A DECISION to focus its draught beer range on products from Scottish breweries seems to have paid off for one multiple operator this year.
Fuller Thomson, which has six venues in Edinburgh and Dundee, introduced a set ‘house’ list of draught beers, which includes Scottish producers such as Stewart Brewing, Williams Brothers, Fyne Ales and Brewdog, across its outlets in 2014.
Operations manager James Stuart-Gammie, who oversaw the creation of the new list, said the focus was inspired by the strength of the Scottish craft brewing scene.
“Scottish brewers are producing some of the best beers in the UK, if not the world,” he told SLTN last week.
“So we sat down and highlighted who we thought were the ten best brewers in Scotland and went direct to them.
“We looked at their core ranges and then selected stand-out or flagship brands, which would sit together and form a nice range covering different styles and flavours of beer. It caters for pretty much all the market.”
Draught beer plays an important role across the Fuller Thomson estate, said James – claiming it accounts for between 50% and 60% of wet sales across the company.
In addition to the 17-strong house list, each of the company’s outlets also stocks a number of rotational beers, sourced from the brewers on the main list as well as others from Scotland, the UK and overseas.
Choosing the right range of products for different venues in different cities was quite a challenge, but James said the trick was to achieve a balance of different flavours and styles.
“We’re open to a very broad spectrum of customers,” he explained.
“We have those that are very beer-oriented and are quite geeky about it.
“But to complement that we have things that aren’t quite as extreme, such as the craft lagers.
“Schiehallion [by Harviestoun] is a prime example of that – so we can say ‘if you like that you might like this’.”
The range also gets a push through various events, including beer and food matching, ‘meet the brewer’ and product launches, which Fuller Thomson stages in conjunction with brewers.
James described these initiatives as a “win-win situation” for both parties.
Craft lager Williams Draught is currently the most popular draught product across the estate, said James, but the company has also been keen not to isolate customers who prefer more mainstream or non-Scottish beers.
In addition to Scottish craft products, the house list includes Peroni Nastro Azzuro, Blue Moon, Budvar and Belhaven Best.
“Beer is beer; there shouldn’t be any kind of hierarchy, or alienating people because they might be drinking something you don’t particularly like,” said James.
“That’s why we have a broad range of styles on offer – to appeal to the broader market.
“It can be pretty daunting if you come in and you’re faced by 20 draught beers and you don’t know any of them.
“Our staff are trained to deal with that, but sometimes people don’t flag up that fact and they’ll just turn around and leave.
“I think there’s some comfort to be had with having a few recognised brands in there.”
Supporting the range is a robust training programme that ensures staff across the estate are familiar with each of the draught beers they will be selling.
The training covers the qualities of each beer, including guidance on the different styles and characteristics of beer, as well as basic information on how beer is made.
In addition, every staff member is encouraged to try the beers themselves.
“We do have staff that don’t really drink beer, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try the beer, because they have to understand the flavours and aromas, because they’re the notes that sell the beer,” said James.
“It’s paramount the staff know the different beers that are on so that when it comes to someone who needs a bit of help choosing, they can actually do that.
“There’s no point having all these fantastic beers and nobody knows anything about them.”