Beerlines

Insights on beer marketing & PR by a beer-war vet

Archive for the 'Craft beer' Category

20 October
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Will big retail replace big brewing?

Swan Brewery’s closure was announced by LION this week. 

I could go on about how sad that is in many ways.

Instead, taking a bigger view of the beer market, I suggest that in that swan-song we can hear chords of big retail replacing big brewing in Australia.

In many respects Swan Brewery was a dinosaur. It reflects the entitled view of ‘owning’ state markets that the big capital city breweries had for decades. Indeed, almost all these big breweries – like Swan, Tooheys, CUB and Castlemaine Perkins – were constructed to produce enough beer for 100% of ‘their’ state’s market.

And why not? In the good ol’ hey days (not so long ago in the 1970/80s) Swan had over 95% of the Western Australian market and Castlemaine had almost 90 of Queensland for example.

But times changed and those breweries haven’t.

It’s been a challenge for them. On the one hand, the tradition of owning mega-brands, market dominance and the advantages of economies of scale. While on the other, pressured for flexility to create small batches of new styles and innovative beer brands.

Hard to do in one brewery where you’ve already invested heavily in the biggest brewing equipment available on the planet. Hard to have both mindsets in the one company.

I’m not saying that Swan’s closure means we’ll see more big breweries in Australia ‘rationalised’. However, no matter how you spin it – they got their marketing wrong.

In that market you can almost hear brakes screeching as big brewers rapidly seek more flexible operations.

LION has invested in smaller craft breweries, notably Little Creatures and James Squire. CUB took over Matilda Bay. Both of them are rapidly topping up their traditional big-brand portfolios with small craft and niche boutique brands from both domestic brewers and international.

This sense of urgency to ‘get niche’ is almost palpable.

Big retail: big threat
One very big reason for this urgency by LION and CUB is because of Woolies and Coles.

Big retail and the colossal impact they can have on brands has been a big threat to the big brewers for years.

Now that competitive tension is really out there for all to see.

Retailers have tried in various ways, year on year, to squeeze more and more profit from the brands of the big brewers. They’ve tried just about everything including bringing in their own imported premium beers.

Now retailers are becoming brewers. Well .. almost.

Four new Sail & Anchor craft beer brands in pride of place at Dan Murphy’s

Here’s a recent case study: Woolworth’s through its Dan Murphy’s owns the Sail & Anchor brand. They also have an interest in another WA brewer, Gage Roads. Dan Murphy’s has just released a clutch of new ‘craft’ Sail & Anchor beer styles/brands which have been brewed under contract at Gage Roads.

Own the brands: not the brewery
It’s a great position to be in: own the brands but not the brewing equipment as well as owning almost all the retail. And given that LION’s website focuses exclusively on ‘brands’ as opposed to breweries (and all the heritage that used to go with them) perhaps that’s their plan too?

So who will own the title for ‘BIG’ in future? BIG brewer or BIG retailer?

Clearly the tectonic plates of beer market ownership are shifting. Maybe that’s a good thing. One benefit is that as the big guys battle for niches, their marketing has a halo effect for small craft brewers like Cavalier or Mountain Goat.

Woolies Lager?
One outcome of bigger retail power in the beer market that I am not looking forward to is homebrand beer. The huge UK retailer Sainsbury’s provides their version of Crown Lager for example. Shudder…

Cheers!

 

23 August
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Craft beer design: big lessons from little creatures

I’m no designer but I do see craft beer brands that get it, and I cringe for the ones who don’t. ‘Cringe’ because so much passion and effort for the beer just fails to transmit due to dull design.

I’ve always been impressed with the design for Little Creatures.

Great brand name. It dares to be different via stylish clean lines. I especially love the chunky pint bottle pack. And the fresh hopped, bitter Pale Ale just happens to be one of my fave drops. Importantly the market likes it; it’s still here.

Beerlines tracked down one of Little Creatures’ founders, Phil Sexton, to investigate the impact of design. He’s moved on from beer to Yarra Valley wines with two well-known, and well designed, brands: Giant Steps  and Innocent Bystander.

Phil linked me up with Steve Boros, Design Director at the Western Australian firm brainCELLS Pty Ltd which designed Little Creatures and still work for the brand. They also did Innocent Bystander.

Steve played the central design role in the total package that is ‘Little Creatures’. He brought together the many design elements, notably the label and bottle shapes – including the lovely (I want to pick it up) pint pictured here.

I put some questions to Steve who provided these thought-provoking, professional responses.

Why is design important to craft beer brands?

