Growing into the overcoat

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New York-based Brooklyn Brewery is undoubtedly one of the most successful US craft brewers having built a global presence since its creation in 1988 helped by its flagship amber lager and iconic label.

By employing graphic designer Milton Glaser – best known for his I Love New York design – to create its logo, Brooklyn Brewery recognised the power of visuals and relevant communications would resonate with a hip audience jaded by clone-like big brewers.

When I met Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Steve Hindy a few years ago he suggested craft brewers from that early period were adept at engaging with their core demographic, which gave them a massive advantage over the large, incumbent brewers that had long lost a personal connection with their drinking communities.

He perceives this situation as also ringing true for today’s generation of craft brewers, which have been able to commandeer social media to great advantage in a way the big operators have been unable to. He likens social media to an overcoat – the large brewers can put it on but it doesn’t fit. In contrast, it fits snugly on the nimble limbs of craft brewers.

It’s clear to me that social media has had a massively positive impact on the UK’s craft brewers and beer scene – to such an extent I was genuinely surprised by the modest volumes many of them still produce annually even though they appear to have impressive reach and engagement across social media.

 

This is certainly true of Manchester-based Cloudwater Brew Co. It is ranked second-best brewery in the world by RateBeer, which dishes out annual awards for the world’s best-rated beers and brewers based on scores from drinkers around the world. Cloudwater’s accolade isn’t particularly surprising when you consider the incredibly high quality of beer it has produced since it was founded in 2014, with its first beers hitting the bars early the next year.

Such success and high-profile recognition undoubtedly creates masses of social media and Cloudwater has been proactive in engaging with its audience across various channels. Proof of this came when my enquiry about the brewery’s annual production was placed – and answered – on Twitter. The answer surprised me. In 2017, Cloudwater produced a modest 4,700 hectolitres, which rose to about 6,000 hectolitres in 2018.

London-based Brew By Numbers is another superb craft brewer and in my view is one of the best and most consistent breweries in the country. It has a presence in many of the best craft beer bars and uses social media effectively but, again, we have a brewery with a modest output of 6,000 hectolitres this past year – a figure I also received via Twitter.

 

These numbers may not mean a lot to most and I have to admit measurements in the brewing world are complicated so let me put this in context – Timothy Taylor’s brewery in Keighley, Yorkshire, produces more than 64,000 hectolitres a year of its flagship Landlord bitter.

This is one of the world’s greatest beers and has a reputation around the globe but to many younger, craft beer-focused drinkers it might be hidden from view and even unknown. However, it doesn’t have the engagement levels of the likes of Cloudwater and Brew By Numbers on social media – despite having a superb product. The overcoat doesn’t quite fit.

It will be interesting to see if many of the hundreds of craft brewers founded in recent years will successfully translate the engagement and level of noise they create on social media into actual sales.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.