Independent beer shops make bid to rebound from lockdown crisis

Independent beer retailers across the UK are staging an all day event similar to the famous Record Store Day in a bid to boost a sector which has been hammered by the coronavirus lockdown.

About 50 indie beer sellers have collaborated with North East brewery Donzoko to encourage drinkers to “support your local beer shop” on Saturday, July 18.

The stores will launch Donzoko’s specially brewed Indie Graft in an event which it hopes will raise the profile and gain support for beer shops in the way Record Store Day has boosted vinyl sales since 2008.

Among retailers taking part are Plymouth’s Vessel Beer Shop, Exeter’s Hops and Crafts, the Crafty Beer Shop, in Barnstaple, and three from Bristol: Beercosm, Coffee and Beer, and Bottles and Books.

Sam and Katie Congdon of Vessel Beer Shop and Festival
(Image: Penny Cross / Plymouth Live)

Stores in Manchester, Worthing, Leeds, St Albans, Ossett, Brighton, Newcastle, Sheffield, Nottingham, Bath, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Cardiff, and London, and some in Scotland, are involved too.

The idea was suggested by Sheffield-based beer shop Hop Hideout’s owner Jules Gray to a group of like-minded retailers who immediately backed it to champion the indie beer shop sector and highlight the vibrancy the businesses bring to the high street, communities, and the economy and the support they give to breweries.

Organisers of the event say indie beer shops have “ridden the rollercoaster” during the pandemic, continuing to operate within Government guidance through a hugely challenging time. They said it has been tough “emotionally, economically and physically” for many in the sector.

Some beer shops have decided to close, some have pivoted business models to completely online sales, others maximising multi-sales channel selling through online sales and home deliveries and others running forced reduced hours due to operating within shared spaces such as markets and food halls. They said this has created “significant stress and anxiety” within the sector.

Among the retailers taking part on July 18 is Plymouth’s Vessel Beer Shop, run by husband and wife Sam and Katie Congdon.

The store is too small to really operate safely under the new Government guidance so it has been offering collections from the entrance of the shop and deliveries to the local area.

Mr Congdon said that early in the lockdown he was delivering to up to 70 customers every Saturday, but as the “big boys” in the brewing and pub chains have begun operating again it has put the business under even more pressure.

“It’s been a massive challenge,” he said. “It’s head above water, but as long as people support us.”

He added: “We shut the shop the week before lockdown, we could see how it was going. We started delivering every Saturday, and as the lockdown eased started a click-and-collect from the front of the shop. That’s how we will stay for now. We can only get five or six people in, it seems pointless to fully reopen.”

“Early on there was a mass of support for independents, but then the big boys came in with marketing and advertising power.”

Mr Congdon said the sector was not helped by Rishi Sunak’s recent “mini-Budget”, with measures such as the cut in VAT for hospitality businesses not applying to “wet led” enterprises.

He said Vessel had cancelled its nationally acclaimed annual beer festival, which attracted brewers from as far as Yorkshire and the North West every November, but had sought to claw back some business with online “meet the brewer” events, including with breweries in New York, and online food and drink events with other businesses including Plymouth restaurant Hangry.

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Mr Congdon said the retailers chose Hartlepool’s Donzoko because being an owner-operated small brewery within a business enterprise park it had been unable to access grant support and faced similar challenges to keep the business operating as those faced by retailers.

It is now selling packs of Indie Graft, for £20, with 10% going to Plymouth Foodbank, which the store has been supporting throughout the pandemic.

Reece Hugill, of Donzoko Brewing, said: “Not accessing any grant support and having all our revenue streams cut, really hit hard. But seeing people turn to their small independent shops and producers is really good to see. This beer is a celebration of that, sticking together and grafting to keep people in good beer.”

Jules Gray, of Hop Hideout, added: “This beer collab not only celebrates the hard-working people and businesses in the sector, but is also an exciting exploration of beer and wine hybridisation, showcasing the experimentation within the industry plus the thirst from our customers for that too.

“Having kept people in good beer, acted as community hubs and grafted through the Covid-19 pandemic this Indie Graft beer will provide a much needed toast to all the hardwork pushing through those gruelling moments.”

Independent beer shops taking part include: Bath Road Beers (Cheltenham), Beercosm (Bristol), Beer Moth (Manchester), Beer No Evil (Worthing), Beer Ritz (Leeds), Beer Shop HQ (St Albans and Hitchin), Bier Huis (Ossett), Bison Beer (Brighton), Block & Bottle (Newcastle), Bottles & Books (Bristol), Bottle & Jug Dept (Worthing), Bottle Monkey (Isle of Man), Brew Cavern (Nottingham), Caps & Taps (London), Coffee & Beer (Bristol), Craft Beer Bottle Shop (Perth), Craft & Berry (Sheffield), craftndraft (London), Craft Tooting (London), Favourite Beers (Cheltenham), Ghost Whale (London), Hop, Burns & Black (London), Hop Hideout (Sheffield), Hops and Crafts (Exeter). Hopsters (Ipswich & Chelmsford)’, Hoptimism (online only), indiebeer (London), Independent Spirit of Bath (Bath), Kraft Werks (Nottingham), Micro Beers (London), NORD Bottle Shop (Whitley Bay), Pop’n’Hops (Cardiff) Raynville Superstore (Leeds) Shume Bottle Emporium (St Neots, Cambridgeshire), Stirchley Wines & Spirits (Birmingham), Suds & Soda (Derby), The Beer Cave (Edinburgh), The Beer Emporium, The Beer Hive (Edinburgh), The Beer Musketeer (Portsmouth), The Crafty Beer Shop (Barnstaple), Thirsty Cambridge (Cambridge), Two Brews (Colchester), Vessel Beer Shop (Plymouth), Water into Beer (London), We Brought Beer (London) and Wee Beer Shop (Glasgow).

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