Where Can We Buy Your Beer?

The cover of the Beer Map of Great Britain, 1970s.

With (give or take – counts vary) something like 1,600 breweries currently operating in the UK a common complaint is the difficulty for smaller operators of getting those beers to consumers.

Big pub com­pa­nies, chains and super­mar­kets dom­i­nate the mar­ket, buy­ing beer from a cho­sen few brew­eries will­ing to meet their demand­ing terms. In many regions one or two large play­ers (e.g. St Austell) con­trol many of the pubs leav­ing a fist­ful of free­hous­es to fight over. And, so we gath­er from inter­views and off-the-record chat, new small brew­eries can some­times find them­selves mus­cled out by bet­ter-estab­lished play­ers of more or less the same size.

Yes­ter­day we got involved in some Twit­ter chat about beer from Devon (there’s a poll, actu­al­ly, if you feel like vot­ing) and a ver­sion of what seems to us to be a com­mon con­ver­sa­tion unfurled. To para­phrase:

A: There’s no good beer in [PLACE]!

B: Yes there is – brew­eries X, Y and Z are awe­some!

A: But I’ve nev­er actu­al­ly seen those beers for sale any­where.

B: Ah.

In this con­text we’re begin­ning to think the sin­gle most impor­tant bit of infor­ma­tion a small brew­ery can share is intel­li­gence on where we can actu­al­ly buy their beer, if it’s any­thing oth­er than fair­ly ubiq­ui­tous.

It might be in the farm­ers’ mar­ket in Fulchester every third Sun­day of the month; it might be in the del­i­catessen in Dufton; the bot­tle shop in Barch­ester; or the Coach & Hors­es in Cast­er­bridge. We will go out of our way (a bit) to find a beer that sounds inter­est­ing, or to try some­thing new on our beat, but we need a few hints, ide­al­ly with­out hav­ing to email or direct mes­sage the brew­ery. (And some­times, even when we do that, we get ‘No idea, sor­ry’, or ‘It’s should be in a few pubs round Borset­shire this month’.)

A dai­ly updat­ed page on the brew­ery web­site, Face­book page or Twit­ter would prob­a­bly work best.

We cer­tain­ly appre­ci­ate that in the case of cask ale, even if a brew­ery knows a pub has tak­en deliv­ery, it can be hard to say exact­ly when it’s going to go on or, equal­ly, if it’s already sold out. Even so, would­n’t a quick exchange of info between pub­li­can and brew­er – a text mes­sage or social media nudge – be mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial here?

But per­haps there are good rea­sons why this does­n’t often seem to hap­pen.

In the mean­time, if you don’t know where your beer is on sale, and can’t tell peo­ple who want to buy it, then it almost might as well not exist.

24 thoughts on “Where Can We Buy Your Beer?”

  1. Inter­est­ing post, guys. I find it par­tic­u­lar­ly bizarre with brew­eries who have a large social media pres­ence, which per­haps gives the impres­sion that the brew­ery is well established/represented in pubs/bottle shops etc., yet can be bare­ly found on any shelves/taps. As you right­ly men­tion your­selves, open and hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion seems to be key here.

  2. I admire your opti­mism about a “dai­ly updat­ed page on the brew­ery web­site”, but the beer indus­try seem to be one of the worst offend­ers when it comes to web­sites that haven’t been updat­ed for 3 years, list­ing beers that haven’t been brewed in liv­ing mem­o­ry, and list­ing stock­ists have been closed and/or con­vert­ed to a Tesco Express long ago.

    To be fair, pubs and bars are *almost* as bad at pro­vid­ing up-to-date infor­ma­tion online but at least they have to deal with more rapid­ly chang­ing sit­u­a­tions. A brew­ery, on the oth­er hand, real­ly only needs to set aside half an hour every month to dou­ble check that their list of beers lines up with what they actu­al­ly make, and that their stock­ist list bears some resem­blance to real­i­ty.

    Per­haps they’re wor­ried that by let­ting peo­ple actu­al­ly find their prod­uct, they’ll be less “crafty”?

    1. One sug­ges­tion on Twit­ter: a list of stock­ists would just be a hit list for com­peti­tors.

      1. One would imag­ine that a brew­ery who wish­es to be a com­mer­cial suc­cess might want to wor­ry more about cus­tomers being able to buy their beer, than what their com­peti­tors might do 🙂

        1. Well it’s a ques­tion of how many pints you are going to sell to the peo­ple who are pre­pared to change what pub they go to in order to buy your beer, ver­sus the oppor­tu­ni­ty costs of time spent prepar­ing the list (most small brew­ery own­ers are doing 80+ hours/week IME) to sell a few pints when they could be sell­ing beer by the bar­rel to new pubs. The tar­get­ting thing might be an issue, but in real­i­ty any brew­ery worth their salt will know where the free­hous­es are in their patch and the tied hous­es doing mean­ing­ful amounts of guest beer. And the trou­ble is that even if you know you’ve deliv­ered to a par­tic­u­lar pub, it could be a cou­ple of weeks before it goes on if they like to con­di­tion the beer prop­er­ly (some brew­eries are def­i­nite­ly rush­ing their beer out these days) – or if they’ve cocked up their order and end­ed up with too much of style X.

