Whatever your choice of tipple, the craft beer boom has brought with it some interesting retail ideas that should give any pub or brewer food for thought.
One is the notion of a city-specific ‘beer week.’ Pioneered in Philadelphia in 2008, Philly Beer Week became a template for other cities to follow. At a base level it’s deceptively simple: someone decides the event is going to take place, fixes a date and encourages as many breweries, pubs, restaurants and bars as possible to stage events over the same week.
Of course, in reality there’s a lot more work than that, even if it’s just coordinating and publicising the events taking place.
Norwich began their City of Ale celebration in 2011. After five years, the event has succeeded in putting Norwich on the map as one of the premier beer cities in the UK. Inspired by this, cities such as Bristol, London, Manchester and Sheffield have followed suit with their own beer weeks.
One of the most popular beer week events is the Tap Takeover, another American import that, as the name suggests, sees a brewery descend on a pub and put an extensive range of their beers across all the taps for a limited time.
This will usually involve the brewers attending, talking people through the range, and often includes specially brewed, one-off or rare beers.
Now, Brighton has entered the fray with an event that’s not quite a fully-fledged beer week, but certainly takes the idea of the Tap Takeover to such a level that it dominated the city’s drinking scene for a whole weekend earlier this month.
The basic idea is simple but effective. Ten participating breweries, 10 pubs all within 10 minutes’ walk of each other, one brewery paired off with one pub. Wandering drinkers can of course visit any of these pubs and drink any beer they like. But for the full experience, £15 buys you a wristband that gets you four free half pints, a free can of beer filled in-house at a brewpub with the beer of your choice, 20% off any other festival beers you buy over the weekend, and a souvenir goodie bag.
The inaugural Brighton Tap Takeover was the brainchild of Niki Deighton, director of distributor The Beer Collective (see video above), and was organised in conjunction with Brighton’s Laine Pub Company.
The hub of activity was in the company’s North Laine Brewhouse, a sprawling space with an attractive in-house brewery and a temporary bar for the weekend featuring a couple of beers from all the participating brewers.
I was intrigued by the idea because I love Brighton, but never seem to stumble across great pubs (with one or two great exceptions). It’s a city you’d expect to have embraced craft beer early, but craft doesn’t seem to be as visible as it is in, say, Bristol or Manchester.
The Tap Takeover weekend changed all that. Wandering around the pubs, identifying each by its branded venue sign outside, it certainly felt like a festival was happening in the streets. Throughout the weekend there were scheduled tutored tastings, bands, DJs and quizzes, and wristband-wearers raced back and forth between the 10 pubs to catch a brewer launching a new beer or watch a team of home brewers take on their professional counterparts in a Pictionary draw-off.
The range of brewers attending should shut up anyone still labour-ing under the impression that craft beer is a London hipster thing: Cloudwater from Manchester, Leeds’ Northern Monk, Liverpool’s Mad Hatter, Wales’ Celt Experience and Sussex’s own Two Tribes were among those who joined the host Laine Brewing Company in providing an eclectic mix of experimental and reassuringly familiar beers.
We were told several times that this event could only happen in Brighton because the Laine Pub Company has so many sites in the city that they could stage the whole thing.
This was undoubtedly an advantage. But I see no reason why freehouses and small pub groups in other cities couldn’t collaborate to achieve something similar. You could do it with cask ale just as easily as broader craft beer.
It elevates the idea of a beer festival to something greater, gets people around a wider variety of pubs that they’d normally visit, and in the words of Gavin George, CEO of Laine Pub Company, it takes the beer festival “out of the usual festival venue – the conference centre, town hall or church, and put it where it tastes the best — the pub.”