Podcast #3 - Tom Gosnell from Gosnells of London

Podcast #3 - Tom Gosnell from Gosnells of London

Groennfell Meadery
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In this week's episode, we travel across the pond to chat with Tom Gosnell of Gosnells of London, based in London, England. This episode has a lot of great content! We chat about the "beyond beer" space, how to get those kinds of products on draft, how the UK market never really got behind "better for you beverages," and so much more!

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Gosnells of London with Tom Gosnell

About the Podcast

Welcome to the Professional Brewers Podcast where we interview brewers, brewery owners, and other folks in the industry to take a deep dive into what it takes to have a successful brewing operation.

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Hello, friends. Welcome to the Professional Brewers Podcast, hosted by Grenfell Meadery and me, Ricky the Meadmaker. This show is for brewers of all kinds, anyone looking to get into brewing professionally, folks who want to peek behind the scenes at their favorite brewery, or merely the brew curious.

Whether you're an old hand in the industry or just starting your professional brewing journey, we hope this show helps you become a better, more profitable, happier brewer.

On this week's show, we talk to Tom Gosnell from Gosnell's Mead in London, England. We talk about what makes the UK market unique, why someone might want to start something in what's now being called the Beyond Beer space, getting a Beyond Beer beverage on draft, why the Better For You beverages never took off in England, and so much more.

Without further ado, let's get into the show with Tom Gosnell.

Tom Gosnell, welcome to the show.

Thank you for staying up late. You're on the other side of the pond, so your experience as a brewer is a little different from over here.

Well, Ricky, thanks for having me. So my name is Tom. I'm the founder of Gosnell's. My surname is Gosnell. So we didn't massively overthink that one. We set up the business, or I set up the business in 2014. And guess prior to that, I'd been doing a lot of homebrewing me, and then before that, homebrew of cider, hard cider, which is just cider here. And then we, so I started out on my own in 2014. We took some investment from a family office fund in 2017. That sounds really grand, but it's just sort of one dude with some money. And then we've taken on a bit more investment over the years from various angels and high net worths. And we are now a team of nine based in London. So if you know London, we're in Southeast London, a place called Peckham, which is where we do all the manufacturing. And then we've got a bar up in Burnhamsey, which is the tap room, and that's on the beer mile. So that's pretty close to London Bridge. So that's pretty central. We set up the bar in September of last year, and that's been going really well. And it's a really good kind of hit in the arm for some sales revenue. I wish I'd done it five years ago. It would have made a huge amount of difference. Well, probably not during the pandemic, either before or after the pandemic. But it's been a really good hit in the arm for sales, and also getting the brand out a bit more.

So we kind of specialize in, well, obviously we make mead, so everything we do is made out of honey. But our specialty is really the session style meads at 4%. So we sell the majority of our volume is what we sell is bar and away, a 4% mead on draft served by the pint in pubs in the UK. And that's really where we've been, we've always been focused on that low APV stuff. And we've sort of doubled down on what we call the on trade. So pubs, bars, restaurants, since the pandemic to try and really build the following and build the market.

That's great. I know that the European drinking scene in general is different from the US. We had the famous show Cheers where everyone goes to a bar and knows your name. But Britain's been like that. I've been in the UK many times and that pub culture is a really strong force still, correct?

Yes and no, I mean, it's changing hugely, right? So I think one of the things that Americans always say to me when they come to London is that, holy shit, there's a lot of pubs, right? And you can't kind of move for a pub. And I know that sounds a bit trite, but they are about as ubiquitous as you'd see Starbucks or coffee shops in the States. It's a similar kind of third space for us, I guess. It performs a similar function.

So it's really important for British culture. I think it kind of comes in waves. And without being too cynical about it, a lot of the pubs in the UK are owned by big pub companies. So you're talking 1,000, 2,000, in some cases, 3,000 pubs in a chain. So really big outlets. And they're not franchised. Well, they are franchised in a really peculiar way in the UK. So they're called what's called tied pubs. A franchisee or a leasee will rent the building, but they have to buy all the beer from the brewery. So essentially, the big brewers have got it tied up in terms of their supply chain. So the market, whilst there are a huge number of pubs, the actual serviceable market is a much smaller subset of that because we don't have the three tier system. So you can just own the distribution and block out all your competitors. So we're really focused on more independent pubs and the smaller pubco's who are more interested in new products and provenance and craft and all those good stuff that we always talk about.

