Once the preserve of the organic, artisanal, tattooed hipster, this year craft beer has gone mainstream.

 

If you have any doubts about the accuracy of that statement, consider this: Marks & Spencer recently added eight craft beers as part of an overhaul of its beer range.

With the likes of M&S (was there ever anywhere less hipsterish?) on board, can any licensee in the land afford not to jump on the bandwagon?

No, but it can be a daunting category for the un­initiated, and you may well be wondering where the heck to start. Fear not, however, as here's our complete beginner's guide to craft beer.

Where can I buy craft beer?
"The routes to market for craft beer aren't very different from what they have been for years with other brands, it's just different companies taking part," says Ben Sedgwick, sales executive at Westside Drinks, Fuller's speciality beer arm.

"Using specialist wholesalers gives you access to the amazing knowledge of their reps and helps free up your time with less delivery admin and paperwork.

"Alternatively, while contacting a brewery directly requires a bit more know-how and research, you get a fresh product at a good price with additional support."

Also sound out your regulars, ask what styles of beers they like, if they've had a good beer elsewhere on their
travels and if they are aware of any good local microbreweries.

If you choose to approach breweries direct, a good starting point is the Brewery Finder on the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) website, which lists all 820 SIBA-affiliated member breweries across the UK.

How do I decide what to stock?
Choosing just a handful of beers from the thousands out there might seem intimidating, but it needn't be — the secret is merely to ensure you have a decent breadth of styles.

"The wide range of styles available now is something licensees should reflect," SIBA managing director Mike Benner says. "Too often, we see pubs and bars selling a narrow range of beer styles with two or three golden ales of similar ABV, when it would be far better to replace one of them with an IPA or a stout, for example."

For a very basic starting range, that might look like three packaged beers: an easy-drinking lager or golden ale, a slightly more challenging IPA and a porter.

As with cask, it is standard practice to rotate the range but beware of doing so too frequently.

"There is good evidence from the cask ale category that shows it pays to keep rotational beers on long enough for customers who have tried it once to be able to repeat purchase on their next visit," Chris Houlton, managing director of Greene King brewing and brands, says.

"For guest casks we would recommend two to four weeks each, which is probably a decent rule of thumb for guest kegs too.

"In terms of the styles there is a tendency to offer golden and pale ales in the summer and darker beers through autumn and winter. However, the popularity of pale ales and IPAs does seem to continue through the winter months, so it is best to offer a balanced range with several different beer styles available throughout the year."

As a rule of thumb, keep at least one of your best-sellers on permanently and rotate the other lines according to the season, to keep a range of styles and ABVs on offer.

Do I need to do anything to promote my new craft range?
In a word: yes. There's no point having a sexy new beer range if no-one knows about it.

Promotion needn't be complicated or expensive, though. Twitter and Facebook remain very simple ways of enticing people in with the promise of trying new beers and there are a plethora of apps out there too for the real craft fans.

Once you've tempted them through the door, visibility is key.

"Point-of-sale is vital," Matthew Clark's category manager Justin Wylde says. "Have enough fridge facings too, as well as back-bar displays. Have a beer menu or something on tables, and beer flights are a great opportunity to pull people into the world of craft beer, whether this be with a full menu, a selection of bar snacks or just on its own. Enabling customers to trial and taste more of the diversity of your range is something they will appreciate."

Will my customers think craft beer is too expensive?
While craft commands a premium it has proved to be worth the extra pennies for drinkers whom, trends prove, are going out less but spending more when they do. What's key is helping them understand why some beers cost more to make than others and for that, staff knowledge is vital.

Yet training needn't be expensive or time-consuming. Simply let staff taste each beer so they become familiar with it and equip them with a fact about the brew to help them justify its cost to a suspicious punter — that a more expensive hop is being used, for example.

"The entire team at a pub or bar should be able to talk confidently and knowledgeably about the beers stocked, as this will significantly impact on customer choices," says Kathryn Purchase, customer marketing director at Carlsberg, says.

"It's important to remember drinkers are willing to trade up for a particularly special product and staff who are able to talk about the beers will entice them to do so."

Presentation is the last piece of the puzzle, as Graham Archibald, sales director at drinks specialist Morgenrot, says. "If you are going to ask punters to pay more for their beer, it needs to be served and presented in a way befitting the brand and liquid. The correct glassware is vital but just as important is the temperature, that it's poured correctly and that it tastes at its best.

"Customers should feel they are em­barking on an adventure when drinking craft beer."

 

 Cask.Beer.Uncovered.film.still

If knowledgeable staff can boost sales of craft beer, then how about investing in an e-learning course or two?
There are several options available but two that are specific to beer know­ledge are the Cask Beer Uncovered course from Cask Marque and the Beer Academy Beer Steward course.

Cask Beer Uncovered
This option comprises five short films presented by publicans and bar staff themselves, alongside brewers and beer drinkers.
Each film is followed by multiple choice test and staff scoring 75 per cent or more across all five modules can print off a certificate.
More than 2,000 licensees and bar staff have already registered. Find out more at www.cask-marque.co.uk

Beer Academy
Beer Steward
An entry-level course made up of eight modules, covering the basics of beer from brewing to serving.
Guidance on serving cask, keg and bottled beers is followed by a multiple choice test. Candidates will be emailed a certificate on passing all elements.
For more information, go to www.beeracademy.co.uk

 

Five beers to begin with:

1. Ruby Jane, Ilkley Brewery, 4 per cent ABV
A ruby cask beer, which won SIBA's Champion Standard Mild Ale. Available in cask.

2. Neck Oil Session IPA, Beavertown Brewery, 4.3 per cent ABV
A popular, quaffable ale that comes in cans so eye-catching they've won awards.

3. Hogstar, Hogs Back Brewery, 4.5 per cent ABV
Introduce lager fans to the world of craft beer with this English take on the style. Available in both keg and bottle.

4. Sublime Stout, Fyne Ales, 6.8 per cent ABV
Ensure you have a breadth of styles on offer with this brew, the winner of the SIBA Champion Premium Strong Beer award this year.

5. Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, 8.5 per cent ABV
An American brew in the style of a traditional Belgian farmhouse ale. Available in bottle from Matthew Clark and Carlsberg.

 

My craft beer Adam Johnson, The Plough Harborne, Birmingham

Adam.Johnson.The.Plough

 Enterprise licensee Adam is planning to introduce a craft beer range this autumn.

Why add craft beer to your range?
By serving craft beer you are providing something different and keeping up with trends. That's not to say that mainstream beers should be avoided but offering something different from the norm is always going to be a positive.

What resources have you found helpful to learn more?
I've found trade press to be very useful and interior design websites are also insightful,
as they are a good place to find out about current trends and openings.

What will your introductory list look like?
We have decided to focus on American canned beers, after discovering how well they were
doing in London. Of the 20 beers we'll choose, there'll be a variety of styles from light to dark and ABVs will range between 3.4 and 5.5 per cent.

How are you training your staff?
We need staff to be able to make informed recommendations so we'll hold regular staff
meetings and we'll also use
the internal staff website, which has proved to be really successful for us. All our educational resources and information are available from there.