Craft breweries and brands have exploded over the last five or so years: in America to start with but now on the rampage globally. Read more…

19 August
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Thirty breweries

Thirty is a theme. Two articles in as many weeks noted cities with thirty breweries. Both stories I see as healthy signposts for Aussie craft beer.
LONDON
Olympics city is having a craft beer and brewing renaissance according to The Telegraph which notes: “London … now has nearly 30 breweries, most having blossomed in the past three years or so. Capital beer-lovers are now spoilt for choice as fragrant pale ales, robust bitters, creamy porters, slinky lagers and powerfully hopped IPAs spill over into their glasses. Yes, the former brewing capital of the world is definitely making a comeback.’ 

The Tele journalist (Adrian Tierney-Jones) notes three of the best London beers, all of which sound great:–
1 Camden Town Pale Ale, 4.5%: Bright amber in colour, this juicy pale ale has a fragrant nose of ripe peach skin with orange pith in the background.
2 Beavertown Smoke Rocket, 5.4%: The colour of midnight, this is inspired by the London porters of the past. [see my earlier post on porters]
3 Brodie’s Hackney Red IPA, 6.1%: American hops give this amber-coloured beauty slinky ripe pink grapefruit notes.
PORTLAND
Second: Portland Oregon is now called the ‘craft brewing capital of the world’ with 32 breweries according to this article in the July edition of Virgin Australia Voyeur.
The inflight mag notes Portland’s brewery numbers now eclipse Leuven in Belgium and even Munich.

Portland. Now that’s one city I gotta visit!

And – as if I needed another reason – Portland’s population is about 584,000 while London’s is estimated to be anywhere from nine to twelve million: so Portland is certainly well ahead on a brewery per head of population basis.

Just one of thirty-two good reasons to visit Portland.

How many does Melbourne have now? Cheers!

17 August
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Five PR tips in building craft beer brands

In the last beerlines post I interviewed PR Warrior Trevor Young as a vodcast. We discussed the current state of marketing communications for craft beer brands.

Here are five key pints points
that emerged from that interview:–

ONE: CONSISTENCY ONLINE & OFFLINE

  • an essential cornerstone of building a brand over time is consistency
  • the more you tweak and vary messages and positioning the less consistency develops
  • without consistency your brand finds it difficult to get any critical mass out there in consumer land
  • get the story right at the start so you don’t have to tweak – either online or offline
  • know your story and key messages cold!
  • retell that central songsheet consistently with consistency

TWO: PUT A HUMAN FACE TO YOUR BRAND

  • it’s what craft brewers can do that the big guys can’t Read more…
12 August
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Building craft beer brands online: beerlines vodcast interview with PR Warrior Trevor Young

Beerlines kicks off its ‘beerviews’ vodcasts with an interview with well known social media and online communications commentator Trevor Young.

Trevor’s online identity is better known as the PR Warrior. He’s been a vocal advocate for building brands online, notably via social media, for many years.

Beerlines interviews Trevor for his thoughts on how craft brewers, many of whom are setting up new brands, can use online conversations and social media to help.

The PR Warrior highlights the human-scale advantages that craft brewers and their brands have over the big guys.

P.S. “Yes” beerviews vodcasts will get better as this multi-layered medium is mastered.

Cheers!

22 July
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Brooklyn’s finest: bottle the moment

A few years ago I spent a few weeks in New York: my first trip. Expecting a market awash in Bud and Miller I was surprised at the strong presence of Brooklyn Brewery beers in Manhattan where we were staying. Pleasantly surprised because the beers were so good.

Their quality was underlined during Melbourne’s Good Beer Week when Brooklyn Brewery events were sell outs. Dammit! [note to self: get GBW tickets earlier next year.]

Brooklyn brews were, then for me in NY, a wake-up call as to how healthy the craft brewing scene was in the States. [For an insight to where the craft beer market stands now in the USA, see a great review in Aleheads blog. I’ll return to this in a future post.]

And I was in heaven when it was on tap at Dizzy’s Jazz Club in Columbus Circle: sun setting over Central Park; jazz; and great beer.

Bottle this moment …..

Heavenly moment at Dizzy’s: overlooking Central Park; cool jazz; and Brooklyn beer.

Read more…

15 July
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Local and fresh: welcome back!

Fresh cloudy beer with a green swirl of fresh hop particles. Crikey! Just the thought would once see beer drinkers avoid a pub like the plague.

Fresh Alpha Pale Ale with a swirl of green hops to prove it!

A bit heady I know – but this glass underlines a shift in Australia’s beer market. Some call it a revolt. Where once the nearest brewery was only the big one in the state capital, now we have smaller breweries: local breweries. In Melbourne, for example, we now have many new, interesting and tasty brews from city-based craft breweries: Cavalier and Thunder Road Brewing to name just two standouts.