That was fascinating because that wasn't my picture of the pub scene. I read a lot of 1920s and 30s literature, and I presume that predates some of this consolidation. But with that, making Mead, was Mead on the scene at all in the last couple hundred years in the UK? What was it like not just being an independent brewer, but breaking into that space with a, we would call them here a beyond beer beverage?

Oh, that's a lovely term, beyond beer. I think, no, it was crackers. I don't know why I went to Mead. It was really, really nuts, actually. And it was around the time when I think the Colonel had been going to Colonel Breweries, one of the big original craft brewers in London, had been going for maybe five or six years. And I just feel like everyone was setting up a craft brewery in 2013, 2014. And actually, if you look back, all those craft breweries that set up at that time are doing pretty well now. So in hindsight, there was definitely a market for it. For me, I looked at it and thought, that's way too that's way too crowded. That's way too obvious.

Mead, Mead is an amazing thing. I love, you know, I love mead. I love honey. I love the idea of taking such a natural product that's a real reflection of the environment and then turning it into alcohol. So I was pretty set on that.

And actually, I think when I first started out, it was, I mean, I was what, 25, 26, something like that. So I had all that arrogance of youth, never having failed, just having smashed everything. Yeah, still got a bit of arrogance.

Having had a really good sort of early 20s, I was like, this is going to be a piece of piss, right? Yeah. And then basically, I got to a point in my career where I was either going to go and do an MBA or I was going to set up a business. And I thought, I'll set up a business because it's probably cheaper to lose 50 grand than to lose 150 grand on an MBA. And I learned much the same skills and I will have tried something and kind of got my feet properly wet.

So I guess fast forward to 2016, 2017, the business is going pretty well. And that's where we got some investment in. And I guess we were going from that sort of two, three, I think we're four people at that time. We were looking to grow onto the next stage. And that's why we took some more investment. And I guess there have been some teething problems around 2017. I guess pandemic was 2019, was it? 2020? Can't remember.

So yeah, we had a few years of growth after that, but a few false starts in where we were going with the brand, where we were going with the distribution, what quite the proposition was. Because as you say, that Beyond Beer category or Mead at the time was really nascent and has taken a lot longer to build than we probably had, I had ever expected. And actually in terms of the business, that marketing element has been the thing we've had to develop the most out of anything.

From my background is I'm a scientist and production, making, logistics, that's all fine.

I think cracking that secret sauce around the marketing took the longest. And that's actually something I really enjoy now, but kind of was a skill that we had to develop a long time.

You talk a little bit more about that transition. I think a lot of people who want to go pro as brewers, I used to work with people right at that stage a little over 10 years ago. And what I would say to them is I don't care how many awards you've won. Tell me what your marketing proposition is. What's going to set you apart? And you and I, both being Meadmakers, what sets us apart is so obvious that we have to do this work to, I guess, convince people that we're in why they would want us on draft. What's that space like for you over there?

So I think our proposition has evolved. So I think we were in the sort of old brown, traditional brown boxes, and we were selling a decent amount of those, what we call small pack format. And for some reason, I was looking for some white space. I was looking for where we could be a challenger to an existing category. And the answer to that was, for me, it was like looking at a lower alcohol version of a wine. That's where we were kind of pushing it at 5.5%.

We did these big, beautiful big bottles of 5.5% Mead. And we're trying to sort of say, if you're trying to cut down a bit on booze, swap out a Prosecco or a champagne for something a little bit lighter, very similar taste profile, beautifully made, et cetera.

That was, that all sounded great on a spreadsheet and a PowerPoint. Actually just didn't survive contact, right? So within six months, it became really obvious that that was a massive miscalculation. The volume just wasn't there. That wasn't why people were drinking those kind of drinks. And we were very quickly back into small pack format. And at that point, we had to make some pretty quick decisions. And we went straight into cans. And that's when we got the cans done. And that has been the biggest transformation, that branding to move us into the cans as completely revolutionized things.

