to join in the farce.

    Adnams are bound to punt their beer into places like JDW because it’s so monumentally poorly thought of by anyone who has had a few of their core ales.

    1. “Adnams are bound to punt their beer into places like JDW because it’s so monumentally poorly thought of by anyone who has had a few of their core ales.”

      wtf. Considering how many beer bloggers nominated Adnams for their brewery/beer of the year last year, I think you’re on your own on this one Michael. I don’t know a single beer enthusiast who doesn’t rave about Adnam’s core range.

      1. wtf indeed. Off the top of my head, Southwold, Broadside, Ghost Ship, either of the IPAs from M&S. All excellent beers at a reasonable price.

    2. I think you’ll find plenty of people who disagree completely with that sentiment. Ghost Ship is my go to supermarket beer (when I don’t want to spend £4.50 on a bottle of cannonball).

      And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if ‘spoons had more local keg offerings – they buy huge amounts from cask from microbreweries as is, and I imagine the potential extra profit from ‘craft keg’ would be quite attractive.

    3. “Brooklyn has a joint venture with Carlsberg and most of its UK beer is made under licence over here”

      I fear you have been misinformed. I can assure you that this is not the case. All Brooklyn brewery beer in the UK is imported from the states. The joint venture with Carlsberg is the New Carnegie Brewery in Sweden.

      1. Ahhh ok, so still brewed over there just not in Brooklyn? Sorry, I’d heard that it was brewed by a regional here. My bad!

          1. Sorry about that, the regionals brew so much on the sly, both for foreign and domestic brewers, that I tend to just believe what I’m told now.

      2. The Brooklyn-Carlsberg connection runs deeper than just New Carnegie. Carlsberg is the distributor for Brooklyn in Denmark, for instance. Cosy.

  5. “Brooklyn has a joint venture with Carlsberg and most of its UK beer is made under licence over here”

    Don’t think it is — big news if so. Got a link?

    “Adnams are… so monumentally poorly thought of by anyone who has had a few of their core ales.”

    We like them, as far as bitter/mild/strong ale goes. (But they do often turn up in pubs that don’t know how to look after them, unfortunately.)

    1. The Brooklyn thing isn’t commonly known, but if you do the sums on their brewhouse in Brooklyn, then even brewing 10 times a day it wouldn’t be able to produce anywhere near enough beer to satisfy the market.

      I’m 29, so I’m not on my own about Adnams. None of my beery mates (and I work in brewing) like Adnams, but all agree that broadside makes a good stew. It’s just not a flavour profile that appeals to the vast majority of my generation of beer drinkers.

      1. Well I’m 33 and love the Adnam’s core range. What’s age got to do with anything? It’s just about taste. It’s fine not to like Adnam’s but to put it down to a generational stereotype is just ludicrous.

      2. Not sure how to edit this, but ignore the first para please. I was wrong.

      3. “It’s just not a flavour profile that appeals to the vast majority of my generation of beer drinkers.”

        What, pale and (new world) hoppy? Brewdog would appear to disagree with you.

        1. Last time I had Broadside and Southwold they were definitely not pale and hoppy.

      4. Brooklyn brew their lager in upstate New York and have always been open about this. The specials and smaller batch beers are brewed in the Brooklyn site. They ship the lager over in tankers and it is kegged here in the UK. That is the most efficient way to do things if you want to maintain control of your brewing.

        With regard to the old charge that Brewdog are just a marketing company – if this were the case then why have they just built a £6m brewery? Why don’t they just contract brew somewhere and market the beers if that’s all they are? Why do they bother brewing between 15-20 specials throughout the year? Have you ever seen a marketing company market beer? They tend to focus on one beer only. Brewdog are a brewery and a bar operator. They just happen to get their name out there which people don’t seem to like.

        Re the spoons thing – frankly anything that challenges the dominance of rubbish industrial lager can only be a good thing

  6. re. choices of craft beer whetherspoon will obviously only stock beers from brewers that can supply all 900-odd outlets which of course severely limits options and explains why its often the same brewers at every real ale festival

  7. I don’t think that’s entirely true. Pretty sure some ‘spoons buy beer locally… probably as much as a PR exercise than anything. We have a couple on the “LocAle” list – Standing Order in Stevenage usually has Red Squirrel on for example. I don’t think Red Squirrel supply the whole ‘spoons chain, do they?

    1. I’m specifically referring to promotions such as this two for a fiver and nationwide listings. All spoons outlets have some scope to buy outside of their main distribution (local Norn iron brews in pubs her for e.g.)

      1. I think this is a decision of regional/area management, though, rather than being left to individual pubs.

  8. I don’t really care about what craft brewers think, all I care about is what is good for me, the consumer. Craft beer has been silly prices for too long now, its time there was a little competition in the market.

    This probably still won’t make me go into JDW though other than at the airport. There is still more to a good pub than good beer.

