The US is widely recognised as where the craft brewing movement got its start, but it has since spawned a global reach, and the UK has become one of the hotbeds for craft innovation. London, in particular, has seen a significant number of craft operations, one of which is Beavertown Brewery, which was founded by Logan Plant, the son of Led Zeppelin frontman, Robert Plant.
On behalf of IWSR, Alexander Smith, Global Drinks Intel editor, interviews Logan Plant. Founded eight years ago, Beavertown Brewery recently opened a new brewery in Tottenham Hale, London, called Beaverworld, that produces 90m pints a year and will allow the group to expand its sales nationally, and even internationally. “Beaverworld is crazy considering I was homebrewing eight years ago at my kitchen table. We’re now launching London’s biggest brewery. It blows me away. We can now take it to the masses. The craft beer movement is snowballing in the UK,” says Plant.
“At some point you transcend craft and just become a brand that has craft roots”
Such ambition has become more realistic since Heineken acquired a minority shareholding in the group. This investment provided the funding for the new £40m brewery. Heineken also provides the distribution muscle that it previously lacked. “They do have a huge footprint across the world and yeah, that was definitely one of the factors of working with somebody like Heineken,” remarks Plant. He adds, “the beauty of us maintaining a majority shareholding is that we are still in control of our destiny and vision. We have the possibility of working through Heineken, and that’s great, but there is no pressure to do so. We can work with whoever we want.”
For some purists, the multinational involvement renders Beavertown’s craft credentials dubious. Plant says that is overrated. “We are still in control of the destiny and vision. It is more like having a big uncle over your shoulder just offering advice every now and again, and helping us to fulfil our dreams and potential. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting craft operations in America and they don’t have to be small and niche. At some point you transcend craft and just become a brand that has craft roots.”
“Direct-to-consumer shipments will only become more important for craft brewers in the future”
The pandemic and associated lockdown has posed particular challenges for craft brewers. Since the lockdown, there’s been a lot of SKU rationalisation by retailers. The supermarkets and the wholesalers have been under pressure for their supply chain management, so they have been more selective about shelf space. There’s been almost a supermarket shelf re-set by default, often favouring the more recognised brands.
Many craft brand owners depend on on-site consumption and sales, whereas mainstream brewers have better access to the off-trade. “When they shut the hospitality industry at the end of March, 85% of our business was in the on-trade in keg and just 15% in supermarkets. We had to convert our operation in a short space of time to become a 100% canned brewery. It was an amazing pivot. The good thing is that it forced us to focus on the off-trade. Our off-trade business has expanded. Our web shop direct-to-consumer also took off. It went from two people to eight people and we were doing £1,000 a week, and at our peak we were doing £100,000 a week during the pandemic. People were ordering cases, glassware, posters, merchandise. And then we were shipping it out and it was at people’s doorsteps within three or four days. People were ordering online, and it helped us build a database and hopefully an ongoing connection with these consumers. Direct-to-consumer shipments will only become more important for craft brewers in the future.”
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