          A “reg­u­lar” cus­tomer for a brew­ery might still only have their cask beer on the bar 10–20% of the time, so it’s still a bit hit and miss although I have seen brew­eries do “per­ma­nent” Google Maps of pubs which always have the beer on and in a dif­fer­ent colour pubs that “reg­u­lar­ly” have them on. That rewards their best cus­tomers with pub­lic­i­ty and the real­ly deter­mined know where to go, the less deter­mined have a phone num­ber to call o nthe off-chance. But in rur­al, even sub­ur­ban, areas there isn’t real­ly much of a choice of “pubs I can get to with­out risk­ing drink driving/that have decent food/whatever oth­er cri­te­ri­on” – this whole “prob­lem” is real­ly one of town/city cen­tres. But Untap­pd can work rea­son­ably well for either find­ing spe­cif­ic beers or get­ting a more gen­er­al idea of the places that a brew­ery sells to.

      2. As a small brew­er in the West Coun­try, we sup­ply about 300 pubs (80% + as a guest ale) and bot­tles to many out­lets, as well as numer­ous whole­salers sell­ing our beer it would be a full time job to have an up to date dis­trib­u­tor list (our pop­u­lar casks can be drank in a few hours some­times), and the larg­er brew­eries would aggres­sive­ly tar­get our stock­ists with bulk dis­counts /retro deals remov­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties on the bar for small brew­ers and lim­it­ing choice for drinkers. Maybe there is some­thing reward­ing about find­ing a hid­den gem that isn’t on every bar? Maybe local pubs should begin to sup­port local brew­ers as the pubs that do this appear to pros­per.

  3. Not sure about Twit­ter – I tend to fol­low brew­eries around the coun­try because I’m inter­est­ed in know­ing what they’re up to, but tend to unfol­low again if all I get is retweets of pubs sev­er­al hun­dred miles away from me announc­ing that it’s Tues­day night and [BEER] from [BREWERY] is on the bar.

    Web­site – yes.

    1. We were think­ing more like a sin­gle update, using a screen-grabbed image prob­a­bly, list­ing select­ed places they know are sell­ing their beer that day/week. That’s how we’d do it, any­way.

    2. Yep, there’s a crit­i­cal mass of maybe 25–35% where #otb tweets start over­whelm­ing a brew­ery feed. At least the pubs gen­er­al­ly tweet when some­thing goes on so at least you’ve a chance of get­ting it in good nick by the time you get to the pub, the worst are brew­eries that retweet Untap­pd rat­ings when you don’t know how long it’s been on the bar. Might I sug­gest that brew­eries start a sep­a­rate Twit­ter feed of the form @BlogginsAlesotb for that kind of thing, it would work much bet­ter for more dis­tant peo­ple who are inter­est­ed in the cor­po­rate side but less on the minu­ti­ae?

  4. Much less of a prob­lem in the days of the tied house sys­tem, of course 😉 Even if it was two hun­dred miles away, you would known exact­ly where you could get Crudg­ing­ton’s beers.

    I’d say the pri­ma­ry respon­si­bil­i­ty has to lie with brew­ers, not retail­ers. Even spe­cial­ist off-licences and pubs will in gen­er­al only promise to offer a wide range of beers rather than spe­cif­ic beers. If you know your beer is reg­u­lar­ly stocked in par­tic­u­lar out­lets, then let peo­ple know.

    Although it’s cider, not beer, this is a good exam­ple of how to do it.

  5. Time­ly and inter­est­ing piece.

    In 2017, you can’t even get a pint of Draught Bass (res­i­dents of Bass or Bris­tol may be in a hap­pi­er posi­tion 😉 ). As for any of the CAMRA Beer of the Year win­ners over the last 30 years…

  6. It’s retail­ers who need to be doing this, because they are the ones who actu­al­ly know when a beer is going on sale. A brew­er can only know when the beer has been deliv­ered.

    1. But if you want to find out where you can get Beer X, trawl­ing through a long list of pub Face­book pages is like look­ing for a nee­dle in a haystack. Far bet­ter for the brew­ery to col­late the infor­ma­tion, although obvi­ous­ly it can only apply to per­ma­nent or reg­u­lar list­ings, or off-licences reg­u­lar­ly stock­ing it.

      1. So pubs can do it – but they either use pro­pri­etary sys­tems or indi­vid­ual web­sites, or they have to pay £££ to get in the cor­po­rate ver­sion of Untap­pd. They real­ly need a data­base behind it so that unskilled staff, or staff who don’t drink beer, can type in a name and up comes all the details on style, ABV etc. Hard­core beer pubs will be able to gen­er­ate that kind of thing them­selves, but it’s dupli­ca­tion of effort – and you real­ly want some­thing that takes as lit­tle time as pos­si­ble.

