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Big Drop's latest, a mixed pack of canned low alcohol beers: looking to give drinkers a choice of low-alcohol styles

Big Drop makes big push internationally

Low-alcohol beer specialist Big Drop will be seeking deals with contract brewers overseas as it pushes the brand into Canada and Australia, while the home market will see a drive around draught products for the on-trade.

Founder Rob Fink revealed the plans following the launch of what might be the first-ever mixed pack of low-alcohol collaboration beers.

Four limited edition canned brews in diverse styles have been created with the help of beer writer Melissa Cole. Available from early November, they are a black IPA created with Fourpure; an India pale lager with Ossett Brewery’s satellite operation Salt; a raspberry gose with Fyne Ales and a hibiscus saison with Harbour Brewing.

“The point of Big Drop was always to give people a choice in low-alcohol beers,” said Fink. “We want to do for low alcohol what craft beer did for beer 10 years ago.

“Our head brewer Johnny Clayton has come up with a range of flavours and styles since we launched three years ago, but you can never rest of your laurels.

“It’s great to see leading craft brewers taking it so seriously,” he went on. “The number putting out a low alcohol beer now is significant, and abvs are dropping on average with more beers around 2% and 3% being produced.”

Big Drop’s experience so far is that, while it’s trying to prove anything can be done, certain styles are lending themselves better to low alcohol – namely stouts in which lactose compensates for the loss of body and mouthfeel, and pale ales that people drink for the hop flavour rather than the alcohol.

“The difficult ones are lagers,” said Fink. “Good lagers are clean, crisp and dry, and that leaves you nowhere to go. So we’re especially pleased with the Salt IPL”

Along with a growing choice, he believes on-trade volumes, which have lagged behind the off-trade till now, are poised to soar.

“I’m predicting 2020 will be the year of low alcohol. The on-trade has been resistant to non-alcoholic drinks generally, and we’ve struggled to get pubs to take a second beer, but that will shift next year. Operators are starting to realise they’re supposed to be offering hospitality, and that means a choice.”

Growth will be driven by draught, with Big Drop increasing its sales team and looking to treble the number of kegs it’s delivering to pubs to 600 a month, working with pub groups including Fuller’s, Young’s and Everards, which have all become customers in the last three months.

“Draught is still a tiny percentage of our sales, but as soon as you put a beer on the front bar, put it front and centre, you de-stigmatise it. You’re saying it’s fine to drink, and people will take the opportunity.”

The other target for Big Drop is exports. So far it has mainly shipped beer to Scandinavia, where the state-owned monopolies are obliged to promote responsible retailing. Earlier this year it added the Liquor Control Board of Ontario while a deal with an Australian distributor is imminent.

Fink wants to find local brewers to brew the beers – just as they do in the UK where Hepworths produces Big Drop’s bottled brands, Fourpure its cans and Devon’s Powderkeg kegs and limited editions.

“There is a heavy focus in the provenance of craft beer which makes it difficult to go international. We don’t want to be shipping beer all over the world.

“But Big Drop’s main selling proposition is that it’s alcohol free, so why shouldn’t we have it contract brewed?”

Meanwhile, a second series of collaboration brews is already being planned, with Scandinavian brewers among the likely partners.

Phil Mellows
11th November 2019

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