Adnams Brewery on 'low and no'
Tom Evans has one the most unique job roles for someone working at a brewery. He is Adnams brand ambassador for low/no alcohol - a category that now equates to 2% of its business.
“I think I am one of the very first in this role for a brewery,” he says. “It is literally a new string to our bow.”
He supports his own Adnams pubs, of which there are nine managed including The Swan in Southwold and the Five Bells in Wrentham, and 36 tied properties of which 30 are tenancies and six are leases, as well as working with the brewery on product development.
It is an increasingly important category for the brewer and pub owner as many of its venues are destination venues – meaning people have to drive to get there.
At the forefront of its no and low alcohol strategy was the launch of its Ghost Ship 0.5% ABV beer last year. The beer is a non-alcoholic version of its best-selling Ghost Ship, a 4.5% ABV beer launched eight years ago.
It proved an instant success with the brewery struggling to keep up with demand.
In August 2011, Adnams head brewer posed the question 'Would you drink a 2.8% abv beer' on the website. "It received a positive response from many customers. So Fergus created Sole Star, a full-flavoured 2.7% ABV style. At this ABV, it was ideal as a lunchtime pint for the responsible drinker," he says.
"However, by the end of 2016, we began working on a recipe and trialling fermentation methods to lower our beer alcohol conntent even further and introduced a new de alcoholisation plant in our brewery which removes the alcohol in Ghost Ship 4.5% by reverse osmosis - creating 0.5%. Adnams Sole Star is now brewed at 0.9%."
“We brew regular Ghost Ship 4.5% ABV, then take some of that brew and put it into the reverse osmosis machine. At the end of the process you are left with the same beer just without the alcohol. We are not adding any nasty chemicals into it or restricting the fermentation. We are simply removing alcohol at the end.”
While the growth in low and no alcohol shows no sign of slowing down Ghost Ship is increasing in popularity and is now available in draught as well as bottle and canned format.
“It looks like a beer, tastes like a beer, pours out of the tap so you feel part of the group,” he says. “The social aspect was one of the issues and there only so many halfs of Coke you can have when you go out.”
Adnams has also moved beyond its brewery roots of keg and cask beer launching into spirits and wine.
It was in 2010 that the Suffolk brewery officially opened its new distillery at its Sole Bay Brewery in Southwold. Its Adnams Copper House Brewery produces a range of gins, vodka and whiskies.
“We are still producing some of the world's best products. People are still buying alcohol, it is not as if people are completely turning their back on it,” he says.
“We have seen a steady increase in the younger generations not drinking as much. Also people that take part in Dry January are likely not to be drinking as much as they were six months later.”
However, he is insistent that Adnams is not predicting the demise of alcohol, but offering another option to its customers.
“People want an experience. They don’t just want to sit there and have a coke and have a water. They want something a bit special and that is where the low and no alcohol market is fitting in,” he says.
Adnams has also just released its own tonic, designed to match with its gins, it partners with soft drinks supplier Hartridges and has also launched its own range of non-alcoholic wine.
But he admits that educating venues is the real challenge.
“Pubs have got to realise that having a no and low alcohol section is going to be massive thing in the next few years,” he says.
“Some are picking it up well and others aren’t.”
However, having a token non-alcoholic beer is not going to be enough for the majority of drinkers as venues need to be thinking about the lager, beer and cider drinkers, and offering a no or low option in all of these, he advises.
One area where he believes there is a great potential market is in the coffee shop sector.
“Coffee shops don’t realise that they can sell anything 0.5% ABV and lower without a licence,” he says.
“We are trying to get the bigger chains to understand, from Starbucks to Costa, that they are able serve a low alcohol beer.“
Evans admits that the success of the alcohol-free gin category has sparked its interest but while its alcohol Copperhouse Gin is flying it is a bit more cautious about launching into the non-alcoholic category.
“We don’t want to launch something out there that is not as good as Seedlip. It is about getting it right and the technology right before we launch ourselves head into it,” he says.
And it is not just the no and low alcohol sector that has undergone an overhaul to improve the customer experience but also its coffee and tea offer. It uses a local company to roast and blended a coffee for Adnams that is available across its managed properties and also uses Teapigs for its tea range.
“We brand our own coffee beans and use those in our pubs. When you used to go to a pub in the past it was push a button but now all of our pubs have got proper barista style machines.”
Hot beverages such as tea are no longer served in a “bog standard” teapot with milk, while its coffee is served in cafetieres, and the pubs have gone back to sugar cubes rather than offering sachets.
“It is just to add that bit of class,” he adds.
And what of the future for no and low?
“It is not going to take over the alcohol business but it is going to grow alongside it,” he says.
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