Local and fresh: words that beer drinkers are reacquainting themselves with.

I dropped in to Matilda Bay’s new Port Melbourne brewery yesterday with a fellow beer fancier. Within walking distance of home: it’s local and, as you can see, fresh. (And ‘yes’ I know it’s owned by CUB.) The treat of the visit was a glass of Matilda Bay’s Alpha Pale Ale straight from the fermenter. It was cloudy; floral; a bit raw; and delicious. To underline this there was a green swirl of fresh hop particles at the bottom of the glass as the top pic tries to show.

Fresh from the Bay.

There were three taps offering Matilda Bay brews straight from the fermenter: Alpha Pale; Double Stout and The Black Thong. We sampled them all. What a treat. Our fave was the Alpha. Read more…

04 July
2Comments

Crafty invasion by US brews

It looks like small American craft brewers have achieved what big US beer brands, like Bud and Miller, have consistently failed to do: secure a viable foothold in Australia. Why?

  1. Craft beers – both local and imported – offer new and different beer styles to a beer market increasingly looking for alternatives.
  2. These alternatives reflect the expanding ‘preference portfolio’ of Aussie beer consumers. Not all: but clearly an increasing number including many opinion leaders. They are cool with choosing a different beer at different times and occasions.

Part of the US line-up at Dan Murphy’s

Tasty more than crafty?
At the end of the day perhaps these US brews are being supported locally because they offer alternative tastes to a market thirsty for them. More to do with taste than being designated ‘craft’ perhaps?  And let’s not forget they are: —

  • NOT LAGER: many are not lagers. Australia has a solid line-up of domestic lagers and a burgeoning choice of European imports. We’re awash in lager!
  • YOU CAN TASTE THEM: historically mainstream US lagers have been of a lighter style and taste. Not in ABV, as urban myth promulgates: but certainly in taste. A product of post-Prohibition use of rice and corn in place of scarce malt.

Whatever the reason: Australian beer drinkers did not take to America’s big beer brand imports. But lately they seem quite partial to their craft brews.

Makes for an interesting dynamic in the Australian beer market. Bring it on!

Cheers!

06 June
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Monty Python and the Holy Ale

There’s a great scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail where the bridge-keeper commands the knights: “Stop. Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ‘ere the other side he see.”

This morning the bridge-keeper asked: “What colour is your favourite beer?” To my mind this is just marginally easier than ‘what is your favourite colour?’

This classic movie scene passed through my mind today as I crossed the pedestrian bridge on Melbourne’s Yarra river in the heart of our CBD. Under the bridge is Pony Fish: a popular drinking spot.

Dark beers for winter
Swiftly with iPhone camera I took this early morning pic. Abbotsford Invalid Stout from CUB and Dogbolter, a Munich dunkel lager (dark beer), by Matilda Bay topped a stack of freshly delivered packaged beer.

So .. two dark beers: generations apart featured on the bridge. Normally, neither are ragingly popular – but both are good companions in a Melbourne winter. And both I believe reflect a growing interest by enlightened beer drinkers in beers with greater depth of character.

As part of my focus on dark beers for winter, I’ll put these established brands, as well as a variety of newer craft brews, to the test. Perhaps one that won’t render me as limbless as the Black Knight in the same movie.

The Black Knight (aka John Cleese) from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I’ll report back soon. It’s just Wednesday after all.

Cheers!

03 June
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Revolution in lager land

Good Beer Week has just finished here in Melbourne. Congratulations to all who brought this amazing event about.

Melbourne’s Good Beer Week 2012

Just a few years ago there would not have been the groundswell of interest I believe to make GBW the success it’s been.

The beer market is changing. A revolution is underway in lager land. And about time too.

I know I’m late to the revolutionary barricades (and only carry a pen!) but in a land dominated for so long by monolithic samey lager brands it’s fantastic to see the diversity of craft beers becoming available across Australia.

It’s a hard slog trying to make a few bucks from brewing in lager land. It’s soooo hard trying to get distribution for a start.

I wish all Aussie craft brewers well and will do my small part to champion the cause.

Slowbeer: emblem of the revolution
My small part today was to stop in at Slowbeer in Richmond Melbourne and buy a few different porters. My fave style for winter.  I’ll pen some thoughts on them soon.

If you’re a book lover you’ll know of a bookshop where you know if you go in, just for five minutes, you’ll come out having bought a few. Without doubt.

Slowbeer is the equivalent bottleshop for craft beer lovers.

Craft beers can be hard to track down. Irony aside: maybe Slowbeer can speed that up for you.

Cheers!