Super Suppliers: A pick of the best specialist beer suppliers

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Drinks: Beers
Other: Business

Ever felt that a brilliant beer list was just a phone call away? Melissa Cole picks out half a dozen specialist suppliers with great portfolios and top-class customer service


Pierhead

Web: www.pierheadwines.co.uk; Tel: 01322 662377

Distribution: National

Flagship Brands: Coopers from Australia, Alhambra from Spain and Quilmes from Argentina

PoS & branded glassware supplied: Yes

Three beers to create a better beer list: Coopers, Quilmes, Alhambra

Three beers that are the next step up: Moosehead, Boags, Palma Cristal

Three must-stock beers for the serious beer bar: Chili Beer, Casablanca, Robsons

COMPANY HISTORY

Pierhead Purchasing Ltd was started in 1976 by Rick Hercules and is a private independent company under family ownership and control, which enables the company to import a wide product base. Originally started with imports aimed at ethnic markets – Bintang for Indonesian outlets, Hue for Vietnamese, Coopers & Boags for Australian, Casablanca for Moroccan, Alhambra for Spanish, Dixie for American, etc – it now specialises in world beers for all market segments. It also imports world wines.

WHAT THE CUSTOMERS SAY

Joseph Green, bar manager, Rummer Hotel, Bristol

‘We started using Pierhead about three years ago and they are one of the most reasonable suppliers for niche products that we’ve found.

‘Our main products that we take from them are Alhambra Reserva, Hue and Cooper’s Sparkling Ale. Alhambra is by far and away the most popular product we sell as it’s an easy drinking lager but has a good strong full body. Although we pour it into a glass – meaning it basically sells on taste – when people do see it, they love the strikingly plain green bottle with the embossing. It’s very premium.

‘Importantly, we never have any issues

with delivery or anything like that’

‘When it comes to updating our beer list, or if we’re looking for a specific product, Pierhead is very supportive of us. They send out samples and let us try stuff and they really make sure that we get what we want and need for the right price – and, importantly, we never have any issues with delivery or anything like that.

‘I’d definitely recommend Pierhead to other pubs and bars for their range and the fact they’re a nice hassle-free supplier.’


Cave Direct

Web: www.beermerchants.com; Tel: 01622 710339

Distribution: South East, London and into West Country

PoS & glassware supplied: Yes

Flagship brands: Fruli, Palm, Duvel, Brugse Zot (all Belgian)

Three beers to create a better beer list: Palm, Duvel, Brugse Zot

Three beers that are the next step up: Maredsous, Chimay, Boon cherry lambiek

Three must-stock beers for the serious beer bar: Westmalle, Mort Subite Geuze, La Trappe Tripel

COMPANY HISTORY

A wholly family-owned business, started in 1979 to source and distribute top quality beers from all over the world – many of which are very hard to find in the UK and all from craft brewers passionate about quality.

WHAT THE CUSTOMERS SAY

Garrett Phipps, owner, The Bull at Horton Kirby, Kent

‘I took over The Bull at Horton Kirby four years ago and it was a bit of a dive. But it’s now been CAMRA branch pub of the year for the past two years, with eight handpulls on the bar.

‘We started using Cave Direct a couple of months ago to supply our Belgian beer festival, where we had 40 bottled beers and 12 keg beers on show, including some extremely rare ones like Cuvée Delphine, The Truth Will Set You Free and a couple from Danish brewery Mikeller, including Beer Geek Breakfast.

‘I sought Cave Direct out because I wanted Lowenbrau on tap a couple of years ago and identified them as the supplier, I changed my mind on the Lowenbrau but they sprang straight back to mind once I started thinking about the Belgian beer festival.

‘And I’m so pleased I contacted them, they are so incredibly helpful – nothing was too much trouble. They’re good for PoS, branded glassware and we even borrowed all their amazing fridges, we couldn’t have done it without them.

‘Now we take a lot of rotating bottled beers including Bruges Zot and Fruli and they help us get a brilliant balance to our beer list. We haven’
t had to change it, and as the licensee of a busy pub to have a supplier who can do that is a godsend.’


James Clay & Sons

Web: www.jamesclay.co.uk; Tel: 01422 377560

Distribution area: National

Three beers to create a better beer list: Duvel, Liefmans and Erdinger

Three beers that are the next step up: Kwak, Rochefort, Anchor Steam

Three must-stock beers for the serious beer bar: Rauchbier, Schneider, Karmeliet

PoS & glassware supplied: Yes

COMPANY HISTORY

James Clay & Sons is a privately owned, specialist beer company, established in 1982. It is based in West Yorkshire. Importing directly from brewers in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Holland, Germany, France, Austria and the United States.

WHAT THE CUSTOMERS SAY

Dominic Hornsby, licensee, Fly in the Loaf, Liverpool

‘We first started using James Clay in 1998 because the MD of the company at the time was a very forward-thinking man who thought we ought to showcase world beers. The relationship has gone on from there.

‘We are a pretty big account I guess, because I’ve got 23 pumps: seven different lagers, two weiss, eight handpulls, cider, Guinness and Belgian fruit beers; our biggest sellers are Lindeboom Pils, which I’ve sold for the last five and a half years and do four 11s a week of and I’ve sold Erdinger for the last 10 years and do 10-12 barrels of that a week too.

‘They always inform us when

there are unique brews in’

‘We also have 50 different bottled beers, which are all supplied by James Clay. They always supply us with glassware and tasting notes and they are always on hand to help us out with proofreading beer lists and will always provide logos and artwork if we want them.

