You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Monday, January 03, 2011

What's Selling in the British Craft Market

[Note: a couple US retailers have offered their own insights in the comments below. Well worth a read.]

In addition to writing and blogging about beer, Zak Avery manages an online a beer shop in Leeds. For his year-end thoughts, he offers some interesting insights into the craft beer market from his vantage as a retailer. (Retailers regularly offer insights to the beer market to which both brewers and bloggers are blind.) Zak observes:
British beer is on the up: this year, people bought more British beer than ever before, particularly at Christmas, when they were buying presents for others. And I don't mean just from the usual suspects (BrewDog, Marble, Thornbridge - although they sell very well), but also generically as a category, from Hook Norton Old Hooky to Ilkley Mary Jane. I think that this signals a turning point for British beer, and people are finally realising that it is simultaneously a great national and also a local product.

Belgian beer is on the wane: fifteen years ago, Belgian beer (and I'm talking all across the board, from Leffe to Trappist to Palm to De Dolle) was new and relatively undiscovered. Five years ago, interested peaked, and today, it's a declining sector. There are certain niches that defy this trend, but overall, there isn't any growth left in Belgian beer in the UK.

American beer is on the verge of going stellar: Sierra Nevada have doubled the volume of imports into the UK each year for the last four years. People like American 'craft' beer because it is largely tasty and uncomplicated. I'm not talking Lost Abbey, I'm talking Odells, Flying Dog, Brooklyn et al. American craft brewing is also showing its most profound influence yet on British brewing.
I'm hoping he expands on that last sentence. With the amount of information I have on the subject--zero percent--I could interpret it a number of different ways. I'd like to understand it, though.

Also, I wonder if Chris or one of the Beermongers folks could reflect back their impressions of the waxing and waning of imports. My sense is that Belgians are still very much a big deal in the US. True? How are British and German imports faring?


  1. Are these part of your 2011 predictions, Jeff?

    The Doc is working on his 2011 Beer Predictions. Kevin, over at "beer and Coding" noted the Doc had a 69% True Prediction rate for 2010. Not bad for a blogger that most others ignore and call an idiot or senseless asshole. ;-}

  2. Even a broken, venom-spewing clock is right twice a day.

  3. Yep... and even the mentally challenged can learn to tie their shoes and use a keyboard.

  4. You've cornered the predictions market, Doc. Personally, I don't find them valuable. In sports and politics, you can evaluate a prediction. I guessed Bill Bradbury would be Oregon's governor today, and I thought the Blazers would be leading their division in the NBA. On Friday, I declared my alma mater, the Wisconsin Badgers, the country's best football team. See, these you can evaluate.

    Things like, "there will be more barrel-aged beers, fewer Belgian ales, and lots of consolidation" are too vague. Compared to what? Until someone does a study--impossible, given the number of beers released each year--who can say? There have been brewing mergers since the 80s, a handful every year like clockwork. Are we comparing consolidation to 1998? Last year?

    I do find it amusing that the manner in which you burnish your cred against these impertinent bloggers who slight you is in finding the opinion of ... a blogger.

    So here's my sole prediction for '11: Doc Wort will be cranky and profane and threaten to give up blogging. He will not, however, manage the break.

  5. Jeff,

    Here are my completely unofficial thoughts on beer imports in Eugene. Belgian beers are still a relatively new discovery for many people 'round my parts and as such, they sell pretty well.

    British and German beers are a harder sell. British ales because people still associate ABV to value. A 4% brew at import prices, no matter the quality, doesn't add up to thrifty patron. German beers still suffer the lager stigma. They all taste like Bud, right? It doesn't help that we are light on quality lagers in the NW.

    Of course, these are just observations as an individual who spends entirely too much time hanging out at my two local bottle shops. I'll see if I can point Mike or Jeff at 16 Tons to this post for a more insightful opinion.

