Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Increase in HSBD

I got a DM yesterday on twitter regarding High Strength Beer Duty (HSBD). I was being informed that there may be more increases on the way. I can see this as being very likely. Thanks to the provider of the information, and for the kicking to get me to talk about more important stuff.

I currently have no firm information, it's a rumour. But there certainly are noises off stage left1 regarding this issue. Let us make sure this baddy is defeated.

CAMRA are championing an increase in the low strength relief. The family brewers would also like this to happen. Beer duty reduction for the big, efficient brewers would help pubs, apparently. This is something I disagree with, but it would certainly be politically beneficial. I feel certain that if the low strength duty band is increased it will almost certainly be countered by detrimental changes in HSBD in order to balance the books for HMRC.

We, the microbrewer, will see no benefit from the low strength discount. We already get 50% discount so we are told we can't get more. Progressive Beer Duty (PBD) which is the name for the discount given to microbrewers, is what has given the microbrewing sector a much needed boost. Erosion of this taxation relief will see the microbrewing industry start to dwindle.

Failure to see that the discount given to low strength beer is going to damage the microbrewing industry is a major issue I have with CAMRA. It is undoing the one thing for which I applaud the organisation.


1Stage left is a thespian term to indicate the side of the stage as seen from the actor's perspective. i.e. the right from the audience. In pantomime, it is traditionally the side the baddy enters.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Goodwill to all Brewers

I'm a day late really. This should have been written to go out yesterday, along with other Christmas Messages, from other brewers. Unfortunately, there has been a few things that have preoccupied my time, not least a festivity involving food, beer and swapping of gifts. Additionally, a minor PR faux pas, created by a number of people, and then inappropriately inflated by others, has consumed my mind for some of this time.

Publicity is an interesting thing. But firstly, I really have to remind readers that it simply isn't good enough to make great beer. It is important to make great beer of course, and it is pointed out that some breweries focus more on PR than really great beer, but great beer needs PR if it is to sell. Getting the balance right is a reality of business. A reality that is not limited to beer, although many people erroneously see beer as "different" which it is not. I understand that people who live, breathe and enthuse about beer are going to want it to be different from other products. But it is, at the end of the day, an FMCG. Pete Brown wrote last year about why he thinks it is dangerous to think of it like that, but, from a business point of view, that is exactly what beer is.

This situation is exaggerated by the fact that the vast majority of beer sells based on price and marketing success. Low value well advertised beer is what makes the best profits. This is true of beer, bread, cheese and beans. Product consistency plays a huge part and so does fashionability of tastes.

If you can accept these truths, as I do, you start to see the PR from all the brewers as exactly the same. They all try and claim to be different, but they are not. The ones that try to ignore the necessity for PR might trundle along, but ultimately survive due to a small and local word-of-mouth promotion. Although arguably this is PR of sorts and there is also nothing at all wrong with serving a  small personal market.

Of course the style of PR varies, but ultimately the same game is played by all. This became very obvious to me recently when I found ourselves in the middle of two good friends of mine, on opposite sides as I see it, both looking to maximise on the situation. For me, damage limitation was the key focus. I sensed the smell of blood had enticed one PR guru outside an otherwise successful, but false, altruistic shield.

That was a little bit of a long preamble to get to the point I'm trying to illustrate. What I've tried to do is not to be too outspoken and negative just to gain publicity. There is a lot of good and interesting things going on in the beer world, some of it happening at the smallest of breweries and some happening at the very largest. I've tried to maintain contact with most of this.

I have friends at Molson Coors, Fullers, that current big baddy that is BrewDog, as well as my peers in the likes of MagicRock and Summer Wine and local brewers to me like Stringers, Cumbria Legendary Ales and Hawkshead. Apologies if you are reading this and think you should be in the list, I could make the list very long indeed and I'm sure you deserve to be there.

A special mention should be made to The Kernel. It seems that everyone has to do that. But, it would be daft of a brewery not to say that the British Guild of Beer Writers brewer of the year 2011 was a good brewer, surely?

From time to time I see a spat between some of my friends. Sometimes I even wonder if banging their heads together might be appropriate. But still, at the end of the day, I go away and remind myself that we are all playing the PR game.

There are things I have a go at, CAMRA and The Portman Group being the notable ones. I feel they sit badly with what we are trying to achieve. That doesn't mean that I see them as an enemy, or even that I can't see their perspective. CAMRA and The Portman Group are tools of the brewers PR game too and the alignment brewers choose can influence their market position. These organisations are not brewers, and as I feel these organisations aren't trying to be friends with my part of the brewing community I feel justified in challenging them sometimes.

I try to be friendly with brewers who wish to be friendly with me. This is part of the reason why I deflect criticism of any brewer. I think it is bad form for anyone who is a brewer, or involved in the brewing industry, to publicly criticise another specific person or organisation. I don't always get this right, I'll admit. As a blogging beer writer there are times it is difficult to be sure where the line is, especially if important issues of an interest to readership are to be explored.

The PR stunt that does baffle me is the position of siding against nearly every other brewer and beer organisation. Equally, it does seem to be the one that is working the very best in terms of gigantuous growth for one brewer. This particular issue is very much work in progress for me, and under constant evaluation. I am, of course, constantly warned not to align with these forces which are apparently, I'm told, evil to the beer world. I certainly often worry about the fact that I seem to be doing so, even though I've now been lumped with every other brewer in the country.

The reader will know to what I'm referring, I'm sure. However, no one was named. Go and look at it again, there is an admission to generalisation. If you dissect the text you will also find that it is easy to assume that reference to oxidised beer flows through to every brewer, but in fact this is not quite what is being said. Is it in fact not just the same thing as every advert says? "You have to buy our product because everything else is rubbish" - it's the level of subtlety, or lack there of, that's all.

It disappoints amuses1 me when the PR arm of a big brewer tries to say "they mean you Dave, too" although this is, of course, just another move in the whole chequered game play anyway. Besides, there is the suspicion that jealousy, and perhaps even a little fear, is at play too. Luckily the pressure to choose between friends has been successfully ignored. I do hope to remain friends with both.

I am minded to ask the apparently bad-ass brewing friend if I'm included in the general lump of brewers that aren't the two best. Hopefully the answer will be a desirable one. Perhaps that way a mutual PR benefit can be gained.

And so, for the approaching New Year, there are many things that Hardknott needs to do. Alex has joined us this year and his passion and ability is a great benefit to Hardknott. I am confident that his role will grow with Hardknott and be a crucial part of the learning process too. For me, I hope one of the things we'll carry on doing is making more friends in the brewing industry. I can't promise that I won't criticise organisations that aren't brewers, but I'll certainly try not to take any sides with my brewing friends.


1I changed the to the more appropriate "amused" because actually, when looking from a distance, most PR simply amuses me, especially when people get upset.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Added value

Beer sales overall are dropping. They are dropping much more in pubs. This is a fact that can be backed up by hard evidence. I have here a copy of the 2011 BBPA Statistical Handbook. It is very good indeed. It shows for instance that beer sales in on "On trade" was around 67% of the total in 2000. In 2010 it was just under 51%. "Off sales" by comparison was less than 32% in 2000 but in 2010 only a shade under 50%. For the first time in history beer consumption in pubs, when you bear in mind "on trade" includes restaurants, hotels and other public drinking establishments, is no longer the dominant beer market.

There are many factors that are causing this. One, of course, is the fact that the traditional pub is no longer fashionable, or at least not as much as it used to be. Eating out has become much more popular and it is very evident that fewer and fewer pubs can survive with a pure wet trade.

