‘Don’t judge breweries on their size,’ says Carlsberg’s VP of craft & speciality Paul Davies

Miranda Fitzgerald

14 May 2018

Craft was the star of Carlsberg’s otherwise insipid trading results for the first quarter of 2018, with growth of 30%. Imbibe caught up with Paul Davies, the company’s vice president of craft and speciality, to find out what craft means for a mega brewer

 What does Carlsberg's craft portfolio include in the UK?  

Our priorities are Brooklyn Brewery, which we distribute, and London Fields Brewery, which is a joint venture with Brooklyn. We also have Grimbergen and a crafted range of beers that we wholesale.

Carlsberg’s craft portfolio is produced by subsidiaries and partners. Can you not do craft on scale?

Just as with coffee, bread and wine, there is a niche segment that is all about very small batches. It allows brewers to be extremely experimental, but also [makes their products] extremely expensive. I think that bringing craft to the masses and getting lots of people into the movement is good for the category as a whole.

The movement on craft isn't just about small-scale production, it's about different beer and taste profiles, even different visuals and stories around the beer. I'm not sure the consumer is interested in how big your fermentation tanks are or how many bottles you can fill a minute on your bottle line.

Why should a small group of consumers be the only people privileged enough to buy these beers?

Which beer styles are seeing growth in the UK?

There’s growth in IPAs, pale ales, wheat beers and Belgian witbiers, which are much easier drinking beers than traditional German weissen.

Sours are very hot at the moment, but the more complex lambics are a bit extreme. Brooklyn Brewery produces a sour called Bel Air that’s a stroke of genius, because it has the tartness, sourness and acidity of cider, but the drinkability and dry-hopping of a beer.

When we look at spontaneous, unprompted recall with the younger consumers in UK big cities, they have a much broader range of beer style descriptions than ever before, and a far greater propensity to try them.

If the big cities are the first adopters of new styles, how long does it take them to proliferate regionally?

It’s a consistent trend from Shanghai to Sheffield that urban centres are inherently places where there's much more experimentation. It’s the density of younger consumers and also the on-trade, because then you're getting lots of variety and rotation [of different beers].

You have the dominant city, so London in the UK, then Manchester follows and then it moves out to other conurbations. Breaking into rural, provincial parts, that takes one hell of a long time, but the secondary and tertiary cities can follow in a period of maybe five years.

Brooklyn Brewery’s lastest drop Naranjito was created by brewmaster Garrett Oliver after he spent time at Je Ju Brewery in South Korea. The pale ale delivers a bright, crisp citrus taste at 4.5% abv

What effect has the rise of craft had on mainstream beer?

The large breweries we have around the world are historically set up to produce outstandingly consistent, high-quality lager pilsner. There are a lot of implications associated with brewing different types of beer in a brewery and putting a massive amount of kilos of hops into tanks is a challenge.

It's fair to say that some of the bigger brands have struggled with the change.

Lager still holds around 70% of beer sales. How much scope does craft have to steal market share?

The differentiation here is not around beer styles. Every crazy, fantastic, innovative craft beer brand will still have a lager offering, but it’ll usually be more full bodied, slightly hoppier and fuller flavoured [than mainstream counterparts].

I don't think there's going to be a massive reduction in lager sales – more a shift towards premiumisation and certain brands. Of course, as you move into fuller flavour, hoppier lagers, the progression to pale ales, IPAs, double IPAs and so on is much easier.

Don't judge breweries on their size; judge them on the quality of the beer, the speed of their innovation and the passion of their brewmasters

Are Carlsberg’s new rotational beers 1883 and Unfiltered influenced by the craft market?

Absolutely, I think 1883 [which is brewed using a 134-year-old yeast as a follow up to its Rebrew project] has an amazing story behind it. We were all craft brewers once. If you go back to our original brewers, they were doing some amazing things.

It's been a very big success in Denmark, [gathering a 1.1% share of the total beer market in the country after six months]. We're very shocked and proud of how well it's done.

I think Unfiltered is a very interesting area. There's a level of understanding around filtration, and I think there's a sense that filtration and pasteurisation impact taste. I think this is a good example of delivering a variation on Carlsberg, which will capture that trend.

That's what I love about rotational brews in on-trade. You can give the consumer excitement, see if it works and, if it does, you can move forward. It's not craft, but that's what craft brewers do in some ways. They brew stuff on a Tuesday, put it on their taproom and if John and Sandra like it, then they roll it out. I think that's super cool.

How are things coming along at London Fields Brewery?

We're currently brewing with a partner, managed by Brooklyn Brewery, as the brewery in the [London Fields’ railway] archways isn't up-and-running yet. A completely new kit is going in, so we’ll have significantly expanded capacity, and we're revamping its taproom, but it should all be ready in Q1 next year. It will retain much of its previous attitude and brand personality, but it will have a new purpose.

We've recruited a fantastic new head brewer [Talfryn Provis-Evans], who’s more new wave and amazingly well connected within the craft industry. He’s had experience at Beavertown and other places  – that’s very exciting for us as we really admire everything Beavertown has done.

London Fields Brewery has kicked of the year with Live and Let Lychee, a lychee and coconut sour, developed with Crate Brewery.

What’s in the pipeline for the brand?

London Fields has relaunched its core line-up of beers, including Hackney Hopster (4.2% abv) and 3 Weiss Monkeys (5%), and initial feedback has been super positive.

We will focus largely on draft beer and we’ll have a lot of kit that’ll enable [Provis-Evans] to brew very small-batch brews. We’ll do lots of collaborative beers and there’s a lot more to come from London Fields.

Will you export London Fields?

Yes we will, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's no secret, that one of the reasons we bought it was the visual identity of the brand, and the heritage, the name and the part of London it's from.

Carlsberg will export it, but we need to build a market in London and beyond in the UK first. I'm very keen that you'll be able to drink it in Shanghai one day.

Can you tell me a bit about your partnership with Brooklyn Brewery?

We've been working with Brooklyn since 2005, but we made some mistakes in the first few years. We launched in Sweden, which was a giant success, so we launched in Denmark with distribution everywhere. There was a quote saying there's more visibility of the brand in Denmark than New York, but we put it into too many distribution points too quickly and then we withdrew. We only went back into the [Danish] market a couple of years ago.

The distribution isn't that broad in the UK to be honest, we're very selective of our on-trade customers. It's not massive, the critical thing for us is patience and focusing on quality. There's definitely a greater concentration in London and Manchester, but we'll be continuing to expand, as well as in the off-trade market.

Carlsberg’s cask-condition Jacobsen beer is sold in Michelin-starred restaurants in Denmark. Is food and beer matching something Carlsberg is focusing on?

We have a global program in my team called the 'Art of beer' training program, which is focused on understanding beer styles and flavours, and beer and food pairing.

Many of the [beer] consumption occasions in Europe and Asia are food driven. The misconception to some extent is that the beer industry is all about people having five or six pints, then going home – no it's not – it's actually more about the dinner table and dry-led pubs are driving a lot of the growth in the UK market, so it's about getting that match right.

You point, quite rightly, to those Chanterelle beers we've been doing with Jacobsen. All these collaborations push the boundaries to make sure those types of environment like Noma in Copenhagen, [which is] the world's number one restaurant, are not entirely wine dominated.

Beer can be a wonderful complement to many dishes and that's why we're really pushing the boundaries.

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