Monday, 7 November 2016

Carry a Big Schtick

I've never got my act together with a Session post before, and I'm a few days late with this one, but this month's request for thoughts on things that we're going to see more of seemed like a good opportunity to wrap words around an idea that I've been mulling over for a while.

The number of breweries in Britain is increasing. From a punter's point of view, this results in an ever more bewildering array of pump-clips and bottles appearing ever more fleetingly on bars and shelves. It's getting increasingly hard for a brewery, however good they are, to worm their way into a punter's consciousness and become a brand that they trust and seek out rather than one that they vaguely remember having seen at some point.

However, the market is also becoming more competitive, so that sort of recognition is something that breweries are going to have to try to build. Aside from just brewing great beer, there are a number of obvious ways of doing this - consistent branding, smart marketing, a tightly focused core range - but one which I'd expect to become more common is developing an identifiable "schtick" - a deliberate restriction on the range of beers that they brew that gives them part of their identity.

There's actually an element of this to a number of existing breweries. The Wild Beer Co started with a definite focus on wild yeast, the Kernel are almost synonymous with their rotating-hop pale ales and IPAs. More recently, Chorlton have had the audacity to focus strictly on sour beers. There's a hint of this to the way Burning Sky operate, as well. What else could someone try? How about

  • Focusing on classic German beer styles - some played straight and some given a modern twist.
  • A small range of beers that's constantly tweaked and iterated the way that Cloudwater do with their IPAs.
  • Regular use of local and foraged ingredients.
  • Brewing what are essentially a series of variants on a single beer, like the Kernel do with their pales.

For my money, this sort of idea has two benefits: firstly, in a crowded and confusing market, it makes it easier for punters to come to recognize the brewery and to know what to expect from them. But secondly, a restricted range of beers give the brewers the chance to develop real mastery within that field. The ultimate "schtick" brewery is arguably the Alchemist, and their schtick is Heady Topper. And that doesn't seem like too poor an example to want to follow.

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