An increasing awareness of the health harm that can result from excessive consumption of alcohol, and an increasing social stigma being associated with "binge drinking" and "alcohol related crime" led in part by the tabloid press, further damages the industry.

While some are worried that beer is becoming pompous and somehow above itself1, I have consistently and repeatedly argued that this is a good thing. People are turning away from beer and pubs in favour of the grape, home drinking and restaurants. Overall alcohol consumption is dropping, although having only dropped back to around the same level as the year 2000. More importantly the number of cases of drunkenness has decreased from around 20 cases per 10,000 people in it's peak in the 1970s to less than 5 per 10,000 now. The thing that does bother me a little about this figure is that the police may be less inclined to prosecute purely for drunkenness these days. Good job really, otherwise I suspect I may have been prosecuted by now, and perhaps some of my readership too.

Whilst the supermarkets and their relatively low pricing of alcohol must surely be damaging the industry, there is very little we can realistically do about this. The vast majority of the general public see the supermarket as a good thing. The pricing is perceived as good, everything is under one roof and you can park your car right outside the door. However, the supermarket does not provide for a smaller proportion of the population who want something different. I rarely buy beer in the supermarket because they rarely have the beer I want to buy. I often go to the pub and buy beer, sometimes it's even the beer produced in my own brewery. I do so for a very good reason.

Hardknott beers at Craft Beer Co - one of an emerging number of contemporary beer bars

I could set up a cask, or even a keg, in my brewery, or in my garage or kitchen and enjoy my own beer at a much lower price. And I have done on occasions. I prefer to pay a little bit more and drink it in a pub. Why?

Because the pub is warmer than the brewery. Because I can sit and talk rubbish about nothing with the friends I have at the pub. Because someone gives me my beer in a clean glass and wipes the tables down, the decore is better and overall the experience is much better than at the brewery or at home.

It bothers me a lot that there are repeated noises from many people about how the supermarkets are damaging the pub and beer industry by their cut price alcohol. Whilst this may well be true what we inadvertently do is reinforce this commonly held belief. We are telling people that beer is cheaper in the supermarkets, so people now believe that more than ever.

Pubs are special because they add value to the drinkers experience. Special beer in a growing specialist beer market providing added value because the beer is more flavoursome, stronger, shipped from lands afar or perhaps just a little bit daft only goes to strengthen the beer market and helps to grow the businesses that I hope the reader would like to see flourish.

Beer snobbishness is good for beer, not bad.


1I was going to link here to several posts by other bloggers, but I realise that none of them quite say that. But there does seem to be an undertone of the old "beer is the drink of the common people" and "Beer should not be too expensive or snobby"

Here are some posts, although I suspect the reader has already seen them.

Boak and Bailey and again

There are of course good points made, but I can't help feeling that there is a lack of joined up thinking when it comes to how we worry about how beer is sold, marketed and priced. It was the Daily Mail piece this morning that caused me to write this piece.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


I'll be honest, this is an open and honest plea.

Beer is a low margin business.

A low margin business is one that might have a high turnover, might do lots of potentially profitable trade, but where the costs to profit ratio is quite poor; You have to sell lots of beer, take a lot of money, and turn it all around very quickly, if you stand any chance of making an honest living.

Of course, if you are a big brand which is wanted in a pub, you can demand that supply is only guaranteed provided the bills are paid, or that they are paid by direct debit. Unpaid bills or bounced direct debits are rewarded by the account being put on stop. No more bland mass produced lager for you, mate.

Even more secure is to operate the tied pub model.

In the microbrewery industry it is important to take the business you can. But taking that business can lead to difficulties. I don't like to say to the very well meaning pub manager who really wants to stock my beer "I'd deliver, but your head office hasn't paid the last two invoices"

Nearly everyone pays in the end. Even the one who was 10 months late and we thought we were going to have to take to court, paid in the end, although the distasteful joke made at the time left a bad taste that will ensure lasting memories.

But consider the readers salary. Consider that to make a reasonable living we would have to turn over at least 10 times our expected salary. Consider you, the reader, and whatever salary, income or other financial input you get. Consider that you might consistently be owed about 25% of the yearly payments due to you. How would you feel about that? How much would it cost you in interest?

Consider that we have 10 times that in monies owed to us.

We generally deliver beer having already paid 1 for the hops, malt, bottles, labels, cask finance charges, van HP, tank capex loans, cleaning chemicals, wages 2 and many, many other costs. Not too long after delivery we have to pay - we HAVE to pay - the beer duty.

Many pubs and bars pay cash on delivery. We love you very much indeed. A large proportion pay within 30 days. We love you by an amount that is imperceivably less than the aforementioned pubs. If everyone paid within 30 days I would not be writing this post. Paying within 30 days, or even a little bit longer, is how most businesses work. We're all in the same boat and we understand.

There are some bars who take delivery, take the money off the drinker, bank it, let us pay all the costs and still don't pay for the beer after over 60 days. If all our customers did that we would be out of business.

As it is, these bars and pubs are preventing us from growing our business.

You know who you are.

We know it's tough out there and we are all in the same boat. Money is tight for all of us and when you are in business you have to manage that cash flow as best you can. I'm sure pubs and bars have problems too, remember, we've been there too.

You could help us out here.

If you are a drinker, make sure your favourite bar or pub knows you want our beer stocked. That way we can put more pressure on these bars to pay their bills on time. A reason why it's not stocked might be because we've decided not to supply due to non-payment.

If you are one of our well-meaning bar manager customers who are at the mercy of some head office bean counter then please communicate to them that they are damaging the craft beer scene by delaying payment inappropriately.

If you are an aforementioned bean counter and are reading this then I'm very surprised, because frankly, I didn't think you cared about decent beer. But then, I suspect I'm right on this one, and you are probably not reading this.


1or at least have our suppliers breathing heavily down our necks threatening to stop us brewing because we haven't paid. If you're reading, Mr Supplier, we love you more than you know for being as tolerant as you are.

2Sorry Alex, I know that might not be quite true, but we love you even more.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Leaning towards extreme

Hardknott for the faint hearted?

I can never claim to have led an ordinary life. Sunday, for instance, is not about washing the car or cutting the lawns. OK, sometimes it is, but only because it is well past needing to be done and I've not been able to squeeze those essential, but tiresomely boring jobs into my schedule at any other spare time.

An ideal Sunday for me would be something that raises the pulse rate a little1 and might involve a little bit of outdoor sport with an element of adrenalin. Climbing is my most favourite pass-time, when I get a chance. Rock climbing in the summer and snow and ice climbing in the winter. Sadly, since leaving regular employment just over 8 years ago, the time consumed in the pursuit of a reasonable level of income from being self employed seems to have rather limited my time available for pure pleasure.

My approach to beer is somewhat similar to other aspects of my life; anything but mainstream. I could probably sell more beer if I concentrated on making low cost pale session bitter. My view is that Hardknott is about something different, something challenging, and something that sets the pulse racing. It's not for everyone. It's probably not even for the majority.

I recently wondered if Continuum was too extreme for it to be really successful. I know that due to it's very high hop loading, right from bittering hops, through late aroma hops and ending with a stupid level of dry hopping in tank, it clearly strikes fear into those meek drinkers who get vertigo when faced with high level hop compounds. My love of crystal malt as a belay for protection against unbalancing, when on the edge of top level hop exposure, often attracts criticism.

My daughter, Sarah, has just turned 14. That fact in itself only goes to strengthen my biggest fear of all; my advancing age resulting in my knees no longer being able to cope with some of my favourite activities2. I was very much younger and fitter 14 years ago when that bundle of fun made an entrance into the world. Having a birthday at this time of year can be troublesome for the girl, as less attention to birthday presents are given due to everyone being consumed with the details of our ever increasingly burdensome Christmas celebrations.

