Campaign for Real Ale
Thanks to the huge variety of flavours and styles available, the sales of draught beer are rising year on year and show no signs of stopping.
“Real ale has something for everyone,” said Nick Boley, CAMRA national director and chair of the Technical Advisory Group. “And because of its variety it appeals to a variety of people who not only want to try different things, but also those who know what they want.”
Take Stock spoke to Ian Hayes, who along with his wife Taya, owns The Grove, a real ale and craft beer pub in Huddersfield. The award-winning pub was voted best beer bar in England by users of the ratebeer.com website and it attracts locals, students and international visitors. The Grove currently offers 19 cask ales, 18 keg ales and over 200 bottled beers.
How did you get started?
I worked in IT and was looking for a complete change. I’d always had an interest in pubs and beer, and had experience of working behind a bar, so I managed to persuade my wife that I could run my own pub. I thought that having come from a non-pub background it would give me a different outlook rather than trying to run a traditional pub.
Is there more of a trend now for pubs to serve cask ales and craft beers?
I don’t think it’s necessary a trend, more that the market has been growing for the past 15 years because people want more variety and beers that actually taste of something.
What’s your best seller?
Oakham Citra – a pale ale of 4.3ABV. A single, fruity hop, it’s one of the favourite American hops and is really popular with customers.
And the most unusual?
We always stock a range of unusual ones. To date, we have had a caramel fudge stout, ice cream beers and a rum and raisin beer.
How do you choose which ales to stock?
I’ll stock up on what styles we need for a particular week, depending what’s on the market at the time. I tend to go directly to breweries or through smaller wholesalers who have a more interesting choice. If it’s a new brewery (or new to me), I’ll check reviews on ratebeer.com.
Do you change your range with the seasons?
To some extent. I wouldn’t, for example, put a 10% Imperial Stout cask on during summer. The choice is somewhat governed by the breweries, who put out ‘lighter’ beers in spring and summer. I do keep stronger beer on during the summer as there is still a demand and I get complaints if I don’t have at least one strong stout on at any one time.
Some of your bottled beers retail for well over £10 each. How do you get people to try a beer that costs that amount and does having ‘expensive’ beers actually drive interest in the category?
Generally people ‘in the know’ would be the ones to buy the more expensive beers. I don’t think that having expensive beers will in itself drive sales, it all comes down to knowing your clientele. I’m also not sure that £10 is expensive these days, we are seeing a few of our draught beers come on at £10 per pint or more and that hasn’t dampened sales.
What advice would you give to outlets wanting to develop relationships with craft breweries?
Contact them because they have a product and they want to sell it – especially in a good condition. Obviously the last thing a brewer wants is for their beers to be on the bar and it not tasting great. I’m more interested in beer quality than locality.
Is staff knowledge of the beer vital?
Of course! They have to understand the beers they are selling. If a customer comes in and asks for a recommendation or taste test then my staff have to know which one to suggest. There are 12 of us, including my wife and I, and to make sure we all know our stuff, we hold staff tasting sessions and on the job training.
Tips for promoting your business?
We have a strong presence on social media (Facebook and Twitter) which encourages a lot of repeat visits from far and wide. We make sure that those sites and our website are up to date and contain details of all our offers and events. We have a first-class rating on ratebeer.com that encourages visits and we use the free app Untappd to share what brews are on and get feedback.
Nick Boley gives his top tips for a beer cask starter:
- Contact CAMRA – get in touch with your local branch so they can offer you advice, tips and suggestions of local breweries
- Start small – only buy one or two beers to gauge interest as the average strength beer will go off after three days. The smallest cask is four-and-a-half gallons
- Go local – the common mistake some licensees make is to go with a national brand when in fact people want something different so would prefer a local ale; something quirky with character
- Spread the word – don’t just have it sitting on the bar without telling your customers what it is! Promote it in-house, via word of mouth, through social media and your website
- Have a go! – anyone with a licence can stock real ale. Put one on (promote it) and gauge if the interest is there