WITH the Christmas lights switched on in town centres across Scotland, the festive season is well and truly upon us.
And, when it comes to beer, that can only mean one thing: the launch of festive ales from brewers across the country.
From quirky festive names to the use of seasonal ingredients, Scotland’s brewers pull out all the stops to ensure their festive brews offer something different – and, for the bars that stock them, that can have a positive impact on the outlet’s reputation and takings.
Bob Hogg, commercial director at Perth’s Inveralmond Brewery, said the Christmas party season is an important time for the ale category as “people who are maybe not such regular on-trade consumers hit the pubs and either try new things or seek out the comfort of a brand they may have previously tried at home”.
To maximise sales of ale this festive season, operators should aim to strike a balance between familiar and seasonal beers, according to Hogg.
“Having their favourite ale that they usually buy in the off-trade available in those pubs is an appealing listing policy,” he said.
“The more popular ales are a must for operators – ‘tis the season to be jolly, but we still like our home comforts in winter and it’s important that they stock up on category leaders to give customers what they know, while also trying out some of the exceptional ranges of Christmas ales for those who want something just a little bit different, and perhaps a tad more fashionable, during the festive period.
“It’s very important that publicans have a category ‘flag’ so that infrequent pub goers will not feel intimidated by a wall of unknown brands. Consumers may like to experiment, but it’s also important to give them the peace of mind that they are in good company too.”
The advice was echoed by Jeremy Houston of Innis & Gunn, who suggested that publicans should retain customer favourites in conjunction with festive ales.
“Keep what’s popular in both draught and packaged, and consider rotating guest taps with more seasonal offerings,” said Houston.
“That way, you’re not exposing yourself to too much risk.”
Andy Maddock, managing director of Caledonian Brewery, said it’s important that consumers “feel comfortable” with the ale range on offer, adding that stocking well-known beers can “encourage consumers into the category”.
Maddock also suggested operators consider introducing special beer and food sampling menus or ale ‘flights’.
“Perhaps three different third of a pints with food,” he said.
Gerald Michaluk of Arran Brewery agreed that offering ale flights and matching beers to dishes on the menu can “pay dividends”.
And he too stressed the importance of offering a balanced range of ale, which takes in year-round brews and seasonal specials.
“Make sure you have a couple of regular ales and don’t go overboard with the ‘Christmas flavour specials’,” said Michaluk. “A ratio of 2:1 – two regular ales to one Christmas special appears to work well.
“Cold weather favours darker beers in general, but the new converts to ale means there is a strong following of blonde ales throughout the year and regardless of the weather.”
Although there are steps publicans can take to boost sales of ale in the coming weeks, it’s all for nothing if they don’t get the basics right, according to Maddock at Caledonian Brewery.
“The most important tip should be followed throughout the year – and that’s the perfect serve,” he added.
“Drinkers expect an exceptional experience from the on-trade and we must make sure that they feel they are getting value for money when they choose to part with their hard-earned cash.
“So that’s the correct, clean glassware, the beer poured tasting and looking great, and presented to the customer with the logo facing towards them.”
To help create that “exceptional experience” Maddock said operators should ensure staff are “up to speed” on the different beers on offer.
“So when a customer asks for a recommendation or enquires about the tasting notes, the bar staff can speak with knowledge and confidence, leaving a great impression with the drinker,” said Maddock.