She's a clever cookie, takes after her Dad, recently requesting climbing equipment for presents. That's easy, I thought, you can never spend too much money on beer or climbing equipment. Of course, the detail of exactly what to get would require a little bit of thought. Given that the weather this time of year is unpredictable, climbing gear might not get used until the summer and an all weather solution was needed.

Looking at a blank wall in the brewery and suddenly a devious plan was hatched. A quick look at the internet revealed that climbing wall holds were easily attainable. Job sorted, daughter happy, and I now have a climbing wall in the brewery that I can play on whenever I like.

"Dad?" you know, in the both cute but irritating way that only daughters can do.
"Yes Sarah?"
"Just because we now have a climbing wall, you know you can't get out of taking me proper climbing in the summer, don't you?"
"Oh, I suppose so" I say, pretending that I'm reluctant, but really, pleased that I'll probably now get bullied into spending more time away from work and doing something I really enjoy
Thinking about Continuum, I like it the way it is. I know other people do too. I left a well paid job to take up a career in an industry I enjoy being part of. I have always concentrated on doing things in an off-the-wall shunning-the-mainstream approach to my business. A little bit extreme, pushing into areas of risk and incurring costs that often cannot be recouped due to the very low margins that exist in the beer industry.

I've been in the bottom of a glacier crevasse, on top of many mountains, broken my leg skiing, nearly frightened myself to death more times than I care to remember being half way up a rock climb that really I shouldn't have been on.

I've run a pub3, started a brewery, sold the pub, made strong beer, week beer, well-hopped beer, had a pop at CAMRA and The Portman Group. I do these things because this is who I am, what I do. I make the beers I want to drink, and I shouldn't have to apologise for that. I write about the things I want to write about, I don't think I should have to apologise for that either. Inevitably this blog is now shaped by the fact that I run a brewery which is trying to make money out of brewing the very beers I like to brew. Getting to the markets that might return sufficient margin for me to continue to make these beers does require a rather extreme approach to marketing and this is always going to upset a few. And sometimes I get a little scared as a result.

But, a little bit of what scares me is what keeps me feeling alive.


1Now look, there really wasn't any need for you to think that.

2There you go again. But, although the fear of ceasing to be able to manage that is also there, I am told there are little blue pills that might keep everything in that department functional long after it ought to be.

3And really, that in itself I could fill a book with those stories.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Just The Tonic

We received a letter from The Portman Group the other day regarding a complaint made against Vitesse Noir by a member of the public......

I've just written the response.

Portman Group
4th Floor
20 Conduit Street
London W1S 2XW
By Post, Email
and Open letter published on Dave’s Blog
05 December 2011
We note your letter dated 2 December 2011 regarding a complaint from a member of the public. We note your nine member companies, who between them represent a major contributor to the alcohol market. We recognise the need for pacification of the unreasonable pressure put on our industry by neo-prohibitionists who fail to recognise that the vast majority of drinkers are responsible and moderate. We note that the clever marketing campaigns conducted by your member companies, with their benefit of major marketing budgets, often subtly tread a fine line of your code. We note that major lager brands for instance often sponsor sport implying that by drinking that product you automatically become a sportier person. Additionally, adverts on the T.V. that suggest by drinking a product one’s party will be wild and raunchy must surely sail close to The Portman Group’s code of conduct.
We note that the majority of the volume of the products your members companies make are easy drinking, manufactured to a budget and a quality that is unlikely to challenge the taste buds of the drinker and sold in a manner that is designed to maximise volumes of sales. We respect this position and understand that this is what the majority of the law abiding drinking public is happy with.
We note that The Portman Group has no jurisdiction over us and is unlikely to be able to take action over this particular product, namely Vitesse Noir, as it is predominantly sold direct by us to a very small specialist market. The product is highly unlikely to be sold through supermarkets, which is where the majority of risk to public health would be.
We are a very small company. Our products are designed very much for a small, niche, and discerning customer base. To enable us to get to our target market we require a strong marketing message and it is disappointing that an organisation which is funded by major alcohol producers is seeking to interfere with real innovation and enterprising commerce. In the current economic environment it is the small producers like Hardknott who are likely to lead an economic recovery. Seeking to inhibit our success is inappropriate and unreasonable.
This particular product is inspired by an American Craft Beer the likes of which is very rare in the UK. It is part of a Craft Beer movement in the UK which is showing drinkers that a few well chosen drinks at a higher price is more responsible than looking for the lowest cost deal and drinking it in large quantities. It is highly flavoured and priced as a premium product and as such is recommended by us to be consumed only as a digestif. If the label is read in context it is clear that this is the case, and furthermore the label carries a warning, which the complaint has chosen to ignore.
It appears that it is the word “tonic” which is being picked out as the offending word. It is worth pointing out that pre-packaged “Gin and Tonic” is now a regular product in many supermarkets and is manufactured by at least one of your members. Additionally, several of your members regularly feature adverts in mass media citing gin and tonic as a refreshing pick-me-up.
We believe the risk to the general public of the innocent and obviously tongue in cheek wording on the labels of our bottles is insignificant. Indeed, we expect that our customer base will have all the intelligence needed to control their own health and wellbeing and are unlikely to believe that our little quip has any basis in truth. We believe our customers are intelligent and discerning and we market as such.
The product is manufactured in very small batches and we are unlikely to ever reach the manufacturing capacity that would cause this product to represent a public health risk.
We believe that for small artisan producers like ourselves a different approach to marketing is required. We will therefore wish to be allowed to progress with our business without interference from an organisation who is funded by major alcohol producers.
I note that this is not the first time The Portman Group has antagonised producers in the Craft Beer Sector. Hardknott recognises the importance of a regulatory body within the industry to prevent inappropriate Government legislation hindering the lawful and responsible actions of all of our industry. However, it is clear to me that The Portman Group is unable to consider the needs of the small artisan producer. Should a representative of small producers be required then we would be happy to help and thereby avoid further uncomfortable confrontations.
Dave Bailey
Brewer, Doer, Force Majeure.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Vitesse Noir at Port Street

We're off to Manchester later today, partly because my American-brewpub-owner-friend has to climb aboard a plane back to his colony tomorrow. He also hasn't been to Port Street Beer House and I wanted to show him that before he leaves.

We will also be delivering a pin of Vitesse Noir to Port Street ready for a meet the brewer/beer launch. If you haven't had a chance to try Vitesse Noir yet then get to Manchester on Wednesday. It is the first time we've provided this beer in cask form and I'm not sure when it might happen again.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Tanks a lot

It's been an interesting couple of weeks. To start with Ted, from Oregon, flew over our brewery early on the Monday before last on his way to Manchester. That very same afternoon, whilst Ted was being ignored by Simon in The Marble Arch, some tanks arrived. We've been waiting for them for such a long time that we now feel some sort of loss that we can't now say "when the new tanks arrive"

After much scurrying around for a forklift truck that had forks long enough, we finally got them off-loaded just in time for yet another radio interview with BBC Cumbria. They are good to us, the local BBC, but their timing could have been better.

The last week has been about interfacing SMS, Tri-clamp and RJT fittings. Despite my best attempts to avoid it we now have a ridiculous combination of pipe fittings in the brewery. The week has also been about putting as much wort into these tanks as possible. There is a risk that quite a lot of it now classes as beer.

These new tanks open up so many possibilities for us. We can now brew, condition, lager, dry hop and carbonate all in the same tank. The primary fermentation is close to being finished on both the inaugural beers and I'm now playing with the pressure versus temperature allowing the natural CO2 to be absorbed into the beer. No force carbonation. A question for the future is: if I drop the beer bright in tank and fill cask under counter-pressure is it still real ale? Would anyone care?