And then in terms of the proposition we're selling now, we are very clear that we are a hard cider challenger. So in terms of the flavor, the occasion, the use case, all those things, it works like a cider in the UK. Hard cider, we're lucky that cider in the UK is a big category.

Yes, and that's something I was going to bring up for our American audience. Cider is this still almost feels new in parts of the US. And I went to a pub where there were three ciders and two beers when I was outside Oxford. So it is a completely different space for you to come in as a non-grain based beverage over there.

Yeah, that's right. I think for us, if you look at the data here, cider is, I can't remember what quite what is, it's about a fifth of the size of beer. So it's a pretty chunky category, I would say. I've made that up. I'll check that. But it's like chunky enough to be definitely worthwhile going out after. It's dominated by a lot of big companies. There is some craft cider, but it's super, super craft. This comes from these orchards, comes from these apples. It's made for the terroir of the land.

Where the space is, it's just being a little bit bigger than that. And that's kind of where we're shooting for.

The other thing that's lumped in with cider in the UK is what they call fruit cider, which is your record leg, copperberg, plastic is copperberg, strawberry and lime. It's made mainly out of sugar, like genuinely is made mainly out of sugar. And they sell a huge amount to a younger demographic. So in the UK, we don't, it's a rambling talk about the market, but hard sells just haven't worked here.

That was actually going to be one of my questions. A lot of people coming into the space here see not Anheuser-Busch or even Sam Adams as their competitor, they're seeing Hard Seltzer as their competitor. What do you think speaks to that in the UK space?

So I mean, a lot was written around how they tried to launch it in the pandemic and there was a full start and never got going. My hypothesis is that they taste of nothing and nobody in the UK cares about what they call better drinking. So I mean, I always remember talking to one of the buyers in the US that we were speaking to about how they're doing a whole campaign around healthy, like drinking healthier beverages and drinking healthier alcohol. Everyone in the UK knows that if you're having a drink, it's bad for you.

So you might have a slim, what we call a slim line tonic by your diet tonic water with your gin. But I'm just watching my weight a bit. That's pretty rare. Most of the other times you're just cut back on the volume. That's the kind of the public health messaging around it here. There's no public health messaging around swapping out a high sugar drink for a low sugar drink. It's just don't have another drink. And I guess for people here, the Hard Seltzer, what's the point?

It's not a pleasure of an experience, especially if you compare it to say, I mean, we've had gin and tonic in a can for, I don't know, 15 years, something like that. You can get rum and Coke in a can here. You can get all those kind of beverages already. And that's what it's competing against. And you think, well, I might as well just have a real drink that I would order in the pub or somewhere else. And I guess what we're seeing in that category really take off is good quality premixed cocktails. That's more of a growth market than the Hard Seltzer. The Hard Seltzer just haven't done anything. You look at the data, it's really quite embarrassing.

That's fascinating. One of my distributors shared some of their numbers with me and said that in their first year, they sold 20,000 cases of Hard Seltzer. Their second year, they sold 500,000. Their target was 1 million the next year and they blew past it to 2 million. Just a completely different market.

And what we call RTDs, ready to drink cocktails, are growing here, but cocktail culture is very different here.

And I think very few people are doing their cocktails at home. They don't do a rum and Coke when they come home. They crack a can or they crack a bottle, which is a different space entirely. I think that the RTD market, so it's not, when I say better cocktails, they are higher quality cocktails. They're never going to replicate going for a 40 buck martini or something like that. It's not that kind of occasion.

But most of the RTDs are drunk by people who are 17 to 22, that kind of market. It's that pregame market. You're going out. So in the UK, you obviously drink before you go out because why wouldn't you? But it's also to kind of preload because it's quite expensive to drink out here. So you preload and you generally drink spirits and mixers if you're going to share something with some friends. And so it's replicating that kind of experience rather than a super elevated cocktail.

There are some in the market that kind of, I think Moth is the leader and they are 200 mil cans. So really nice, cool, small cans. They are 17, 18% cocktails. So it's a nice, it's a real cocktail, but they're on nearly five pounds a can in a supermarket. So when a beer is, I can get beer for like two pounds, something like that. So they're definitely at a price premium there.

