Over the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing variations of the same story from more than one Edinburgh publican. Someone enters, politely introduces themselves as being from Traditional Scottish Ales, and asks if they would be interested in taking TSA’s beers in the near future. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be much of a story – walk-ins happen, reps chance their arm, look for new opportunities. But what sets this apart is the refreshing candour of the person from TSA, who states that things are changing up in Throsk – because they need to. I find this approach interesting (as well as refreshing); diametrically opposed to the ‘buy our beer’ bluster and bravado.
So, with that in mind, I caught up with Andrew Richardson, new Director at Traditional Scottish Ales, to find out what they are planning, and why change is imperative for their brewery. Andrew only came on board in December, after wanting to invest in a small, local, business. He’s certainly got an eclectic drinks-background, having worked for Diageo, marketing Guinness in Cameroon, before switching to a subsidiary in Mauritius for several years.* He was also at Courage around the time of their takeover by Scottish & Newcastle, and most recently, worked at the Scotsman – so he’s clearly no stranger to workplace upheaval.
*I almost choked on my Bristol Beer Factory Nova when he said working in the beer-making business in Stirling is the same as in the Indian Ocean. Palm trees on Forth!
This background, as well as his recent arrival, might explain Andrew’s brevity; with regard to TSA’s re-brand, nothing is off the table. The name will be one of the first things to go, for example. “Most Scottish breweries are named after their founders, or a geographical area. Traditional Scottish Ales? It’s too long, and it means nothing,” he says. “We’re looking to expand our market. Beer tastes have changed – it’s a great time for beer. Yet are we respected enough? No. We’ve been at the back for too long. We want to be a part of the beer community again.” This was all spoken without rankle, no chips are on shoulders in Throsk. It seems to be systemic, this approach to change.
The only time Andrew gets slightly frustrated is in relation to the pubs taking TSA beer. He, and the sales director, have been knocked back from publicans, citing worries over the quality of the beer they have received in the past. “You ask the pub when the last time was they had beer from Traditional Scottish Ales. It was three, four years ago!” He isn’t blaming the pubs, more the fact that nobody has followed up in the interim. “People just don’t know who we are,” he says. “We won a World Beer Award the other year, and nobody knows about it. Because we don’t tell them!”. (TSA Double Espresso won world’s best flavoured beer in 2012; the awards section of TSA’s website only goes up to 2006).
Alongside the name, that website will also be revamped, and (deep breath) social media embraced. Also, and probably not before time, their beers will be streamlined. Currently, TSA have a somewhat confusing lineup of four brands; the traditional (William Wallace, Rabbie Burns), the TSA range (Glencoe, Ben Nevis, and their best-seller Lomond Gold), the speciality-brands (Double Espresso, Tullibardine 1488), and the recently-released ‘new’ labels (ROK IPA, Big Blonde). All are packaged differently, across different bottle-sizes. Some degree of consistency is definitely needed to get people to associate Traditional Scottish Ales (in their new guise) with more than one or two products.
There are various other things that will be revealed at the same time; the re-launch is set for the end of March. Before leaving, I asked Andrew to list the next three steps on which he would like the brewery to focus. “Establish the new brewery, work on the draught, export,” he replied. Laudable ambitions – TSA have some stiff, local, competition, being very near to both Williams Bros and Harviestoun, but having a new look should certainly help. Intriguingly, something else he said really stood out:- “What do we have to offer people [currently] who like BrewDog, or go to the Hanging Bat? Nothing”…