    As for beer predictions; sure, they are unqualified and generally worth what you paid for them, but speculation is fun and human nature. Besides, with a single safe prediction, you will probably be next year's winner. :)

    Beer and Coding

  6. @Jeff

    ...and you think I take any of this serious? ;-}

    I take predictions as serious as you take beer evaluation or your blog polls... :-O

    You're right.... Feeling a little bored of the whole blogging thing. May need a vacation.

  7. @Kevin

    So... People is Eugene warm up to anything that's cheap that they can get drunk on? Yee Haw! It is college town!

    FWIW... Doc working on 2011 Predictions! Yes, it's a stupid brain dead thing, but so are most blogs out there.

  8. Jeff,

    Here is a response from Mike Coplin, one of the owners of 16 Tons.

    "Most of what we get for imports are the same beers year after year. There is not much new interest in those. Belgian wild ales are a slight exception but still are not flying off the shelves. Our customers are mostly looking for new domestic beers. Especially seasonal releases from established brewers like Deschutes, Ninkasi, Stone, Dogfish Head, and the like.

    BrewDog certainly has people's attention. However, their beers are generally unavailable in Oregon and California. Hook Norton and others are quite expensive which makes them slow sellers.

    Ultimately, low abv sessionable beer does not travel very well. It's expensive and takes too much time to transport. My best guess is that imports will generally become less popular. Countries like Belgium will always rely on the US market but it's hard to imagine it's market share growing much.

    On the flipside, I suppose American brewers will be exporting huge amounts beer because they are somewhat unique compared to what's currently available in Europe."

    Mike Coplin
    16 Tons Beer & Wine

  9. Ahhh...imports.

    To really get a sense of the import market you have to divide the customers into categories. We'll call them noobs, average craft drinkers, and beer geeks.

    The high profile, established Belgians like Lindemans, Delirium, and the InBev collection (Hoegaarden, Leffe, Stella, etc) sell at a brisk, reliable pace to the noobs who want to explore the world of imports but aren't comfortable jumping straight off the cliff to an unknown brand.

    The "average craft drinkers" will venture out a little more on the suggestion of a staff member (or a magazine review) and may bring home some slightly more esoteric stuff like Gouden Carolus, Thiriez, the Trappist brews, and perhaps dip their toes into the sour/wild segment. More often than not, they tend to have a more coherent mental picture of the flavors or styles they're seeking than the noobs, and are better able to guide us in making recommendations.

    Lastly there's the beer geeks. These are the folks that know when the next shipment of Struise or Cantillon is due to arrive in town, and they swarm the local bottle shops to scoop up the treasure as soon as it arrives. These are the beers that have built a reputation amongst the RB/BA users, and they come in looking for specific, practically unobtainable beers like Eartmonk rather than looking for simple style recommendations. There's enough beer geeks in town that I can be pretty confident in ordering a couple of cases of anything that scores higher than 85 on Ratebeer, even if 99% of the population of Portland has never heard of the brand.

    Last but not least, there's the Germans. As long as there's a steady stream of young. impressionable servicemen returning from bases in Europe there will always be a steady market for the classics like Spaten, Hofbrau, Warsteiner, and Paulaner.

    The beer geeks will also spill over into this section occasionally as they lament the lack of locally-brewed lagers, but once again they (usually) head for the lesser known entities like Weltenburger, Schlenkerla, Schonramer, and Mahr's Brau.

  10. Hi Jeff,
    I've expanded on the point a little, as you requested.
    Just FYI (for example, if you're passing) the store in Leeds is a bricks-and-mortar operation, and we run mail order and wholesale from a separate business premises about 15 miles away.

  11. Kevin and Chris--thanks! That's useful info. And it sounds different from Zak's experience.

    Zak, I made a change in the text. I couldn't actually determine whether there was a bricks-and-mortar location, so I'm glad to learn there is. Maybe one day I'll visit it!

  12. Interesting to see what beers are trending or what's happening in terms of what everyone else is drinking. Good post!