In the Grolsch brewery, in Enschede, a two-hour drive east of Amsterdam, there is a giant snaking gangway that stretches the length of the building. Suspended over the busy floor on what is referred to in the Dutch brewery as 'the artery', visitors can watch the day-to-day activities of this clinical modern facility going on below them.
Just as the artery provides a convenient connection between the brewery's various parts, so Grolsch's UK distributor, Coors, wants the brand name to be the link that helps consumers move between a series of speciality brand extensions that are to be pushed in a new "portfolio approach" for our shores.
Coors is aiming to roll out distribution of Grolsch Weizen and Grolsch Blond, launched in the UK in 2006 and 2007 respectively, and is increasingly focusing on pub trade trials of other imported Grolsch brand extensions.
The portfolio of 12 Grolsch products - conventional lagers, wheat beers, amber beers and seasonals - commonly available in the Netherlands is not reflected in the UK, where Coors had always picked out parent brand Grolsch Premium as the only product with genuine appeal.
Coors says that the initial success of imported Weizen and Blond, introduced quietly in the UK, has persuaded it to give bigger fanfare to these speciality products. It also feels the time is right to investigate the viability of other Grolsch favourites from Holland in UK pubs. Trends such as later licensing resulting in more of a café culture and new consumption patterns, lower-ABV beers and the general shift of consumers from standard lagers such as Coors' own Carling to more adventurous foreign beers have inspired this move.
These product trials are only done on a very limited basis, generally in between 10 and 30 pubs, but the latest is a cranberry version of Weizen - pink in colour, popular among women in Holland and branded as Rosé in reference to the popular wine style.
"Coors wants to re-establish Grolsch's premium credentials, not as a single lager brand, but as a brewer of Continental premium beers," says Michal Rabiej, Grolsch marketing manager. "We're trying to break from the homogeneity of the beer market."
Coors' new approach with Grolsch is indeed consistent with a developing sense of adventure elsewhere in its portfolio. It plans to roll out Worthington's Red Shield soon. This cask beer is a brand extension of well-respected bottle-conditioned ale White Shield and has been interpreted as a sign that cask is back at a company not exactly beloved of the Campaign for Real Ale. Coors' American brand Blue Moon, a Belgian-style white beer designed to be served with a slice of orange, is also being trialled over here.
It all points to Grolsch identifying a tidal change in the UK beer market. Rabiej draws a parallel with bars in Grolsch's home country. In the bars
of Amsterdam, customers are consuming beer in a totally different way, but Rabiej believes the gap is narrowing.
"The big difference here in Holland is that bars are either Grolsch or Heineken houses and automatically have a range of their beers," he says. "Customers are far more brand loyal and will drink brand extensions more readily.
"But consumers are becoming more receptive to them in England. They are already used to a range of beers on the bar, although they are very similar styles and from different brewers. But they are more brand-driven and more aware of varying ABVs than ever before.
"That's why we think the time is right to get across this portfolio message."
The new product development at Grolsch has been made easier by a pilot facility within its new €300m brewery, which opened in April 2004. This is a scaled-down replica of the brewery around it, even down to kegging and bottling machinery, and allows Grolsch's brewers to tinker with new beers without the fear of wastage that comes with larger batches.
Weizen and a darker wheat beer were developed here, as was the cranberry version, and head brewer Guy Avers was working on a specially fermented product using champagne yeast on The Publican's visit.
While Rabiej says "the focus at the moment is on Blond and Weizen", he explains that Grolsch will look to introduce new products that have been developed at the pilot brewery into the UK.
He believes the fact that these will be genuine imports to the UK that are sold in their country of origin is important - Coors' Burton base is unique in the world in having the licence to brew draught Grolsch, but the other bottled products are genuine imports.
Coors is planning to trial the pink version of Weizen on draught in a select number of pubs, probably around 30 London outlets.
Made using cranberry juice, Grolsch Rosé has an ABV of four per cent, lower than Weizen's 5.3 per cent.
It is not the first rosé wine cross-over. The growing category includes a pink Kasteel Cru champagne beer also being trialled by Coors, and Martini put marketing support behind a new 'Rosato' variant this summer.
The beer is one of many being looked at by a new all-female Coors department, internally titled Project Eve, that has been tasked with developing more products for women.
Rolling out Weizen and Blond
Grolsch has pledged to invest £8m in marketing the two beers in 2008. This has included the beers being involved in the Grolsch Green Light experiential marketing campaign. While there was initially little in the way of traditional advertising, this is now being stepped up, with adverts for Blond appearing on TV for the rest of the year. Stockists can get training from Coors in how to serve and promote the beers, and the company operates a mystery shopper scheme to check that the practices taught during the training are being used. Point-of-sale material includes branded Continental-style glassware.
Winner of the Best Wheat Beer Category at the World Beer Awards 2007, Grolsch Weizen is brewed according to the German purity law of Reinheitsgebot, which dictates that only malted barley, malted wheat, yeast, hops and water may be used in its production. It is a non-sweet wheat beer with an aftertaste that isn't bitter. It has aromas of banana and light spice.
Available on draught and bottled, Coors training packages teach barstaff to roll Weizen bottles prior to pouring in order to awaken the yeast, and for the same reason, to store kegs of it upside down.Blond, on the other hand, is only a draught product in the UK. It uses the same ingredients as Grolsch Premium but is brewed to four per cent ABV and has a lighter taste.