Either way, these babies are a significant step forward for Hardknott. To the best of my knowledge we are the only Cumbrian brewery using such technology on the main production beers. Early indications are that they will significantly improve our ability to get more beer out to more people more often.

Above is the Hardknott team. I'm the handsome one on the left. In the middle is the youngster of the gang, Alex. Ann, of course, is on the right, getting worryingly close to Alex.

The tanks are 2000l total volume and 1650l working volume. One currently holds about 12hl of Code Black which we brewed on Tuesday and the other very close to capacity of Continuum, which we brewed on Wednesday. Thursday Ted brewed a double imperial red beer which got crammed into one of our old 5 barrel tanks.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Beer lovers scran

I didn't want to be involved from the start. I'd been last year and been quite appalled at how badly the beers had been matched to the food. This year I'd been asked to contribute beer free of charge, two firkins no less. I insisted on the beer I would present being Infra Red at the very least. Of course, I'd have been happier to match something even stronger with the food, but this was a CAMRA dinner and it just HAD to be cask.

The event was the Cumbrian CAMRA branches annual awards and beer lovers dinner. Last year it was very clear that almost universally the beers chosen were session beers, which are rarely very good at matching with food. The one beer that was, if I remember rightly, about 6% gained inappropriate and over-the-top warnings from the jug runner about how strong it was.

Having been persuaded to attend this year, and having received no real benefits from the fact that we had donated beer, not even a free seat, and payment demands for the 4 tickets we had agreed to buy being somewhat less than tactful, I was below optimum mood for the event anyway. Being a person who works, lives and breaths beer nearly every waking hour of the day and being extremely busy with it, a Friday night in front of the TV was then, a week ago, very much overdue. I could still do with scheduling it in right now. A beer dinner like that is work you see, it has to be absolutely splendid to fire me into enthusiasm1.

I'm not against session beer. I've made the point many times before that I drink a lot of it. However, when it comes to beer and food matching, session beer just does not cut the mustard, or for that matter any other condiment.

The menu was fairly dire. OK, it's hard to cater for 200 people, but what was presented seemed ill thought through and lacked flair, imagination or any substantial quality. The technical complacence of the cooking was fine, but overall it lacked any decent interest.

The first course was a "Cumbrian canapé Breakfast on a plate" Please, what was that? A miniature breakfast essentially. Clever maybe, but the only flavours were salt. black pudding and prune. The only positive thing I could say was that the pale session beer it was matched with helped to quench the thirst that the salt created. It did not go at all well with the dominant flavours of the black pudding and the prune.

The second course was more salt. Ham hock and potato terrine and this was possibly the best of a poor bunch of session beer matches. However, the food was bland other than the salt and overall failed to impress me.

Beef, which was actually the best food, was matched with an otherwise superb and very popular pale session beer. The result was a little bit like trying to get morris dancers to perform to Punk Rock. Never before have I ever tried a food and beverage match that was so clearly influenced by organisational needs over and above flavour.

By the time I got to the dessert, matched with my beer, I was already very unhappy that I had spent £120 of my money on tickets and also donated around £200 worth of beer. I was by this time quite convinced I should have gone with my original gut feelings of having nothing whatsoever to do with the event. The Infra Red would have been a far more suitable match for the beef, and I was expecting complete failure of a match it had been chosen for, which was the dessert.

Damson and almond tart. This would have gone well with Stringers Damson beer, for instance, or perhaps a Kriek. I believe Hawkshead do a damson beer too. But, Infra Red, I was sure, was not the best match. I'll be honest, out of the whole menu it probably was the best beer/food paring, but in my view this only goes to highlight just how bad this beer dinner was.

The beer with the cheeses was OK. Sorry, the beer is one of my favourite Cumbrian Beers after Infra Red and would have gone well with the beef perhaps slightly better than Infra Red. But still, it was only just OK with the cheese.

On top of the matching issues the whole event suffered from the major problem of delivering beer in jugs to tables. Decanting beer into jugs knocks out condition by the double decant. All the beers were flat, completely. I nearly ordered a bottle of wine.

All the very best beer matching events I've been to either use beer in bottles, or where logistics are practical, the beers are dispensed on draught directly into the glass. However, this is a concern I have with beer judging where beer is often dispensed with a double decant to ensure quite rightly that blind tasting is ensured.

Quite apart from the fact that this event effectively cost us over £320 to support, which I regret deeply, I also despair at the entrenched ideas of some beer "lovers" How on earth are we ever going to overcome the preconceived ideas of the like of Saturday Kitchen if the organisers of beer diners like this fail to understand that session beers are for drinking in the pub and beer and food matching needs a different approach? If this is the standard of beer and food presentation we will always fail to overturn the general public's view that wine goes better with food.


1I need to point out that many very good beer events do inspire me. We recently organised a beer dinner at Fayrer Gardens for instance. Also, we had an absolutely splendid time at Thatchers Arms with Tim Atkin and Adrian Tierney-Jones where beer and wine went head-to-head and proved that either, when done well, can be equally as good with food. Indeed, it is cooperation between menu design and drinks matching, along with bucking against influences for political reasons that make these events a success.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Flavour, taste, preconception and fashion

It was the SIBA North competition on Thursday followed by it's festival. The reader should already know this, unless a casual browser of random blogs; it's a major event that all beer enthusiasts ought to at least know about, even if they are unable to attend. We helped out by being runners during the judging, which was fun, if a little tiring.

The day had two very notable aspects which were particularly pleasing. The first was that we won silver in the Premium Strong Bitters category for Infra Red, which of course we were very pleased about. The second and possibly far more pleasing was the fact that we had a chance to meet up with many great people, some old friends, some new friends and some people I've only ever previously communicated with via twitter or blogging. It was great to see you all.

Competitions like this always throw up questions in the minds of individual beer enthusiasts. One very notable winner, just prior to the announcements being made and therefore in complete ignorance of the results, commented to me that these things are always a lottery. I'm not sure I completely agree, although clearly there are going to be a number of variables associated that will very surely throw up a different result on a different day.

As a brewer, and a business man, I have to consider what the outcome of such a competition really means. The 130 assembled judges obviously came from a variety of different backgrounds. Some beer bloggers, some brewers from other SIBA regions and presumably some publicans and perhaps some of the general public. The result of such a competition should at least represent the opinions of a spectrum of people.

While waiting for the final judging to finish I had a half of Magic Rocks Rapture 4.6% (Premium bitters) which I thought to be so good that I thought to myself "The bastards, I think I like this better than Infra Red" full of over-the-top dry hopped flavours that over-shadow my own attempts at progressive beer. Afterwards I got to taste Continuum, which risked failing to register on the hop-o-meter due to palate overload, despite normally fully satisfying my humulus desires.

We settled down to wait for the results of the competition. In the preamble to the announcements it was pointed out that everyone's perception of what is good is different. That fact is not only true but left sufficient impact on the assembled audience for a number of people to point this out later, and perhaps supports the view mentioned above that the outcome is to some extent subject to variables beyond the beer.

The Best Bitters category came and went and Continuum failed to get a medal. Equally, the premium bitters category came and went without Rapture gaining any recognition. I had been suffering from the fact that I had had a couple of beers and had not yet found the little boys room despite having been there 5 hours. Infra Red clearly wasn't going to get anything if Rapture and Continuum didn't. Too many hops, too narrow an appeal, too flavoursome I assumed. I took a comfort break fairly happy I wasn't going to miss anything important.

