Moor Moor Moor
A new look from a perennial favourite
Photos: Moor Beer
Monday 18 January 2021
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Bristol’s Moor Brewing does not exactly have a reputation for bending with the winds of fashion, preferring instead to sail its own course, with founder Justin Hawke keeping a steady hand on the tiller. In a year as dramatic as 2020, this may have seemed like a recipe for disaster. But don’t mistake principle for inflexibility; this year has shown Moor is perfectly capable of adapting to its environment, without ever compromising on the values that have made it one of the UK’s most respected technical breweries.
Like most of the brewers in this month’s box, Moor has historically been very reliant on its on-trade sales. Unlike the others though, the brewery had no online direct sales channel to fall back on once lockdown severed its main income stream. In Justin’s words, the team had to “turn on a dime,” shifting its entire sales model to accommodate the disappearance of the pubs.
“Direct to consumers really helped to save a lot of breweries. Not only through websites, but the scale that people like Beer52 offer has been a critical lifeline to some of us through the pandemic… We had to build our online shop not only from the front end perspective, but all the back end processes of deliveries and boxes – basically the entire infrastructure. And I think, because we are a small business, we are able to do that. It was definitely a challenge, but we’re really proud of the way the team overcame that.”
In a stroke of fortunate timing though, Moor had not long finished a rebranding exercise, moving away from its very traditional shield design to something both contemporary and more flexible. The rework was carried out by Ben King, who has been working with Moor for almost 14 years and was behind the original motif. This kind of continuity is clearly important to Justin.
“When he did our branding so many years ago, Ben’s brief was to create a modern classic, something you could put on a wall and it would still look fantastic 50 years later,” he says. “And I think he really nailed that. But the feedback from our shops and people like yourselves was that yeah, it is great, but it doesn’t jump out as much as some of our peers’ do and it’s impacting sales. So I went back to Ben and said ‘I might not personally agree with what I’m being told, but is there anything we can do to freshen things up?’.”
The new branding successfully balances the classic impact of the shield with more expressive elements, to help distinguish between the many beers that now make up Moor’s range – something that had become a bit of a problem.
“Yeah, they all looked the same,” admits Justin. “So if you went to a shelf and you had 20 different Moor beers, you couldn’t really tell the difference amongst them unless you picked them off the shelf. Or if you had really keen eyes. So for a start, all our limited edition beers are in a white base can that says ‘limited edition’ around the shoulder. So there’s an instantly recognisable difference between what is a core beer and what’s a special beer.
“It’s had a huge impact already. Places have started stocking our beers that wouldn’t previously have been as keen, because they felt they weren’t as commercially attractive as some of the trendy here beers. And they’re really selling well, with people enjoying them. So that’s been a bit of a huge thing for us since the project was started pre-pandemic, though it’s a shame we didn’t get to roll it out in a particularly grandiose way.”
Moor’s cans have long been a key point of differentiation for the brewery, as it was the first in the UK to be recognised by CAMRA as brewing ‘can conditioned’ beers. So I was keen to hear from Justin whether the new commercially-modern branding would also mean a move into fashionable 440ml cans.
“If I was being lazy about it, yeah we would move into 440s. But I’m pretty stubborn! We’ve never felt bound to follow what the consumer thought they wanted; we’ve always just gone with what we felt was right… From a drinkability perspective, I just feel like 440 is a really poor compromise. For me, it’s insufficient to enjoy a beer. If it’s a session beer, it’s too small, but I might not want to open two cans and drink nearly a litre of it. With a 330ml, you can have one, definitely have two, and if you want you can go from there. On the other side of it, if you look at the specials and the stronger beers, you don’t want 440ml of a bourbon aged imperial stout.”
Branding and positioning are all well and good, but Moor has always been about one thing for me: the beer. Without wishing to sound trite, these are beers for beer lovers; for folks who’ve probably been to too many festivals, lived through every wild trend and keep coming back to the balanced, nuanced beers that you can drink all evening and enjoy every sip. Which is why I’m particularly excited about Distortion, Moor’s brand new 4.7% session IPA, and the latest addition to its excellent core range.
“We think it’s absolutely phenomenal and it’s had an amazing reception from everyone who’s tried it. Of course, 14 years ago we were one of the first to brew really hop-forward beers. But we’ve always believed that beer needs to be enjoyable and drinkable. So if you’ve got a beer that’s really hoppy, it needs to have something to balance it… A lot of beer in the UK today is just out of balance, so you can’t taste anything but hops or yeast. With distortion, we wanted to make a beer that was a bit hoppier and more modern than most of our range, but still with drinkability, and balance.
“So, 2020 probably hasn’t been the best year to launch a new beer, but having extra capacity – both in terms of time and tank space – has let us go back to some of the things that we’ve wanted to focus on. For me, that’s been lager. I lived and worked in Germany for a couple years back in the early 90s, so have a huge affinity to proper lagers. So we started our lager programme about a year or so I guess, and we’ve really been able to take that to a whole new level. Off the back of that, we’ve won a big contract with a fantastic company to supply their house lager, which has allowed us to invest in seven new lager tanks. The fact that we are getting recognised for our lagers is making me incredibly happy.”
The final thread of new beers in the Moor stable has been a very successful continuation of its Galaxy series. These beers – mostly pale ales or IPAs – see Galaxy hops paired with other complementary varietals, including Enigma, Vic Secret and Citra. They’re slightly hoppier than some of Moor’s other beers, but still well balanced, and really showcase the versatility of Galaxy alongside other popular and distinctive modern hops. The series has been a masterclass in hop combination, as well as simply being very tasty, of course.
Bristol’s craft scene is rightly credited as one of the best in the country, and Justin is clearly very grateful to the local community, as well as customers further afield, for helping keep the lights on.
Justin concludes: “I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s supported us in one way or another through this year, whether that’s our fantastic, flexible suppliers or our amazing customers. And the team here has been through some incredibly challenging times, but everyone has really risen to do an amazing job. I’m glad we took the decision to keep brewing throughout; yeah, that’s been really hard, but really rewarding. And we hope it’s been as important to the people who drink our beer as it’s been for us to be able to brew it.”
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