Ale Conners* and Saggar-Makers Bottom Knockers**

Today, it’s perfectly reasonable to challenge the assumption that the future of British manufacturing is abroad. A conversation with a former colleague, now working in the pottery industry confirmed this.

It’s a subject very much alive and relevant when you live in a county that to a large degree defined the Industrial Revolution: Staffordshire. Stoke-on-Trent was and is synonymous with pottery of course. Through the trade network of the British Empire, it supplied the world. The Five Towns tend to get talked down and are seen as a victim of deindustrialisation nowadays. The truth though is that the pottery industry is not on life support; the pot banks still fire, they’re just a different shape from the ones of old. And beer came from Burton-on-Trent, still a town shaped by its malty legacy and still the home of one of Europe’s largest breweries, the majestic Burton Union sets at Marston’s and a small crop of craft brewers – but like Stoke, Burton too has seen decline and deindustrialisation as its rather scratty appearance is testament to. And this is to say nothing about the nails and screws and rivets and tools from the Black Country’s ‘workshop of the World’.

Why then is there hope – and why are skilled brand builders at the heart of this?

Added value skills – the base to work from. Whilst there is always of risk of losing skills during deindustrialisation, British manufacturers are getting their heads round relearning the added value skills. We may not need ale conners (*beer quality inspection officials) or saggar-makers bottom knockers (**the ceramic case used for protecting the fired pottery) any more, but there are skills that can’t just be outsourced and commoditised. Designers, brewers, painters…

And an onerous responsibility lies with these individuals. The responsibility to create the sustainable value that allows manufacturing to stay at home. Take Emma Bridgewater. You can argue, it’s just a range of pottery. Yet it is so much more. The brand value is in the consistent application of an appealing look, values you aspire to, a fit with your lifestyle. And where is the Emma Bridgewater range made? Stoke-on-Trent.   And there’s an increasing range to choose from Denby, Portmeirion, Burleigh (located at Middleport, home of ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’.)

The future is bright, the future is branded. In our “Millennial” infatuated marketing world, there’s a tendency to think that only products that eschew ‘marketing’ and tell an authentic story are the ones that will win. No. Brands that decide to use their truth in their positioning and communicate it single-mindedly have the better chance of winning. At the end of the day, the brand is where the value is. Take Camden Town Brewery, only 6 years old, but just sold to brewing giant Anheuser-Busch Inbev for £86m. “Brewery”? Well not really, for Camden Town doesn’t have a significant brewery at all – just some small mash tuns and fermenters under the railway arches, with the rest of their beer made in Belgium. Does that diminish it? Of course not, because it’s the brand that’s been bought. An instantly recognisable brand and tone of voice rooted in London (the larger brewery in London is to follow). A brand expandable here and highly exportable too.

Beyond the green and pleasant brand. British brands often struggle to use ‘Britishness’ domestically, yet it’s a real asset internationally and according to a recent piece in The Telegraph, there’s a premium of £2.1bn to be had by more clearly marketing a brand as ‘Made in Britain’. And it’s the brand that’s important: the quality conveyed by being manufactured in Britain is important, but it’s a point of parity, it’s expected. Today, we have so much more than just our ‘green and pleasant land’ perceptions of Britishness to leverage abroad. There’s more to how we’re perceived, brands like Mini have a contemporary edge that’s informed by our past yet fired up by our present, the edge from our music and creative industries – from our very culture in fact.

Category reinvention. Beer paints a stark picture of how British brewers failed to leverage their native beer styles to their advantage.   It’s not that long ago – 15 years, no more – that British ale was a holed ship, sinking fast with the rats exiting at speed. It’s the reinterpretation of British beer styles – Pale Ale, India Pale Ale (IPA), Porter, Mild, Brown Ale, Stout – by American craft brewers that’s rekindled the brewing scene over here. IPA is now the second most widely consumed and recognised beer style after lager globally. The US craft brewers have shown that it’s possible to reinvent categories in a relatively short period of time – and with it, even towns, regions. But bravery and imagination are needed. The bravery to inspirationally re-purpose the past and the imagination to paint a view of what the future can be.

In this post-industrial world, where we increasingly define ourselves by what we buy and consume, it’s these brand-building skills that can fuel British manufacturing again.