I happened to get back from dispensing with the aqueous proportion of previously consumed beer in time for the premium strong beers category to be announced. Hawkshead NZ Pale Ale got Bronze.

"Oh well" thought I "Hope yet for properly hopped beers"

Then came Silver. "Hardknott Infra Red"

I think that my thought process at that point included a proportion of profanities of delight that rarely get used in my writing, but oft enter my head. I had been convinced that Continuum would be more likely to win than Infra Red. Needless to say the evening that followed would have been difficult to spoil as I floated on a cushion of very comfortable euphoria.

The next day we set off early from Manchester to deliver beer and pick up empties from London. We were due in Essex in the evening to attend a beer verses wine dinner hosted by The Thatchers Arms with the beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones and wine writer and Saturday Kitchen presenter Tim Atkin.

If you've been following our blog you will be aware of our attempts to change a little bit the perception that beer is unworthy to drink with quality food. The dinner was a great success and in the end was more about like minded people getting together with great food and great drink than about any real contest. The results concluded that both beer and wine are equally worthy at the table when good company is in plentiful supply.

It is intriguing to me that various people at the dinner did have some preconceived ideas about which beverage should work better. I tried very hard to put aside my own. In the end the best match of the evening was, in my view, a wine, although I still think that beer came out slightly on top overall from my perspective.

Irrespective of what I thought, there were clearly some differences of opinion. How much that is influenced by peers, media, ancestors and more is debatable. It is very common for people to go to the pub and order a pint before a meal, but then swap to more robust wine for a meal. In my view this is mainly due to preconceived ideas, but also because the beer industry fails to do enough to change that.

Both the dinner and the competition from the day before have interesting enlightenment for me. Hawkshead Windermere Pale won the SIBA competition. It is very popular and I know the team at the brewery work very hard to make it a good, solid and consistent product. It has wide appeal and certainly enjoys commercial success. This is clearly because this beer is suitable for the regular beer drinker in the regular pub where quite rightly the majority of beer is consumed.

Infra Red and perhaps even Continuum might just have too narrow appeal for the wide range of judges that are quite rightly assembled for such competitions. Indeed, my suspicion is that Infra Red won partly because the number of beers in the strong premium beers category is somewhat less than in the best bitter category.

If Hardknott made a beer that tried to have as wide an appeal as Windermere Pale, or perhaps another very popular Cumbrian beer, Loweswater Gold, I could sell a lot more beer. But then, I'd only be copying what these very good breweries have done. Instead, our aim is to carry on making beers that are different, have narrower appeal, and some I hope that can further lever into the quality dining arena.

Having tasted Magic Rock's Rapture, I now feel Infra Red is somehow inferior. No doubt if I tried to ram more hops into it, quite apart from no longer being the beer that gained silver, might also be even less popular with a wider audience. Equally, Light Cascade, which I consider to be the runt of my litter, perhaps should have been entered into the competition, and does continue to enjoy good sales on cask.

In conclusion, I am left thinking that the only thing I can continue to do is ensure Hardknott makes the beers that define us. If we win a few prizes along the way, then so much the better. If we can convince a few more people to focus on trying beer as an alternative to wine with food, then better still.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Money for old rope

It's a busy time at Hardknott, I've been busy with all sorts of important jobs, like getting rid of stuff I don't want in exchange for stuff I do. Today I sold and delivered 3 tonnes of Lake District roofing slate that was taken off the pub before we left. It's OK, it was replaced with new, which actually made the roof better. Better than that the old fine-grained, foliated, homogeneous metamorphic rock still had value, it's just that the lazy builder I used seemed reluctant to engage in the old art of roofing with random slate. He proclaimed that I'd get enough money for selling the old slate to pay for the job of putting the new, inferior quality, regular sized slate on the roof. Needless to say I was offered diddily-squat for the slate from the builders "man", too late for me to change my mind.

I could tell you far more about this story, but I can sense that the reader may already have lost interest and moved on to another blog. So, to cut a long story short, I sold the slate today for less than I wanted, but for a reasonable amount more than I was originally offered. This has helped us to finish paying for our new tanks which will be delivered, so I'm told, around the middle of next week.

The other thing I have been busy with is sorting out an on-line shop. It's been in beta test mode hiding behind a password log-on. 12 kind souls have been buying beer through this medium, just to test everything is OK. The little bit of money from this, because payment via PayPal is virtually immediate, has also helped cash-flow a little. Selling to pubs and shops invariably means we get paid days, weeks or even months after you, the customer, has drunk the beer.

I imagine the reader who is still engaged is wondering why I don't take the password protection off the web-shop and sort out our cash-flow a little bit more. Mainly, the answer would be that I believe it is necessary to have a licence to sell alcohol to the general public. Don't worry though, the licence just came through and the shop will be online next week.

However, gaining this licence is not without it's difficulties and, more importantly, costs. Not only is the licence fee itself linked to the rateable value of the building, which you might think is fair enough. I don't think it is. If we had a little stand alone shop, say 16 square metres floor space, the rateable value would mean our licence would be in the lowest band. However, our shop is 16 square metres within a building that is over 200 square metres. The rateable value of all of that building puts us in a higher band. Money for nothing. On top of these costs are the costs of placing the statutory adverts, photocopying the forms and getting plans drawn up. Applying for a premises licence is not an insignificant activity.

It all makes me think about licences in general. The list of licences and permits for operating any pub or other on licence establishment are fairly extensive. PRS, TV licence, Satellite subscription, environmental health registration, premises licence, data protection registration.... the list goes on and on. The costs of gaining and maintaining these runs into thousands of pounds a year. It's not just the direct costs, which are often paid to the local authority in return for nothing other than permission to trade. There is also the administration costs of supplying and maintaining relevant documents or ensuring compliance with ever increasingly stringent and irrelevant rules made up by unnecessarily employed graduates who wouldn't otherwise have a meaningful part in the economy of the country.

Many people cite beer duty as the killer to the licensed trade. Indeed, it is a cost that is significant. But I firmly believe that blaming beer duty for the downfall of the pub is focussing too closely on only one part of the costs that can be attributed to our political leaders. Local authorities raking in fees for licences, and in return simply dreaming up more ways to make our lives complicated, are not only forcing us to pay good money for old rope, but are also asking us to hang ourselves by that very same cord and no doubt flog ourselves with it before we do.

I hope that my slate sale has enabled a charming gentleman to finish his barn conversion. It might have been old slate, but it was good and serviceable and of use to him. We did a deal, shook hands and everyone is happy. Hardknott gets a couple of nice tanks and our customers will get more of our beer.

Licences and permits are needed to ensure unscrupulous dealers can't sell cut price beer to kids. Looking at some places I'm not convinced it really does achieve that aim, but regardless, for the small, honest and responsible trader the costs caused and complexity imposed are completely unreasonable. And, we get absolutely nothing in return that is of value.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Go on, do it if you haven't already

We're just about to release a very big beer. It's a triple imperial stout with lots of stuff in it. It's full of beans, just to give you a clue, three different types in fact. It's 11% and black. You wouldn't neck it very fast, it will be seriously expensive for one thing. Also, you wouldn't drink much of it because of the intense flavours. It is unlikely to cause major drunken behaviour mainly because it is aimed at beer geeks rather than tramps.

There will be several events, including twissup, where it will show up.

However, it will be a little more expensive than it needs to be because the Government have put a High Strength Beer Duty on it. Sadly we didn't get it into bottles, keg and cask quite quick enough so couldn't pay up the duty for last month, which was the last chance to move beer out of "duty suspense" before the new tax comes in.

