Article from the Morning Advertiser

On the evening of October 31, members of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), plus various supporters, sponsors, including Lloyds TSB and the Morning Advertiser, and assorted media, gathered in the plush surroundings of the Institute of Directors, Pall Mall, to toast the winners of the first SIBA Local Brewing Business Awards.

These Awards are seen as a new and bold initiative from SIBA. The aim of them is to demonstrate that even though the Society’s members brew great award-winning beers, they are also innovators in the business of marketing and selling their products.

“When the idea was first suggested it was about how to improve our members’ professionalism,” says SIBA Chairman Keith Bott, who also runs Titanic. “In a way it was also our response to the controversial challenge from Union Pub Company’s boss Stephen Oliver at this year’s SIBA conference. If you look at what he said about beer quality and marketing, there were some good points, even if they didn’t go down well with members. Poor quality beer and poor marketing downgrades beer along the whole sector.”

There were eight award categories plus an overall winner (see below), with a judging panel of six, including Bott and Morning Advertiser editor Andrew Pring. All were looking for a commitment from competitors to increasing their commercial results, being creative in reaching that aim, demonstrating excellence in implementation and, finally, the quality of the entry submitted.

“I am delighted with the way it turned out and we look forward to an even more successful award programme next year,” says Bott. “There were over 50 entries for all the categories, which worked well given our intention to highlight the professionalism of SIBA members. We always concentrate on the beer side of things, but getting the share of market is through good business and marketing as well.”

The winners

Best support for on-trade retailer, sponsor CAMRA
Everards, Enderby, Leicestershire

Family brewers Everards are new kids on the SIBA block, so accordingly Quality Assurance Manager Mark Tetlow admits that “we were surprised when we won the award for our three tier cellar training courses as we are a relatively big player in the SIBA pond, but it was fantastic news all the same”. This particular award was about highlighting the importance of customer service and cellar management, an immensely pertinent and relevant point for brewers and licensees given that research has shown continuous improvement and training helps to increase sales at the bar.

“The idea was to move away from conventional cellar training courses,” continues Tetlow. “It would start off usually within 48 hours of a new licensee taking on a premises, with a visit from a trade manager who would assess their training needs. We developed a three-tier course, beginning with a bronze course teaching the basics, then a month later stepping up to a silver course.

“This is a cellar training course that is run in our purpose-built centre at the brewery. Six months later we assess whether a licensee can be put forward for a gold award. If so, we put them on a two-day course at the brewery with lots of detail on tasting, the flavours of beer, ingredients and brewing. At the end of the course they design a beer and a week later brew it for sale in their pub.”

The licensee is also expected to devise their own pump-clip and marketing strategy for the beer, while further support comes in the shape of a quality audit from an Everards trade support technician. “It all works really well,” says Tetlow, “you wouldn’t believe the pride a licensee has in selling the beer they have brewed.”

According to Keith Bott, Everards was a worthy winner. “We were impressed with their entry,” he says, “not just for the cellar training project, but also with the excellence of their presentation.”

Best support for off-trade retailer, sponsor ASDA
Westerham, Edenbridge, Kent

The sight of breweries and farm shops working together is a becoming a common occurence, but for Kentish brewery Westerham their relationship with Priory Farm Shop near Redhill has been a particularly close and harmonious connection. It also demonstrates how brewers can achieve success, publicity and promote bottled beers on their own terms.

“They first of all asked us if we would do a Christmas tasting,” says Westerham’s founder Robert Wicks, “then we gave them Christmas beer boxes. They have a butcher on site and the next step was that they used our beer for their sausages. They also do special nights for their loyalty card customers and asked if they could have several firkins for one.”

For Wicks working with Priory Farm is an excellent example of what he calls nemawashi, the Japanese word for consensus working. He of all people should know about this philosophy. Before he set up Westerham in 2004, Wicks worked in finance, where spells in Tokyo endeared him to certain ways of working.

“Nemawashi is the Japanese way of negotiation,” he says, “which is based on consensus. This builds to a conclusion in which everyone is happy. I also use it when I sell to pubs. I try to sell to pubs by saying what they will get from us in terms of service as well as the beer. This is rather than going in to sell beer on the cheap.”

The judges certainly agreed with his approach praising what they saw as an open and mutually cooperative relationship that had produced growing sales for the shop and helped the brewery to spread the word about their beer. For Wicks it was also a way of lifting up the image of beer, something that everyone in the brewing and retailing industry should be keen on. “What we want to do is have beer out there as a specialist high quality product alongside the likes of Italian Virgin Olive Oil and home-cured hams.”

