Saturday 10 March 2012

Narrow field of view

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.


Ed said...

Dearie me.

StringersBeer said...

Were you frightened by CAMRA as a child Dave?

Unknown said...

Stringers, no, but as a brewer and ex-publican I've rarely found them to be useful to me, but they insist on coming back and asking from me.

Unknown said...

So when's the merger with BrewDog?

Unknown said...

Smarte, we make no secret of our allegiance with BrewDog, however, our most exciting thing that is going to happen this years is a collaboration with a brewery with over 350 years of history.

The rumour mill should already be processing this.

Phil said...

"We don't make Real Ale1" which I know isn't strictly true, but felt I had to say it anyway

I've said it before and I've got a horrible feeling I'll say it again: this confrontational style needs a much lighter touch than you're bringing to it. When BrewDog pick fights with people they go way over the top, act like they're making it up as they go along and generally make it look like they're having a lot of rather self-indulgent fun. When you do it you look like a grumpy nitpicker who isn't having any fun at all.

a collaboration with a brewery with over 350 years of history

You're brewing Guinness?

Unknown said...


Thanks for pointing out that we don't do things quite the same as BrewDog. We have our own flavour of confrontation. Be assured however, we do have a great load of fun doing it.

Cooking Lager said...

Restrict all your communication to other beer geeks. Never talk to anyone that isn't engaged in beer geekery.

It's the only way, Dave.

Unknown said...

Actually Cookie, I was talking to a nice chap from a larger brewery who was offering contract brewing and pasteurised packaging. This option could see us manufacturing cheep grog for supermarkets.

What doya reckon to that?

Cooking Lager said...

I suspect you doing the contract brewing is a waste of your time. You getting some done for your brands might be an idea if you get some big orders you can't meet.

But heh, continue to get frustrated people don't get you or your USP, like a teenage kid. I find it entertaining.

The world is like that and that's the way it is. You want to change the world, change it. Take your pick as to the best approach but I suspect the teenage tantrum "the world doesn't understand us", may not be the best one.

Unknown said...

Well Cookie, it is of course difficult to know what my target audience think of me. Perhaps you are closer to the truth than I think, perhaps not.

I do what feels natural. Perhaps shoot from the hip sometimes, but I try to be honest and open about what I think.

I could watch my step, think carefully and have a more coordinated PR approach that talked some irrelevant stuff that just said "buy my beer, it's awesome" or "This beer is brewed with traditional techniques" or some other nonsense.

I'm comfortable doing what I do. Whatever I do someone, somewhere will say it's wrong, so I might as well carry on doing what comes naturally, warts and all.

Cooking Lager said...

Whatever the outcome, you will be able to say "I did it my way"

But here's the thing. You have a great product. It's a bit pricier than other products in the same category. You know your stuff with a mashtun, but so do lots of others. You’re the only one with skin in your game, so you call the shots.

Most drinkers are not members of some sort of "great beer movement"; they just like a nice drink with friends. They may view beer as "ale or lager"; they may assume a micro makes "real" ale. It's your business how you view them but marketing 101 says treating them with contempt may not be the best business strategy. I might be wrong.

Among those drinkers are some CAMRA beards, they have a clear idea as to what they are about, what they want and appear less price sensitive than many. Sounds like type of fish many in your position would want to catch. Not sure about the bait you are offering here though.

You might be making more money this way, if so stick with it. It strikes me as a bit of a poor man’s Brewdog, though. Not original and actually I’m not sure Brewdog are as successful as they claim. Otherwise why would they need to issue dodgy paper to the gullible?

Unknown said...

Cookie, CAMRA beards less price sensitive? I really am misunderstanding these people then.

Mostly I hear that they are saying things like "how much a pint?"

Clearly I am misinformed.

Cooking Lager said...

Eye, 'cos there in pubs paying pub prices, being the mugs they are. Something to do with not wanting pubs to shut, I think.

You don't hear what the rest of us none beards think unless you stand in the grog aisle in Tesco.

Anonymous said...

so nice to have good beer (including a small amount of cask ale, verry small) in Australia but no CAMRA, we do have some beer wankers but they seem not to have become militant yet