Plug: originally posted by David Preston at The Crow Flies. It’s his ‘real job’. If you’re interested in beer and brands and how they interact get in touch. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260 

The rise of the Nitro’ns

This morning I got an e-mail through from Beer Hawk, offering me a discount on a case of interesting U.S. beers in advance of the Superbowl. And were it not for a coincidence, that would have been that. But there it was, as plain as day, a bottle of Left Hand Brewing Co’s ‘Nitro’ – the stout in fact, one of a number available in their nitro series. The coincidence? Well, at a workshop I was running the other week, the same beer was brought along as an example of something new, an innovation. *draws breath*

Nitro beers. Well, clearly not an innovation: the first one I had was a ‘nitrogen flushed’ can of Draught Bass, and that was definitely in the late ‘80s. Actually, it only had a small proportion of nitrogen in it, the idea was to pour it moderately quickly and let it settle into a creamy head. The settle was quick too but it was a smooth drink and enjoyable too, although quite different to cask Bass. Then of course was the Widget Decade. Nitrogen flushed beer simply has mixed gas – CO2 and nitrogen. The widget beers have a canister, containing the nitrogen which is released upon opening. Guinness Bitter, Boddington’s, Worthington’s Geysir Flow™, Caffrey’s and then all manner of beers launched in a sort of nitrogen-fuelled technology arms race. We had fixed metal widgets, floating plastic widgets, balls, barrels and cylinders – you name it. There was even a Boston Beer Co beer (an ale-lager hybrid Boston Beer), distributed by Whitbread.   Some of these beers are still around: Boddington’s is in cans and of course, Guinness still has a widget variant.

Left-Hand-Brewing-Co-Nitro-IconsBut there is a problem. For everything the widget (and the nitrogen) gives in smooth texture and a bit of rippling theatre, it takes away in taste. I recently read a Sam Adams blog on the subject which, to paraphrase, said that ‘some beers work and others don’t’. I’d be surprised by this: at one point I ran an innovation project for a brewery and we put every beer the company brewed into widget and nitrogen flush cans – every single one either had suppressed flavour overall, or the nitrogen had an unbalancing effect, effectively emphasising one particular flavour component of the brew. Never positively.

Although there seem to be some differences this time – nitro products in glass for one, and a fully inverted pour, it feels like a circle coming round to the start again. I watch the (re)rise of the Nitro’ns with interest. And with scepticism.

© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2016

Sell out

Crikey – talk about the hissy fit in UK craft beer. Camden Town sell out to ABI, particularly following Meantime falling to SAB and Brewdog, most publically, have a meltdown, kick out Camden products and declare Perpetual Independence.

Let me tell you up front though. I put some money into Camden Town Brewery. This doesn’t make me anti-Brewdog nor pro Camden. In this case, it was an investment, nothing more. I believe now, as I believed when assessing whether to make an investment in them, that they were a sound place to put some hard-earned brass. Here is (was) my rationale:

Firstly, the owners were not the types to be in it for the long term; amongst them Sir John Hegarty. He’s an Advertising Man – he has helped companies build their brands to increase the value of their companies all his working life; he’s also built businesses himself and become a ‘Sir’ as a result. We’re not talking about fighting for a ‘cause’ here like Keith Grossman or Jack McAuliffe or Fritz Maytag were in the 1960s and 1970s USA. Back then, beer was on its knees; behemoth brewers with gargantuan breweries churning out identikit pale ‘lager’. There was something to fight for. London, 2010 – the year Camden Town Brewery was founded? Frankly the craft beer craze was maturing, or accelerating at least. You could well ask 5 years ago, just as much as you could now: do we really need another craft brewery?

IMG_3036

Camden: pops form the bar; instantly recognisable; consistent ‘hellish’ attitude = brand

Well yes, in a way – and here’s my second point. Camden Town was pushing for difference. It built itself around lagered beers, as well as some well brewed specialities – their Wit stands out in particular for me. Most other craft brewers – as much for practical and cost reasons than anything else – stick to ale and top fermentation. So do we really need another craft brewery? No, unless, like Wild Beer Company say, you do something that stands out. You can argue that Camden beers aren’t that different – but in a sea of craft brewed ale, there was little craft brewed lager in 2010; and even accounting for Meantime, still plenty of capacity to push into that space in London alone.

