Exclusive: TSA to re-brand: “We’ve been at the back for too long”

Posted by on Feb 24, 2014 in Scottish Beer | 12 Comments


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”


  1. Barm
    February 24, 2014

    They are barking up the wrong tree if they believe it’s their branding that’s the problem. I don’t know a single beer drinker who has anything good to say about their beer.

  2. SRD
    February 24, 2014

    Yup. Sadly rebranding needs matching with beers. My other half brought home a ‘big blonde’ the other night. Label said ‘grapefruity’ etc. but was very bland. (And I’ll happily drink low abv /less exciting stuff most evenings)

  3. Richard
    February 24, 2014

    Regarding that, Andrew told me “I’m not worried about the quality, it’s about the product” – I take that to mean the beer recipes may well be looked at, particularly with regard to the end quote about BrewDog/Hanging Bat drinkers. However, just throwing hops around isn’t a solution, of course

    EDIT – I should confirm that comment means Andrew has no concerns about the quality of TSA beer, not that he isn’t concerned about beer quality. Thanks to Joe for pointing that out

  4. Steven
    February 24, 2014

    Fundamentaly their beer is bland and uninteresting. Their labelling is misleading in terms of taste notes. On the occasions I have tried their products I’ve always been left disappointed for these reasons.

    They have a long way to go and it starts with sorting out their core beer range.

  5. Gordon Nicol
    February 24, 2014

    The Lomond Gold is quite nice and easy to drink, the Double Espresso a big and bold beer and very good it doesn’t surprise me that its won an award. Certainly didn’t think they came from the same brewery though!

  6. Mark M
    February 24, 2014

    I couldn’t care less what your brand name is or what your label looks like if your beer tastes like shit.

    Their beer tastes like shit.

  7. Thebeermonkey
    February 24, 2014

    Branding won’t make a blind bit of difference if it’s not matched by an improvement in the product. Otherwise, you’d be better applying lipstick on a pot bellied pig.
    TSA? They are commonly called Terrible Scottish Ales for a reason.

  8. Mick
    February 24, 2014

    I enjoy the double espresso beer. In fact I was really surprised to find it was a TSA beer. The others are kind of boring and I don’t think they are helped by their old-fashioned branding. While I agree they may need to spruce up the quality of the beer, I do think he has a point in regards to their image. Though I also thought the ROK IPA had up-to the minute ‘Brewdog style’ labelling?

  9. Kev
    February 24, 2014

    Yeah had to laugh at the quotes here. The problem is not a branding one.

    Lomond Gold is especially rank. Just tastes and smells musty.

  10. Adam
    February 24, 2014

    Nice post, Rich – it does ‘lift the veil’ a bit regarding TSA. Though no disagreements from me re. some of their beer quality – a Gold Bullion at Bridge of Allan was one of the works cask pints I’ve ever had! I’ve always thought a lot of their beer seemed poorly conditioned/rushed – perhaps due to the pressure of some of their large supermarket deals ? Not contracting would help this but any idea if they are bringing in more/new kit as well ?

  11. Alebuff
    February 25, 2014

    I always avoid TSA cask ale if its on the bar. I’d even drink Belhaven!!!!! Experience has taught me that TSA beers never please. Rebranding can’t be the answer – brewing something better would be a great move.

  12. ForHopsSake
    February 28, 2014

    The only TSA beer i’ve tried is Lomond Gold and I would go so far to say I didn’t like it and it’s rare I find a beer I don’t at least think is ok. I hope a re-brand includes some good recipe development otherwise it’s probably a waste of time. As they say “you canny polish a turd”. I wish them luck though and if they do refresh their beer line I will definitely give them a try.

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