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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 19th Aug 2016 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: A collaborative approach to brewing, promoting independent craft brewers is vital for the future of the industry, and the perfect destination local
Authors: Glynn Davis, Mike Benner, and Ann Elliott

A collaborative approach to brewing by Glynn Davis

The beauty of the leisure and hospitality industry is that it is extremely collaborative – unlike say retail for instance, where competing businesses would probably rather leg-over their rivals rather than help them when they need any assistance. The brewing sector very much falls into the open and helpful category. This collaborative approach has certainly helped grow the number of craft brewers. When the London Brewers’ Alliance (LBA) was formed in the early days of the craft beer movement in the UK in 2010 its founder Phil Lowry had the aim of creating a community of brewers who would help each other out in just the same way that he’d seen happen on the West Coast of the US.
He knew this would very much help build a critical mass of new breweries in the capital – and undoubtedly sows the seed for growth around the rest of the country. Although he has not been directly involved in the LBA for some time its membership has grown in line with the number of breweries in the capital, which stands at 80-plus. A number of them took part in the recent London Craft Beer Festival (LCBF). This four-year-old event runs alongside the long-established Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) in a big week of beer in the capital. London Beer City also runs a series of events throughout the week. This rich pageant of beer events and tastings is a great opportunity each year to gauge where the UK is with its beer production.
The thing that struck me this year was the way community played a noticeably richer role at the LCBF. A collegiate community spirit was very much in evidence. Head brewers and brewery owners were mixing freely and proud to be dispensing their beers and telling their story and other tales to each other and to the paying customers. Although previous years had seen keg (ie carbonated) beer as pretty much the only brew available at LCBF, this time around there was a whole section dedicated to cask (hand pulled) beer. This is very much the territory of GBBF. Being organised by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), it is focused on mainly UK cask ales as well as some overseas beers whose brewers seem to get away with serving keg beers at the festival! The American brewers are not so lucky and they are under orders to provide cask versions of their US-style beers, which at home would be produced as keg beers. The results are very variable.
What you will also not see at GBBF is any UK keg beer. Those brewers producing such beers are banished in an exercise that goes back many years. It was always a great shame that London’s Meantime Brewery was excluded even though at the time it was brewing some of the country’s most interesting beers. Excluding one particular brewery such as this was not that big a deal but as keg beers from a growing number of craft breweries take an ever greater slice of the UK’s beer sales then the matter becomes a lot more problematic. You end up with an event that is increasingly not representative of the industry and therefore does not showcase the country’s best beers.
This issue of keg versus cask continues to rage in the beer industry (while most consumers will probably be largely oblivious of it). But it does mean you won’t find some of the glorious brewers such as The Kernel, Beavertown, Hammerton, Partizan, and Brew By Numbers at GBBF. Hence the likes of LCBF and other festivals have stepped into the breach. They also do not have a problem with cask at LCBF as this year it had a dedicated cask bar – “The Cask Yard” (sponsored by Fuller’s). This certainly suggests a healthier, less divisive environment with a greater community feel.
So what’s the big deal you might ask? The issue is while GBBF maintains a less embracing stance it will surely slowly lose its lustre and validity as the globally recognised showcase for UK beer. But this could all change though because CAMRA is currently undergoing a very lengthy “Revitalisation” project that will see it potentially evolve the reason for its existence from being just a saviour of cask to embracing all beer styles including carbonated keg so beloved of the craft brewers. Future GBBFs could therefore be something very different and truly embracing of every brewer.
This would be very welcome because it would be a shame if the UK’s biggest-by-a-mile beer festival does not fully support those parts of the beer industry that just happen to have a very different approach to how they brew their beers. As Mr Lowry rightly recognised in 2010, a sense of sharing and community can have a seriously positive impact on an industry and as such this approach should be cultivated rather than stifled. Only then will the industry fully flourish and brewers, pub operators and drinkers will all ultimately benefit.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends 

Promoting independent craft brewers is vital for the future of the industry by Mike Benner

