Staying true to the art of brewing

27 July, 2007

Meantime brewery founder Alastair Hook talks to Rebecca Evans

Provenance is key

Our key message is that we're brewing in London. When you consider the heady mix of industrialisation, international transport, the sheer number of people and the history of brewing, none of the great brewing capitals of Europe can compete. At our level, the customer is buying in to a lot more than the normal brand values. Provenance, taste and flavour sum up what we're about.

it's a shame about Young's

We're now London's second -biggest brewer. Personally I think it's a tragedy that Young's has left London. I'm a Londoner and I was weaned on it. I think it's wrong from a provenance point of view. It's also about the spirit and the emotional entanglement of people who work there. Personally I think it was a bad business decision, but perhaps it shows that Young's had become a pub company.

Young's was all about one person and he sadly passed away.

America changed my life

I was first in the States in the 1980s when breweries like Hopland and New Albion were being set up. I was working in San Francisco at the time. What happened in America changed my life. The US microbrewing revolution grew out of the blandest brewing culture imaginable. Not only was there a complex oligopoly of producers, but they had gone through prohibition.

There was a lot of homogeneity and utility, they all bought the same fridges and drank the same fizzy, watery beer. What happened is that there was a boom in gastronomic arts and so connected sectors benefited hugely. There was a wave of young entrepreneurs who got sick of buying huge slabs of Monterey Jack cheese.

At the same time there was a trend towards beers that were powerfully flavourful, and those breweries were brewing beer for its taste and flavour rather than to get around the tax man. I began to see what might be possible in the UK.

US beer drinkers are loyal

You go to US independent off-licences and the customers

for those places are dedicated beer drinkers. Once you create the relationship with them you can rely on it for ever and keep pushing the brand. In the UK, businesses like Beer Paradise know what we're trying to do, they are also into taste, flavour and provenance.

Retailers should dress up more

US retailers talk about the geography and history of beer and that creates some theatre. Why not

wear a monk's habit or a Bavarian dirndl?

Supermarkets could do better

I've been encouraged by my experiences with Sainsbury's. They have come to a small producer like us to get a large range of products and they have gone into their own category and expanded that. Supermarkets in general have got to address the more sinister area of beer, the three 20-packs for £20 which are causing the issues. The juxtaposition could be better. They could also look more into the geography and history of beer. European history is quite magnificent. They could write about those sorts of things if they had the wit to.

Beer buyers need to listen

There

are a lot of

young buyers

who don't listen . They 're being driven hard to get returns on shelf space investment. They have responsibilities to their customers, but they will tell you consumers aren't interested in certain types of beer. It shows a lack of imagination.

Beer categories need a re-think

It doesn't make sense to categorise beer by abv. There's a difference between, for example, a Bohemian style of pilsner and a Bavarian-style

helles beer.

Wine isn't categorised according to its alcohol by volume, so why should beer be?

Time is our friend

The industry norm is eight to 10 days to make beer and we're taking six to 10 weeks. We use time to put flavour into our beers and we don't pasteurise because that destroys the flavour.

Other brewers pasteurise because they want to keep the beer

stable, but if you've got a modern approach to your brewing you can keep it clean anyway. We're not living in Dickensian Britain where beer went sour within two weeks.

English can be adventurous

I'm delighted that our India Pale Ale and London Porter has sold well at Sainsbury's. When we launched them in 2005, I said the English customer wasn't ready for them.

Fifteen months ago, they went into Sainsbury's and sold about 600 cases of each line. Those styles are part of our culture.

I'm not a businessman

I'm a brewer but I know that businessmen are successful because they behave differently. If another small brewer does one thing we tend to do the opposite.

That to me was the right business plan. I'd love to have been producing one or two beers and made them successful in their own right, but then I wouldn't have been able to campaign about taste, flavour and choice.

My one regret

Is about capitalisation. We've spent £1 million

on this business. My regret is not starting with that. If someone now came in to the industry knowing that they could sell 10,000 h

and could invest £1.5 million there's a great opportunity for them. I'd welcome the competition because it's about growing the beer sector and that's a key issue that people like the Campaign for Real Ale fail to understand.

We're traditionalists

We're not coming up with gimmicks to sell more beer or putting on ridiculous special offers, we're just trying to increase the number of values that get considered when people buy beer.

It makes our target market a small percentage of the population, but we're happy with that.




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