Thirdly, brand. Oh, I know what the purist will argue: the whole point that craft fights against is mass produced brands of non-descript lager: Carlsberg, Carling, Fosters, Stella, Peroni. But that’s an assumption based on a generalisation: that we all want something different. We don’t. Most of us, most of the time, want choices that are reliable and safe. That doesn’t – and I must stress this – doesn’t mean bland, everyday choices – but choices that we feel confident in; that we discovered, found ourselves, trust and that make us feel different. And it doesn’t mean niche. What the team at Camden did brilliantly is screw together an incredible brand: an amazing brand design and identity across the whole range that sings from the bar. A hellishly beautiful tone of voice that unites all their communication. Events, that bring you in to the Camden community and locality, yet which speak to us more widely. These guys didn’t set out to build a brewery, they set out to build a brand and they have done it incredibly.

And whilst I was in it for the long term – looking forward to my ‘Hells Raiser’ annual beer and trips to the AGM – equally, I fully expected Camden to sell; I just wasn’t expecting it to be in the first six months.

Throughout this, Brewdog’s behaviour has been fascinating – and two-faced. Immediately stopping-selling Camden products in their bars, because ‘they don’t sell anything by ABI’ (the small matter that the deal hasn’t gone through yet is a mere trifle) is one thing; but changing their origin story is another. Read their guff; it’s moving; it’s from the heart. But it’s a story. It’s economical with the truth. When Brewdog launched they were quite happy to trade with the mega-breweries they now despise to get their product to market. With Carlsberg. With Molson Coors. With Tesco. With Punch Taverns. I imagine that they still do. They were perfectly happy to buy into the hard work of these companies in building distribution channels and quite happy to grow their brands off the back of them. But that’s been deleted out of their official history now. But the real irony? Brewdog is a lesson in branding. Their beers are fine – nothing more. They’re no better or worse than other craft beers of their styles. The real difference is in the clothes that they wear; their attitude and use of the f-word like a teenager trying to impress his mates. If we truly drunk with our mouths and tastebuds and not our eyes we would all see Brewdog beers for what they are: great brand, average beer.

And there’s an interesting footnote here too: Camden went for about £85m; Meantime about £115m. Molson Coors back in 2010 bought Sharps for £20m… £20m for a larger brewery; in a beautiful location that gives the brand romance, with a leading brand in Doom Bar. Molson Coors must be having a little chortle to themselves now. But it also shows that the money is to be made in great brands – and more interestingly it seems, in lager.

© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2016

Drown the bureaucrats in beer

I’m a firm believer that we all have our own peculiar ticks, our own OCD tendencies over one thing or another. Mine? Well, I have a few; some perhaps, are just rituals. I start the day with a cafetière of coffee. Instant coffee is like Watney’s Red Barrel, firmly, if you will excuse the word-play, beyond the pale. Tea? Milk in first, no question. Cream tea: jam on first, clotted cream after, no question. More strangely, I find myself particularly irked by the 1974 Local Government Act. Essentially, for bureaucratic neatness, the English Shires, or Counties were reorganized. Some counties, in effect, disappeared: Rutland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Middlesex. ‘City-states’ were created: Tyne and Wear; Greater Manchester, West Midlands. New administrative areas were cooked up too: Humberside, Merseyside, Avon, Cumbria. But the Government of the time, in their own version of administrative OCD had a revulsion against ‘exclaves’. Parts of counties that weren’t attached to the ‘main body’. Dudley, in the Black Country (actually in Worcestershire), was totally surrounded by the Staffordshire Black Country ‘proper’. The Furness peninsulas in Lancashire, were separated from the rest of the county by Morecambe Bay. Parts of Flintshire in North Wales. To the modernising eye of 1972 (when the Act was designed and the Bill passed through Parliament), the New World Order was manifested by sharply tailored bell bottoms; neatly brushed moustaches and floridly smart Prince of Wales Check suit lapels. Exclaves were distinctly untidy and, more to the point, were a real hassle for the bin lorry drivers who might have to stray across the ‘border’ to empty the rubbish. So my home county, Cheshire, had its arms removed. The left arm, the Wirral went to Merseyside, and the right arm, the spur of Longdendale and the Woodhead valley ‘given’ to Derbyshire simply because had they not done so, it would have become an ‘exclave’ due to the new mass of Greater Manchester being created and annexing the towns of Stockport, Staybridge, Mottram and Sale. And remember, exclaves are bad.

In some places there was uproar: Rutland has been restored after a long campaign; Humberside has ceased to exist. Elsewhere, quiet protest continues. The Westmorland Gazette is still published in the old county town of Kendal. In Delph and Diggle, on the edge of Saddleworth Moor, the county street signs still get vandalized and white rose flags are occasionally hoisted up the flag poles rather than red.   Frustratingly, in other areas the changes seem of little consequence to the residents, Cheshire for one. Maybe I feel it more as I’ve lived away for so long now.