There is an e-pertition that is asking the Government to consider reversing this tax. Yes, it might be true, as Jeff Pickthall points out, that we are unlikely to get the tax revoked, but if we don't make our voices heard then beer duty is going to keep on increasing.

If you haven't read and signed this e-petition then you need to read more beer blogs, I must be the last of the beer bloggers to have posted about this.


If you'd like to get hold of this beer as soon as it is released you could do worse than apply to be a beta tester for our shop.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Three years on

It was cold, wet and dark when I woke this morning; it turns out that this might be something to do with the fact that summer has well and truly gone. Already the advantages of longer days in northern climes at June's solstice have been negated and those southerners already have about 6 minutes more daylight1 than us. As yet another year moves into the final quarter it has suddenly made me realise how much has changed for me in the last 3 years.

It was on this day 3 years ago that I started Dave's Beer Blog. I was reminded by the author of this blog's twin, Pencil and Spoon, of the anniversary, and without Mark prodding me I'd have certainly forgotten this important date. Although there are many influences that have got me to this point in my life I, this blog is the most significant catalyst to have made it happen. It is perhaps perverse that the main reason for starting to write this blog was a frustration in having insufficient control over my own destiny. At that time I was running a pub in a remote corner of the country and had simply run out of ideas for making the business sustainable. Moreover, there was a real risk of a nervous breakdown, a relationship failure or even my physical health being severely compromised. I am now happily in the position that, although these risks are still present, far more control is achievable and I have a business that is developing without the constraints imposed by a 16th century building in an inaccessible part of Cumbria. However, I now write much less, and when I do it feels less creative which is a fact that upsets me quite a lot.

More than all of that, this blog has put me in touch with many great people. This blog has won me a nice tankard that sits on my mantle piece. I now sit on the committee of The British Guild of Beer Writers giving me an excuse to visit London far more often than I'd otherwise have reason to. Probably most importantly it has given me a significantly broader knowledge of beer, through those many people I have met, than I would otherwise have gained.

I now run a growing brewing business that is exploring new and diverse areas of the beer market. These developing and exciting prospects are unnerving many, but for us we know it is the right tack to follow. To us, to make beer that is no different to the many hundreds of others that are out there makes little sense.

8 years ago I loved good food, good pubs, drank Guinness, had a reasonably well paid job with holidays and everything. I sought to remove myself from the humdrum and pension certainty by looking for a business. I chose to buy a pub, which as it happened served a lot of cask beer. I changed from Guinness drinker to cask beer drinker to brewer and finally, mainly as a result of this blog, to fully confirmed beer geek.

The combined effect of being a little more contented about my fate, and being really quite absorbed with the task of building this brewery, reduces my time and inclination to write. Despite this I do like writing, so here's to another year of this blog and me finding the temporal flexibility and cerebral stimulus to punch the keyboard a little more often.

Meanwhile, I do hope we have a white winter again. I know you guys in the south hate the snow but up here we love it. A bright snow laden fellside is a perfect offset for the slightly shorter days compared to the grey-brown slush that clogs up the capital. Besides, the sledges just don't get out often enough.



1In the summer we get about 45 minutes more daytime than Londoners. In the middle of winter it goes the other way. Whether or not that is a good thing is a matter of perspective.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Low ABV, low duty, low IQ

Duty on beer has been slashed. Unless you are a micro-brewer that is, in which case beer duty goes up.

I blogged about it more than once when it was first announced. Unfortunately, the arguments I put seemed a little to complex for most of you to get on your high horse about it then.

I'll put it simply:

  • The low ABV duty discount can only be claimed by brewers who do not get small brewers discount.
  • CAMRA campaigned for the low ABV discount.
  • Below 2.8% cask beer is not practical as it has low demand and goes off faster.
  • The duty rise on 7.5% beer is to pay for the low ABV discount.
  • Low ABV discount can only be claimed by supermarket own brands, large brewery "mid strength" lagers and perhaps some large cask beer producers.
  • At present, we are unsure how the high ABV is to be calculated1, but there is a suggestion that micro-brewers making beer over 7.5% might be charged 150% more due to us loosing our small brewers discount on these beers.
  • Until now beer duty was completely fair - duty was charged per unit volume of alcohol. Not any more.
Overall, CAMRA are claiming it as good news. IT IS NOT.

Chasing a discount on beers under 3.5%, which CAMRA are doing, will only cause the Government to put up beer duty somewhere else - you have been warned.


Magic Rock also have some stuff to say on the subject.

1Since I first published this post I looked into the facts. HMRC have never sent any information, but I did research when the budget announcement was made. As I suspected it is confirmed that we are still permitted the discount on the regular part of beer duty but not the High Strength Beer Duty. Our duty will go up by 50% on all beers above 7.5%

"Small Brewer's Relief is still available on the general beer duty element of beer above 7.5% abv. However, it does not apply to HSBD and no further relief will be applied to the reduced rate for lower strength beers."
There is information on the HMRC site for those concerned.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cool Snake

If you follow me on twitter you might occasionally see me arguing with Tandleman over various issues. In many ways this is a bit bizarre because I have on more than one occasion had a very enjoyable sociable experience drinking with someone with the name Peter Alexander. Recent discussions have been over naming and shaming individual establishments over their beer serve temperature. Although I remain unconvinced about the value of public naming and shaming on twitter, I agree that there are some shocking examples of poor beer dispense.

Beer should be served at the correct temperature. For cask beer this is generally considered as being around 12 degrees centigrade1. Too cold and flavours can be masked as well as inevitable problems with chill haze. Much worse is the crime of serving beer too warm; the drinking experience is not enjoyable and an otherwise well brewed beer can be ruined as a result.

There is unfortunately a pattern; tied pub estates often have significant care given to the quality of installed equipment. OK, the beer range may not be particularly varied or imaginative, but you can be more certain that the beer is better looked after. There is very good reason for this.

With a tied house the beer sold is entirely supplied through one route to market. It might be a single regional brewer or it may be a PubCo but there is at least a central purchasing route and maximising sales is crucial to the profitability of the owning business. Cellar support is inevitably very good with great care given to maximising the quality of the beer.

By contrast many free houses have poorer investment in cellar equipment and dispense technology. A very noticeable but in my view completely unacceptable omission is, as I think Tandleman put it, "python2 cooling to the point of dispense". This should include jacketed handpulls and carefully regulated circulating cooling water from a dedicated cooler, i.e. NOT from the keg cooling circuit.

OK, the investment might well be significant for a free-house without benefit of a large brewery to supply the technical support and equipment investment, but it will reduce wastage in "pulled through" beer and also inevitably increase the quality of the beer therefore improving the customer experience. I suspect the payback time will be very much shorter than most establishments expect.

Moreover, some of my very favourite beer outlets do suffer from beer serve temperature problems. This results in public naming and shaming of the very places I love. So, perhaps these places could help to prevent Tandleman and I from falling out by thinking about investing a little in dispense equipment?

On Beer, Birra, Bier there is an interesting reflective post on my most recent twitter discussion with Tandleman.

Expensive but very good handpulls can be bought here. Pythons and other such wonderful things can be bought here. Personally I find the technicalities of putting these things together very straightforward, but if your practical skills aren't up to it a good cellar technician shouldn't cost too much.

If any cellar technician tries to tell you that it's OK, it's "trad beer" and doesn't need python cooling, look for someone else.


1personally I think there is an argument for some very light and hoppy beers being served a little cooler and things like strong stouts and barley wines a little warmer. 12 degrees is a good compromise however and I totally reject the excuse some dinosaur cellar-men use to say cask beer should be warm. Cask Marque is one organisation that has set some parameters and this cannot be a bad thing.

