In the haze of craft beer we’ve sort of forgotten what regional brewers are all about. They’ve become rather unfashionable.
With their long-standing traditional models of owning a brewery and pubs, and selling into the on-trade and supermarkets – predominantly within a tight geographic area- they’ve long been a mainstay of the beer industry but it’s not been that interesting a story to tell of late.
When it was announced Stuart Howe would be leaving Molson Coors to join regional brewer Butcombe as brewing director – closely on the heals of news the company had been bought by Guernsey-based Liberation Group things sounded rather interesting.
For Mark Crowther, chief executive of Liberation Group, the purchase of Butcombe is part of his plan to build a substantial regional around the Bristol/Somerset area that extends his base from the sea-constrained Channel Islands.
He views the prospect of building a regional like a Fuller’s or a Brain’s as being very exciting. But for many people the excitement will stem mainly from the involvement of Howe. Yes, he will only be one ‘small’ component of the whole enterprise but Crowther and the rest of us know he is very much the icing on the cake of the Butcombe deal.
He has sufficient brewing skills and respected standing in the industry to potentially spread some real stardust around Butcombe and potentially into the Liberation brewing side of things.
Crowther plays this down somewhat as he makes it clear there is nothing broken as such at the brewery. But he is no fool and recognises that in today’s market there is a need for the regionals – like everybody else – to experiment. You cannot just keep churning out the same beers.
And of course the beauty of the regional brewer model is that he has 19 Butcombe pubs, 75 Channel Islands boozers, and 500 free-trade outlets that he supplies every week – which provide a chunky channel to market for these new beers.
Without experimentation and innovation just how are the regionals (and anybody else for that matter) going to remain relevant by finding the next winning beers? You might ask Howe.