On the up · 10 December 2015

All Beer Finder: The digital platform helping you find a beer for any occasion

Master brewer, Alex Barlow of Sheffield-based All Beer
Master brewer, Alex Barlow, of Sheffield-based All Beer

If you’ve been caught up in the craft beer surge then our latest profile piece will be definitely of interest to you, as it involves a growing brand which is helping provide advice and guidance in the world of beer.

Fresh from closing a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the founder of the All Beer Finder website and app sat down with Business Advice to discuss how he’s managed to get countless beer brands to back the new development and where he’d like to take the platforms in the future. But enough from us, it’s now over to the beer-preneur.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

I’m Alex Barlow, founder of the All Beer Finder website and app and of Sentinel Brewery. I’m a qualified master brewer and have what many people would consider to be a dream job, working as a brewing consultant and presenter, sommelier and beer judge. I’m also the author of the “All Beer Guide“, which is the winner of four international awards including World’s Best Beer Book.

(2) How long have you been around for?  

The All Beer Finder website has been around since 2010 and gets a decent amount of traffic. But it could be better – much better – and I figured the natural extension to the website, and the “All Beer Guide”, would be an app to help users choose a beer they’ll enjoy or a beer that will be a perfect pairing with food, all based on their flavour preferences. So in November this year I launched a crowdfunding campaign to enable me to re-launch the website and make the new app come to life.

(3) How do you make money? 

The existing website allows brewers to list their beers and they’ve been able to take sponsorship of the new app and site by becoming backers on our Kickstarter campaign, which successfully reached its target. The site also offers beer lovers – and their friends and families looking for presents – the opportunity to buy my “All Beer Guide” book or experience package which can work for individuals, for couples or for groups.

Outside of the All Beer app and website, my work as a brewing consultant has taken me all over the world launching and tasting beer – it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?  

I’ve developed a comprehensive and unique beer flavour database, which will be expanded for the new app and website with flavour evaluations by highly trained master sommeliers. It’s based on my own beer evaluation template that identifies flavour characters, intensity and even the level balance within a beer, and perceived balance is linked to drinkability.

The credibility of the template has been confirmed by scientific studies at the International Centre for Brewing Science at Nottingham University, resulting in papers presented at the European, World Brewing Congress and American Society of Brewing Chemists.

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

As far as the Kickstarter campaign to get the funding for the app, research and picking the brains of others who’d run campaigns or researched crowdfunding was invaluable. The support of the brewers and of course from beer lovers, family and friends who backed the campaign has been incredible too, and we couldn’t have reached our funding target without the industry getting behind us, backing the campaign and helping to spread the word.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

The “All Beer Guide” was self-published and entirely self-funded, so as to remain independent. That was tough but the fact it received four international awards was proof we were on the right tracks. After that it’s making the Kickstarter campaign a success. Just a week before we ended we were only halfway towards the target, and if we’d not got there, all our efforts would have been in vain. But the support, which came from tech-savvy food and drink lovers in Sheffield and across the world, and from local, national and international brewers, was exceptional and I was thrilled that so many brewers and beer lovers got behind us as it’s the natural partner to the “All Beer Guide”.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

As a startup business based around education in a niche field, the financial crisis hit us hard as all our target customers and fund sources dried up. I always wanted “All Beer guide” to work hand-in-hand with technology, but initially the cost of entry was too high. Now the platforms available are so much better but we still needed to crowd-fund to generate the money to invest.

We made a flying start, up and over £2,000 within the first few days but then the investment curve flatlined for a week before the campaign got a second wind. That had me reaching out for specialist crowdfunding marketers, which made some difference, but not enough to carry us over the line. Reaching out to the brewers which already had beer on the website seems obvious now, as they were already bought-in to the concept, but it remained a major challenge in the last few days of the campaign.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

Splitting my time between England, Italy and key export markets for Sentinel Brewing Co’s beers such as USA, Canada and the far East. There is a World-wide appetite for and interest in beer, with so many new brands appearing all the time. I am keen to grow the Sentinel brand in the UK and abroad and to make All Beer a trusted market leader, introducing people to beers they will love.

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Once you have your vision, the one thing you need to realise it is determination.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

Within my own industry there are so many talented and inspiring brewers who have set out to “do it their way” who have created successful brands which in turn inspire others. The US craft scene has many, like Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Vinny Cilurzo (Russian River), Greg Kock and Steve Wagner (Stone) and Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head). At home my friends Paul Halsey and Jim Minkin have done a fantastic job with Purity and Alastair Hook at Meantime trailblazed the crafting of an exemplary range of beers a long time before the current craft tsunami.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Business Advice. He is also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative. Prior to his role at Real Business, he was editor at competitor website Growth Business and head reporter at M&A Deals. Throughout his career he has interviewed leading entrepreneurs including Alex Chesterman, Lopo Champalimaud, Sarah Wood, James Averdeick and Alex Saint.

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