Beavertown Brewery owner Logan Plant and former head brewer Jenn Merrick talked to Drinks Maven about the future of beer, the way palates are changing and the importance of staying true to your values while in the throes of success.
Beavertown has had a phenomenal year. Do you ever wake up and think about everything that has changed in the past two years?
Jenn: “Yeah, if you looked into our window, it would have been quite a different kettle of fish from when we moved here.”
Logan: “Can you believe we have more than 40 permanent staff now? We were nine when we moved over from Stour Road.”
That’s a lot of staff. Explain what they all do.
Logan: “About half of them are on the floor across the production and brewing team. There are five others now that are officially brewers and then we have selling people and packaging and everyone is in rotation, so we all learn everything.”
Jenn: “Logan and I are also brewers, so that’s seven of us. Plus we have a fully fledged sales and marketing team and we’ve also got a social media person now, Kamilla. We have Nick still as our creative director on that side and our full time events man Sam. Then five sales people.”
Beavertown certainly hosts more events now, was that always the plan?
Logan: “There are still plans for the tap house and events have really stepped up. It has been one of our big discussions throughout 2016. We wanted to continue to communicate and knew that the best way to do that was to do it in front of people with a beer in their hand. We’ve just had a ridiculous run of something like 70 events between the spring and October and there are going to be 80 before Christmas at least.”
Jenn: “Beavertown has always been big participators, but, initially, we wanted to be able to host a few events and organise a few events to kind of exercise that hospitality gene. I guess we were born out of hospitality so we want to bring that to people. We have been a little bit frustrated about our hospitality ambitions on the current site and couldn’t really have the sort of events that we would have liked to, so that’s when Beavertown began looking elsewhere.”
Explain about those frustrations.
Logan: “We tried to build a taproom here and we got it denied by the management company that manage the site, unfortunately. So, we were always going to open a couple of bars. That has always been the case. Now, hopefully, that will happen soon, it’s exciting. That’s what’s going to give us a more solid, consistent platform to serve our beer and also serve other stuff we enjoy. The ambition is to serve a selection of great beers from around the world.”
Jenn: “We had to weigh up things, like the cost of the square footage that would be dedicated to beer vs the cost of a kitchen and had been erring on the side of beer. It’ll be like a 70/30 or 80/20 split between beer and food. Also, it will be east-based.
Where can people find Beavertown beers currently where they are represented exactly as you’d hope?
Logan: “We’ve had a big increase of capacity, but we’ve pretty much dedicated all of that to London draught accounts. We wanted to be the kind of local brewery where people could expect to find our products day-in and day-out at good places. This means that where you see our beer now is where we reckon it belongs because we have had to set a high bar. We haven’t been able to take on every account that wants it. We have had a cap on new customers for, basically, the last year with small windows opening and we have to say no to almost everybody, so the places where it is now are places we want it to be.”
Can you describe the kind of person who drinks Beavertown beer?
Logan: “It’s a diverse group. The demographic consuming craft beer has become increasingly so. Think about our style of beer and the pricepoint it comes in at and the flavours and the way sometimes it sets out to challenge people’s palates – well, that demographic who want all of that has widened out massively recently. For instance, it used to be the case that a Fullers or a Young’s pub wouldn’t have been thought our beer suited their demographic, but now they can’t get enough of us and we’re having to say no to new locations and just take their top 10 or their top 15 pubs which would be the most suitable. They’d initially anticipated four kegs per week, then it was 12 kegs per week, then 15 and then 20 kegs a week. It keeps going up.”
So, have palates have changed?
Jenn: “Yes and it’s amazing, isn’t it? I mean, the growth and the anticipation and the way people’s palates have developed, is really great.”
Logan: “If you look at the past few years as an example you can witness how people’s palates have changed. When people would have previously worked out what people wanted from a Young’s or Fuller’s pub, you wouldn’t have thought that the taste of our beers would outsell their top mass produced beers in those locations, but we are now outselling them.”
People are becoming more conscientious about food, drink, process, traceability and this reignites their relationship with flavour. But are they being duped by good marketing using those terms on so many drinks products?
Logan: “People are definitely seeking out things that they can relate to – like wanting to buy something made locally.”
Jenn: “It happened across food first. With foods, people began to make those decisions – they would see a new product in a supermarket, say a new brand of sausages or whatever and go: ‘Yes! It’s made out of farm! I’m going to have these!’ and so they’d go get that product because it’s on the shelves and enjoy it, but they often don’t know that as soon as it gets popular it becomes what the supermarkets call ‘value engineered’. Then it gets mass produced somewhere. Companies are getting in on this while the getting is good and some people, possibly, expect Beavertown to go in that direction and I know I never intend to do. I hope the beer consumer will always want something that’s a bit more legit and authentic. That sort of value engineer propositioning comes into a lot of products, but I hope it won’t happen with Beavertown.”
How do you keep that promise?
Logan: “People gravitate to trust. People have to be able to trust us and our beer. They also have to trust that we will work with the right people.”
Jenn: “I know I only want to work with people who have a reputation for quality and high standards and care about what they do.”
Jenn Merrick has since left Beavertown Brewery.