The UK’s largest online beer retailer has hailed the importance of bricks and mortar stores after unveiling plans to open a bottle shop in central London.

Beer Hawk’s new store will open on Stamford Street, near London’s South Bank, across the river from the Houses of Parliament, in May. It will have a hybrid format, allowing craft beer fans to drink on-premise and buy beers to take home.

Co-founder Mark Roberts told DRN: “We are starting to see a lot more pure ecommerce retailers starting to think about omni-channel and whether having a physical presence can better get your brand across. On a website, it’s not always easy to get across who you are as a brand, your personality. The opportunity to have a bottle shop will allow us to do that.”

Beer Hawk is owned by AB-Inbev, the world’s largest brewer, so the Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona supplier now has a UK high street retail presence.

Roberts said: “If it works and we like it I could absolutely envisage us opening another few. We wouldn’t be wedded to sticking in London. There’s a great craft beer scene in lots of cities and towns across the UK.”

Roberts and Chris France founded Beer Hawk six years ago and its ecommerce arm has enjoyed astronomical growth. In late 2016 it moved to 12,000sq ft premises in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, so it could increase its storage capacity tenfold, and it now has a thriving trade sales arm.

The online range is huge, so it presents an interesting exercise to whittle it down to a bottle shop and tap room format for the new site. “We have a lot of knowledge and data on what beers consumers like drinking, so we will narrow it down to the bestsellers and have a real mix across the range,” said Roberts. “We will rotate those beers frequently.

“People can go in, enjoy a drink, find a new favourite beer, buy some to take away and buy it online too. We want to inspire more people to drink brilliant beer. Ecommerce keeps the costs down. It is only growing, and there is more and more focus on it, but there’s still a place for physical stores and physical outlets. You can do more to get the personality across in a physical space.”

Beer Hawk is part of AB-Inbev’s ZX Ventures division, which recently opened the Goose Island Vintage Ale House in London and built a shiny new site for Camden Town Brewery in Enfield. But Roberts is not bothered by the notion that its craft credentials are being affected by its association with a multinational brewer.

He said: “When we started the business, Chris and I just wanted to [champion] the best-tasting beers that we wanted to buy again and again, regardless of style, country and brewery. It’s just about the beer, and that hasn’t changed.

“Regardless of any ownership structure of various breweries or other companies, it’s about the beer and that’s what matters and that’s what we are continuing to do.

“I am sure there will be some people who will reference corporate governance structures, but that doesn’t bother us. As long as we focus on great beer we will be doing well.”

He believes there is plenty of scope for the business to continue its strong growth, via ecommerce, bricks and mortar and trade sales channels. 

“We are benefiting from the general rise of craft beer and specialist beer, which is becoming a little more known to the mainstream,” said Roberts. “In the US, craft has become a significant part of the beer category, accounting for 16%-20%. We are still way behind that in the UK, but every sign is that we are still following a similar trajectory. More and more people are going to discover craft and speciality beers.”