Moor beerBut brewers are tuning in. Robinsons in Stockport now describe themselves as ‘Cheshire Brewers’ even though they’ve been in Greater Manchester for 41 years. And Moor beers are ‘Brewed and bottled in Somerset’ even though, strictly speaking I guess, they’re in one of four new ‘Unitary Authorities’ in that part of the world. What a load of tosh. I know, let’s play cricket for ‘The Unitary Authority of Bath and North Somerset’.  No thanks. The craft brewers, yet again, see sense and speak it.   And that’s certainly the case with Moor. Here are simple beers in concept, carefully brewed and elegantly delivered. I bought a couple of cans of So’hop and Nor’hop when I was down at Darts Farm in (the ancient county of) Devon. Not only do they look lovely and feel great in the hand (due to textured ink) but they’re terrific beers the pair. Nor’hop is a pale ale (described as a ‘golden ale’ if that helps you – not me) brewed with a generous slug of northern hemisphere hop varieties, it has an unsurprising but in this case superbly balanced floral character – a hint of elderflower as well as the more dominant citrusy notes. So’hop, on the other hand, has that distinctive Australasian character; still a well balanced and sessionable 4.1% yet so much hop aroma, character and body jam-packed in. There was a distinct tinned pineapple note – and that’s meant in a good way – as well as a sweet honey character, not overpowering, and psychosomatically it would be easy to believe there is a little drop of Manuka in there – there isn’t as far as I’m aware, but that’s perception for you.

IMG_5491What can we conclude from all of this? Politicians are happy to throw away a thousand years of our connection to the land, to our regions and counties and think we won’t care or notice. But brewers are at the vanguard of the rebellion: because nothing connects someone to their sense of place than their local ale; and the brewers at least can see sense.

Decisions, decisions

There’s a lot going on in beer at the moment: there’s a daily news narrative on craft beers; stories about old names being revived; people setting up breweries in shipping containers. Proportionately, there’s less about the corporate side: the 90% if you will. But it deserves some attention, particularly at this time. Particularly with the biggest deal in brewing ever being slated. Particularly with one of the biggest corporate deals ever, in fact.

That craft beer narrative is immensely strong. It is more than a story though; it is creating reverberations not just within beer, but across alcoholic drinks, across non-alcoholic drinks and beyond. The craft beer ‘revolution’ is the poster boy of reactionary consumerism; the proof that you can change the food industry not just from within but from the outside too. It is the manifestation of a growing consumer desire for authenticity, transparency, of personal stories over fabricated myths, or small over large – right across the food and drink industry.   There’s a clear argument to be made that ABI buying SAB is a consequence of the rise of craft beer. Certainly if you look at their outputs it is supported: over the last few years ABI have bought ‘breakthrough’ craft breweries: Widmer, Kona, Goose Island amongst others; elsewhere they’ve been copying the rules of craft with brands like ‘Shock Top’. SAB have been concentrating more on strengthening their own brands and now have an incredible portfolio, with brands like Pilsner Urquell, Peroni and Grolsch. They too have bought into craft with the acquisition of London’s Meantime Brewery.

Let’s push beyond the “eazey-news” headlines though. What’s really going on here is polarisation. Yes, craft is growing but it’s growing disproportionately quickly in mature beer markets. Large scale, low growth markets; markets where consumers have had mass marketing rammed down their gullets for decades. But ABI and SAB have their focus elsewhere: to the places and the brands that they can drive long-term shareholder value growth. They’re focus is on central and southern America, India, Asia and Africa. ABI are clear that they want to be the first ‘global brewer’ and this deal gives them an incredible beachhead to push for conquest. As a deal, it will make South America a fortress; it will revolutionise their position in Africa; it will strengthen their footprint in Asia, in particular China, where they will acquire the World’s biggest beer brand, Snow.

