There are some businesses that seem to grow slowly and steadily build from quiet beginnings whilst others explode into the market. Drop Bear Beer Co. is definitely one of the latter. In a whirlwind 12 months the founders have gone from just having an idea to producing two unique alcohol free beers, chatting with MPs in Parliament and filming with the BBC. Their year was rounded off being crowned as Young Entrepreneurs of the Year at the Wales Start Up Awards.
I caught up with Sarah McNena (one of the founders) to hear more about what living in this whirlwind has been like, the highs and lows they’ve experienced and their plans for the next 12 months.
Who are Drop Bear Beer?
Drop Bear Beer Co. was formed in 2019 by Joelle Drummond and Sarah McNena a couple from Swansea who proudly proclaim to be the only LGBT alcohol free brewers in the country. They’re also the only the only female-run alcohol-free beer company and the only alcohol-free beer company in Wales.
For a company that already has two beers on sale and a third getting ready to appear later this year, it’s hard to believe that the idea behind Drop Bear Beer occurred less than 12 months ago.
In October 2018, Sarah gave up drinking alcohol. As a craft beer lover, she was disappointed in the range of alcohol free beers on offer whenever she went to a pub or restaurant. Sarah began to wonder if they could brew and sell their own alcohol free beer. Joelle quickly dismissed the idea as ridiculous questioning who would actually want to drink alcohol free beer?
Sarah picks up the story “one day she [Joelle] was commuting alone. She heard on the radio that there was this huge boom in the non-alcoholic market and particularly non-alcoholic beer. She was like, maybe she’s onto something”.
The Bear is Born
The next steps were a crash course in brewing alcohol free beer. Sarah explains “I had done a little bit of home brewing previously, just basics. We went to Swansea uni, got a bunch of books on home brewing with recipes and all that kind of stuff. We bought a saucepan and a jam thermometer from Wilco and we just did it.”
Armed with this new knowledge they took on the task of their first brew. “The first one we did was a stout and we thought we’ll just give it a go, it’s probably going to be terrible, but it actually was really good. It did take us quite a while. Our first brew took 14 hours!” says Sarah.
Jumping in with Both Feet
From there there’s been no looking back. They quickly worked on developing the recipes for their beers and took the bold decision for a new company to launch with two beers instead of the usual one.
They soon found themselves at a critical junction as they found Drop Bear Beer taking all their time, but both having full time jobs, time was something they didn’t have. “We [either] stop doing this or we commit fully because we can’t be working and doing this. We’re young enough and we don’t have many commitments, so we decided alright, well let’s just give it a go.” says Sarah.
Drop Bear Branding
Throughout the conversation with Sarah she’s keen to talk about the support they’ve received along their journey and their brand and logo is a good example of this. Sarah picks up the story.
“First of all we did try to come up with a logo ourselves, but we can’t draw at all so that kind of crashed and burned pretty quickly. We thought if we’re going to do this properly then we need to spend the money to get a creative agency on board to help us up. We contacted a local agency in Swansea, Waters Creative and we worked with them.
“We gave them the idea, the name Drop Bear and then we told them in theory what drop bears look like. They did a number of different iterations for us and we worked with them to get it perfect. I think by the end they were a bit annoyed at us because we’re perfectionists as well as very impatient – it’s not the best combination. They were really, really good and they kind of translated our abstract vision into what you see today.”
The patience of the Waters Creative staff rewarded Sarah and Joelle with a unique logo and branding that helps Drop Bear Beer really stand out from the crowd whilst giving a genuine craft beer look.
With their logo sorted they got stuck into marketing their new beer before it was launched. “As a new business it’s important that we bombard people to just get the impressions. We don’t spend a huge amount of money on paid advertising at the moment because we don’t have the money” says Sarah.
A lot of this efforts has gone into promoting Drop Bear Beer through social media where they’ve already built up a loyal following. “Our secret is Joelle. She’s a wiz at social media. I don’t touch the thing because she knows what she’s doing and she does it really well. We recognize the importance of social media, particularly for our key demographic, Millennials” says Sarah.
Most new companies would be happy focusing just on social media, but Sarah and Joelle haven’t stopped there. Instead they’ve devoted their efforts to getting the Drop Bear Beer in front of people at every opportunity. Their marketing strategies range from travelling the country promoting Drop Bear Beer at trade fairs to sponsoring A Touch Far Vetched! (the unofficial fanzine of Swansea FC) and The Welsh Mighty Ducks (First Welsh Nines Team).
