Cloudwater have a 4 pack available of 4 collaboration beers, plus 4 other beers, and Vault City have 2 sour beers – all of these are available exclusively to Tesco.
Craft beer enthusiasts are worried about the quality of the beers declining due to inferior recipes or ingredients, poor storage of the beers, and the feeling that huge players in the scene are selling out. There is also a feeling perhaps that how can this be 'craft beer' when it is brewed on these large scales. And that leads to a much larger topic about 'what is craft beer?' - something that as yet has a well rounded definition and is largely disputed depending on your interpretation.
Bottle shop owners are worried about losing more business to the supermarkets. As more variety becomes available do people go to bottle shops less, and as the price plummets do bottle shops look too expensive even though nothing has really changed for them and the beers they stock?
The breweries are worried about their reputation and to limit damage have both put out comprehensive statements to try and explain their reasoning behind this move. You can read the long reads here and they cover some valid points:
Tesco seem to be the only ones not worried, as from their point of view this is a great move that finally takes the craft beer scene more seriously and makes it accessible to more people. They have stocked types of 'craft beer' for a while now but the quality has been arguable and for the hard core craft beer fans this is a divisive move for the two breweries involved.
At Twisted Hops, we aren’t a huge fan of supermarkets, because we value local and quality and want small shops to thrive. But, that being said we have a family to feed and do use them for our regular food shop as it’s the only way we can keep to a food budget that works for us currently. So they have a place in our society and we have to find a way to work alongside them as they aren’t going anywhere soon.
As an online bottle shop it is a little unnerving to see these big names available at such competitive price points but it does help get better quality beer (not the highest quality) to more people, and we see that as a positive. Essentially, Tesco are doing the marketing for us, helping the craft beer scene reach a wider audience, which we are all for.
Don't forget, we all had gateway beers that turned us from beer to craft beer drinkers and I believe that the move by Cloudwater and Vault city can help this further.
We haven’t tried these beers yet, but from the review I have seen from craft beer fans is they are not a patch on the Cloudwater and Vault city beers. But then most of Tesco shoppers won’t have tried those, so how do they compare for converting a regular beer drinker into the craft beer seen? Well that remains to be seen…
I think this move was bound to happen at some point, is it really that surprising that some of the top UK craft breweries are doing this?
We think it’s happened in the best way it could given the circumstances:
- The breweries remain financially independent and more financially secure going forwards. They haven’t ‘sold out’ and have complete freedom with their business and all their other beers
- Cloudwater have shown great acumen in how they have approached this. They are championing inclusivity and equality in the collaboration of breweries they have in their 4 pack. They are using this to push forwards Tesco and the consumer for the advantage of others. They are donating all the profits to the collaboration breweries.
- Vault City are saying that quality won’t be impacted as they are just using the supermarket buying power to reduce their costs, and the products are shelf stable anyway.
Is this a slippery slope and will more top breweries follow suit. Yes, I would think so! Let’s hope they all do it in a similar way that helps make craft beer a more inclusive, diverse and accessible space.
As independent bottle shop owners there is little point to throw our arms in the air and huff and puff at the supermarkets and breweries. What I'm interested in is how can we work alongside them and use the interest and marketing power they have to harness a new breed of craft beer lovers to take that extra step to explore exciting craft beers that are only available at the bottle shop or brewery. And how can we partner with microbreweries to offer something unique and exciting that the supermarkets can't offer.
Supermarkets are transactional, a brewery and a bottle shop are experiences where you can get expertise about the beer and learn. And that's that we love about craft beer the most - continual learning and new experiences. It's that, that we want everyone to experience and to move beyond mass produced beer with little heritage, provenance or regard for the environment, people or community around it.
If you haven't already tried really great craft beer then check our website and try some now - all from independent microbreweries in East Anglia.