2A python is a thermally lagged bundle of pipes that includes a flow and return cooling circuit. It's really good at keeping beer at the right temperature from the cellar right to your glass. Generally, if beer is too warm, it is highly likely that this technology is not in use, or it's broken.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The making of the Hardknott film

I have a beard. Some people think I'm quite weird1. I drink beer, quite a lot of it, but despite all of that I also like to remain fit and healthy. My beard is kept short, I avoid wearing sandals unless it's very hot and I'm on holiday, and hope to remain in good shape by occasionally partaking in a little light exercise other than the simple act of raising around 700g with my right hand.

In one of our local pubs there are many regulars who remain fit and healthy, despite my suspicion that they drink more than the government recommendation. I believe they remain healthy due to an interest in the great outdoors; climbing, walking, caving, that sort of weird nonsense. Their irritating youthfulness may also help. Some of them may have weird beards and occasionally wear sandals, but we'll gloss over that point. CAMRA membership status is unknown, I'd actually hope some of them are members, however, they rarely use the term Real Ale and prefer to talk about cask beer instead.

It turns out that they all like Hardknott beer, which is handy because despite the pub being a managed house and having an owner who doesn't give the manager quite enough free-reign as we'd like, we have negotiated hard and offered volume discount and now have our beer on-sale reasonably regularly. The pub does not sell craft keg and I suspect it is likely to be a long time until they do, if ever.

I like the pub a lot. It ranks as one of my top 10 in the area and we spend far more time in it drinking than we should.

Planning the film

With the above as background, when we were offered a rare opportunity for a very low cost but high quality promotional film we had to think of an idea for a "script". Mark, from PiciFilms, who was to be camera man, director and editor, came to see me at the brewery to try and work up ideas for the film. We started talking about target demographics and the local beer market, tourism, extreme sports, younger drinkers and the image of Ale.

There are two main styles of attraction in The Lake Dirstict. One is the very traditional picture postcard scenery, fudge, gingerbread, sticky toffee pudding, local traditional ale, Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, lake steamer rides and gentle walks on the fells. This one is very strong and successful and I have far more affection for it than much of my writing would betray.

There is another attraction style that is much less popular and with international travel becoming an ever smaller reason for visiting The Lakes. Perhaps they are niche activities and not at all popular with the mainstream, but still, I have an affinity with people who enjoy extreme sports, partly perhaps because the very best times in my life have been when I have been high in mountains, deep in a cave, or perhaps momentarily stuck in a crevasse in an Alpine glacier, sliding down a slippery icy slope on a couple of planks or, as in the film, just larking about on a sunny day on a lump of Borrowdale volcanic rock scaring myself silly.

My beery activities have taken me further away from such a lifestyle than I am happy about. However, I know a great many people who engage in such outdoor activities and many are very physically fit beer drinkers. Many also search for much more exciting activities than the generally perceived safety of Cumbria. Alpine peaks, Himalayan foothills, trekking in the Andes, white water rafting down the Amazon or an assault on Kilimanjaro are much more likely to excite this contemporary looking demographic. Their tastes in beverages are much more likely to be Rioja than Dusky Old Ferrets Jock Strap. For that matter, because it seems to be cleaner and fresher, there is a proportion of this demographic who choose lager over ale. Their tastes are much more likely to be contemporary and international than traditionally British.

I am aiming at people who are more likely to holiday in Zermatt, Chamonix, Kathmandu or even explore Latin America, Africa or Asia. These people are far too broad minded to simply buy the traditional drink, one made with British hops and barley to the same old recipe that has been handed down from brewer to brewer. The demographic I'm thinking about know that making great beer needs a firm sight on new varieties of hops from further afield than Kent, and technology that involves more than just traditional open square fermenters. But what we were not pushing was keg beer. Indeed the bar transformation scene shows our concept for contemporary handpulls, in the main, and only has one keg font shown.

We wanted a film that would be funny, poke a little bit of fun at the traditional unhealthy British beer drinker image and suggest that drinking beer is not necessarily an exclusive pass-time of the unfit. I would hope that some of the demographic I describe, the progressive, outgoing, fit and healthy extreme sport activist, or even casual observer of such activities, might find the film more entertaining than if I just rambled on about hops and malt.

Moreover, I hoped that it would be amusing to a broader cross-section of people. It's supposed to be funny, light hearted and even to some extent self-deprecating. As I said when opening this piece, I AM a beardy weirdie, and proud to be so. The fact that in the original post, the one in which I launched the film, there are comments that seem to not get this is a little worrying. As I say, I'm objecting to the image that seems to be attached to micro-brewed beer and the insistence that this image has to stay is divisive.

At Hardknott we are very keen to promote food and beer matching. I'll be returning to my Saturday Kitchen objection and related activities. We wanted to not only include extreme sports but also food and beer matching in our film. Extreme cheese boarding might be included in the Olympics one day, you never know. Actually, it came as a bit of interesting revelation that despite the concentration required during filming, the Granite I drank really does go with cheese especially well.

The Music

During planning it became evident that music would be required. Mark had suggested that stock music could be used at a cost. We talked about genre and how it might tie into the demographic we imagined. Rightly or wrongly we chose 90s rock as a model.

I messed a little with a lesser well known song "Don't look back in anger" and found it to fit reasonably well. At this point I was not expecting my rusty musical skills to be adequate. However, what I did find was that involving real musicians was likely to be expensive and troublesome. After talking to several significantly better artists than myself it became apparent that pro-activeness was to be hindered by differences of artistic opinion.

I dug out my little recording studio and started messing around. That turned out to be a pleasure all on its own. Writing, be it words or music, are one of the few pleasures I can have by myself. All of the music on the film was produced by me with a little bit of help from my step-son to make some rhythmic bashing sounds.

Is it good music? I don't know, but I enjoyed making it.

The full track is here in case the reader is daft enough to want to listen to it.

The Filming

Filming on the day was both fun and tiring. Mark, Ann, Andrew and I met at the brewery just after 9am. We headed off to do the main "stunt" which involved me abseiling off a crag. I chose what I thought was a reasonable location combining good scenery with a sense of exposure. Unfortunately, in rash puritanical action by The British Mountaineering Council, this particular crag has been un-bolted. I have always viewed this crag as a training crag and good solid bolt anchors totally appropriate when teaching young people to climb. The BMC oppose any artificial anchors on Lake District crags even those, like this one, that have historically had them for decades. But, I suppose it's one of them thin end of the wedge things that allows for no grey areas.

I spent some time setting up traditional anchors. If I had some Rawl bolts I'd have used them in the still clearly visible holes. Still, having two lengths of rope and there being some hefty rock blocks, I made fairly safe anchors ensuring, to the disappointment of some, my continued existence.

Unfortunately the sun was casting shadow across the crag face. We had to wait until well after 12 noon (11 GMT) before the sun was high enough in the sky to work on the near vertical, north-facing cliff. Practising the abseil was useful, but walking back up the 25 metre more than a dozen times left me more fatigued than I'd have liked. Also, our late afternoon studio session was going to get knocked back.

Finally we got the main shot "in the can" and proceeded to the riverside location. Unfortunately I had forgotten about the inevitable tourists. It would have been fine but for the fact that the few people around the river turned out to think they owned it. A rather wet dog threatened to eat my cheese and knock my bottles of beer in the river. My gentle nudge with my lower leg was incorrectly interpreted and Andrew overheard the objectionable woman say "don't kick MY dog" - bless that dog, not its fault, it was having a nice time in the river but the owner was a little unaware that it should be kept under control. Aforementioned woman also dumped a used nappy by the river. The little girl who had been responsible for the contents of the nappy was quite charming. Mark heroically removed the nappy, which I feel was not his responsibility.