High’s & Low
What has it been like to live through the Drop Bear Beer journey over last twelve months? In Sarah’s words “It’s a constant roller coaster. You have days where it’s just like, this is the best thing ever. Look at what we’ve been able to achieve. Then you have days that you ask What are we doing? Why are we doing this? This is silly.”
When pressed for highlights, Sarah responds “I think one of the highs was probably for me was going to Parliament to showcase our beers and provide tasters to MPS. Talking to them not only about our products but the whole industry and how things are changing in UK drinking culture. And we filmed for BBC Wales recently. So those are pretty big highlights”
The lows are less easy to define for Sarah “that’s hard because, you have so many little things that don’t go right that you just you just deal with but I think the hardest thing is having these ideas but not having the finance to back it up”.
Drop Bear Beer incredibly are proud of their Welsh heritage and it features heavily in their marketing and sponsorship. Throughout their journey they have been able to get lots of support from the local government and so in turn want to reflect that support back to the local economy.
They also feel that labelling themselves as distinctly Welsh gives them an edge over other brands. Sarah explains “We feel that there is a growing perception among consumers that Welsh produce is premium and denotes something of good quality”.
She adds “there’s a lot of English non-alcoholic brands out there that we want to compete against and we think that we have something a little bit different to provide the market. You know the English ones are great, but they’ve had the limelight for a little bit too long. It’s time for us to come in from Wales and take over I reckon”.
Young Entrepreneurs of the Year
After having achieved so much in such a short time, it’s no surprise they’ve caught a few people’s attention. Sarah and Joelle’s efforts were rewarded when they were nominated as Young Entrepreneurs of the Year at the Wales Start Up Awards. When I spoke with Sarah before the awards she said “we’re quietly confident that we might be in with a chance”.
Their confidence was well grounded as on 20th September they were announced as winners.
I caught up with Sarah after the awards and she told me “It’s amazing. A real honour. It makes us feel like we’re doing something special and it’s great to get recognition for it”
Making great beer isn’t all they care about. Sarah and Joelle take looking after the environment seriously too. With all the trade shows and promotions they do, they were very aware they’d be covering a high number of miles and so invested in an electric car who was promptly named WATTson after a competition run on social media.
“It’s amazing. It can hold so much. We fit everything in there somehow. It’s just crazy” jokes Sarah
Making Drop Bear Beer Special
When asked what makes Drop Bear Beers special, Sarah responds “What is unique is that we are properly positioning ourselves as craft beer. We are trying to champion the craft but then do something a little bit different with it. That’s particularly with our Yuzu adding that in [the Pale Ale] and with our different tropical kind of hops in the in the IPA. We are trying to make sure that people do perceive us as the craft part of the non-alcoholic beer market”
The differentiation goes beyond just the flavours as Sarah explains “there’s the no lactose which we will never do and we’re gluten-free. We’re also the lowest calorie on the market”
Drinking & Eating
I asked Sarah which was her favourite between the Yuzu Pale Ale and Tropical IPA, but she struggled to give an answer. When pushed she said “That’s a hard one. Honestly. I’ve been drinking the IPA a little bit recently. I’m really enjoying that when it’s a bit colder. I like the IPA just because it’s a bit richer and heavier, but when it when the sun does turn on, the Yuzu’s super refreshing. It depends on the temp and my mood really. I love them both.”
As for food pairings, Sarah suggests “with the Yuzu we recommended halloumi and chips, something salty and a little bit potatoey. With the IPA is a curry as it cuts through those kind of flavours really well, especially a Thai curry. We have spoken to our consultant about beer pairings and that’s what he suggested for us. So the Yuzu’s more your fish and chips and the IPA’s more your richer Curry type”.
With everything they’ve achieved in so far in 2019, you’d understand if they planned to ease back and enjoy the moment. But then Sarah and Joelle aren’t most people. They wouldn’t have achieved so much so quickly if they were and there’s no way of holding back their bubbly enthusiasm for their beers.
Instead, they’ve already got plans for their third beer with stout already planned before the years out. Incredibly, there’s also a fourth beer being planned, with a craft lager pencilled in for 2020.
It’s hard to believe it’s less than a year since there was even the idea of Drop Bear Beer. Sarah and Joelle have achieved so much in a short space of time. It’s clear they have a real passion for the beers they brew. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their boundless energy has allowed them to achieve a great deal in a very short space of time.
With two beers already in the market, a stout in development and a craft lager to come in 2020, I think it’s fair to say they we’re only going to hear more and more from Sarah and Joelle in the future.
Enjoy the Good Stuff
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