The Secrets of Doom Bar’s Success

This post was made pos­si­ble by the sup­port of Patre­on sub­scribers like  Nick Moyle and Sue Hart whose encour­age­ment jus­ti­fied us spend­ing sev­er­al days of our free time research­ing and writ­ing. If you like this, and want more, please do con­sid­er sign­ing up, or just buy us a pint.

How did a beer born on an industrial estate in Cornwall in 1995 become a ubiquitous national brand in just 20 years? And what about it inspires such loyalty, and such disdain?

A few inci­dents made us real­ly start think­ing about Sharp’s Doom Bar.

The first was a cou­ple of years ago on a research trip to Man­ches­ter, hav­ing trav­elled all the way from Pen­zance, when we walked into a pub – we can’t recall which one – to find two cask ales on offer: St Austell Trib­ute, and Doom Bar.

The sec­ond was at a pub in New­lyn, just along the coast from Pen­zance, where we met two exhaust­ed cyclists who’d just com­plete the John O’Groats to Land’s End run. They want­ed one last beer before begin­ning the long jour­ney home to the Home Coun­ties. When we got talk­ing to them, one of them even­tu­al­ly said to us: “You’re into your ales, then? I’ll tell you what’s a good one – Doom Bar. Do you know it?”

Peo­ple love this beer. They real­ly, gen­uine­ly, unaf­fect­ed­ly find great plea­sure in drink­ing it.

Sales sta­tis­tics sup­port that: from some­where around 12 mil­lion pints per year in 2009, to 24m in 2010, to 43m by 2016, Doom Bar shifts units.

So what is, or has been, Doom Bar’s secret? And is there some­thing there oth­er brands might imi­tate?

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Secrets of Doom Bar’s Suc­cess”

Doom Bar and the Question of Origin

It’s official: thanks to Lucy Britner at Just Drinks we now know that Sharp’s Doom Bar – the bottled stuff, at least – has been being brewed outside Cornwall since 2013.

From the moment Mol­son-Coors bought out Sharp’s in 2011 peo­ple down here in Corn­wall have been won­der­ing how long it would be before pro­duc­tion moved to Bur­ton-upon-Trent. Oth­ers assumed it had already hap­pened and that there was sly­ness afoot. One local source even told us they’d heard a Sharp’s brew­er drop­ping big hints about it last year.

Now the cat’s out of the bag, what does it mean?

In a part of the world where the act of buy­ing local is high­ly politi­cised it might cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for oth­er Cor­nish brew­ers to sup­ply restau­rants, super­mar­kets, del­i­catessens and bars which have, until now, been hap­py with bot­tled Doom Bar.

In real­i­ty, though, we sus­pect it will take months for most peo­ple to clock this news and, even then, many won’t care – it’s a pop­u­lar beer which pre­sum­ably sells to the trade at a com­pet­i­tive price and it’s still Cor­nish-ish, right?

But if we ran a busi­ness and had for the last two years been buy­ing those bot­tles on the under­stand­ing that the beer was Cor­nish-made – and prob­a­bly pitch­ing it to our cus­tomers as such – we’d be pret­ty annoyed.

We came to this sto­ry via the West­ern Morn­ing News and are grate­ful to Kev Head for point­ing us to the orig­i­nal source.

UPDATE 01/07/2015

We asked Sharp’s the fol­low­ing ques­tion on Twit­ter but have yet to get a reply despite prod­ding:

We need to talk about Greene King IPA

The sign outside a Greene King pub in London.

For a beer many peo­ple con­sid­er bland and over-exposed, Greene King IPA does­n’t half get talked about a lot. To us, it’s the cask ale equiv­a­lent of Bud­weis­er – brewed to be near­ly flavour­less, not too intox­i­cat­ing and uncon­tro­ver­sial. It was, in fact, for that rea­son that it was the first cask ale that Bai­ley got the taste for, many years ago.

Zak Avery, Paul Gar­rard and oth­ers stick up for it, how­ev­er, argu­ing that it is sub­tle rather than bland, and that it suf­fers because it is often sold in pubs which don’t know how to look after it. The lat­ter is cer­tain­ly true, and also applies to, e.g., Lon­don Pride when not served in a Fuller’s pub.

Zak sug­gests that we and oth­ers who find GK IPA bor­ing need to recal­i­brate our taste­buds. We know what he means – a pint of our usu­al after a fort­night in Spain last year tast­ed like an extreme hop-mon­ster – but can’t agree that GK IPA is an unfair­ly neglect­ed clas­sic. If faced with a choice between GK IPA and a cold Cruz­cam­po, we’d take the lat­ter every time, and that’s say­ing some­thing.

We recent­ly described GK IPA, rather than ‘craft keg’, as the thin end of the wedge in the bat­tle against crap beer: it’s got more in com­mon with John Smith’s smooth keg ales than it has, say, an excit­ing brown bit­ter like Har­vey’s Sus­sex Best.

Which is not to say that peo­ple who enjoy it are wrong to do so, or that they’re not real­ly enjoy­ing it, just that it would be a shame if that was as far as they got. It’s like upgrad­ing from Dairylea to mild ched­dar and think­ing you’re eat­ing ‘prop­er cheese’. (That sounds snob­bish but we can’t find any oth­er way to express this – and beer and cheese aren’t things you need to be rich or Eton-edu­cat­ed to enjoy.)

What’s most frus­trat­ing, as Zak also points out, is that Greene King make some inter­est­ing beers, but their flag­ship brew just hap­pens to be their worst.

Anoth­er beer which we’re begin­ning to think about the same way is Sharp’s Doom Bar. It’s huge­ly pop­u­lar but, in our expe­ri­ence, often dis­ap­point­ing. We had a great pint of it a cou­ple of years back but, since then, have always been let down by its dusty card­board flavours and believe us, we keep try­ing. Recent­ly, we had a pint along­side one each of St Austell HSD and Marston’s Pedi­gree, and Doom Bar lost. (But now we need to do that taste test blind.)

UPDATE (16/12/2011): we had anoth­er good pint of Doom Bar last night – bright, fruity and very alive. Still not a great hit rate but we’re not writ­ing it off yet.