Best PR initiative, sponsor The Publican
Moorhouse’s, Burnley, Lancashire

Public relations is the life-blood of all breweries, but many of the smaller ones can struggle getting their message out, given that they have to spend much of their time brewing and delivering beer. So this category should help concentrate breweries’ mind on the fact that the medium is certainly the message.

Winners were Burnley’s favourite sons Moorhouse’s, who have recently announced plans to spend over £1million on a brand new bright and airy-looking brew house. Their winning entry was the exuberant celebrations in 2005 of the brewery’s 140th anniversary, which took in a steam train ride, a brass band, a barber shop quartet, Victorian costume for those who were invited and plenty of beer and food.

“When we reached our anniversary last year we felt that you are only 140 once, so thought it was time to do something different,” says Moorhouse’s Managing Director David Grant. “Because the brewery started in the Victorian age and we are in an area defined by the Industrial Revolution, we thought a Victorian Extravaganza was well in order.”

The nature of the event received plenty of publicity with an appearance from Phoenix Nights star Patrick McGuinness, but, according to Grant, “the event was a big thank you to customers and supporters and also to prove that small brewers like ourselves could host something as grand as this. It wasn’t cheap but then you aren?t 140 every day.”

Grant was understandably pleased with winning the award, but just as thrilled at the success of the whole event. “We at SIBA are forever hosting and holding beer competitions,” he says, “however, it is good to be recognised for doing other things. No one has really focused on the business acumen of brewers and this is the first one to do it and it’s the right way. We can only improve.”
Wentworth and Skinners were also highly commended

Best use of Electronic Media, sponsor DDS
Meantime, Greenwich, London

Most breweries have websites but the boys at Greenwich-based Meantime went one step further and developed a group of sites to inform and educate consumers and suppliers about the bottled IPA and London Porter they launched last year. These websites co-existed alongside the main brewery website and also informed consumers where the beers could be found.

“We wanted to explain to British drinkers what these beers were while making some claims of provenance for them for US drinkers who are used to the style,” says the brewery’s Marketing Director Peter Haydon. “We are aware that there are many IPAs and porters produced in the US, but after all porter originated in London, while IPA was developed across the river from where we are. We will add to these beer styles, which will mean more websites.

“Producing them is not about doing the corporate thing, but about describing styles. These are educational sites, trying to get people to understand the provenance and the history of these beers. There’s no point in making a real IPA and not explaining about it when the only IPA most people will have drunk are the standard bitters wrongly bearing the name.

The other aspect of the websites is that they promote export sales, especially to the USA, where the brewery’s beers are well received. Haydon also added a link to Google Earth so that visitors to the site could actually see a satellite view of any particular supplier, whether it was in Nebraska or New York.

In common with the other winners, Haydon was positive about the awards. “It’s good to see business awards, not just another brewing one,” he says. “After all, a lot of the smaller guys in SIBA don’t have much money so they have had to be cleverer in marketing. And if the awards continue, we will be producing further entries. I would say watch this space.”

Best Innovation, sponsor DAS Brew
Isle of Skye, Uig, Isle of Skye

All businesses need innovation if they are to survive and brewers need it more than most, given today’s keen competitive climate. The Best Innovation category recognised this by looking for new and original ways of dealing with brewing processes or pushing the envelope for quality. This is where Isle of Skye’s introduction of a cask container half the size of the traditional nine-gallon one impressed the judges.

The Isle of Skye brewery is situated in an area where real ale sales are seasonal. This is an area where sales drop off the cliff in the winter and licensees can be reluctant to take a nine-gallon cask knowing that their chances of selling it within three days can be slim.

“Due to queries from customers so we were looking for smaller containers but the traditional 4.5 gallon pins were in short supply,” says the brewery’s owner Angus MacRuary. “We came across some old style concentrated syrup containers, made of stainless steel and once used by Britvic. So we got two, stripped them down and spent a long time looking at them, working out how they could be adapted. When we were happy we bought 50 thinking that would be enough. We now have 700.”

Isle of Skye’s innovation is a real response to customer request, something every successful brewery should be able to do. Not only do these containers offer pubs and hotels the chance to stock real ale in the lean months, but they have been developed in a way to make licensee’s lives easier. They are double-skinned which helps with insulation, leave a small footprint by being able to be fitted behind the bar and have clip-on and clip-off connectors, which means they take seconds to change.

“We are amazed and pleased to have won,” says MacRuary, “especially as it means being recognised by our peers. The awards are a fantastic idea and with the success of this innovation I hope people will have a more serious look at using these smaller casks, especially in rural areas where trade is seasonal.”