    1. I don’t really care about what craft brewers think, all I care about is what is good for me, the consumer.

      Yep. Some people would say that craft beer is a movement, but nobody would say it’s a charity. Novelty, hipness and scarcity may bid up prices for a while, but what goes up must come down. Prices of cask are creeping up anyway – I’m paying £3.50-60 in most places these days – so the keggerati should have a reasonably soft landing (there’s a big overlap between the cask and keg price ranges at the Font down the road from me, which wasn’t the case when it opened a year and a bit ago).

      +1 (to py) on Adnam’s, btw. I blogged somewhere how I was drinking in a London pub which ‘only’ had Adnam’s bitter & Spitfire, resigned myself to a dull pint & was very pleasantly surprised by the Adnam’s. I concluded that I’d been much too tough on these regional brewers and had a Spitfire for my second pint… oh dear.

  9. Adnams seem to be better respected than most of the real ale incumbents. But they certainly do pay that price of “success”: more beer sold to more pubs, getting into a lot of average pubs => a lot of badly kept pints of Adnams are served.

    This is going to start happening to the newbie craft guys too. As they expand and seek new markets for their beers they’ll start hooking up with generic distributors and their beer will start showing up any old where…. half the time in terrible nick.

    BrewDog made the right choice on this front: keg! 😉

    Although there’s a downside to keg… pre-keg I could get variety of BrewDog in Cambridge – if sporadically. Now? I think there might be a Punk tap in town somewhere, but that’s it. But times are changing… more FoT keg lines are showing up. (Keg isn’t infallible of course – I had a horrible pint of Thornbridge Halcyon a little while back.) Sorry, I’ve gone all off-topic. END.

    1. (Meta: my “replies” don’t seem to be coming through in the right place for some reason… gaaaahhhh…)

    2. I raised this point to a friend recently and he said that he makes all that he can for the UK market and knows where most of it goes, but that with 1700 breweries in the UK now he sees the growth potential being exporting to the USA, Sweden and Italy. I think that a lot of the bad breweries will have to fail simply to make room in the market for the newer breweries to reach the level of domestic demand that the regionals have. You also shouldn’t ignore how many pubs are owned by the regionals who may not want to help the competition whom they see as upstarts. Marstons, for example, aren’t exactly known for being good to either their landlords or other brewers.

  10. Personally, I think the exposure of more people (especially outside big cities), and a wider range of people, to American IPAs and similar is a great thing, and that there is loads of room for market segment to grow still.

    We should see the appearance of craft-style beers in less geeky pubs/bars as a natural progression – a maturing market place, where there is a big enough demand for these kinds of beers for them to be worth the effort to stock. I don’t think that was true 18 months ago.

    Also:

    A local ‘spoons (in darkest Staffordshire) was recently selling Stone DIPA on the bar at £1.15 a half. That price won’t be repeated, but I hear we can expect more varied beers being mixed into their offerings in the future, rather than the usual 8 versions of bitter.

    A microbrewery has recently opened near me and, 5 months or so after opening, will have it’s core range of 5 beers on at all the local Wetherspoons over the Easter weekend.

    It’s easy to bash chains, but whilst my best beery experiences have been in independents, so have my worst experiences.

  11. well rarely get a bad pint of cask Adnams around Suffolk 🙂 but they do provide keg now as well, if that stuff floats your boat more, though frankly the examples Ive tried have been horrible.

    but I wouldnt agree Adnams were reasonably priced anymore, outside of Wetherspoons its consistently the most expensive beer sold locally by some margin, that does put an enourmous financial pressure on alot of pubs to make money from it and compete with each other, let alone JDW. and it would be nice if they did just concentrate on the core range for a while instead of the constant stream of collab beers, they did the Sixpoint Tiger collab for Wetherspoons last year, theres a Yeastie Boys collab in the next Wetherspoons festival, plus the one offs from their mini craft Jack brand brewery, plus new beers they keep introducing, as I do think the core range is losing focus. i dont think Adnams Old was anywhere near as good this year as it has been previously.

    as far as JDW introducing this type of craft beer stuff, well beer geeks will probably like the novelty of Sixpoint in cans, but as you identified, most beer geeks turn their noses up at JDW anyway, so is JDW really doing this for them to get them in, is it trying to make it more mainstream or is it trying something else, I dont know.

    the thing is Ill go into one of my local JDWs, order a pint of the latest american collab beer, or craft beer in a can, the people standing next to me will order a pitcher of cocktails or a round of wkd’s or jagerbombs, they arent interested in beer at all. neither are alot of the staff who will stand there and swear blind a beer thats got a slight haze will make you seriously ill if you drink it.

    so I think theres a long way to go with this yet as an overall average JDW thing. but I think the meet the Sixpoint brewer locations they are doing, do indicate part of the thinking behind it, given the areas being targetted the most, certainly one or two of the locations picked I know are very close to other craft beer pubs

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