        Brew­eries can do it – but it only works for pubs they sup­ply direct and not through whole­salers, and even then they don’t know when some­thing is on the bar

        It sounds like this area is cry­ing out for a trust­ed third par­ty who is inter­est­ed in good beer and in the for­tunes of pubs, cre­at­ing open-source soft­ware for cel­lar man­age­ment with­in a pub, that plugs in to a nation­al data­base of pubs and beer, with­out the £££ of Untap­pd Ver­i­fied which typ­i­cal suburban/rural pubs can’t afford. Hav­ing a cen­tral data­base means pun­ters can ask brew­ery-agnos­tic ques­tions like “is there a mild of <4% from a brew­ery with­in 30 miles, at a pub with­in 5 miles of my GPS loca­tion?”

        Sad­ly CAMRA is not that organ­i­sa­tion. It should be, but it looks like Cask Mar­que is get­ting there – they’ve just for­mal­ly tak­en over the Cyclops beer data­base, and between that and their Cask Find­er app http://cask-marque.co.uk/beer-drinkers/cask-finder/ you can imag­ine them pulling things togeth­er some­how – even if it’s just lim­it­ed to Cask Mar­que pubs when it would be bet­ter if linked to What Pub.

        But what’s need­ed is a nice easy, low-cost/free app that runs on an iPad or <£50 Ama­zon Fire tablet, that allows staff with­out great knowl­edge to search for a beer, click on some­thing to say it’s either on or com­ing soon, and then it gets beamed up to a TV with a wire­less don­gle to dis­play some­thing like : http://redwillow.hopto.org/ (I can rec­om­mend the Clue­less 21.…) If it’s feed­ing a screen in the pub, then staff have an incen­tive to keep it up to date, and the fact that it also feeds an exter­nal data­base of what’s on is inci­den­tal.

  7. This is one of the things I found frus­trat­ing mov­ing from the West Coast of Amer­i­ca back to the UK. It’s not like every bar does this, but in the major­i­ty of cas­es I could check their web­site and view the cur­rent taplist. It was almost like brag­ging rights, “look what beers we have on”. I loved it, and often planned evenings around what was in where. Back in Eng­land, no chance.

    It’s not hard to post an update on FB. Though this would­n’t make it easy to find beer from a cer­tain brew­ery, it would help.

    1. Don’t even need to both­er with face­book; there’s an app for that. Sev­er­al in fact. Most which will inter­face with face­book. All it requires is the man­ag­er on duty to spend 2 min­utes on their phone per change of beer.

      A cou­ple of bars I’ve been to have even replaced their black­/white/tile/let­ter-boards with LCD screens reflect­ing the app info. Gen­er­al­ly I despise screens in pubs or bars, but in a high turnover venue it makes a lot of sense.

    2. I can see why a Sam Smiths pub might not both­er with this, but for beery free-hous­es, yes, absolute­ly – whether it’s on a web­site or social media or what­ev­er, tell me about your beer!

      Even if it’s not updat­ed that often, it at least gives me an idea of what sort of thing I can expect at any giv­en pub when I’m head­ing for an area that I don’t know. It’s also a good way of sig­nalling that you’re a pub that Cares About And Is Excit­ed About Beer, rather than just see­ing it as a thing that you have to serve because some of the din­ers / foot­ball fans / karaoke enthu­si­asts will com­plain oth­er­wise.

      But nope, most pub web­sites just seem to say “we serve a range of tra­di­tion­al ales, now here are 5762 pho­tos of the food.”

      (Although as not­ed below, Untap­pd can also be use­ful for the prac­ti­cal side of this.)

  8. For real-time info on what’s avail­able where, I don’t think Untap­pd can be beat. It does need a cer­tain pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty though, so maybe only use­ful in big cities.

  9. At least in urban areas in the UK there now seems to be a crit­i­cal mass of peo­ple on the Untap­pd app which means its pret­ty easy to get a good overview of what’s avail­able on the bar across town in real(ish) time (at least at the more beery places) and I think you may also be able to set up alerts to tell you if some­thing you’re after turns up in the vicin­i­ty or search for it with­in a cer­tain radius. You’ll also be able to see where a beer has been on in the past.

    1. I live in West Berk­shire, and I am extreme­ly lucky that by far the two best craft beer pubs in the area (not sure that I should actu­al­ly name them here, but if you live in either Read­ing or New­bury, you know which pubs I mean!)) are both Untap­pd Ver­i­fied Venues, who keep their beer lists metic­u­lous­ly up to date in the Untap­pd App.

      I reg­u­lar­ly drop in to one or oth­er pub to sam­ple a spe­cif­ic beer based upon this info.

      I am sym­pa­thet­ic that it is hard­er for the brew­eries to pub­lish such time­ly info, but any efforts in this direc­tion would be appre­ci­at­ed.

  10. Here at the Wharfedale brew­ery in York­shire we have cre­at­ed a trail which links the 17 pubs we sup­ply. All the pubs are rough­ly along the route of the Dalesway long dis­tance foot­path. Obvi­ous­ly we have called it the Alesway. Vis­it all the pubs in 12 months and col­lect your free T shirt and pint from the Fly­ing Duck brew­pub in Ilk­ley.

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