Beer? At a Wine Fair?!

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This week it’s the London Wine Fair – a longstanding annual trade show aimed at wine buyers (nearly 30% of which already also buy beer) which is back at Olympia after being held in Docklands for some years.  

For the first time the event includes a dedicated beer section called Brewhouse – which came about after pop-up beer tastings in 2013 were inundated with visitors keen to get a handle on the new, golden age of beer. I helped organise Brewhouse – so here’s a bit about why I got involved and what I hope it will begin to achieve.

For my first wedding anniversary I wanted to take my husband out for a special meal. We found a restaurant with a menu that seemed to oblige and booked a table. It was a nice meal but a disappointing evening. Why? The lack of beer.

I’ll admit it. I’m pretty obsessed with beer. It’s my favourite drink. I think it is the Best Drink in the World. There was a time when I seemed to be in a minority – at least in the sense that I thought there was something more to it than downing several pints of a Friday evening – but now I’m part of a groundswell of interest because the world of beer has changed and developed into something amazing. A whole new beer culture has been born populated with drinkers who really care and take great interest in what’s in their glass. In much the same way those who take food seriously want to know its provenance, how to make it, how to serve it and suchlike – so it is with beer lovers.

If only there were more opportunities for good food with beer!
If only there were more opportunities for good food with beer!

As with many such movements, it initially seemed a bit of a niche thing but sales of ‘craft beer’ are rising even as the traditional beer (read: lager) market shrinks – and there’s good evidence to suggest it is spreading to the mainstream.

Much of what is happening with beer in the UK has been influenced by a vibrant beer and brewing scene in the USA. As well as pushing the boundaries of beer styles and brewing ingredients American brewers can be seen as pioneers of beer and food matching. The Brewmaster’s Table – a bookby renowned US brewer Garret Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery in New York, published in 2003 – is a great example of this and something anyone with an interest in selling and serving beer successfully should read.

A decade on there’s beer and food matching a-plenty in the States and we’re slowly catching on in the UK. But the hotel, restaurant and other licensed eateries sector still seems to be lagging behind. Pitiful beer selections and a lack of food matching suggestions mean its missing out on the craft beer boom and is also disappointing the millions of drinkers keen to embrace ‘the new beer’.

It’s often been argued that shelf life and/or dispense are the root of the problem, but with so much good quality bottled, and kegged beer, now available it should be easy for establishments to stock beer without the risk that sales will be too slow to make it profitable.

Why bother with beer? A decent selection will attract beer-lovers and offer beer novices a chance to try something new. The latter is a tried and tested method of selling in the pub – and one of the reasons cited for the recent increase in craft beer sales – which leads to the second reason, stocking a variety of interesting and delicious beer can lead to increased profit. Even more so if staff are beer-savvy and know how to upsell without falling into the, “Do you want fries with that?” trap.

Can I interest you in something from our new beer menu?
Can I interest you in something from our new beer menu?

The UK’s poor customer service culture can take a share of the blame – trotting out an irritating line rather than tempting customers with something they might genuinely enjoy is a skill. But the higher end of the ‘horeca’ (hotel, restaurant and cafe/catering) trade could make a killing with beer because it seems to understand not just the importance, but the value, of customer service as something worth investing in. Make customers feel good and they’ll be more likely to spend and return to spend again.

Already cashing in on the beer boom are independent wine merchants – and chains such as Oddbins whose sales of craft beer have shot through the roof. Brewhouse at the London Wine Fair aims to bring beer to a wider audience of buyers so they can make the most of the popularity of beer and so beer-lovers can be sure of a good selection of beer wherever they choose to eat, drink or shop.

Find Brewhouse upstairs in the Gallery Hall next to the Esoterica section. As well as around 20 exhibitors from some of the UK’s (and beyond) best breweries you can find me on stand 219. The 2014 London Wine Fair runs from Mon 2 June – Wed 4 June inclusive.

  • Come to Speakers Corner at the London Wine Fair to hear my talk,                    “Why beer?” at 11.30am, Tues 3rd June.
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