A couple of weeks ago I quickly jotted down a few trends that I think might start to become more prominent in 2017 – but one I missed off the list is something else that has come to light recently, and it’s one of the most welcome trends I can remember for a while. Breweries, like any other business, have absolutely no obligation to keep everyone totally in sync with what’s going on in their world – aside from the beers they are producing and where they are pouring them, whatever else they choose to reveal is up to them. Yet recently we’ve seen a fairly humbling amount of honesty from the likes of Cloudwater (yes, them again) and Siren Craft Brew when it comes to how they are doing and – more importantly – where they are heading. And to that list, you can now add Tempest.
The Borders’ finest revealed all last week in a couple of blog posts on their website; the first one of which covering their performance and plans for 2017 was highly interesting for anyone with a passing interest in Scottish beer, largely because of the open and honest information it contained. This is very much in keeping with founder Gavin Meiklejohn, I’ve known him for a while now and he always tells it like it is – but I’m hoping it’s also a sign that brewers are more willing than ever to keep their supporters in the loop. I’ve been wondering why this is over the weekend and I think it’s probably down to one of two reasons (or maybe a small part of both combined).
The first is that the increased level of competition due to the number of new and newish craft breweries out there means that telling your story has become more important than ever. As much as its a great industry to be a part of, with roughly 120 production breweries/brewpubs north of the border and a couple of dozen contract breweries on top – there isn’t as much shelf and bar space to go around. A forest of taps or bottles looks great for the consumers, but if you try a beer from two different breweries and discover the history, inspiration and drive of one and nothing at all about the other, I reckon it’s brewery #1 you’ll be reaching for next time around (although there will be a few more arrivals to pick from, in all likelihood).
The second reason fits in with that – social media usage by breweries and interaction with them by their customers has also increased dramatically over recent years. If you have the channels signed up to, you may as well fill them with something other than pictures of fermenters. And on the other side of the coin, having direct access to the producer of your favourite IPA gives people new found bravado to ask them what the hops are, how long their lagers are conditioned for and whether they are going to expand into markets that the brewer maybe wouldn’t want revealed just yet. Communication is a two-way street. Or it could just be that modern-day breweries have less reason to fear the competition so don’t feel the need to clutch their encoded brewing logs to their chests anymore.
Anyway, it was great to be able to read exactly how one of the best breweries in Scotland fared in 2016 and are looking to continue to succeed this coming year. With growth pencilled in for another 30% increase over and above the massive spike in production caused by the move from Kelso to Tweedbank things are definitely looking up. Throughout the blog post they heartily admit to not following trends – and yet if you’re a fan of great beer in Scotland, there are plenty of titbits in there to indicate they are going to consider adopting quite a few of them (even if they are just doing so to make better and more interesting beer rather than jumping on any particular bandwagon).
Here are the most on-trend non-trends that Tempest are going to be exploring over the next year, it seems:-
Switched up regulars
Firstly the look to brew more small-batch runs of current beers with switched up ingredients is interesting – as is the development of a specific yeast style for ‘big’ IPAs. I’m guessing this means that we’ll see a lot more of Bomber IPA over the next year, and it will be interesting to see how it tastes with a different yeast profile. Hopefully they can improve on the juicy, citrus flavours even more.
Bombers and Cans
Speaking of bombers, more 660ml bottles are on the cards – which is great news as anyone who managed to get hold of their Old Fashioned can attest. Another note on their packaging plans for the coming year is that Tempest are about to embrace the biggest recent trend of them all – aluminium – by starting to can Pale Armadillo and Long White Cloud at some point in 2017. Whatever your thoughts about cans, they are hitting the shelves more than ever.
Keeping everyone happy
One of the most interesting series of points in the post related to their distribution – Tempest are looking to move towards exports, having increased from 0% to 7% to 20% of total revenue over the course of the last three years. I reckon their 2017 estimate of 30% could well prove to be a conservative one. Also they are looking to split the streams into more dedicated lines – with core range in supermarkets and small-batch releases solely to independents. This makes a huge amount of sense, helping to consolidate with the big boys (even if it means I’ll have to visit one to buy their regular beers).
Personally speaking one of the things I’ll be most interested to look out for is an increase in their barrel-ageing programme due to a larger warehouse – it’s been a long time since Old Parochial graced my tasting chalice so I can’t wait for it to appear again. I appreciate this is purely selfish, but there you go.