For a good few years, some in the British beer industry have been somewhat distracted by a desire to define craft beer – whether it should be from a new brewery that did keg beer, whether it should be associated with certain styles or flavour attributes, whether more traditional brewers and cask beer should be included, or not. This comes as no surprise as “craft” is undoubtedly the most exciting thing to have happened in beer for many years.
This did a lot to muddy the waters and keep the independent beer industry busy talking amongst themselves, but did little to promote further the amazing beer being brewed in Britain to a wider audience. It’s too late to define it now. The cat is well and truly out of the bag. Whilst we were “debating” amongst ourselves the big brewers saw the potential in the market and started launching new products aimed at casual mainstream drinkers looking to find out what this “craft” beer was all about – or simply bought up previously independent breweries that had already made a good name for themselves, such as Camden Town Brewery, Meantime and Sharps.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with the big brewers striving to make more interesting beer, or making quality beer more widely available. Where the issue arises is when consumers cannot tell the difference between a beer brewed by a global company and the genuinely independent craft-brewed beers from smaller breweries – the kind of brewers most consumers associate with the term “craft”. Independent craft-brewed beer is inherently local, in fact 70% of Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) members sell the majority of their beer within a 40-mile radius, and it is this authenticity and importantly freshness that gives beer drinkers the best experience possible. It’s all about provenance, honesty and transparency – consumers deserve to know whether the beer they are buying was made by an independent craft brewer, or not, and make up their own mind.
At the Great British Beer Festival last week SIBA launched the “Assured Independent British Craft Brewer” initiative in an effort to make it easier for beer drinkers to identify products from genuinely independent craft brewers. Along with the assured “stamp” logo, which we hope in time will become a symbol of quality independent craft-brewed beer, we have launched a website highlighting independent brewers across the UK and explaining what makes them special. This initiative is only open to SIBA member brewers who are brewing less than 200,000HL per year, are independent of any larger brewing interest or ownership, and have pledged to abide by SIBA’s Manual of Good Brewing Practice. 
Importantly it’s not about beer style or dispense method. Independent craft brewers in the UK are brewing a huge range of amazing beers in cask, keg, bottle and can, something we should be hugely proud of and celebrate. I believe this initiative could be a huge step forward for the industry and the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, with more than 200 breweries now actively involved in the initiative and pledging their support.
As well as this, SIBA is looking to work proactively with beer retailers of all types – whether that is pubs, bars, restaurants, coffee shops, or the off-trade – to ensure this stamp of quality becomes recognisable to consumers in the same way that has been so successful for other food industries and manufacturers. We recently announced that SIBA’s award-winning beer delivery service BeerFlex has now sold more than 100 million pints of independent local beer into the UK’s biggest pub companies – an amazing achievement for the UK’s indie brewers. 
However, it has become clear in recent years the way in which people are drinking is changing. Beer is about far more than the pub and in order to deliver the future of British beer SIBA is actively looking to get quality craft-brewed beer into restaurants, coffee shops, and bars and as well as promoting our members, has adapted our BeerFlex service to suit. The fact is in 2016 every business with an alcohol licence should be looking to see if the quality of their beer offering is up to scratch.
You only have to look at SIBA’s current Independent Craft Beer Restaurant of the Year, Bundobust in Leeds, an Indian street food restaurant that also serves a huge range of amazing independent beers, with a focus on local, quality breweries. This isn’t a place you would describe as “a pub”, but it has found its niche, grown rapidly (it is opening a new site in Manchester shortly) and got beer from independent breweries into the hands of people who might not otherwise have tried it.
As craft beer continues to grow in popularity and finds new audiences across the UK, it is vital that independent craft-brewed beer is given its rightful place and brewers have the tools to shout about what makes their beers special. If you are a retailer who can see the benefits of British craft-brewed beer for your business, I hope you will support our new “Assured” initiative and get in touch to see how you can get involved.
Mike Benner is chief executive of SIBA

The perfect destination local by Ann Elliott

Sometimes you walk into a place and immediately feel at home and comfortable, as though you could just sit down, kick off your shoes, curl up in a chair and simply relax because it all feels so warm, welcoming and friendly. That’s how I felt when I visited The Little Elephant in Woolton near Liverpool last weekend. My friend Suzie, who lives in Liverpool, organised the lunch so I had no idea where we were going until we got there – so was surprised to see a blackboard referring to the Flying Pig & Lobster. A quick email to Roy Ellis confirmed it was part of the group.
This pub, to me, is the epitome of the perfect local – the holy grail of a great community/neighbourhood pub. As it says externally “The Elephant is a village pub for friends and families”. Why does it work so well?
1. It appeals to the broadest possible demographic base. There was a birthday party going on, lots of millennials, a pair of elegantly dressed over-70s having a snack, tables of “women who lunch” and several multi-generational groups – all socialising side by side. This is a pub for everyone – democratic, unifying and accessible.
2. The layout has been really well thought through with a mix of high/low/small and large tables, long runs of seating, booths, high/low seating and casual chairs. Importantly the sight lines are relatively short from almost every point in the pub giving it a sense of intimacy from all angles. In other words you could go for any occasion and find somewhere to suit. One large, high table was occupied by those working on their laptops having cake and coffee, giving the pub a very easy and relaxed feel.
3. The lighting is perfect. Lighting is a bit of a bugbear of mine because it seems to be the last element of interior design to be thought about and yet it makes such a difference to the atmosphere and vibe. Here it works really well from both an ambiance and illumination perspective.
4. The pub has a flexible, innovative and modern food menu that has something for everyone. Increasingly pubs are going to have to cope with customers who want to bespoke their meals from items they see on the menu and who are intolerant of any lack of flexibility on the part of the kitchen. They really don’t care about the impact on the kitchen if they go off the menu piste. No such problem here – nothing was too much trouble for the team (or the kitchen).
5. It has a programme of events that focus on building a sense of community amongst those who use the place – a pub trip to the Lakes, a dog show, an open-air cinema evening, live music in the garden. All communicated in a way that smacks of a sense of wanting its customers to belong.
6. This is a place that puts the customer first. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s self-deprecating and has a nice sense of humour, for example the outside sign that reads “Sunny garden (some of the time). Sunny people (all of the time)”. And those customers definitely include children. There are baskets of crayons, games and the children’s menu at the entrance meaning families feel comfortable from the moment they come into the pub (or eat in the fantastic child-friendly garden).
We went to its sister pub The Viking in West Kirby for Sunday lunch. Again, it has brilliant team members, fantastic food, great ambiance, an amazing garden and superb use of space. I loved it. So two great, well thought through pubs, which the locals in both areas patently love too – but then again what’s not to love about them? They are the blueprint for successful community pubs of the future.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of leading PR and marketing company Elliotts –

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