‘They always inform us when there are unique brews in and the rep always ensures that brewers come down to our pub – they even used our pub to launch Palm Export in the UK.’


Madison Drinks

Web: www.madisondrinks.co.uk; Tel: 020 7511 7671

Distribution area: M25 and selected areas outside around the country

Flagship brands: Steinlager, Macs Gold, Warsteiner, Budweiser Budvar

Three beers to create a better beer list: Budvar Original, Steinlager Pure, Warsteiner

Three beers that are the next step up: Hahn Premium, Steinlager Classic, Mac’s Gold

Three must-stock beers for the serious beer bar: Thwaites Lancaster Bomber, Konig Ludwig Weissbier, Budvar Dark

PoS & glassware supplied: Yes

COMPANY HISTORY

Madison Drinks Company was founded in 1996 to add innovation to the imported beer and wine market in the London on-trade. The MD is Toni Mancer, originally from New Zealand, who has been in the UK and working in the trade for 30 years.

WHAT THE CUSTOMERS SAY

Bledar Kurtaj, manager, Brew Wharf, London

‘We started using Madison in October 2008. We take Budvar lager and dark, as well as Pilsner Urquell on draught and some bottled beers like Steinlager Pure, Toohey’s and Hahn Premium.

‘It was important for us to get a selection of different beers and Madison was very helpful in constructing the beer list and keeping it fresh. They are always coming round, without being annoying. It’s always good to see suppliers who care.

‘Budvar lager is a great seller for us. When we starting dealing with Madison, Pilsner Urquell was the best seller on our bar but Budvar now has overtaken it.’


Utobeer

Web: www.utobeer.co.uk; Tel: 020 7378 9461

Distribution area: London and South-East

Flagship brands: Stiegl, Coney Island, Left Hand, Great Divide, He’brew, Schremser, Kasteel, St Louis, Veltins, Maisel’s,  Purity, Brew Dog, Harviestoun, Sierra Nevada, Goose Island

Three beers to create a better beer list: Stiegl Goldbräu, Coney Island Lager, Blue Moon

Three beers that are the next step up: Kasteel Blonde 7, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Maisel’s Weisse

Three must-stock beers for the serious beer bar: BrewDog Paradox, Great Divide Titan IPA, Cantillon Gueze

PoS & glassware supplied: Yes

COMPANY HISTORY

Utobeer began trading in 1999 as a small retail business on London’s Borough Market with about 20 beers displayed in little orange boxes filled with straw. The business expanded in 2003 to start a wholesale operation and now offers 250 brands to the trade.

WHAT THE CUSTOMERS SAY

Daniel Fox, manager, The White Horse, Parson’s Green, London

‘I started using Utobeer because when I took over The White Horse two years ago, I was looking at expanding the amount of suppliers to create a wider and more unique beer list; I saw that Utobeer were based in London, asked around about them and they were highly recommended.

‘The main products they supply are Maisel’s Weisse, rare keg products, large chunk of my specialist bottled beers and all my bottle conditioned British ales.

‘They’re not only great beer suppliers,

but also incredibly good fun’

‘Both the owners always bring good ideas to the table regarding more esoteric beers, helping keep the White Horse at the front of beer innovation like Cantillon Geuze on draught – which has been a surprisingly good seller for us and we are one of the very few pubs in the country that have it.

‘I would recommend them to others, they are not only great beer suppliers but are also incredibly good fun and that makes it easy to have a good relationship with them.’


Different World Drinks

Web: www.differentworlddrinks.com; Tel: 0113 823 1065

Distribution: National

Flagship brands: Kasteel Cru, Grolsch Weizen, Dos Equis, Blue Moon, White Shield and Zatec

Three beers to create a better beer list: Kasteel Cru, Swing-top Grolsch, Blue Moon

Three beers that are the next step up: Grolsch Weizen, Zatec, Dos Equis Ambar

Three must-stock beers for the serious beer bar: Blue Moon, White Shield, Grolsch Weizen 

PoS & glassware supplied: Yes

COMPANY HISTORY

Formally created in May 2009 by Molson Coors, but trialled as concept in various cities from the last quarter of 2008, Different World Drinks is designed to be a separate trading arm to focus on the speciality and heritage brands within the brewer’s portfolio.

WHAT THE CUSTOMERS SAY

Gary Newborough, owner, The Market Restaurant, Manchester

‘The restaurant has been around for 28 years and the beer list needed updating. Just by coincidence, Gary from DWD was actually booking a table, we got nattering and he offered to take away the beer list and completely redesign it, which as a busy restaurateur is such a help.

‘And also, since then, he’s been in and done staff training for us and given us an awful lot of help and support. One of the best positives was that he worked with our head chef to create a six-course beer-tasting menu and we even created new dishes like smoked trout with a Blue Moon dressing.

‘We found that customers who knew about beer would come in and drink beer, but others were threatened by the 30-odd beers that were on the list because they didn’t recognise a ‘variety’ or a brand, and, because they didn’t know their Duvel from their Orval, they went for the safe option. So what we’ve done is split it into categories of blonde, dark etc, like a wine list, and now all the beers have tasting notes too and it’s really helping my customers.

‘We stock Blue Moon, which is the tribal chant of Manchester City fans, and White Shield at the moment and we’re going to stock Kasteel Cru, both original and Rose.’


Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – July / August 2009

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