breweries opinion

Recognition, demand and supply

It’s probably too soon to make this point but… Some breweries have done better than others in the past year, haven’t they?

It’s been a rotten year for everyone, obviously, but nonetheless it feels as if there have been, relatively speaking, winners and losers.

Now, because it’s bad taste to boast, not many breweries are admitting to having adapted to the difficult circumstances of 2020 with any success. We did, however, notice this interesting piece on an accounting industry institute body’s website:

All that time spent on spreadsheets modelling scenarios paid off in May. This is when we switched our bars/taprooms to bottle shops. As only one staff member is needed to manage a bottle shop, it’s kept costs low. They’ve done an amazing trade because they’re based in suburban areas. With everybody working from home, customers regularly visit on their daily walks.

And Jeff Alworth has covered some similar stories from the US:

We breweries of course sell beer by the case, and here in Oregon you can buy three cases at a time, per person.  So it’s pretty easy to stock up with minimal trips out of your house. I don’t think any of us realized this advantage when this all started. But in my mind it explains everything about why breweries were able to better survive this economic/epidemic crisis. Sure, delivery helps. But restaurants can do that as well and they haven’t fared nearly as well as we have. It’s funny, because it reminds me of the fact that for hundreds of years one of the main reasons people drank beer was because it’s safer than water. During this past year it’s been safer to pick up beer at the brewery than food at a restaurant—again due to the packaged durability of beer.

Breweries that rely entirely on the pub trade have obviously been at a disadvantage but those which rely on a certain type of pub trade even more so. The cut-price cask ale merchants, that is, whose beers nobody is ever delighted to see on the bar, but which they might tolerate at £2.50 a pint when everything else is a quid more expensive. Makers of rough and/or dull beer designed to please landlords with margin to make rather than drinkers. Let’s be honest, we’ve got Wickwar in mind, now deceased, but you’ve probably got a local equivalent.

Those which have done better, we suspect, are those whose names live near the front of everybody’s minds – the ones with fans, the ones that people will cross town to drink.

We ordered a box of Oakham beers this week, for example, because we haven’t had a pint of Citra in more than a year and missed it. In the past year we’ve also ordered from, among others:

  • Thornbridge (reliably great)
  • Good Chemistry (local, interesting beer, reminds us of The Good Measure)
  • Lost & Grounded (local, proper lager)
  • Fyne Ales (Jarl, Jarl, Jarl)
  • Elusive (varied styles, always interesting)
  • Cheddar (local, solid, reminds us of The Drapers Arms)
  • Bristol Beer Factory (local, reliable, reminds us of The Grain Barge)
  • Harvey’s (Sussex Best is the best)
  • St Austell (in honour of Roger Ryman, reminds us of Penzance)

We have tried to find ways to explore new breweries – selection boxes from online retailers, our standing order with The Drapers Arms delivery service – but when you’ve got to choose your weekend beer no later than Tuesday, you tend to stick to what you can trust.

As well as good beer, and the ability to distribute packaged beer directly to consumers, the breweries on the list above are known and liked. (Or were, at least, until the small brewers duty relief disaster.) They’re either old and venerated almost by default or they’ve invested serious time and energy into making themselves known through strong branding and an active online presence.

It will be interesting to see what’s on offer in UK pubs this time in 2022. Could there be (again, feels rude to say it) a survival of the fittest effect? Or will we find ourselves missing beers we couldn’t order to drink at home, or forgot existed?

9 replies on “Recognition, demand and supply”

I’ve ordered from the superb Durham Brewery and also De Vossen who are brewing excellent Belgian -style beers.
My local brewery, Brimstage, semm to have done well this year. They have a strong local following and offer free delivery in Wirral for bottles and mini-casks. One of the pubs with a strong social media presence also delivers their beers. Only last week Brimstone produced a limited edition brew to mark Tranmere Rovers’ appearance at Wembley. 740 bottles sold out in minutes.

Surprised at that. I had really high hopes for them, but was disappointed with their Blonde and Tripel (both oxidated in the bottles I had) and thought the Dubbel and Quad were no more than OK, with the Dubbel being my favourite of the lot. Felt like a brewery that needs another year honing its craft, if I’m honest.

I think you were very unlucky there. I’ve been very impressed (as have others whose views I trust). The Tripel and the Quad benefitted from a bit of ageing but hit the spot. Also like their new Wit – and this is a style I tend not to go for.

My go-to breweries have been (and in some cases have become) Marble, Thirst Class, Torrside, Harvey’s and Orval (nothing quite like knowing there’s always an Orval at hand when you fancy one). I also had a dozen of the Batham’s during lockdown 1, but haven’t repeated it – it’s expensive with delivery, and they go down so damn fast…

The main problem with Bathams, in my experience anyway, is that the bottled nowhere compares to the draught.

I’ve bought a *lot* of beer over the past 12 months – reliable workhorses have been Durham, Torrside, Ashover (really good!), Fyne Ales and newbies De Vossen (clocked them early on and have sung their praises ever since).

I’ve found myself more likely to order from breweries who let you mix and match an order (or case). I like to experiment, plus wary of beers I’ve never tried before. Some breweries are brave enough to swallow the delivery charge too – great for the customer but not so good for them. Can be a factor in ordering though.

I had a great mixed case from Utopian recently. Broughton (based in the Scottish borders) make some good beers (Old Jock is a fantastic malt-heavy Scotch ale) and at prices which are great for us but are probably just keeping them in business. While Anspach & Hobday produce some great beers, again in mixed cases and frequently offer a 15% discount code on their website/social media. I can highly recommend them.

As there are four separately owned breweries on the site I work at I’ll try and get a blog post together about how they’ve each got on. There are practical issues that affect the supply side though, talking to a brewer from Shepherd Neame he said the bottling line is running flat out (at about 30,000 bottles per hour) but it only takes one and a half days brewing to make enough beer for that.

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