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.
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.