Uniting the brewing generations


Fuller’s move to purchase Dark Star brewery highlights the radically changing state of brewing. Traditional brewers have found it particularly tough in recent years to hold their ground against a massive number of small new craft breweries setting up shop. It feels like there is a new one opening up almost every day.

This scenario is also being played out in the fashion sector where the rise of new, often online-only brands, especially in the fickle fashion category has brought serious pressure on the established operators in the market. These are technically known as DNVBs, or digitally native vertical brands.

But whatever you want to call them they are the newer, cooler, kids on the block. What the incumbents have been faced with is the challenge of making themselves equally cool and relevant to the younger customers who not surprisingly want to be associated with the newer brands.

The answer to this major issue is to possibly acquire the new competition, as evidenced by the Fuller’s deal, or more frequently collaborate with them. Louis Vuitton recently collaborated with ultra cool New York-based skate-wear brand Supreme to develop a limited range of clothing and luggage items that were made available in a small number of pop-up stores in some of the world’s major fashion-conscious cities. LV enjoyed enormous demand and publicity that helped give it the glow of coolness by association.

Fashion chain H&M cottoned onto this activity some years ago and has teamed up with the likes of Stella McCartney and Erdem. Likewise Reebock teamed up with Victoria Beckham and Off-white collaborated with Jimmy Choo. Levi’s has also been collaborating with myriad third-parties from vintage jean tailoring specialists to rappers and sports stars like Michael Jordan for a denim sneaker range as well as even technology companies like Google to develop connected biker jackets.

It’s not surprising that these arrangements work because while the larger player is looking for some edginess to rub off on it, the smaller brand can take advantage of the superior supply chain capabilities of the bigger partner and access a whole new potential future customer base who have not been exposed to the brand before – either through its high price points or it’s seriously limited output. It’s definitely a win-win as the consultants would say.

In the brewing world there has been an explosion in collaborations – that have even included many international examples of brewers working together to create a co-produced beer that is then made available in both markets. But this has typically involved the cool breweries working with equally hip and happening contemporaries and even though it has often produced some great beers it has also been a little self-congratulatory in many cases to date.

A particularly exciting phenomenon though is the broadening out of collaborations. We are seeing some of the newer craft brewers working with more established traditional operators. A recent example is Brew By Numbers, from craft beer’s ground zero Bermondsey, which has worked with Hobsons Brewery from the Midlands to create a cask ale (new territory for BBNo) Mosaic and Citra.

This follows Fuller’s brewing a collaborative beer with Bristol’s Moor Brewery a couple of years back that re-interpreted the former’s iconic ESB. This beer has returned as part of a very successful box set that included collaborative beers Fuller’s brewed with some of the leading UK craft brewers including Cloudwater, Marble, Fourpure and Thornbridge. The box was made available exclusively for Waitrose stores and was snapped up by beer fans with an appetite to try unique products that mixed the heritage of Fuller’s with the newer thinking of the young craft brewers.

Mixing heritage with contemporary offers up a world of new possibilities and just as with the fashion collaborations this was a way for Fuller’s to be associated with the youngsters and to also learn some new tricks along the way while the newer players accessed a different – much broader – customer base and got to play on some seriously big brewing kit at Fuller’s Chiswick base.

With such clear upsides for all parties involved in collaborative initiatives it is hoped that we will see more of these tie-ups that extend across generations of brewers. And we might see some more acquisition en route too.

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