Full il-lokal disclosure: We're currently drinking a Stretta No.1 Indian pale ale from a tall ice-cold glass at 11:30am and we couldn't feel better about being bad. If there's a good thing about the stay-at-home order issued by the government, it's guilt-free daytime drinking. Even better when it also counts towards supporting your locals!
Small, independent and experimental; these are the usual adjectives used to describe craft brews, also applicable to Malta's very own Stretta, launched in December 2016. After months of perfecting a recipe from home, Stretta's first ever craft beer launch took the island by storm, quickly becoming Malta's highest-rated beer on ratebeer.com. Introducing a new brew to a competitive market was no easy feat, as il-lokal found out while talking to John Borg Barthet, founder of Stretta Craft Beer, about what it takes to run a local beer label.
il-lokal: Do you remember having your first beer? Can you describe that experience?
John: I distinctly remember one of the first specialty beers I had. I was in my late teens and I had just met my aunt who lives half an hour outside of Munich. I met her at an old Bavarian brewpub in central Munich and we both ordered a few pints of Weissbier over lunch. That was the point where the coin dropped for me. I realised how much more beer could be in terms of aroma, flavour and texture.
il-lokal: Who's the man behind Stretta? What led you to start a craft brewery?
John: I've always had a passion for anything food and drink. As a family, we all know our way around the kitchen and I grew up around the making of homemade wine and digestif. I started brewing beer in my mid-twenties using a lot of the equipment left over from winemaking. It became an obsession pretty quickly and I knew I was onto something. I got very passionate about it and one thing led to another. It's very rewarding to see people enjoying a beer you've created.
il-lokal: There's quite a sentimental story attached to the brewery's name. Tell us more about it.
John: My father was born in the notorious Strait Street, in Vincenti Buildings to be exact. Growing up hearing a lot of the naughty stories from the place always roused a lot of excitement in me. Strait Street is also the birthplace of Malta's bar culture, so when trying to find the right name, it came to me pretty fast.
il-lokal: We can imagine setting up a beer label is quite a task. What was the most challenging part of turning the idea into a fully-operating business?
John: An immeasurable amount of work went into crafting recipes, branding, logistics and building the right relationships. That being said, when you're in love with what you do, hard work rarely seems that hard. The most challenging part, I believe, of any business is to keep morale, motivation and creativity as high as you can. These are the forces that will get you through the hard times.
il-lokal: I find Stretta's branding really captivating. How important was that part for you?
John: I had a good idea about the fundamentals and what I wanted the brand to represent, however all the credit goes to Ed Dingli for really understanding what I was after and creating the artwork. We spent a year working on it over email correspondence. He was based in London, while I was in Malta. Ed is both a very talented guy as well as a true gentleman and you can (and should) find out more about him on his website eddingli.com.
il-lokal: How did you work out the distribution details? Did you learn a lot of it as you went along?
John: I was already familiar with business practices so that gave me a head start. However, I felt I had to re-learn everything from scratch to make sure my methods and decisions reflected industry practices appropriately. I've always tried to learn from both good and bad decisions. I don't view any setback as a failure but rather as an opportunity to learn, grow and take my product further. My suggestion to others would be to work with people that you genuinely like and ensure that all parties involved understand the brand's fundamental requirements in order to work effectively together.
il-lokal: What advice would you give someone thinking about starting their own business?
John: Be very aware of how much time, money and sacrifice it's going to take to do it properly. It's also imperative to define exactly what your goal is, as there are always multiple ways to get there and distractions all around.
il-lokal: How is the current lockdown affecting craft beer in Malta?
John: Interest in craft beer is still growing, however, the lockdown is causing massive challenges in both supply and demand. I think people still choose to treat themselves with a drink every now and again, often choosing quality over quantity.
il-lokal: How do you see the market changing in the future?
One book every aspiring entrepreneur should read?
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It really helps highlight those aspects of the business that will help you achieve your goals and those that won't.
Which are your 3 favourite independent businesses in Malta and why?
Strand Palace - Twistees - One of the very few timeless Maltese brands.
Why is it important to support local businesses?
Local businesses create a process for stakeholders to exchange value. These stakeholders could be staff, customers as well as the general public. If the ongoing pandemic gobbles up many local businesses, Malta will find itself poorer and with a lot less means to reclaim the lost value.
|Business:||Stretta Craft Beer|
Edited by Manuela Zammit.