A shining light on rocky shores
Richard Croasdale catches up with Beer52 favourite, Siren.
Saturday 06 June 2020
This article is from
Summer of love
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Siren has been a Beer52 favourite for many years, successfully walking the line between a rock-solid, consistent and accessible core range – its Soundwave IPA has earned its place as a true UK icon – and more challenging experimental brews. Ferment caught up with founder Darron Anley to hear more about how the brewery is fairing under lockdown and, in particular, why he’s chosen now to launch a new core beer.
“It’s a mad time for everyone, but we’re adapting,” he says. “Around 60% of our people are still working – we’ve just had to make sure the environment is safe for them. Unfortunately our business is around 85% on trade, which disappeared overnight. Yeah. The flip side of that is we’ve seen something like 1,000% increase in our web shop which is amazing. It’s still far from where we’d need it to be long-term, but it definitely helps and I’m grateful for it.”
Even as lockdown eases, Darron anticipates the web shop being a larger part of Siren’s business than it was before, as the crisis has brought customers to the site who might not otherwise even have considered buying beer online. Like everything just now though, it’s hard to strategise beyond a few weeks.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens; nobody knows what the industry will look like on the other side of this. For example, we’re trying to find a balance where our direct sales aren’t competing with the bars and bottleshops that we’re selling to. But it’s also been an opportunity to spend time building relationships with the independent bottleshops, which has always been a bit of a weakness for us, and has been something we’ve wanted to work on ever since we put the canning line in.”
it’s been an opportunity to spend time building relationships with the independent bottleshops, which has always been a bit of a weakness for us
Darron says the lion’s share of Siren’s lockdown business has been in its super-drinkable core beers like Soundwave, which was already having a pretty sensational year, with keg sales for January and February up 100% over the same period in 2019. But have those other channels, such as direct sales and independent bottle shops, even come close to offsetting the precipitous drop in all-important on-trade?
“I think if we’d just shut up shop and battened down the hatches, we’d be in a pretty similar position commercially,” admits Darron. “It’s not like we’re going to be making money at this point. But we’re still here, still coming in, keeping our awareness out there. I think the real concern – and this is industry-wide – is the shit show that we’re going to have at the end of this? We’ve got a debtors list that is just eye-watering, and I generally think that even if lockdown ended tomorrow, it would be a long time before any of us get back to business as usual.”
There is one shining light in Siren’s personal firmament just now though: the long-planned launch of its new beer, Lumina. Filling what Darron describes as a gap in the core range, in terms of style and strength, Lumina is Siren’s take on a juicy, slightly hazy IPA, and its inclusion in this month’s Beer52 marks its debut.
The observation that “people are enjoying this style” feels like something of an understatement, and one might accuse Siren of being a little late to the party. But for my money, a lot of other UK breweries should have spent as much time honing their recipes rather than hurling themselves at the bandwagon. Much as was the case with Thornbridge’s Green Mountain, this is a beer that’s being given a primetime release because it’s finally ready, not simply because it’s what people are asking for.
Lumina’s roots are in Siren’s popular Suspended range, which was really only ever seen in keg until a recent canning run. From this, the brewery launched Refractions, a constantly-evolving session IPA that was, secretly, part of its ongoing development process. Once the recipe had been perfected in terms of not only flavour and aroma but also, crucially, shelf life, it was deemed ready to join the core range.
Siren marketing manager Andy Nowlan explains: “It’s taken us a long time to get this ready for the core range, because we wanted to absolutely nail it – we wanted it to be an absolute epiphany moment, rather than an ‘us too’ beer. We’ll often brew beers that are a bit different and maybe challenging, but we wanted Lumina to have a really broad appeal; a style that everyone loves, brewed in absolutely the best way we could.”
The branding is also beautiful – eye-catching, without being gaudy – and is apparently part of a larger ‘canvas’ of artwork that will be used around the beer, all around the theme of the stars and navigation.
“Lumina means a lot of different things to us, mostly tied to the idea that it’s this guiding light,” continues Andy. “But also we got really excited about thinking of all the mythology themes that are tied to the Siren brand itself, and navigating by starlight. We love the idea of how important the stars have been through all these different ages.”
While the fruition of all that hard work should be an unambiguously happy day, the Siren team are acutely aware of the odd timing for the launch. For Darron though, it’s been a welcome confirmation that, even in the worst of times, the values he’s tried to in instil in his brewery have been vindicated.
We’ve got a really solid team and the way everybody pulled together has been inspiring
“It’s been hard, but there are also so many great things that have come out from this. We’ve got a really solid team and the way everybody pulled together has been inspiring. Everyone’s doing their best and looking out for better ways to work, and generally just bringing the best of themselves to the job… Of course a lot of the other plans we had for this year have gone out the window: a lot of the activity around Lumina, some exciting collaborations, other new beers. But I think if we as an industry can keep looking out for each other and thinking creatively about how we can adapt our businesses, we can get through this.”
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