Watching this form the side lines, what’s impressive about ABI is their utter commitment to the goal. The newswires yesterday were humming with the revelation that they would be prepared to sell off SAB’s prime assets, notably Peroni and it’s Nastro Azzurro brand. Grolsch too, was mooted as a candidate for sale. They have form here: when InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch they sold off Tsingtao in China – one of the few successful Sino-Anglo Saxon partnerships and a real crown jewel. This tells us a number of things about ABI.  It tells us that they have a clear focus for growth outside North America and Europe where Peroni is notably strong – Peroni is a great brand but in the short term the only thing it is likely to do is give them issues with regulators (plus, the US rights stay with MillerCoors should the deal go ahead).  It tells us that they have a purpose that is unifying and guiding their decisions. It tells us that they are willing to make not just choices but sacrifices – big sacrifices – in order to achieve their vision.  And it tells us too that they believe in their brands – brands that craft beer lovers are generally scathing of (Bud Light, Budweiser, Stella Artois as well as an army of local brands – and they will back them to the hilt in markets outside our (European / North American) frame of daily reference.    Whether you’re comfortable about the size of this deal and the global market share it will leave ABI with, it will be churlish – no, foolish – to ignore the business and brand building lessons that they teach us, again and again.

Wraiths and Zombies

In Tolkien’s ‘Ring’ trilogy there’s a scene in the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, where Frodo, the hairy-toed hero challenged with destroying the Ring, is attacked by the Ring Wraiths, the Nazgul. Mixing our genres a moment, let’s just say that these former Kings have gone over to the Dark Side. The Ring is their Force; slaves to its power, it determines their destiny. Unsurprisingly, they’re pretty keen to get the ring back, and run old Frodo through attempting to do so. Frodo, being stabbed by a cursed blade, a Mordor blade, begins to transform. Mixing our film genres yet again, it’s rather like a Dementor, sucking not just the happiness out of him, but his will to live too. He’s becoming a shadow-human; living somewhere between the dark world of Mordor and the ‘real’ world of Middle Earth. His eyes glaze over as if he’s wearing those freaky Halloween contact lenses and he becomes all pallid and sweaty; but a couple of Paracetamol won’t sort him out, he needs Elvish medicine, and there’s no Co-op pharmacy anywhere to hand.

Frodo should be a warning to us about the real impact of these brewing mega-mergers. As I wrote in my last post, there’s a lot of debate about the potential implications of ABI buying SAB. Will it be an opportunity for the small guys? Will the middle-rankers be able to pick up some tasty titbits that fall from the table? We will see in due course of course, as a period of intense restructuring will be catalyzed across the industry by the deal, should it go through.

Despite the huge resources of these mega-brewers; people, time, money, the truth is all these businesses want to do is focus. Focus on simplifying hugely complex operations; focusing on managing families of brands; focusing on cutting back; focusing on maximising profit from doing scale activities. Fewer brew streams; fewer breweries; fewer priorities with fewer people throwing off more and more and more money. My concern is for the brands that don’t make the cut; neither one of the (very few) global focus brands; nor a big local leader. I have experienced first hand great brands – important brands – being virtually exterminated by mega-mergers. At the start of the noughties, the leading cask ale in the UK was Draught Bass, that lovely nutty pale ale that characterized great Burton brewing. But then Interbrew bought the brewing assets off Bass plc… and suddenly a treasured jewel becomes a bit-part portfolio player, its value not in the legacy and heritage it represents but the profitability it throws off in one market (the US). Immediately the brand tumbles; immediately daft marketing put in place by daft leadership fills a void that needn’t have existed in the first place. Where is Bass today? Probably on keg in a golf club selling a dozen pints a week, if you’re lucky.

IMG_5163And I was reminded of it again the other week on a trip to The Netherlands. Heineken, the dominant Dutch brewer have a range of riches to call upon there: Heineken itself; Amstel, Brand (originally from the south of the country), Affligem… and a wheat beer, Wieckse Witte. There’s a wraith brand if I ever I’ve drunk one. In the all-consuming push for growth; these marketing companies forget the product truth; forget what made the beers great. They push for the centre-ground and while they may win an election or two, they lose the distinctiveness. That’s Wieckse Witte for you: thin; bland; no bananary-ester character, no clovey yeastiness; no malt-accented body nor hoppy aroma. It’s a hazy pale lager poured from a bottle that’s had the character designed out of it. A brand that’s passed form the land of the living into a brand of virtual reality; of focus groups and social content; of believing that what people tell you on Twitter is actually true or that ‘Follows’ or ‘Likes’ amount to something. It’s a brand that’s barely concealed in its shallow grave; colour washed from its cheeks as it slowly turns into a zombie, all personality lost, just a tool, a puppet, for delivering profit. And that’s the thing with the centre-ground. You may win an election, but eventually you become unelectable. No one knows what you stand for. Everyone has forgotten what made you great. You’re just magnolia paint on unremarkable walls.