Best Promotion, sponsor Small Beer
Everards, Enderby, Leicestershire

Not content with winning Best Support for On-trade Retailer, Everards also took the above award with their ground-breaking Cyclops beer classification system, which was launched back in the summer. Alongside a colour, smell and taste guide, a scale of 1-5 is used to measure the sweetness and bitterness of ales. According to the judges, this was a “outstanding idea combining simplicity and comprehensive implementation”, while praise was also directed at the blitz of promotional material that explained the idea to consumers.

According to Everards’ Quality Assurance Manager Mark Tetlow, “Cyclops is about demystifying beer. It’s simply a system that brewers have used for years, but we needed to get rid of all the technical brewing terms and make it easier for drinkers and bar staff to understand. When you start communicating to the customer and they get it then you have a buy-in. It?s also about making it so that the people selling the beer have confidence.”

Cyclops has been developed at an opportune time as the brewing industry recognises the need for the language and image of beer to be brought out into the daylight and made more relevant.

“We don’t talk about the floral notes of a Fuggle for instance,” says Tetlow, “as people wouldn’t know one if it bit them on the nose. Malt and hops are mentioned, but that is secondary. However, my dream would be to get to the stage where people know about hops and malt such as Maris Otter in the same way as they know about grapes.”

Best Packaging, sponsor HCT
Wye Valley, Stoke Lacy, Herefordshire

When a brewery decides to change or smarten up its branding imagery, it can be a risk. There’s always a chance that some customers won’t like the new image or even that the trade will reject it. Happily for Wye Valley their recent corporate and image rebranding has led to both plaudits and more recognition in the industry.

“Having got into upgrading the brewery and moving out of Hereford into our current home, we knew some money had to be spent on marketing,” says the brewery’s chairman Peter Amor. “We had Butty Bach, the Dorothy Goodbody range and other beers but not all our products said Wye Valley. We needed to look at it as a whole concept, get a clear image of whom we were. So we spent a lot of time and effort picking the right sort of people to do the work and then selling it to the trade.”

As mentioned, the brewery met with some resistance from those drinkers who had always liked Wye Valley’s concentration on their Herefordshire roots. However, the reality was that they were selling within a 50-mile radius of their location, which would take them into places like the West Midlands. They wanted to be relevant for this larger area.

“Getting the award was lovely,” says Amor, who is also SIBA’s vice-chairman. “When we moved in 2001 we made the decision before Progressive Beer Duty (PBD) was introduced so it was a bit of a risk, but now we have one of the finest breweries in the country and have doubled our growth. We put the emphasis on quality and after that was sorted out we looked at packaging.

“These business awards are excellent, and I congratulate the team for putting them together. It has set a high standard from the word go.”
Saltaire was also highly commended

Best New Launch and Overall Winner, sponsor Lloyds TSB
Hawkshead, Staveley, Cumbria

Alex Brodie is a former BBC journalist who swapped the microphone for the mash tun back in 2002 when he set up Hawkshead in the Lake District. Not content with one brewery, he also opened another one at Staveley, where the bulk of his ales are produced. Along with the brewery came a stupendous and modern visitor centre, which he calls the beer hall. It was this new build that impressed the judges with its professionalism and distinctive interior, thus moving beer away from the tired old clichés of smoky rooms full of men.

“The Beer Hall looks down into the brewery,” he says, “so that you can see the brewing process. It also gives us a considerable retail outlet and is a showcase for our beers. We have spent a lot of money on it to create a very modern environment with new wood, leather sofas and an environment that tells people ‘this is serious’.”

As well as being a state-of-the-art outlet for Hawkshead’s excellent beers, the hall is also home to Hawkshead’s own training centre, where full-day courses on beer production and shorter ones on cellaring take place. This is Brodie’s way of answering the need for those in the trade, whether brewing or dispensing, to have more knowledge and control of what they do.

“You can’t do this sort of thing unless you have a serious site,” he says, “it’s a place that is very much orientated to changing the image of beer. For instance, we are looking for decent third-pint glasses. We are very aware of trying to get a new audience for beer.”

He admits it was a surprise winning the award, especially as he nearly didn’t even enter. “I was so busy that I hadn’t given it much thought,” he says, “but I was reminded about it and at the last minute hammered out 1500 words on the beer hall. It’s excellent to win. Yes, it’s good publicity for us but it’s also good publicity about the importance of presentation.

“The awards very much reflect the ambition of SIBA. I do feel that there is a great responsibility on the part of progressive new and modern breweries that we have to propagate consistency and professionalism. SIBA reflects this. We need an organisation to speak for us brewers.”
Meantime and Westerham were also highly commended