This story is connected to...We Brought Beer
78 St Johns Hill Battersea SW11 1SP
Meet James Hickson, owner of the We Brought Beer craft beer shops and all-round brewing expert. Here James tells usthat craft beer is not just for hipsters, why almost as many women as men are drinking it, and what he thinks about BrewDog’s crowdfunding campaign.
You’ve said the ratio of women to men drinking craft beer is 45:55. Does this affect how you market yourselves?
We don't target our marketing at either men or women. The last thing we'd want to do is patronise women by treating them differently when it comes to beer. I think the reason we have a high ratio of women is more to do with the fact that more and more women are discovering craft beer and realising how varied, complex and flavoursome it can be. The image of the beers we sell is a million miles away from the corny Fosters and Carling blokey ads and this probably resonates with women certainly, but it resonates equally with men who were fed up of bland, flavourless lagers that have become so dominant. Ultimately, people want flavour more than anything.
On a similar note, you’ve said craft beer is not just for tattooed young hipsters. Do you target audiences differently?
It's not so much about how we market ourselves, it's more how we present ourselves. One of the things I was keen to avoid was creating a snobby, intimidating in-store atmosphere, which is something I think some beer shops and many wine shops are guilty of. Too many times I've been into beer shops and had poor service from surly staff who are not interested in talking to you unless you're a total beer geek. I was keen to make sure we were different so I hire on personality first and foremost. You can learn about beer, but you can't learn charisma and friendliness, those qualities are inbuilt. So I make sure our staff are always really welcoming and friendly to all comers, be they hardened beer geeks, first timer beer drinkers, pregnant ladies looking for something non-alcoholic or older men looking for traditional ales.
What are your tips for pairing beer with food?
Generally, I tend to either contrast or complement, so for example a rich, sweet chocolate pudding would be brilliantly complemented by a dark beer such as an imperial coffee stout, which has similar characteristics to the pudding - chocolate, coffee, smoked malts.The flipside would be pairing something spicy such as spicy BBQ wings with something sour, which works in a totally different way. They'll feel at odds initially but the way the spice plays off the refreshment from the sourness will leave a beautiful lingering taste in the mouth. And if a food is really heavy in flavour, you need to choose a beer that can match it punch for punch, a spicy curry with a hoppy IPA for example. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer - just make sure to use beers that have flavour and depth, and don't get too hung up on it.
Which is your best selling beer?
Kona Big Wave. It's a beautiful Hawaiian brewed golden ale bursting with tropical fruit flavours and aroma from the hops used. After that it's mainly London beers such as Kernel Table Beer, Beavertown Gamma Ray and local brewery Belleville Commonside Pale Ale. We complement our core range with an ever increasing range of weird and wonderful beers, such as a rhubarb and rosemary IPA, or a cucumber and mint saison, and we even sell a beer that is made to taste like donuts!
What were you doing before you set up We Brought Beer?
I was working for BrewDog, Scotland's fastest growing brewery. My role involved finding them new bar sites and getting them open, which, given the pace they were moving at was pretty intense at times. It was a great learning experience though and definitely an interesting company to work with.I got involved in beer purely because I have a passion for it and I thought it would be fun to work in the industry, which, fortunately, it is!
What do you make of them crowdsourcing their funding rather than going down the traditional City route?
I think BrewDog were definitely very innovative when they first did it a few years back. I think they've lost the plot now though by trying to raise £25m, the valuation is bonkers! But crowd-funding in general is a great way to raise funds to expand a business and there are hundreds of small businesses doing it. All I would say is I think we may see some backlash when some of the valuations being offered around don't come to fruition, so it could be an interesting couple of years for that field of finance.
We Brought Beer shops are located in Balham and Clapham. They also run regular events such as Meet the Brewer tastings, a homebrew club, and beer speed dating, the premise is of which is “blind dating beers”. Check out their website for more info: http://www.webroughtbeer.co.uk/events
Added on October 16, 2015