Raising a glass to the homeland

WooHa eyes more domestic growth after export success.

Wooha Brewing Company is eyeing further growth in Scotland after building export sales

By Danny McCahon

AFTER four years of sending its craft beers around the world, the WooHa Brewing Company has decided to give more focus to the domestic market in 2019.

“Our approach has always been that we’re not only exporting beer, we’re exporting Scotland,” said the firm’s head of marketing, Katy Heppell.

She added that, with Scottish imagery prominent in its product packaging and promotion, WooHa’s Scottish heritage has helped it reach markets in Germany, Norway, France and Switzerland as well as its two biggest markets in the US and China.

Having initially sent its core range of IPA, porter, lager and wheat beer to the US in six-packs, the company then identified an opportunity to export there in steel kegs; and Heppell told SLTN the brand’s Scottish identity has played a big part in the success of its draught beers in America.

She said: “The craft beer market in the US has matured and moved towards draught and consumers appear to love the fact that they can get a beer brewed in Scotland on tap.”

When WooHa took over the famous craft beer bar Hoppy Junction on Hong Kong Island to launch kegs into that market, the star attraction was its Ivory Oatmeal Stout, which Heppell said comes out of the tap looking like a pale ale but tastes like a stout.

Having established its range in overseas markets, WooHa is now turning its attention to Scotland.

Heppell explained: “As demand for craft beer develops in Scotland, drinkers here are looking for products that are new, seasonal and local.”

Designed to meet all three of those key demands is WooHa Scotch Ale, which Heppell said is inspired by a traditional Scottish recipe of rich malt flavours with light hops and a smooth, clean finish in an amber ale. It is being launched across the UK this month in a limited edition bottle featuring WooHa tartan.

Not only has the WooHa range and reach expanded since Heather MacDonald founded the company in 2015, its production facility has also got bigger.

In 2017, the brewery moved from a single industrial unit in Nairn to its current 6.2-acre site in Kinloss.

The brewery operates from 6am to 8pm Monday to Friday and Heppell explained that the company has a policy that no one works the weekend.

She said: “We spend all week working on beer; it’s important we have some time to enjoy it.”

There are five brewers on site as part of a total workforce of eleven with a new production manager and an international business and strategy manager due to join in September.

In the belief that there are always more places to export to, Heppell said the current WooHa site can grow with the company with plenty of room for more brewing equipment.

Naming a new company can be a difficult task with inspiration coming from unexpected sources. Heppell explained that the WooHa name grew out of a bit of confusion but has proved to be beneficial in the export market.

She said: “It came from our director, Heather, mixing up the expressions ‘yeeha’ and ‘woohoo’ but it just seemed to work. For our initial international focus, it didn’t need to be translated; it’s an expression, an upbeat expression that works in any culture.”

Heppell told SLTN that understanding the local culture is every bit as important as finding the right distribution partner in a new market. And, she explained, that helps understand which products will work in the different markets.

For example, she pointed out, in China consumers look for something sweeter like a wheat beer or a blonde while in the US bitter tastes like IPA are more popular.

Heppell said craft beer is a great industry to be in and although there is a growing number of competitors the rivalry is very friendly.

“We all talk about things and share experiences, good and bad,” she said, adding that it’s not unknown for neighbouring breweries to borrow supplies from each other.

Looking ahead, Heppell said WooHa is expecting further growth in the UK and Scottish craft beer markets and that even in these domestic markets there are regional variations in taste.

She said: “We are finding a real buzz for beer across Scotland but there are subtle differences from area to area.

“In Edinburgh, for example, there are a lot of craft beer places looking for new and unusual beers whereas further north the drinkers are more traditional and look for a higher ABV.”

As WooHa focuses more on Scotland it is developing new beers and a new range it is calling SMASH – Single Malt and Single Hop – a series of seasonal cask beers.

Heppell concluded by repeating those three key words for craft beer success – ‘new’, ‘seasonal’ and ‘local’.