How to break into craft beer

The beer industry has been flipped on its head in recent years. For years, the standard offering in pubs was a limited selection of commercial lagers, and – if you were lucky – some locally-brewed cask ales. Your average pub-goer these days is a lot more discerning. While many will still opt for a bog-standard lager, many will be after a pint of something hoppy and adventurous. 

Starting several years ago, a steady stream of independent craft breweries in the US, and then in the UK, first started to shift expectations about what to expect from a beer. In the past couple of years, that slow trickle has turned into an explosion, with copious numbers of breweries set up in London and across the UK, many of the biggest now bought up or part-owned by multinationals like AB InBev or Heineken, and with many of the big breweries also establishing their own craft-esque beers.

So is it still possible to make your mark in this crowded craft beer world? Started in 2016, ICON client Pillars is a later entrant to the craft beer world, and a clear example that it is still possible to find your niche – and to develop an audience who feel passionately about your product. Co-founders Omar and Gavin first started honing their creation in the former’s garden shed, and after several years of development – during which time they were joined by Omar’s brothers Eamonn and Samie – they launched their Walthamstow-based brewery.

We asked them about their tips for how to start a successful craft beer enterprise. 

How to start a successful craft brewery – three key tips from Pillars Brewery

1. Find your niche 

Craft breweries have been picking up in popularity since around 2008, and so there were plenty of well-established operators by the time that Pillars was established in 2016. However, they felt that there was a gap in the market: the humble lager. Amidst the IPAs and the raspberry saisons, they felt that the lager had been neglected, and was due for a reappraisal.

“Despite the growing wave of craft breweries, no one seemed to be looking seriously at lager,” they say. “The market was saturated with ale, and the odd token lager.” They designed their brewery specifically for creating lager, a process which requires more time and space than brewing other beers. This way, they carved out a space for their product that wasn’t being filled by anyone else.

2. Consistency is key

A lot of factors are involved in creating a quality beer. Whilst the basic process might be simple, there are centuries-old brewing traditions which have developed around the minutiae of developing a quality, reliable product. For this reason, it’s essential to have your process and final product locked down.

“Your customers should be able to expect a certain standard of quality from every single pint of your beer,” the Pillars co-founders say. “You need to have a great passion for your product, your brand and the art of brewing, to deliver something special in a highly competitive industry.”

3. Nail your identity – and find a way to communicate it

The craft beer revolution has been defined by bold, brash logos as much as by its unique, flavoursome beers. Pillars are no exception: their sharp, orange-shaded designs, often employing a throwback comic book style, was developed in tandem with the beer. 

Central to figuring out how to approach it was their idea of what their brand is about. “Knowing who you are, what you are trying to achieve, and why you are doing it, guides every daily decision,” they say.

In their case, they decided it centred around their home of London.“The city is in the bones of our brand,” they say, with them incorporating the London street sign into their designs. There’s a neat symbolic edge to their name and logo too, the four pillars representing its four founders as well as the four core ingredients of lager.

This has fed naturally into their range of merch, too, which they see as an extension of their brand, but which they also hope could stand on its own two feet as a standalone product. “Ideally we would like our merchandise to even appeal to people who have no interest in beer, on the merit of it’s fresh aesthetics, alongside our loyal lager fans.”

Want to create merch for your craft brewery? ICON Printing offer fast turnaround printing on a range of garments, counting clients such as Pillars, Mother Kelly’s and Meantime. Get a quote in 2 minutes online.