Coronavirus recovery: small brewers seeing strong support from customers despite ongoing challenges

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Safety always under review: The Hogs Back Brewery has run its annual Hop Harvest Party
Safety always under review: The Hogs Back Brewery has run its annual Hop Harvest Party

Related tags Beer Pubs Public house

Small brewers are facing challenges after the Covid-19 pandemic as they attempt to get back to normal trading.

The latest impacts of both the petrol crisis and CO2 fears have seen brewers and pub operators hit by a supply chain crisis.

Bohem Brewery in Tottenham, London has revealed that demand has been more unpredictable than before the pandemic but currently beer deliveries are not affected.

“Our beer deliveries to customers haven’t been impacted so far, and we’re planning the delivery schedules carefully to make the best use of fuel,” said Matej Krizek, head brewer at Bohem Brewery, Tottenham, London.   

“Obviously, there’s the potential for serious disruption to the whole sector if problems with empty petrol stations continue.” 

Goods news equals strong orders

Krizek added that consumer behaviour “waxes and wanes” in line with the headlines. 

“If the news is good, orders are strong, but when concern about the number of new cases increases, demand is lower as consumer confidence suffers,” he said. 

He revealed that there has been a clear shift in order patterns for the brewer as it is close to central London.  

“We’ve always had a good trade with pubs close to locations with plenty of offices, but that market has barely come back. We’re now supplying far more pubs in suburban and residential locations where people are working from home and going for a pint locally after work,” he adds.

The brewer said it is focusing on its keg range but hopes to return to canning soon but admits that there is high demand for the limited canning facilities available. 

“Our two best sellers since pubs reopened have been our 4% ABV session pilsner Martina and our 4.9% classic Czech lager Amos, both of which are high quality but quite mainstream, which suggests consumers are looking for familiar beer styles rather than being too experimental,” he added. 

People see value in 'local' produce 

Meanwhile, The Hogs Back Brewery Tap near Farnham, Surrey, first opened last summer – initially in a converted hop kiln overlooking the hop garden. The adjacent building, originally an aircraft hangar and now used for hop picking and drying, was added in the autumn, and the combined space now offers seating for 500-plus guests.  

Managing director Rupert Thompson said: “We’ve been busy since reopening, outdoors initially and then inside in May. I think the pandemic reinforced the value of local food and drink, so we’re seeing strong support from local customers. Our music and comedy nights are close to selling out and we’re splitting our annual Hop Harvest Party in September over two days to meet demand.”

Since the relaxation of restrictions, Hogs Back continues to give guests the option to scan into the NHS Track & Trace – though are not making it compulsory. Staff in the bar, and the brewery shop, wear masks, but it is optional for customers. They are moving back to a mix of bar service for drinks and table service for food, in part to accommodate staff shortages. 

Thompson added: “We want a session in the Brewery Tap to feel as close as possible to pre-pandemic socialising, but we also recognise that some of our customers may still feel cautious about mixing with others, especially indoors, so we are continuing with some safety measures, and will review regularly.”  

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