So one of the other things you mentioned earlier was about the volume you're doing on draft. What is your draft to package ratio right now? I'd probably say it's probably about 80, 85% draft, something like that. So we looked at our business in the cold hard light of day last year and realized that we make a lot more money on draft. Like the margins are just much better. The rate of sale is better. The customers, our customers make better margins as well. So that's why we were concentrating.

We're up to about a hundred draft outlets at the moment with more coming around over the summer. This is a really big summer for us. We're doing a massive push around world Bee day on the 20th.

So activating in all of our accounts and we should do, I mean, to give you an idea of what volumes we do, we should do north of 1200 kegs this quarter, which for us is like a pretty decent volume. 30 liters of kegs, so it's that, about 50,000. Something like that.

That's amazing. The last really big question I have for you is you and I both came into our professions with those mid twenties blinders on, bravado and all of that. What resources do you wish you had looked to? What resources have you found since then that you would love to point a new brewer towards a new brewer?

So I think I've always dreamed of getting someone else to make it Ricky. That has been my dream. Getting, don't tell Will this, but not getting rid of the brewery, but like find, you know, that's, and that's what we started out with was trying to find somebody else to, to make the product for us who we could trust. Actually, it turns out at the time no one was making mead, no one ever talked about it. And secondly, getting that quality is difficult from somebody else. Not impossible, but it is difficult.

So I think that you have to have, in terms of the resources you're looking for, it's a difficult question. I'm so green and so naive. Like if I look back at some of the things, even just some of the opinions I held, I was just like, what are you doing What would I, what would I just try? That's a really tricky one.

Because I was so arrogant, I don't think you could have told me anything. I was just so like, no, this is the way.

I'll tell you a great quote to buy you a second to think of it, that Kelly was at a conference of women business owners and this incredibly outrageously successful woman who owns this massive environmentally sustainable, socially focused business center here in Vermont. She started her career by going into town, making phone calls on a phone she could get at a restaurant while building her own house with a baby on her back. Like literally not figuratively. It was like the Vermont story, right?

But someone said like, if you knew then what you know now. This is a hard scrabble, crazy proposition to begin with. She just goes, oh, I would have never started.

If I had known, if I had known then what I would have Are you kidding me? It's the greatest gift being dumb and naive.

So that said, what resources have you found in this time? I think that finding a decent bunch of peers and like networking is awful, right? Like when you're networking just to network, that's like the worst way to approach it. If you're trying to make some friends, that's normally a pretty good way of doing it because friends are honest with you. And there's people when things are going really wrong, but you can ring up and say, oh, if you ever have this problem or, okay, can I just chat through some shitty times? And then you get a more accurate picture of the world.

There's a problem with the reason I didn't go to networking events for absolutely years is the only people that I seem to interact with were people who were like, oh, yeah, I'm smashing it. Like, I'm absolutely, I'm the best in the world. And you're like, oh, well, that's weird because I'm pretty honest. So I'm not like, I don't feel like I'm, you know, I feel like I'm struggling a bit. And so I think that the resource I'd look for would just be to find an honest group of people you can hang out with and just chew the shit with and be like, oh, it's really hard, isn't it?

Like, yeah, it is really hard. And that's the reality of it. Otherwise, everyone would have done it. You know, it's not an easy thing to do. And it takes an awful lot of courage. I don't think that, I certainly don't see myself as a risk-taker, although anyone you talk to would say that I've got an incredibly high tolerance for risk. I don't feel that because I'm constantly worried about it.

It's not like, and I think that maybe is the truth, right? If you're a relatively intelligent person who is taking risks, you understand what the risks are and you still take them. That is going to freak you out a bit and stress you out. You don't have to be a swashbuckling hero who doesn't care. You can just sit with the angst, I guess.

Tom Gosnell, I could not have left it on a better note. Thank you so much for any of our listeners on your side of the pond.

You're only available in England? All of the UK? Where are you available now?

We're mainly based in London and the Southeast, actually, on draft, but you can get our accounts across the UK.

Great. So I will drop a link to your site in the show notes. Thank you so much for staying up to talk to me.

Thank you very much, Ricky. It was a pleasure.

Toodle Pip.

My guest today was Tom from Gosnell's Mead in London, England.

Links to Gosnells Mead are included in the show notes.

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