Annabel Smith on Beer
What beer trend is most exciting you at present and why?
It’s seeing beer being premiumised and stocked by high end outlets, almost in the same way that fine wines are. It’s been a long time coming, but the beer category is gradually shedding its ‘working class’ image as drinkers become more knowledgeable about the huge spectrum of exciting styles and flavours. It’s great to see the curiosity consumers are developing about beer. We need to capitalise on this trend and get more people being offered beer as well as wine as a ‘drink of choice’ with food when dining.
What do you think is the biggest crime against beer in pubs at present?
Lack of staff knowledge. There is such a massive interest in beer at the moment amongst a new generation of consumers, and we won’t sustain, or keep this interest, if the people who sell beer don’t know the basic differences between styles, formats and brands.
What tips would you give licensees in helping to drive beer sales in 2017?
Get your staff excited and engaged with the beer category through investing in a bit of training. Trained staff tend to be more motivated, happier at work, and therefore stay with an employer longer. If they know their IPAs from their Stouts, and their pilsners from their porters, they will be able to knowledgeably recommend a beer to a customer, even if it’s just a small thing like saying “This is one of my favourites”.
Secondly, get your quality right first time, every time. This may be at the expense of reducing your fraught range to ensure faster throughputs, but it’s better to focus on quality rather than quantity. Beer drinkers are extremely focused on quality and if it’s not right, they have no hesitation in talking about it to other drinkers which can damage the retailer’s reputation.
Any great examples of pubs getting it right you have come across and really rate?
Lots of great beer bars out there doing some really exciting, inventive stuff. Mother Kellys in Bethnal Green is a great tap room and bottle shop which combines an extensive range of draught and packaged beers with really well informed staff. The Parcel Yard at Kings Cross station has exceptional service, well kept beer and is run like a tight ship for such a busy venue. Friends of Ham (branches in Leeds and Ilkley) have almost led the field in the North with their approach to marketing beer and also their range of premium beers stacked alongside a fantastic wine list.
What breweries are exciting you with their products at present?
Amongst the new wave, Beavertown are producing some really exceptional experimental beers which have caught the imagination of a lot of new drinkers to the category. Thornbridge continually delight me with their combination of flavour innovation and quality. Brew By Numbers is an interesting concept and one that has marked them out as innovators.
What would be your desert island beer?
Ah, this is such a difficult question! If pushed, I’m going to say a case of Westmalle Tripel.