We've just sent some beer to Italy, you might have heard. It's good in at least two ways. The first is that it increases our diversity of markets, something that is core to our business strategy. Second, it got us some good press, which is also part of our business strategy.
Yesterday I was talking to someone about exporting and the fact that we were successfully, if tentatively, sending beer to Italy. The conversation that ensued was somewhat illuminating, but not unusual for me.
"I didn't think the Italians drank Real Ale" the gentleman stated.
"We don't make Real Ale1" which I know isn't strictly true, but felt I had to say it anyway; I do object to my beer being classified along with the stuffy old fashioned view of this product group.
"So, are you making lager?"
If the reader is having difficulty understanding why I find this sort of response frustrating, then best read no further.
I think at this point the conversation broke down and I lost yet another local fan. It's of little consequence as we feel, due to the large number of breweries in Cumbria, most of whom are some of my good friends, we don't wish to compete locally. Indeed, although it is possible to gain slightly higher margins locally as opposed to sending pallets out to wholesalers, the costs of transporting about this hilly county with twisty narrow roads full of tourists largely negates this.
Never-the-less, this ill informed view is an example of what is debilitating to my business. It is an example of the narrow view of beer that exists and is against our main USP2
I recently heard a story about a well meaning chap who wished to challenge the current view that CAMRA run beer festivals should consider beer that isn't Real Ale such as perhaps Belgian or American beers. It would of course be the right of the organisers to discuss and then reject the idea if that is what they wish. However, when it is listed on the agenda as "xxxxxx talking about foreign lager" you have to question if preconceptions really do need much more of a shake-up than they are getting.
We don't mention CAMRA in our press releases as a matter of course. We simply don't feel it fits with what we do. If we get an award at a CAMRA festival, then of course we do. But our progress in getting our name out nationally and internationally has been due to a lot of factors and CAMRA certainly isn't a significant part of that.
I know that the local branch do some great things for the local market. I also know that they work hard to get local beers to GBBF, and these beers have a good track record at winning awards. But I do still keep seeing examples of what Pete Brown has described as "CAMRA's noxious culture of entitlement"
I recently got an email from CAMRA, seemingly disappointed with breweries who didn't mention CAMRA in press releases. It explained that it was felt a brewery's PR would be improved by mentioning CAMRA. I very much doubt all but the most traditional brewing businesses will benefit from using CAMRA in their PR in some disconnected manor, as has been suggested. If it is relevant and focused, perhaps, but not just for the sake of it. It is a thinly veiled attempt to get breweries to do PR for CAMRA.
Now, people complain about our methods of PR. It may not always be pretty, it may often be confrontational, but it does work. I really am not sure that Hardknott, or for that matter most successful breweries need to be told how to do their PR by amateurs. My immediate thoughts were along the lines of "how can I pick a fight with CAMRA" just so I can mention them in a press release.
Our beers are currently being distributed in Italy because of the way we do our PR.
I have a responsibility for my bottom line. That is the most important thing to me. It is not that I want or expect to get rich, I don't, but I do want to work up a good enough balance sheet so that I can retire on a comfortable pension.
Working in an altruistic fashion has it's benefits, and I'm sure many people will testify that Hardknott will help out their friends. In return their friends, who are many and do consist of people in CAMRA, SIBA and many breweries big and small, do things that help us out. But, and this is VERY important, we only cooperate where we feel them is a benefit to us. Life is simply too short to waste time on anything else.
There will be more of this cooperation with other brewers this year. I think it may well benefit both ourselves and our friends.
1Interestingly, the company who are distributing our beer in Italy is called Ales and Co. They seem to use CAMRA as part of their marketing and the use of "Ale" in the name belies the fact that they are a British beer specalist. However, many of their key brands are not afraid of picking a fight with, or at least bucking against the Real Ale tradition.
2USP = Unique Selling Proposition - what marks you out from your competitors. If you are in business and don't get this then you might as well pack up now.
For us it is being contemporary, a bit cheeky, breaking down traditions about beer that stifle progress and not being afraid of a good argument with people who disagree. And making beer that allows us to do this, along with using the arguments to sell beer that challenges preconceptions.