The brand is served in 1,500 stores, the majority in Madrid.
When César Pascual moved to San Francisco to work in
digital, I expected a technological and innovative city. He found, however, a place focused on recovering the old artisan trades. The brewery master caught his attention and he discussed it with Jaime Riesgo and Ana Coello, then new office colleagues. They soon thought that it was a job that could be exported to Spain. "Madrid deserved a better beer," explains Pascual. They started making it at home and it worked, so they returned to their country with a business plan and a logo under their arms. They were between 24 and 29 years old and involved friends, family and the bank for the initial investment. They rehabilitated a destroyed warehouse where they installed their factory and in 2011 La Virgen beers were born with a production of about 30,000 liters. On their tenth anniversary they already reach two million liters per year, they have reached more than 1,500 bars,They have nine of their own and a workforce that exceeds one hundred employees. "You look back and say: the one we have bundled," says Riesgo, the brewmaster.
The beer industry surrenders to those who bill the least: artisans
This group of friends has achieved the dream of almost every Spaniard: to make their own beer and make a business out of it. Its best year was 2019, with a turnover of 8.4 million euros. The pandemic dropped the figure by a third, to six million, when the forecast was to exceed a dozen. His project started at the beginning of the craft beer craze in Spain, but since then many have fallen by the wayside. Only during 2020 more than a third of the existing ones have disappeared, according to a report by the consulting firm Foqus. The Virgin, on the other hand, has survived. “It has been dramatic, but at least we have been able to maintain the structure and the entire squad. They are the ones that will allow us to accelerate again when the uncertainty disappears ”, says César Pascual, who works as marketing director,and affirms that the last two years have ended in the red due to the heavy investment and the consequences of the covid.
The La Virgen team has been able to take advantage of the large consumption of beer in Spain - around 50 liters per person per year in the last decade, according to data from the Spanish Brewers Association - to establish a path that has not been easy. In addition to brewing beer, they started out as bar-to-bar commercials. They went from
digital in San Francisco to the most traditional cold door in Madrid, seeking to enter a world dominated by large breweries.
They packaged, delivered, mounted taps, sold.
Everything passed through his hands.
"It was a success because we transmitted enthusiasm and generated a direct relationship between the bar and the producer," says Pascual.
The project grew, as did the demand, a circumstance that forced them to open a new factory in 2015. The definitive impulse was given in 2017 by the all-powerful AB InBev - which imports and distributes brands such as Corona, Budweiser, Beck's or Stella Artois - when it acquired the company .
It gave them, yes, scope to continue managing it in their own way.
“It allowed us to grow to where we had never thought and, incidentally, to refocus on what we like: making beer,” says Jaime Riesgo.
La Virgen exports to the United Kingdom, France, Chile, Russia and Mexico, although it barely accounts for 5% of its turnover.
Madrid monopolizes the Virgin.
Drinking it in the community is simple because it hosts 90% of the 1,500 establishments they have ever visited, of which about 700 are regular customers.
In addition, they manage the beer in the Chamberí market, and have stalls in San Fernando and Vallehermoso.
They have three of their own establishments in the capital and their factory in the Európolis industrial park, which is open to the public from day one.
Now they are beginning to expand their sights towards Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León or the Basque Country, but outside the capital it is not yet easy to find them.
Its presence in large stores has increased after an agreement with Mahou San Miguel.
Not a neighborhood in Madrid without its own beer
Their first recipe was a tribute to the capital of Spain: Madrid Lager, a blonde that paved the way for them in a market accustomed to consuming this variety. It is the one that currently concentrates 70% of its sales, but at La Virgen they have always sought to expand the beer culture with other proposals. Among its main references are Jamonera, 360, IPA and Trigo Limpio, as well as a gluten-free version of the original and two more - under the name of Madre - that mature in wooden barrels. They still have units of 8:00 PM, a tribute to the toilets. Almost every month they release other seasonal recipes that come and go. All are also part of their El Birrero project, a channel with which they want to establish demand for the internet, which during the pandemic grew by 450%.It is a kind of beer club in which members receive their packet of beers at home on a monthly basis, with the advantage of trying the new ones before anyone else. The next one will be just the recipe that this group of friends made in their studio in San Francisco. A trip to the past so as not to forget the origins.
The Brewers of Spain association assures that beer is a "popular and transversal" drink consumed by 81% of the adult population in this country. In 2019, each Spaniard drank, on average, one liter a week, in line with previous years. However, the health crisis is expected to have greatly disrupted this consumption, because most of it (70%) has traditionally been done outside the home, something difficult in recent months. "The beer sector is very affected by the pandemic," says Jacobo Olalla, general director of Cerveceros de España, who believes that production has fallen "to unacceptable levels" of up to 40%. All this has caused the closure of many small companies in a sector that generates 9,000 direct jobs. For this reason, they request that the autonomous communities make beer production an “eligible activity,as the Government of Castilla-La Mancha has already announced ”. "The survival of many beer producers, especially the small ones, depends on this direct aid plan," concludes Olalla.