Back at the brewery we had mocked up a "marquee" borrowed from the pub mentioned earlier. I began to realise my hairless crown was feeling the effects of a glorious day out in the sun. Luckily it doesn't seem to show on the video.

Tiredness reduced my ability to hang on a rope and perform the final cheese board filming was less than ideal. Keen viewers will notice involvement of people both in shot and out of shot passing the cheese board etc.

However, Jeff Pickthall2 got right into character and seemed to revel in his various roles. Looking particularly cool as bass player we are all wondering if he might branch out into a new career.

The final edit and release

Mark went away and cut together the film. I bit of editing of the soundtrack requested of me to give the "before" sound and halting. After a few comments from me the final version went online at Vimeo

Hardknott Beer from PiciFilms on Vimeo. or alternatively view on YouTube

The local paper picked up the story and did a nice little piece which made page 3. They are good to us, although the original version put online had a rather badly hacked download which Mark had to request they change.

All in all we are happy with the results. OK, there has ensued the usual CAMRA verses anti-CAMRA debate on my previous posts and some people in real life have accused it of being embarrassing, but generally I think it's been received with the level of amusement I'd hoped for, including some local beer drinkers.

We really did try and avoid accusations of anti-CAMRA and are simply highlighting what we believe is bad about the image that some people portray. I'd like to continue to make progressive beer much of which is either bottle conditioned or cask. Those that don't like our style because it jars with some of the traditionalists views doth protest too much, methinks.


1It is unclear as to the overall proportion of people who know me who also think I'm weird. It seems to be that as a person increases in age they also become significantly less concerned about their own eccentricities. Having always been a person who preferred to follow off-the-wall trends anyway, things don't look good for my future.

2Yes, I know including Jeff only increases the suspicion of anti-CAMRA activity. But he's a good friend and lets face it, the film wouldn't have been half as good without him.

Friday, 29 July 2011

This is NOT anti-CAMRA

This is NOT anti-CAMRA, it's just against the facade of traditional Real Ale as a means of selling beer. How many times have we heard "brewed using traditional recipes, English barley and English hops" and we find that the beer is anything but inspiring. It might be cheap. It might be a brand name that has been around for decades, but no one deserves to be able to sell beer that fails to inspire. Cask, keg, chill filtered and bottled or properly bottle conditioned, we love them all providing they have some flavour.

We think the brand group of Real Ale is looking tired and old. What the alternative is for the 21st century we don't know, perhaps just good beer.

Meanwhile we've been busy making some video. When I get some time I'm going to blog about the making of this.

Hardknott Beer from PiciFilms on Vimeo.

Music, incidentally, is composed by me and almost entirely performed by me. @WithoutaVision did the hitting things with sticks.

Cast is:
@BarmanAlex soon to be @HardknottAlex

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Marketing and Position

Yesterday we had quite a busy day racking, doing some CIP improvements, training my new secret production technician, transferring beer and getting ready to bottle today. It wasn't until quite late I found out that BrewDog and CAMRA had fallen out.

Upon learning this HardknottAnn immediately insisted on commandeering my MacBook for the purposes of writing a blog.

Last night and this morning we got carried away with discussions on twitter regarding GBBF and how beers are selected. I touched on the subject last year as it happens, and it is interesting for me to look back at what beers were actually on. I'll admit to being surprised to see that Punk IPA was there. The fact that it was on the same bar as Cumbrian beer is a little baffling.

It may be that I have a few facts wrong about various specifics regarding GBBF, but despite that I maintain that there are interesting selection influences at play. It might well be that various officials can attempt to reassure that it is all fair and transparent. The impression I am left with is very different; There is a massive disparity between local breweries who appeal to local markets and those of us who are more successful further afield.

Besides all that, the fact that BrewDog will not be at GBBF is no great surprise to me. This was a win-win situation for them in many ways. If they got their beer there in KeyKeg it would have been a result, the fact that it eventually fell through is also a result. PR win again. I seem to remember several people, including me, forecasting that this would be what would happen.

It has been pointed out to me that BrewDog are no different to any other brewery in as much as they want to sell more beer. Spot on there, we all do. What we all have to work out is if CAMRA, and indeed cask beer, are important to us or if they are more useful in opposition.

I'm still working that one out, but it appears to me that the latter might be more successful if a brewer is looking for a gap in the market. Also, it could very well be a useful marketing and positional ploy to be quite public about the fact.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

New BrewDog B Share issue

For some reason my blog statistics are showing it is being found using search terms like "BrewDog share price" and "BrewDog AGM" - That might be because I was the very first person to sign up to their "Ordinary B" shares and blogged about it. It might also have something to do with a new share issue by BrewDog.

I've decided not to extend my investment in BrewDog, I need all the money I have to invest in my own stainless steel. It does however enable me to look back at what my share has been doing. At first sight it doesn't look good. The new shares cost £95 for 4. I paid £230 for one. Hang on, what's going on?

Looking at 4.3.2 in the offer document tells us:
the existing issued share capital (following the re-classification referred above), being £51,609.50 divided into 100,298 "A‟ Ordinary Shares of £0.50 each and 2921 "B‟ Shares of £0.50 each, will be sub-divided into 1,002,980 "A‟ Ordinary Shares of £0.05 each and 29,210 "B‟ Shares of £0.05 each;
(Lets ignore what appears to be a typo in the glossary under "existing B share")

So, my one share gets divided into 10 each worth £23.75 - I've made £7.50 then as it would now cost me £237.50 to buy more of the same. The down side could be that I currently own 0.00097% of BrewDog, but because of the new share issue it will drop to 0.00089%. However, this should help the company grow still further. I'll have a slightly smaller share of a much bigger beast.

Since I invested in BrewDog the sales have increased by around 8 times. The current share issue price values the company at nearly £27m. Is that an appropriate value for a company that turns over £6.5m, looks like being able to make in excess of 10% profit on turnover and has net assets of £3.4m?

I don't know, I'm not an expert on these things, and perhaps the value is currently a little optimistic. If the plans work out, and so far I feel that everything promised (apart from my Equity for Punks password) has been more-or-less realised.

If the plan carries on with the same level of success that has already been achieved then a further 12 fold increase in the size of the business is possible. I've had people criticise me for calling my purchase of shares an investment; Call it what you want, I still see it as an investment and if I didn't need to invest in my own brewery I would certainly have considered buying more of BrewDog.

And it's far more than just looking for a financial return. I strongly believe there is a stagnation in the British brewing industry. Sure, there are many more breweries than there used to be, but many of them are putting out beer that could do with a lot more interest. We went out last night and the only decent beer we found was Stringers Victoria IPA, we should have patronised one of the pubs that serves Hardknott, I know, but we like a bit of variety. The rest of the beer we found was nothing more than micro-brewed beer made and sold to a price rather than quality and with very poor brand image. BrewDog is one of a number of breweries that are leading the British brewing scene away from stuffy, stagnation generating tradition and into the 21st century. Indeed, without BrewDog as an example, I doubt I'd have had the gumption to do what I have done with Hardknott. I also suspect that there are other breweries who have been similarly significantly inspired, even if they prefer not to be as overt about it as me.

Call it copying if you like, call it band-wagon jumping if it makes you feel better, or just view it as a realisation of where the real market expansion in beer lies. Beer revolution or just appealing to a potential market? it matters not when comercial success is important to keeping your brewery alive.

So, if you have some spare cash, why not buy some shares? you might lose the lot, but then, you could just keep your money in the hands of the bankers if you prefer.


Another view on the subject is written by Neil and there is also the one from The Beer Monkey