Struggling pubs can diversify with low ABV drinks, says Big Drop founder

By James Beeson

- Last updated on GMT

Education: Big Drop founder Rob Fink believes pubs could do more to help encourage the growth of low-alcohol products
Education: Big Drop founder Rob Fink believes pubs could do more to help encourage the growth of low-alcohol products
Adding a greater choice of low alcohol and alcohol-free options could help pubs struggling to retain trade, according to Big Drop Brewing Co founder Rob Fink. 

Speaking exclusively to The Morning Advertiser​, Fink said pubs needed to diversify their offerings and should recognise the increasing demand for more alcohol-free drinks choice.

“Pubs have been saying for a long time they are losing trade, and the pubs that are surviving are the ones that are diversifying,” he said. “I remember in the pub I used to work in during the 90s, a couple walked in on a quiet afternoon and asked for a coffee and the landlord said ‘we’re a pub, f**k off’ and that’s what it was like in a lot of pubs back then.

“But the pubs that are surviving now are the ones that are moving and recognizing that there are demands over and above ‘I’d like a pint please’. The on trade should recognize that there is an increasing demand, especially from young people, for alcohol free drinks that aren’t diet cola, orange juice or lemonade.”

Importance of education

Fink also stated that he would like to see pubs educate their staff on the merits of low-alcohol beer, and expressed his belief that Big Drop beer was “a more complicated product” than many other craft beers on the market.

“I think educating the staff is really important,” he said. “Because there is a lot of misinformation out there. If someone walks into the pub and says ‘have you got an alcohol-free beer’ sometimes staff are reluctant to say that a 0.5% beer is an alcohol-free beer, when there is no real difference.

“If you’re not drinking for any reason apart from religious reasons – and we’ve had people from the Middle East approaching us thinking our beer is completely alcohol free – you’re not going to get drunk on it and its better for you than a soft drink.”

“If you’ve got knowledgeable staff that can talk about low-alcohol beer that should help the consumer in the long run.”

Challenges to be overcome

“Also it would be nice if it wasn’t on the bottom shelf gathering dust,” he continued. “That (Big Drop’s Chocolate Milk Stout) is just a good beer, end of, in my view. Why is it on the bottom left hand of the fridge? Why isn’t it sitting on the middle of the shelf saying ‘I’m a craft British beer with a beautifully designed label buy me’?

“It’s a challenge that needs to be overcome and all we can do is keep talking about it. There’s more creativity and skill that goes into Big Drop than a lot of other craft beers because we have to get it to a very low ABV and that’s not uncomplicated.”

Big Drop Brewing Co was founded in August 2016, and the brewery has already seen a ‘tenfold increase’ in demand for its award-winning Chocolate Milk Stout​. Fink said that the rise of low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks was “largely health driven” but said that the craft beer revolution had helped improve the quality of low-alcohol products.

It’s a wonderful marriage of opportunity,” he said. “People are drinking less, but they are drinking more craft beer, and they are being more picky about what they do drink. The expertise is something I am trying to take advantage of, to make a great low-alcohol craft beer as part of the range that is available across the market, whereas perhaps 30 years ago  you were looking at alcohol-free beers that weren’t very nice at all.”

Not a drivers beer

The brewery recently celebrated its first birthday with the release of two new beers​, but one product Fink has no intention of making is a low-calorie or gluten-free beer, despite interest from a number of consumers.

“People have said to be ‘can you reduce the calories, make a vegan beer or a gluten free beer?’” he said. “At the moment I’ve said no because at the moment my parameters are to make beer that is no more than 0.5% ABV, but outside of that I’m not that interested.  

“Big Drop is not a drivers beer, it’s not a pregnant woman’s beer it’s not a low-calorie beer. It’s just good beer that happens to be 0.5%. How people chose to use it themselves is up to them, but that’s not why I do it.”

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