Tuesday 22 September 2015

The Rise of the Rock Star Brewer

I'm not sure where I first heard the term "Rock Star" used in reference to a brewer but the phrase has certainly been around a while, as this seven year old post over on Stonch confirms. It was almost certainly conjured up by an over-zealous marketing department, even if the example referenced above wasn't the first occurrence. 

Recent events got me thinking about the increasing popularity of 'craft' beer and the evolution of beer culture in here in the UK. In the US, people queuing for hours on end or paying many hundreds of dollars to join exclusive clubs in order to obtain the latest limited releases from revered brewers or breweries is not uncommon. In most cases, the demand for such beers is driven not by the brewery selling them but by consumers who've rated and raved about them online. I'm sure there are exceptions, however.

This becomes self fuelling -  in order to meet this demand as fairly as possible, breweries resort to ticketed events or online-only sales, the latter of which seems to have naturally extended into online 'clubs' where you an pay an annual fee up front to secure the loot. The club approach is the one I find hardest to reconcile personally. In some cases, you're agreeing to buy beer which may not have even been brewed yet. Beer which could be mediocre or worse. Are we as 'craft' beer consumers at the point where we buy into the idea of a beer, or splash out blindly based solely on "Rock Star" reputations or because we simply must have this new release in case it's as good as that much heralded and coveted batch from 3 years ago - the one that's impossible to find now but was basically the Best. Beer. Ever?

I don't think we're at that point yet here in the UK. Yes, there have been instances where demand for beer has far outstripped supply, leading to online scrambles, imploding websites and the inevitability that many therefore miss out. However, I can't recall any examples where that has been down to a brewery over-marketing a product. 

I recently had the opportunity to discuss this with two brewers who've experienced online scrambles for their own brews. I'll share their thoughts in a future post but it quickly became clear to me that the concept of being a "Rock Star" was not one they were comfortable with or could even comprehend. In both cases their only concern was that the beer meets the expectations of those who'd joined the rush to secure those coveted bottles.


  1. One word (well, two) - en primeur. Buying wine before it's made is simply how the Bordeaux biz works (and how an ex girlfriend of mine's dad paid his mortgage off - and remember there's no CGT on wine as it's classed as a perishable). Perhaps one day with these top brewers we'll see the same - enterprising people buy allocations of the final production to sell on once it's brewed, matured and bottled?

    No - of course that won't happen. Beer will never have that value.

    By the way, not long ago I wrote a post and never hit "publish". It linked back to my own 2008 article you've linked to and had a right go at brewers being too fond of themselves. Might as well whack it out now, as my co-writing team seem to be on strike...

    1. From a business perspective it's an interesting proposition but you'd have to be damned sure of the product to make it sustainable. Beer also broadly has a faster turnaround than wine so if you did end up brewing a duffer you could make more or shuffle releases around a bit.

  2. Got an email yesterday from a PR who said did I know that brewers were the new rock stars — email meet bin, bin meet email. What a load of tosh, I used to interview rock stars and even they weren’t rock stars. I like beer, I like lots of beer, I like beer people, I like pubs, I like special moments in beer, breweries, pubs, travel and when I talk with brewers, but rock stars? I don’t think so. Mind you, it seems to be happening with cheese-makers, butchers and bakers now (sadly not candlemakers or chandlers even).

    1. Butchers have always had a high opinion of themselves.

      Cheesemakers can fuck right off.