A New Era for Camerons

Recently, I was invited to a ‘Winter Beer Launch’ event held at Head of Steam Leeds, and hosted by Camerons Brewery. Camerons have made some changes recently, most notably the appointment of a new head brewer, Chris Deakin. Whilst there, I had opportunity to not only meet Chris, but try some of the new beers that are starting to come out of production.

Past Perception

I must admit, I’ve never quite got Camerons. Let me explain why. My perception of Camerons is one of it being a regional brewer, with the ability to distribute far. It should sit nicely alongside other regional breweries in the category like Leeds or Timothy Taylor’s, for example.

There’s two pieces of the puzzle that haven’t always fit right for me, though. The beer, and the brand/identity. Let’s explore the beer first. To date (whilst I’ve been a beer consumer), Camerons have had a pretty safe core range of beers. Their flagship beer is ‘Strongarm’. So I’m immediately thinking this goes up against the likes of Timothy Taylor’s ‘Landlord’, Adnams’ ‘Southwold Bitter’, Leeds’ ‘Best’ etc. For me though, where I am happy to return to those particular beers, ‘Strongarm’ hasn’t quite done it for me. To use a football analogy (sorry), It feels like Camerons should be brewing Premier League beers, but it’s more like Championship beers (how very Leeds United).

The branding is another interesting one for me. If I walk into a bar and you have Leeds, or Timothy Taylor, or Adnams on, for example, the brand is instantly recognisable. The shape of the pump clip, the design, all of them tell you immediately who the brewery is. With Camerons, I feel like it’s a mish mash of branding. ‘Strongarm’ I feel is the most recognisable clip in their range. Put that up against other Cameron’s beers and you’ve got the distinctive ‘Roadcrew’ on its own design trajectory; ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Bust a Nut’, two completely different designs and shapes. How that makes me feel is that a few beers have been brewed and designed in complete isolation and thrown together as a random collection under the Camerons banner.

A New Brewer

Despite the perception, I went into the event with an open mind and took opportunity to chat with new Head Brewer Chris Deakin and see what he plans to bring to the table.

Camerons New Head Brewer and Me!

Chris’ background is big beer. A career that has seen him work for Bass, Molson Coors, Anheuser Busch and, just before he joined Camerons two months ago, Heineken. That’s a wealth of experience that will serve him well in his new home.

What was immediately noticeable was Chris’ passion. I’ve used that word so many times in articles to describe people I’ve met – but it is the absolute core to being successful. I was introduced to Chris by another passionate Chris, Chris Nelson who manages the Head of Steam. I wrote about Chris in a previous post you can read here.

Chris Deakin had a light in his eye when he came to talk to me. Although he had other entertainment commitments that evening, it was great to spend a good 15-20 minutes with him, talking about topics from his plans for Camerons, to cask pricing, to the future of the British pub and the industry at large.

Innovation and Enthusiasm

The first topic I talked about with Chris was, of course, the beers. And, I was honest with him and shared my perception and experiences of Camerons. One thing that Chris has introduced early at Camerons is opportunity. He’s provided a platform for people to come forward with ideas, build beer recipes and go ahead with brewing them too. An output from one of those was on the bar, the 5.5% ‘Black Forest Gateaux’. The recipe designer wasn’t a member of the brewing team. In fact, since making this beer, that person has now also been given the opportunity to visit Belgium on a beer trip.

Innovation

This is a fresh approach for Camerons, and is immediately breeding innovation and enthusiasm. This inclusive approach can only result in positive things, I believe. Chris told me he was confident that this year would see around 20 new beer recipes brewed and made available to consumers. That’s ambitious and quite exciting.

To support this, Chris has also re-introduced Camerons old brewing kit into service. This way, the current brewery can continue mass production, whilst the, smaller kit can be used for small batch beers.

Away from the beers, Chris acknowledged my feedback on the branding and agreed that there was work to do there too. I look forward to seeing how this shapes up as Chris settles into his role and influences the direction of the brewery.

Optimistic About the Industry

My next question to Chris is one that I frequently find myself talking to people about. In a world where pint sale volumes are dropping and pubs are closing, is it sustainable for the number of breweries to continue growing as it is?

A busy Head of Steam

Chris was pretty optimistic on this one. He tells me that he has seen data that suggests that the industry will be quite buoyant by 2020, although is realistic that the number of breweries may not continue to grow at the rate it currently is.

It’s an interesting view to have and I admit I’m a little more pessimistic about the future of the industry. Although, I do believe the British pub will never die, therefore established brewers won’t either. It feels like we’re in a phase of normalising within the industry, where brewers and pubs that don’t focus on quality and customer will be the first to fall victim of closures.

Beers and Boot-note

I managed to sample all the Cameron’s beer that were on offer that evening. The core range still felt fairly safe, but ‘A-hop-alypse Now’ and ‘Tontine’ were both stand out. It was also great to see some new beers styles being trialled. The aforementioned ‘Black Forest Gateaux’ was the pick of the bunch, but also look out for ‘Bust a Nut’, a peanut butter stout.

They also showcased a new lager called ‘Trinity’ that is worth a taste. Fairly similar to some of the other keg pales that Cameron’s do, but still good.

The event was really well run (as you’d expect from the Head of Steam), and it was great to speak with Chris Deakin. I left the evening with a warm feeling that Camerons are on the right path to change my earlier perceptions.

My final observation, though, comes at a time when equality, diversity and discrimination is a hot topic in the beer world. The pub was full of Cameron’s staff. What I noted was that it was an extremely male dominated group. It may not be representative of who works at the brewery, but it was another perception of Camerons that perhaps also needs a bit of work.

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