If it ain't broke ...

By Hayley Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Beer, Cornwall

If it ain't broke ...
St Austell Brewery is experiencing a record rise in its beer sales. Roger Ryman explains why the company is performing so well

Roger Ryman, Head Brewer, St Austell Brewery, Cornwall I'm not a Cornishman. In fact April 6 marked my 10th anniversary of moving down here, as well my employment at the brewery. Back then, I would have described the company as a sleeping giant. It was a good local brewery but it needed national appeal, so it became my ambition to put St Austell in the Premiership of regional breweries.

As a student, I studied agricultural science at the University of Newcastle, and started my first job in 1988 at Scottish and Newcastle Tyne Brewery - the home of Newcastle Brown Ale. Although I really enjoyed it there, brewing didn't really feel like it could be a career at that point. So I went to Edinburgh to study a masters degree in brewing and distilling. After getting a distinction, I went to Canada for a year where I met my wife Toni.

When I came back to the UK, I studied even further and achieved a post graduate qualification - Master Brewer of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling - as well as taking on various other jobs in the UK. One of these was as a brewer at Maclay, a traditional brewery. I really enjoyed my time there, but I always knew that I wanted to be a head brewer.

When the chance finally popped up at St Austell, I found myself torn. Maclay had ambitious plans to rebuild the old brewery and replace it with a modern one, with brand new state of the art equipment. In the end, however, as a young guy in my early 30s, the pull towards Cornwall was very strong. And it turned out to be the right decision, as Maclay scrapped its plans to redesign the brewery and the site was eventually closed.

St Austell, on the other hand, has invested significantly in the brewery over the last 10 years. Over £2M has been spent on progressing from an old fashioned Victorian brewery into a modern brewery. Having said that, however, the machinery we use is a mix between old and new. Our feeling is that if it ain't broke don't fix it. For example, we have a malt mill that dates back to 1887. On the receipt it says "will give years of trouble free service". No joke!

One of our most recent investments was in a new bottling facility, which we are currently still fitting. Our bottled beer has grown from 0-15% of our output since I've been here, so we thought that it was about time that we invested in this area of the business. We also want to capitalise on the growing trend for drinking at home. Up until now we have been out-sourcing bottling to a site in Manchester. So in order to make room for our new bottling area at St Austell, we moved the distribution warehouse off site to St Columb Major near Newquay.

The project has ended up costing slightly more than anticipated, and now stands at around £0.75M. The reason why it cost more is because of the euro to Sterling exchange rate. We couldn't find a British supplier that could provide us with the equipment so we bought the machinery from an Italian company called Kosme. Kosme is a subsidiary Krones, which is based in Germany and is considered to be the Rolls Royce, or rather the Mercedes Benz, of bottling equipment.

We are hoping that the bottling line will allow us to bottle up to 50,000 bottles per shift. We have the capacity to run four shifts a week at the moment. And eventually we will be looking to take on extra staff, which is a huge blessing given the state of the current economic environment.

Overall our beer sales have been growing 25% year-on-year. We only budgeted for 5% growth, so we had to throw out our original forecasts and start again. Don't get me wrong, it's a very good problem to have; especially considering that the overall beer market is down 9%. But if you look more closely, the overall market for cask beer, which is what we specialise in, is down only 1% - so cask beer is outperforming the general beer market anyway. Cask ale or cask-conditioned beer is the term for unfiltered and unpasteurised beer which is conditioned and served from a cask, usually without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. Cask ale may also be referred to as real ale. Our branded cask ales include Tribute, HSD, Tinners, Black Prince, Proper Job, IPA and Admiral.

Admiral is currently our fastest growing brand at the moment, as it is up 153% in the year to April 2009, compared with last year. It won Supreme Champion of the International Beer Challenge and as a direct result we got a national listing in Sainsbury, which obviously pushed up our sales performance. The product is also nationally available through Marks & Spencer.

In total, our own draft ale is up 24.4% this year, and on top of that we had a breakthrough year for our Tribute brand. Tribute is our biggest brand, it saw sales jump 33% to April, as a result of winning listings in national pub chains. We are selling about 55,000 (36 gallon) barrels, up from 15,000 when I started.

Not all of our brands have been doing so well, however. At the beginning of the year we actually discontinued two products - Dutch Bitter and Cornish Cream. These were old fashioned products that were not selling well. But because we discontinued these lines, we freed up our kegging facility to accommodate healthier brands such as Rattler cider

Fruitful relationships

We have a relationship with Cornish Cyder Farm near Truro, which has a modern cider producing plant. To put it simply, they produce it, and we keg it and distribute it to our 169 pubs, which are owned by St Austell. Around 6,000 brewers barrels per year of Rattler cider is sold in this way.

Rattler is a cult drink in Cornwall; it has grown 99.1% over the last year. And it's not just the young surfer dudes drinking it, but also the dudettes. It is currently a local drink, not national. We need to be careful that we do not grow faster than what we are capable of - we physically couldn't go national yet.

Also with the Cornish Cyder Farm, we are looking at producing the first Cornish Whiskey. The product is currently maturing in purpose built cellars, so we have to wait until 2010 before releasing it on to the market, by which time it will be eight years old.

We have a unique way of approaching new product development. We produce around 15 new products a year in our pilot plant. We then test these out on the public, as we hold a beer festival each year, which is attended by about 3,000 people. Producers from all over Cornwall bring their products too. We get feedback on our new beers and then usually launch about three of the 15 throughout the year.

This year, for example, we are launching three seasonal brews, including Admiral cask ale in a bottle. In July we are launching Liquid Sunshine, a light beer for the tourist season - our busiest time of the year. In October we are also launching Bucket o' Blood for Halloween. The product is named after one of our pubs. Legend has it, that in the 16th century a tax collector was stabbed and thrown down the well, and when the water bucket was pulled up, it was full of blood. So Alistair Darling had better watch himself - especially with the way beer tax is going these days.

I absolutely love my job. The best thing is the diversity of tasks - from raw material procurement to engineering and maintenance of equipment, as well as working out shift patterns, new product development and marketing. The least enjoyable part of my job has got to be the more mundane and routine tasks, otherwise known as health and safety.

INTERVIEW BY Hayley Brown

----

PERSONAL

Name: Roger Ryman

Age: "Early 40s"

Career highlights: "Moving to Cornwall and becoming head brewer at St Austell"

Domestic: Married to my wife Toni

Outside work: "I am a member of Charles Town Rowing Club. We recently returned from the Gig Rowing World Championships held on the Isle of Scilly. Over 100 teams entered. The Cornish pilot gig is a six-oared rowing boat.

I was also a keen rugby player when I was younger. It was because of the sport that I spent a year in Canada, where I met my wife. I am in a veterans team at the moment, and we are more concerned with the third half - that's the pub!"

Walking is another hobby of mine is hiking. "

----

BREWERY FACTS

Location: St Austell Brewery Company, 63 Trevarthian Road, St Austell PL25 4BY

Tel: 0845 2411122

Products: Bottled and kegged real cask ale including include Tribute, HSD, Tinners, Black Prince, Proper Job, IPA and Admiral

Employees: 150 at the brewery

Throughput: 75,000 brewers barrels a year

Customers: 169 St Austell pubs; independent pubs, hotels and restaurants; national retailers; wholesalers and local retailers