Alcohol Interviews

Pitchfork Ales : Building a Brewery Throughout Covid.

Like many businesses that launched in 2017, Covid 19 struck at a time when Pitchfork Ales was just getting into their stride. However, as they were a business built on passion, when Covid and the resultant Lockdowns occurred, the company’s founders knew they had to pivot to succeed. You can’t cry over spilt beer after all nor can you let it dampen your dreams.

Speaking to Co-founder Dave Turner about their remarkable journey, he reveals that Pitchfork Ales was launched after he, Mark and Graham were made redundant from another brewery.

“Graham’s beers were very much loved, and we felt they deserved to continue to be produced,” Dave explains, “So Pitchfork Ales was born. And, to showcase the expertise in brewing, another brand, 3D Beer, was launched using international ingredients and more modern styles and flavours of brews.”

UNIQUE SELLING POINTS

There are two brands at work here: Pitchfork Ales which is 100% British beer, and 3D Beer that produces modern styles and flavours. the brewery’s focus is on cask beer production as it’s the highest quality.  In the midst of 2020’s uncertainties, they launched the very innovative BeerDriveThru.com.

“We are leading the way in delivering freshly tapped real ale to the door of the beer lover,” Dave says, “Including our unique “Beer Festival Box” products.”

BUILDING A BUSINESS THROUGH COVID.

The pandemic effectively struck as much as 98% of their business, as they were trading directly into independent free houses within about a 100 mile radius of the brewery in Weston-Super-Mare. Frankly, the impact of Covid on their business was devastating.

“This is why we launched BeerDriveThru.com to supply our beer direct to the public,” Dave says, “Of course we will continue to trade with independent free houses the moment they open again. These are typically small businesses like ours that offer that perfect pub experience to the customer which is where ales like ours truly shine.”

KEEPING UP TO DATE

Dave admits that it is difficult to keep up with all the developments in the industry as there is so much to look at. The Pitchfork Ales team digest a lot of industry news, attend the main trade shows for the brewing industry and pay close attention to what customers want. Also, very important is allowing themselves enough time to just think as, crucially, great ideas come about when you just let your mind do its job!

For example, during the first lockdown, they operated the World’s first online beer festival that featured freshly tapped cask ale to the door and a full live-stream. This had nearly 400 people across the country taking part as a result.

“We constantly keep thinking, “what can we do that other breweries like us aren’t doing?” Dave says.

FUTUREPROOFING

If 2020 has taught businesses anything it is the value of futureproofing their business and brands. This is where Pitchfork Ale’s  online business has kicked in with www.BeerDriveThru.com. A very straightforward approach offering unique beer festival boxes, various quantities of beer and of course their own produced bottles.

Customers can buy online, then book a 15 min slot to collect from the brewery or if they prefer the brews can be delivered anywhere in England, Scotland and Wales. Literally freshly tapped cask conditioned beer to the door – it’s as close to a pub pint as possible!

THE PRODUCT

Dave explains that they sell more beer under the “Pitchfork Ales” brand because there is a core range of five beers that have been brewed for a long time, some of which have been around nearly 30 years! Of these, their biggest selling beer is “Pitchfork”, it’s what they’re known for and it’s won tons of awards over the years. That one beer accounts for about 35% of all of their sales.

In terms of the licensed trade, it’s been direct telemarketing, Pubs are very fortunate in that they have a lot of choice when it comes to breweries and beers and as such, unless they’re asked for a specific beer, they have the luxury of being able to let breweries contact them, so they’ve have had a lot of success through their telemarketing.

THE PRODUCTION

Industry and brand innovation is crucial, Dave says, “I wouldn’t say we were “cutting edge” in what we do but we successfully produce cask conditioned beers in styles usually associated with craft keg – as a result, combining our Pitchfork Ales and 3D Beer brands, we’ve probably produced the most exciting range of cask beers seen in the country.”

He adds that beer drinkers love variety and something new, so they feed that by constantly coming up with original ideas. Pre Covid they would produce at least one new beer a month, often two and even up to four!

They hand brew – the traditional way – because they feel it creates the best quality. This involves crushing malt immediately before it enters the mash rather than buying pre-crushed, or, pre-crushing it the day before brewing. They also maintain their own yeast strain, lovingly caring for the yeast and brewing regularly to keep it alive, structuring brewing schedules to preserve it and get the best out of it.

“We also employ a range of hopping techniques depending on the style of beer,” Dave says, “Experience reveals this is the best way to get the best out of the ingredients we use.”

CHALLENGES

Even with experience, quality and a niche, Pitchfork Ales faces the same main challenges as every business. Sales. At the moment, there are more breweries than ever and less pubs, as a result, the market is saturated. Getting noticed and then being able to charge a sensible amount for the beer is difficult when so many breweries are focused on price.

“I think a lot of breweries need to place some value on what they do and charge accordingly and be aware of the dangers of just selling on price,” Dave says, “Both on their own business and on the industry as a whole. Quality still counts.”

2021

2021 is shaping up to be an epic year for Pitchfork Ales! There has already been the all-important steady growth of users to BeerDriveThru.com and the restrictions on pubs and hospitality are being lifted in June. Meaning they will be able to get their beers back out to pubs across the country, this is not only good for the business but good for the businessmen too. These guys love their pubs.

For supplying direct to consumers via BeerDriveThru.com Dave reveals they are close to launching a completely unique concept in terms of supplying freshly tapped cask conditioned beer to the door!

As a result, they are imminently launching their Crowdfunder campaign which will see them through to the  next level and become a rival to the big boys of BeerHawk, Beer 52 and Flavourly but with FRESH, cask beer. Not just bottles and cans.

IMPORTANT ADVICE TO NEWCOMERS

In terms of brewing – cleanliness is paramount. Probably 80% of the time in the brew house is spent cleaning, either in preparation for the brew, after the brew, before the beer hits the fermenter and then directly after the fermentation, cleaning of casks and tanks, it’s never ending! And, Dave adds, the process can be messy.

Accuracy and consistency – ingredients have variables, the friability and yield of malt, the alpha acid in hops, they are all variables that need to be managed. Having a passion for consistency means that the variables can be managed so that each brew of a beer comes out exactly as it should.

These exacting standards leads to the final advice Dave can give, passion for quality.

“It’s hard work getting top quality in every brew, unless you’re passionate about the quality and the resulting brew then it just won’t happen,” Dave says, “You have to have a passion for brewing as well as a love of testing your brews.”


WEBSITE: www.pitchforkales.com / www.beerdrivethru.com

ADDRESS: The Brewery, West Hewish, Weston-Super-Mare, BS24 6RR

TELEPHONE NUMBER: 01934 384044

EMAIL: beer@pitchforkales.com