Distribution deal cheers brewery bosses
It may not be comfortable reading for those who have made it their new year’s resolution to stay on the wagon, but Lerwick Brewery is preparing itself for a big year ahead.
The local beer producer has just signed a deal with a major distributor and wholesaler giving its beers a UK-wide distribution.
The agreement with Ooberstock is seen as a major step forward for the business, which streamlines the process of selling beers to the lucrative market south of the border.
It also comes amid expansion plans which could see the organisation trebling its output and exporting produce to North America and the Far East.
All of which is a world away from when the company was first established little more than two years ago by Mercer brothers John, Graham and Jimmy.
At that time the venture was seen as something of a pastime, but speaking to this newspaper, John Mercer said demand had taken off.
“When we first started it up in 2012 it was what you see around you [at the premises on Staney Hill].
“We just did it for a bit of fun, really. We just started it up because we thought it would be really different. It’s been very successful so far and seems to be growing – not explosively, but sort of exponentially – and it’s really got to the point where it’s not just a hobby now, it’s a proper business and has to be run as such.”
The deal with Ooberstock, he said, offered a “really important opportunity” for expansion.
“The key thing about Shetland beer is to get distribution in place, so – for example – if a pub in Hampshire wants to buy our beer at the moment we have to courier it down to them, which is very expensive, kills all our margins and eats all our profits.
“Having a national distributor means we can send our beer anywhere in Britain.
“A month ago we got the deal with the Scotland and North of England-wide distributor, but now this month we’ve got a deal across the whole of Britain, so it’s doubled our market.”
With access to the brand growing, the effort now, said John, needed to be a “refocus” on marketing and advertising.
The business is increasing its staff numbers as well as output, with John’s daughter, Isla, starting in the new year as a south-based sales manager.
She is excited about the prospect of helping grow the business.
“Everything has been taking off. I was working down in London as a product manager for an online games company. So, it’s kind of similar in the fact that there’s a lot of marketing, understanding the product.”
John added: “We have to start thinking about trying to build our image down in England as well as in Scotland and Shetland.
“Opportunities have opened up for us. It’s up to us what we make of it.”
Operating out of its Staney Hill premises, the 12 barrel plant is capable of brewing up to 18,000 bottles a week.
To avoid any production bottleneck, so to speak, the brewery has also signed a deal with Aviemore-based
Cairngorm Brewery, which will allow the firm to increase its capacity. But there is room for expansion at Staney Hill, too.
“Going forward, that’s the kind of thing we will have to be aware of,” said John.
“If the flow starts to increase, then we’ll have to be aware of that and deal with it appropriately. We could increase our capacity substantially.”
Brewery manager Rhanna Turberville said the process had been a steep learning curve.
“I don’t think any one of us had experience of this industry, so everything we’ve done we’ve had to learn from the beginning. Some things have been a lot harder and some things have been a lot easier – it’s been a huge process for us.
“The main focus last year was learning how to brew, learning how to brew well, learning how to do things consistently.
“Now our main focus is actually upping production, reducing any inefficiencies in the brewing process, we’re trying to streamline things as much as we can, and just really get as much on our toes with everything that we’re doing.”
Added John: “At the moment we’re currently selling about 10,000 bottles a month. We’re hoping to treble that in this coming year. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t.”
Ooberstock’s owner, Stephen Brogan, said: “Despite being one of the UK’s most remote breweries – closer to Bergen in Norway than Edinburgh – Lerwick Brewery has lived up to its reputation of providing high and consistent-quality ales in large volumes.”