Q&A: Nix Prabhu, Craft Beer Passport UK

In 2018 beer sales increased by 2.6% on the previous year, across both the on and off trades, but look closer at those figures and you’ll find the sales number for supermarkets and shops increased by 4.7% year-on-year. It’s perhaps not something which is too surprising given that many choose to drink at home but what about those bar and pub sales? Getting drinkers through the door on a more regular basis is a complex issue, one that has to be looked at from multiple angles, but one incentive could be that of a Craft Beer Passport (CBP).

Twenty establishments across the North East are currently participating in one such thing, so what exactly is it? Look at Brew gets the lowdown on all things beer, the North East and life in the industry with Craft Beer Passport’s very own Nix Prabhu.

How would you describe the Craft Beer Passport to anyone new to the concept?

Craft Beer Passport is a great new way for beer lovers to explore the local craft beer scene and get a substantial discount while doing so! Using their Passport, a pass holder can choose a £2 craft beer from a list of three at twenty participating locations across the North East between June 1st and December 31st2019. The Passport inspires pass holders to #ExploreViaBeer while helping to support independent bars and craft beer brewers.

What inspired you to set up the Craft Beer Passport and how long has it taken you to get it to this point?

Craft Beer Passport was founded by Mike Stulberg in Toronto, Canada in 2014. I came on board in 2016 (after using the Passport for two years) to lead walking tours that focused on Toronto’s beer and brewing history, stopping off at a couple of the Passport locations along the way. Over the years, Craft Beer Passport has grown and developed into a mobile app that can be used to seek out craft beer locations right across the province of Ontario.

I have seen first-hand how, if not properly supported, independent bars and breweries are in danger of closing. And when that happens, it’s the local beer lovers who suffer from a lack of a good, local watering hole. The Passport is a way to highlight smaller establishments in locations that folk might not know about or not frequent. The incentive of your first drink at a discount is what will get people out. The model has shown that they then stay to try more beers or return for a second round another day.

After I moved to Glasgow and saw how vibrant the UK’s craft beer scene had grown, Mike and I wondered if we could replicate the success of CBP in the UK. Unfortunately, I hit upon the barrier of Scottish liquor licensing laws which do not allow for a product like CBP. I was very disappointed because I was so sure that the business model and the idea in general would be perfect for the UK market. Also, Scotland has some awesome independent breweries!

I put the idea away for some time – almost a year – but came back to it last September after a particularly terrible temping stint. I realised then that I missed being part of the beer industry. More importantly, I want to flex my entrepreneurial muscles again and make something happen! The next few months were spent putting together a business plan, making sure I had enough finances to get going and of course researching how and where to launch CBP in England – which thankfully has different liquor laws!

What’s the beer scene like in the North East and which brewery/beer and/or bar is wowing/inspiring you right now?

The North East is just crammed with good…no… GREAT craft beer. And I had no idea until I started doing the research for where to launch CBP in England. I found out about this incredible cluster of small, independent breweries doing some great work and putting out consistently high-quality product. I’d never have pegged Newcastle for such a vibrant scene. But I guess, very much like Glasgow (where I live) it’s one of those cities that tends to be underrated on many levels.

After I’d picked Newcastle and the Coast as the launchpad, I just started calling round to breweries and bars, trying to get meetings. It was tough for sure. No-one knew me and no-one had heard of Craft Beer Passport. And it was further complicated by the fact that I was a Canadian who lived in Scotland trying to launch a business in Newcastle!

But perseverance paid off and essentially the people in this industry are very welcoming and kind-hearted. Once I started to get buy-in from the first few locations, things got easier and people were nice enough to make introductions thereby making it easier for me to book meetings and talk to bars and breweries about the concept.

I do have to single out the guys at Northern Alchemy, Carl and Andy. My very first meeting was with them and they were so welcoming and supportive right off the bat. What a fantastic welcome to the North East! They gave me the emotional boost that I needed to feel like this whole thing was indeed possible! Daisy Turnell over at Anarchy Brew Co. has been an invaluable guide through the beer world of the region. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had used her website – Craft Beer Newcastle – as one of the definitive guides in my early research. Anarchy also hosted the CBP launch party back in May, which was fantastic of them.

All 20 locations are fabulous to work with and unique in their own way. As are the people who are part of them. I am very glad to have such a stellar line-up for the inaugural Craft Beer Passport UK.

Is there scope to broaden the Passport and establish it in other craft beer destinations/cities?

Absolutely!! We are going to be introducing “Pop-Up” locations as the season progresses so that Craft Beer Passport holders will have even more opportunities to avail of a discount and check out interesting craft beer venues. Watch our social media space as we reveal the first of these pop-ups over the course of the next few weeks.

The long-term plan is to take Craft Beer Passport to other beer hubs: York, Leeds, Durham, Manchester just for starters. If Craft Beer Passport can span an area the size of southern Ontario, there’s no reason why we can’t do the same across England! After all, we want to be everywhere where there is great craft beer!

What’s next for you within the world of beer?

One would think that running Craft Beer Passport would keep me busy enough, but I DO have other ideas brewing (ha! I didn’t even plan than pun). Since moving away from Toronto, I’ve missed having my beer pals around. And because I’ve either been working from home or on various temping assignments, making new friends isn’t always opportune. I’ve been talking to a friend here in Glasgow about setting up a meet up for beer loving gals. It would be nice to meet others who share this passion.

I’ve also just got space at an allotment near my home where I’m looking to grow hops. It’s too late for this year, but I can prime the ground and get going next Spring. It’s a large space, so I hope I can grow enough to try my hand at brewing next year. With my beer gal pals of course!

Have you encountered any issues or difficulties as a woman in the beer industry?

Not as many as one might have imagined. Again, I put that down to the fact that this really IS a very welcoming industry. The biggest peeve for me is when people assume I am male. I realise that Nix is very unisex kind of name, but still, do a rudimentary check.

Do you think the beer industry should /could do more to encourage women into it?

Every time any industry goes the extra mile to welcome anyone who isn’t default player setting (i.e. straight white male), it’s a good thing. There have been huge strides made but we’re far away from parity in any sense. Mentoring in any industry is key. Are there specific mentorship programs for women in beer? And even if there are, perhaps more can be established? Women were the original brewsters way back when. About time we reclaimed the space!

And finally, what’s your Desert Island Beer?

Head Stock IPA by Nickle Brook Brewing Co. back home has been my go-to favourite for some years now. But since moving here, I’ve become rather fond of Fallen Brewing’s Grapevine New World Pale. I don’t have a favourite North Eastern beer yet although there are several contenders. I guess I just need to keep tasting!

Find out more about the Craft Beer Passport UK and the establishments taking part over at craftbeerpassport.co.uk

Photo Credits; Nix Prabhu

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Founder and Editor of Look At Brew - a beer blog dedicated to the celebration and promotion of the modern beer scene. Contributor to Beer Imbiber magazine, Regional Coordinator for the Sussex Tryanuary campaign and founder of the Sussex Bottle Share.