Craft beer (and cider) is definitely rising!
We had a great time at this year’s Craft Beer Rising Festival at The Old Truman Brewery, sampling some exciting beers from some of the UK’s 2,000+ craft breweries. Judging by the variety, depth, quality and innovation on show, it’s safe to say that the UK’s ‘craft beer’ industry is going from strength to strength. While this is providing a veritable liquid feast for craft drinkers, so much competition in the market is making it increasingly hard for breweries and their brands to stand out and deliver a unique point of difference.
Here are our 5 key observations from CBR 19:
As we’re seeing across many other food and beverage categories, the presence of gluten, wheat and alcohol free beers was quite staggering. Alcohol free, in particular, was very well represented across the board, which also plays towards the health trend of abstinence. Millennials and their younger Generation Z cohorts are also drinking less, and what they are drinking is of better quality, which is one of the reasons craft beer, as a category, has been so successful.
Cider has traditionally played second fiddle to beer, but craft beer’s irrepressible rise to prominence has clearly influenced recent growth in the cider category. Cider’s presence at CBR was strong, with brands coming from all over the world, including the US and Australia. We saw plenty of new approaches and new innovations, alongside the more traditional styles of cider; crushed, cloudy, sweet, dry, premium-dry, aged, spiced and the ubiquitous fruit and berry ciders. Introducing and educating consumers in the hugely different styles and varieties of cider now available is an essential challenge for the industry, as it was for craft beer 10 years ago, but it’s also a huge opportunity for cider producers and makers.
Cider isn’t the only category pushing the envelope of taste, using different ingredients, flavour combinations and inspirations, as craft beer brewers are continuing to explore the bounds of their brewing imagination. Some techniques on show were completely new, such as nitro beer, where nitrogen levels are increased during carbonation to give a smoother mouth-feel, while others were based on older, often forgotten recipes and processes that are equally unexpected, such as beer brewed with excess bread. Dating back over 4,000 years, brewing beer with bread isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination, but with the UK throwing away over 24m slices of bread every year, it’s a great example of sustainability being used as a compelling and contemporary point of difference.
At one time, sour beer was the only thing available because it was impossible to prevent wild yeasts from contaminating beer, which is where the sour, tart flavour and taste come from. Modern beer is brewed in a sterile environment to prevent such contamination, so today’s sour beer is made by intentionally introducing bacteria and yeast strains to accentuate a beer’s sour character. Fruit infusions, especially, benefit from a sour base, which provides a great backdrop for the fruit flavour to shine, and both large and small breweries are increasingly looking to sour beer as an opportunity.
Beyond ingredients, flavour combinations and brewing techniques, provenance is a key factor in beer drinkers’ purchasing decisions, so it was interesting to see how aspects of provenance influenced some brands’ positioning and narrative. For example, Brixton Brewery and London Fields Brewery use the location of the brewery and the local community to infuse character and personality into their brand, while others, such as breweries found in Cornwall and New Zealand, might look to their geography, local resources and the natural environment – the ‘terroir’ of their beer – as the basis for their brand story.
In conclusion, alongside the brewery’s team, design is a craft beer brand’s most powerful communications tool. Every beer has a unique story to tell, but unlike at CBR where the brewer can explain the nuance of what they’ve created and why, for many craft drinkers the only interaction they have with a brand is its packaging. If a brewery is small and mainly serving its local community, positioning and design might not be a priority, but as a beer gains traction outside its locality, packaging design becomes as fundamental to its continued growth and success as the craft beer it contains.