Any more room at the inn?

By Roger Protz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Beer Draught beer Brewing

Protz: cracking the British market won't be easy
Protz: cracking the British market won't be easy
Veltins Pilsener is looking to increase its sales in Britain. A fresh style will help, says beer expert Roger Protz.

Is there room in British pubs for yet another Pilsner-style German lager?

The Veltins Brewery in north-west Germany thinks so. It's planning a major boost for its sales here with an innovative strategy of targeting the on-trade with draught beer by linking up with regional and smaller craft brewers.

Veltins Pilsener (4.8%) has been available in Britain for 15 years, with sales confined mainly to Essex. But now the brand plans to go national, using the considerable experience of Steve Holt at Vertical Drinks to drive sales with regional "brewing partners".including Robinson's of Stockport, with its estate of 400 pubs, and smaller brewers like Butcombe, Oakham, Ossett and Purity.

Wholesaler James Clay will handle the free trade, with M&B selling the beer in 50 All Bar One outlets.

Veltins is a family-owned company which has been brewing for more than 180 years. The region it's based in includes the industrial Ruhr and the major cities of Dusseldorf and Dortmund.

As well as thirsty industrial workers, many tourists visit the area for walking and skiing. The local demand for beer is met by well-known brewers like Krombach and Warsteiner but Veltins is no also-ran. It's one of the Top Ten German breweries, producing 1.5 million barrels a year.

Pilsener style

The company has a major share of the lucrative non-alcoholic, fruit-flavoured soft drinks sector, but Pilsener is its only beer brand.

Back in 1926, Carl Veltins took the decision to concentrate on that style when a report from the College of Brewing Technology in Berlin reported that the soft water from the surrounding mountains was ideal for brewing Pilsener.

Western Germany may be just a one-hour flight from Britain, but its beer market is vastly different from ours.

Between 75 and 80% of sales are from the off-trade; thanks to generously low duty levels, take-home beer is remarkably cheap and is sold by the crate, not the bottle. Veltins exports to 30 countries, but tackling the British market, where on-trade draught beer accounts for more than half of sales, has been a steep learning curve.

The decision to target Britain was spurred by the success of Becks, and allied to the sharp decline in sales of British-brewed lagers.

As a result, there is great interest and demand for German beer here, even though the costs of brewing to the famous 16th-century "Purity Law" — which permits only malted barley, hops, yeast and water to be used — means that a pint in Britain costs around £3.50 in the north and £3.80 in London.

Veltins Pilsener has 300 draught installations in Britain, and the plan is to double that figure over the next three years. The presence of the beer at British bars should give it a higher profile, encouraging a move into the off-trade in 2011.

Brewing process

The Pilsener will stand out from the crowd, as the draught version is not pasteurised. This demands a quick turnover, but means the beer has a fine fresh aroma and flavour.

It will appeal in particular to ale and lager drinkers who enjoy hop bitterness. In the north German tradition, Veltins uses a generous amount of hops from the Hallertau region of Bavaria, producing a rich, toasted malt and bitter hop character, with a hint of citrus.

The beer is brewed with meticulous care and attention to detail.

A modern, 1980s Steinecker brewhouse is based on a mash-mixer and lauter tun (filtration vessel) system. After boiling with hops in four brewing kettles, the hopped wort undergoes a system of fermentation that I've not encountered before. The liquid goes first into what are called floater tanks, where it is mixed with yeast, encouraging a build up of natural carbon dioxide.

After 24 hours, 80% of the fermenting liquid is run off while the remaining 20% is mixed with fresh hopped wort. This is repeated for four days until the tanks are emptied and cleaned.

The system ensures consistency of flavour and quality, with the brewers claiming that one bottle of their Pilsener will be made up of 200 different brews. Following the floater tanks, the beer has a rapid two-day fermentation in conical vessels, followed by a minimum of four weeks' maturation in lager tanks.

Veltins is enjoying considerable success in its home market. Sales of draught beer are up 1.9% this year , while bottled beer has increased by an impressive 7.9%. The management said the increase in sales was driven by Germany's run in the World Cup.

Sport link-up

Veltins is heavily involved in sport. It sponsors FC Schalke in the top football division, the Bundesliga, and also sponsors the Porsche racing team. Schalke has had a poor start to the new season and is close to the bottom of the league. Yet this, Veltins says, makes supporters drink more beer.

As a West Ham sufferer, I know the feeling well. I wondered what the German was for "drowning your sorrows", but it got lost in translation.

Related topics Beer Marketing

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