Ian Hercules has just taken over from his father as managing director of Kent-based specialist craft beer importers Pierhead Drinks, which sources beers from as far afield as Canada, the US, Thailand, Mexico and Australia. It is now looking to make inroads in to the premium on-trade. Helen Arnold met up with him to find out how he’s settling into the new role, and his plans for the family-owned business.
Pierhead Drinks is looking to shake up the craft beer scene by not just making a local beer but travelling the world to find new styles and flavours not yet seen in the UK.
Do you think that the craft beer trend still has legs?
It now counts for around 22% of all beer sales in the UK. I think that is a hefty proportion of the market but is probably as far as it will go. That said there is still plenty of room for competition with that quarter of the market. The market may be saturated at the moment with different beers and new beer styles but there is always room for something new, interesting and different. Increasing trends, such as the current gin phenomenon, will also impact on beers sales.
What is the appeal of craft beer and why has it captured the public imagination?
Craft beer is produced with love and care. I’m not saying that big breweries do not love and care for their beers but beers produced in smaller batches with care and attention and with a little flair and individuality have drawn in a new drinking crowd. Their taste tends to be more complex and offer the consumer a more educated and varied drinking experience.
Given the vast array of beers available in the UK, let alone from overseas, how can the on-trade make sense of the category?
This is a very difficult question to answer as it really depends on the outlet individually. I would say that a good selection tells the customer that you have selected beers that complement your food offering. It can also say quite a lot about your outlet. By only selecting run of the mill mainstream beers that are not authentic, you are not putting much thought or care into your menu, therefore the latter will also not stand out from your competitors. But if you have a few more exotic selections and change them regularly, variety is the spice of life.
How many beers do you import?
Twelve different brands from around the world and in excess of 30 beers.
What is your best seller?
Recently there has been a great interest in Mexican beers. Our bestselling range is Day of the Dead.
Within the craft beer category, have you observed any particular trends emerging?
Other than the bigger brewers jumping on the craft beer bandwagon, there is the ever-increasing trend to open a brewery in every archway and disused area in London. But lately canning craft beers is far more popular than bottling.
What is the biggest mistake that bar owners make when it comes to buying /displaying or serving craft beer?
The biggest mistake is to leave them at the bottom of the fridge. The consumer will purchase what they can see. Mainstream brands tend to sell themselves by the time the customer gets to the venue, after seeing adverts and billboards. Craft brewers don’t have deep pockets for advertising, therefore their products need to be visible in the outlet: whether that is a prime spot on the back bar, on top of the fridge, a prominent feature on the menu, blackboard or table talker.
How can bar owners maximise their speciality beer sales sales?
Offer a beer tasting menu. Educate staff to offer the beers with food that complement each other. Offer a beer of the month with tasting notes, perhaps have tasting notes on the menu. Now beer is often being seen and treated in the same class as wine.
Any other advice for a budding barman/woman on the craft beer front?
Know what you are serving, what it tastes like and serve confidently in the correct glassware.
You have a wide and varied portfolio anything you have added recently that stands out?
The most interesting beer we added recently was Harlem Renaissance Wit, a Belgium-style wheat beer crafted and made by a lady brewer in Harlem, New York. Some breweries come to us, and some we look to source.
You sell rum as well. How big a part of your business does that comprise?
We only really sell one type of rum which is a Honey Rum from Spain. We have been selling it for over 15 years and it’s a firm favourite with some of our clients and also proves popular with anyone who has ever visited the Canaries and Spain. It’s mainly drunk neat, chilled or over ice.
What are your future plans for Pierhead?
To continue to import unique and great beers for brand development here in the UK; Australia and America still hold great strength in this category.
- You can contact Pierhead Drinks at email@example.com.