Thursday, 3 February 2011

Cask Re-enters the Mainstream?

What a momentous day yesterday was. Or wasn't. We had two announcements. First of all AB-InBev continued down their blind alley with the launch of Stella Cidre. If you didn't laugh, you'd cry. The cider bubble may not have completely burst yet, though there is at least an indication that the "over ice" segment is declining in an overcrowded market. While there is plenty legs yet in the traditional market and the market for real perry is a growing one, where does Stella Cidre fit? Will punters move to Stella on brand cachet? Doubtful if we look at Stella Black and Stella 4. Whichever way you look at it, seems like another plunge downmarket for the brand. You almost feel sorry for the hapless beggars. Pete Brown sums it up well.

The other announcement that had the over excited wetting their pants, was the takeover of Sharps by Molson-Coors. Sharps is an interesting case, grown from a small micro in 1994, to a 90,000+ barrel a year regional. This is almost all on the back of Doom Bar, a modest tasting brown beer which dominates in the South West and increasingly in London. I don't know if the brewery was still owned by Bill Sharp, the founder but when you look at the business, there was a company (90%) of output is Doom Bar, ripe for the picking and ripe for those investors who wanted to cash in.

What are the wider implications though? It is clear that unlike most of the international brewing giants, Molson-Coors have come to see a future of some sort in producing cask beer. Their investment in the William Worthington Brewery at Burton is evidence of this and they clearly see Doom Bar as a good fit for national roll out. I'd guess its likely quarry is Deuchars IPA, Courage Best, Greene King IPA and the like and will be a reassuring name at the bar, which will offend few and give an easy introduction to cask ale for the cautious. But there has to be a note of caution. The record of such things isn't a good one. If you'd like a salutary lesson from history about local beers expanding widely, I'd ask you to recall, Ruddles, Boddingtons and Theakstons. All three suffered almost terminally under the dead hand of international brewers. Is this different? Well possibly. Sharps may be Cornish, but they own no pubs, have no long history and can roll along nicely under new ownership. Nobody is going to be that upset about it. It will be business as usual, but on a bigger scale I suspect.

Of course it could be argued that the biggest asset acquired in the deal is Stuart Howe the Sharps Head Brewer. (Stuart Howe and Sharps nice modern brewery for less than the price of Andy Carroll - a snip, a bargain.) If Stuart is allowed to continue his development of very interesting beers that could then have the resources of Coors behind them, then this would seem to be money well spent. Coors may just have spotted an opportunity here to steal a march on not only their international rivals, but some of the Smart Alec's of British Brewing. They have created a wonderful opportunity for themselves, not only in cask beer, but in craft beer (or speciality beer) too.

The potential is there, so let's hope that despite history, they play this hand well.


Kristy said...

Molson Coors you mean ;0)

You are spot on, 100% business as usual for Sharp's. Same people, same brewery and Stuart at the helm but with more investment to grow the brewery and all Sharp's beers.

It's a good day for cask ale indeed!

Tandleman said...

Yeah I said that once with a hyphen (that wrong?) then got fed up with it and found it easier to just write Coors.

Tandleman said...

"I don't know if the brewery was still owned by Bill Sharp".

I now know it wasn't!

RedNev said...

Yes, it would be good if the takeover of this brewery didn't result in the beer becoming more bland and easier to mass produce.

Kristy said...

RedNev - same beer, brewed by same people, with the same ingredients in the same brewery, how will that change the taste?

It won't so it is good news for Sharp's, good news for Doom Bar and great news for ale to see serious investment in the category

coxy said...

I don't see it as positive if all they are going to push is the awful Doombar, it just shows as a nation the money is perceived to be in Bland beers. When companies get taken over it also isn't long before the staff start leaving so expect a bid soon from Chelsea for the head brewer, while Mr how cheap can we make this stuff accountant turns up as head brewer,if it has a head left.

RedNev said...

Kristy: put like that, what can change? Unless Molson Coors decide to rationalise by closing a (to them) small brewery and moving production elsewhere. I've seen that happen often enough, despite pledges by the purchasing company that they won't change a thing.

But let's hope you're right. I rather like Doom Bar.

Erlangernick said...

I first encountered Doom Bar a few years ago on a trip to Devon. This was before I'd ever been to Tandle-land, when I'd previously only been to London and Oxford. I rather liked Doom Bar...haven't had it since, and wonder what I'd make of it now.

Paul Garrard said...

Let's hope it's not going to be a bit of history repeating on the giants gobbling up the smaller fry.

I suspect they see Doom Bar as a challenger to OSH

Ron Pattinson said...

My money is on Coors cocking it up by:

- putting the beer into pubs that don't look after it properly

- tinkering with the recipe to brew it cheaper

- closing the brewery in Cornwall and brewing it somewhere else

There's a long history of big breweries getting hold of a popular beer and effing it up.

This may sound cynical, but I've seen it happen over and over again.

Gavin said...

It's possible the flavour and character will change due to a change of malt supplier. Coors have there own maltings in Burton, economies of scale and all that.