And that perversely, is the real benefit of the mega-mergers. Tread warily around the ‘profit-opportunity’ sirens that call. There may be pickings to be had, but they won’t be easily won. But, these mega-companies, with their ever-blander mega-brands, are a constant beacon to remind independent brewers and characterful brands why they exist, and why it’s a future worth scrapping for.

As the big get bigger, what do the small get?

The potential acquisition of South African Breweries (SAB) by their larger rival Anheuser Busch Inbev (ABI) has got many commentators gasping for breath: not at the audacity of it – that was reserved for when InBev (as was) took down Anheuser Busch – but rather the implications of the sheer scale. The scale, both of the deal (the fourth biggest corporate takeover) and the ultimate beast it will become (who we shall call ABSAB).

Interestingly, a stock response of commentators is ‘Don’t Panic Mr Mainwaring!’ The deal, as these deals do, will create opportunities for smaller operators. Drinkers, reviled by the deal and the inevitable consolidation / loss of brands in the shake-up, will vote with their wallets and support the little guy. New market niches will open up, too small for a goliath like ABSAB to spot, yet alone exploit. David will win the day! Fleet of footedness, quick decision-making will out!

And there will be some of this. Of course there will. But on balance, it’s a romantic notion and one that, in truth, isn’t borne out by precedent.

The first issue is growth. In most western, mature consumer markets beer is flat-lining or declining. Drinkers are drinking less. This pressure rolls through to licensees: what to stock; how much space they can give to beer and ultimately what brands end up on the bar. What licensees want is a range of guaranteed strong sellers and a ‘something interesting’ selection. ABSAB (Stella, Peroni, Budweiser) can fulfil one side, craft can fulfil the other (in fact, increasingly, ABSAB can fulfil this other side too). In less mature markets, there is underlying growth in beer consumption – in central and South America for example – and that growth is driven by brands. Big brands; famous brands, foreign brands; often American or European: brands that are a status symbol. ABI and SAB are getting together because growth in their core markets is slowing (or has stopped). They’re getting together because in emerging markets it’s about brands. The deal allows more consumers to access their brands in more markets, efficiently and cost effectively. And most consumers won’t react negatively. They won’t even think about it.

The second issue is craft. Craft beer, however you define it, is exciting, interesting and inspiring. It’s been brilliant for beer in many markets. But craft beer is, what? At best 10 – 15% of market volume. Most of us, most consumers, simply aren’t in the franchise or drink it infrequently. Most of us, in short, drink the sorts of beers that ABI and SAB make.   Now, clearly there is growth and clearly craft is slowly, steadily impacting consumer perceptions of the market. But if we assume that the basis of the ‘Innovation-Adoption Curve’ is correct, then most of us are fairly unadventurous. We’ll follow. And what will this mean in terms of brands? It won’t mean opportunities for spontaneous fermented wild beers hitting the mainstream. It will mean the likes of Blue Moon, Goose Island, Meantime, Lagunitas, Kona becoming more widely available, and if we’re lucky the larger – independent – craft brewers – Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn, Boston Beer will be available too. But the real opportunity if for the crafty beers under the umbrella of brewers like ABSAB. They offer the rationale of differentiated choice, with the convenience of a single and efficient point of supply.

What ABSAB appreciate is that currently global brewing is over-supplied. There are two responses. One, consolidate to ensure supply over time reduces and is done cost effectively. Two, build brands. This deal does both and will be successful.

For smaller brewers, given that they can’t consolidate to the same level, the real opportunity is the second option. To build brands. Take the UK beer market. There are now 1,700 breweries. The UK is the most breweried-per-head country in the world. Yet the beer market has been declining at about 4% a year since 2005. Per capita consumption of beer is falling, despite the noise of craft. There will be a fall out, even with the UK Government’s small brewer duty relief (perhaps because of it). Now is the time to build brands not supply product. Look at Camden Town, only three years old, but already widely available throughout the capital. Why? Good beers (with broad appeal); tremendous branding. Look at Beavertown. Good beers (with more challenge to them), impactful branding.

No, the opportunities presented by ABSAB getting together are twofold. For consumers, it’s in the truly niche operators, who make more complex, highly differentiated and challenging beer styles that they can supply effectively to the market. For small brewers who don’t, the real opportunity is to build your brand. And the real money is to be made when the likes of ABSAB buy them from you.