It’s a long way from Byron Bay to Britain, but Londoners are learning to love the beer from the beach.
Stone & Wood’s London-based brand ambassador Pat Keeble says 2019 will be a big year for the brand as it continues to enlarge its UK footprint.
“We’ve been in the UK market for six years now,” Keeble told Brews News.
“Over that time we have been patient in building our place in that market through working with the right operators and attending the right mix of events.”
Stone & Wood has been active in the UK since 2012. As well as through its on-premise sales, the brand has been driving volume through retailers like Majestic Wine, which which currently operates 211 stores.
Keeble joined the company in 2013, working as a sales rep in Sydney until 2016 when he was offered a boots-on-the-ground opportunity in the UK.
He admits that having a strong presence in London has been key to Stone & Wood’s growth and sustainability in the British market. However, he says that 2019 is about making further inroads nationwide with a focus on metropolitan areas such as Bristol, Leeds and Manchester.
Stone & Wood beers destined for the UK are still brewed at home at its Murwillumbah facility. Exported via sea, the journey can shorten the shelf life of the beer by six to eight weeks, though Keeble is quick to put aside concerns over freshness.
“The beer is travelling really well. We know time is ultimately against us so we try and keep it as cold as we can for as long as we can,” he said.
“Ensuring quality is an ongoing job for us but having someone here on the ground to maintain fresh stock control and also taste the beer in trade has been invaluable.
“I’m not afraid to pull a keg off tap that isn’t tasting as it should or not at a level we’re happy with,” Keeble added.
For many UK drinkers, Pacific Ale was their first taste of a beer brewed with the now famous Galaxy hop. The Australian hop is now a regular addition in many UK IPAs, including those from well-known breweries Cloudwater in Manchester and London’s Beavertown, the latter selling an undisclosed minority stake to Heineken in 2018.
Keeble said that he does not see the rise in Galaxy’s popularity in the UK as a threat to Pacific Ale’s success, saying that he loves trying Galaxy-hopped beers from British breweries.
“I know access and supply can be limited – we use most of them, so there aren’t loads of examples,” he says.
“The best examples that spring to mind would be from the Kernel brewery. They’ve done some wonderful single-hopped pales and IPA’s in the past but probably my favourite was when they used Galaxy in a Double Porter with Citra. Seeing it come out in a dark beer was brilliant.”
It’s likely to be a challenging year ahead for Keeble as he continues to gradually expand Stone & Wood’s UK presence, especially following Lion’s acquisition of Fourpure last year and its plans to open a Panhead taproom and Little Creatures brewpub in London early this year.
Despite this, Keeble’s remains upbeat.
“It’s been six years of forming relationships, hard work and a lot of learning but overall, as a beer establishing itself in this market, we’re really happy,” Keeble said.
“Happy in the sense that we’ve taken our time and done it in our own authentic way. Authenticity is really important to us.”
It would seem that Stone & Wood is playing the long game in the UK, and becoming part of an accepted fraternity of small British brewers and retailers appears to be at the heart of the company’s success.
For now at least, UK drinkers can be content that there will be a regular supply of Pacific Ale – as well as the odd special – heading to British shores.