Friday, 11 April 2014

Would you like a job at Hardknott?

Occasionally I take a moment or two to look at what we've done, where we are going, what we've built and savour the successes. The four years since moving to Millom we have achieved a lot. Starting with a 2 barrel brewery based on tiny Grundy tanks and building it up to where we are now; several 16hl tanks, a bottling line and much improved business sustainability.

We now supply several distributors around the country, have supplied Sainsbury's and still supply Booths with beer. We export to several countries and look set to continue this upward trend. We have also created several jobs, all within an economy that has had some difficulties.

It's satisfying, but we're not done yet. We really need to replace the brew-house within the next couple of years and to justify that we really need to grow a little bigger. To get properly on-top and to make a sustainable future we need to make the whole of the business run a little more autonomously. We've got our first bar coming on-line soon1, which means it is ever more important that I move further into a management role and away from hands on mash-tun digging and cask washing.

The problem is we could really do with several people. A lead production brewer would be very useful. Additionally a brewery maintenance bod would come in handy. A sales and administration person would take a bit of workload of Ann, and make it altogether easier for us to have one of those unusual things that I believe are known as "holidays" without us having to completely shut down the business.

In reality we might be able to afford one more person, as it stands. At a push, perhaps more than one, but we'd have to increase sales and production a bit more to justify.

Either way, we certainly need to recruit in the short term, and perhaps look into he medium term at progression and autonomy. If you think you have what it takes to contribute to our plans, and are either local to us or have a desire to relocate to the beautiful County of Cumbria then please get in touch.

For more information about the roles we have please look here.


1Slightly delayed due to Network Rail's solicitors becoming involved with the lease. We are told this is a formality, and will happen in due course, but meanwhile the legal professionals are generating themselves work by assuring their clients that there are multitude of glyph intersections and point additions to make.

However, the good news is we have a premises licence for the property, even if the property isn't actually ours. Slightly bizarre!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Yerba - A collaboration with Metalman

Until 2013 I had never been to Ireland. In that year I found myself there a total of 3 times. The first was a UKTI funded trip to encourage businesses to export. It was a short trip of only just over 24 hours. The aim of the trip worked and we vowed to return, which we did, twice more that year.

On the final trip in 2013 I was verbally accosted by one Gráinne Walsh. She claimed I didn't remember her. OK, later it turned out I couldn't quite remember where, or when I had met her, but for sure I remembered. However, this did not stop her light-hearted banter and jovial piss-taking. They say if the Irish take the piss they like you. I'm still hoping I didn't misjudge the situation.

Gráinne and Tim1 run Metalman brewery in Waterford, Ireland. They make really good beer. Indeed, their Pale Ale is just exactly what a pale ale should be, very tasty, competently brewed and incredibly difficult to avoid ordering another when your glass is empty.

Gráinne's honest and fun approach left me wondering if this brewery would be good to hook up with and do a collaboration. It seems I had already started to chat to Tim later in the evening about collaborations. However, I'd had some strong beer by that point, and will admit to having memory failings. Indeed, it would appear that my slowly dying brain-cells have played tricks on me and I had incorrectly remembered where we had originally met the Metalman guys, as you will find out if you watch the video below.

Never-the-less, some months later I contacted the Metalman people and suggested we did a collaboration. We went to Waterford where we helped the beer to be developed and brewed. Later Tim and Gráinne came to Cumbria and brewed with us.

Since then our design people. LemonTop Creative, have been working on labels and keg badges that incorporate both our imagery. I think they did a splendid job. I wanted to make sure the equal parts both breweries played in the creation of this beer was reflected in the design. I think they nailed it.

 Hardknott/Metalman Collaboration from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

The Irish version of the beer has been available for a few weeks now. The UK version is just rolling out of the brewery in bottles, cask and keg.


1Tim is in charge of the laid-back department at Metalman. Every brewery should have such a department, and clearly put someone in charge of it. You see, we brewers are a passionate lot, and invariably this manifests itself in undesirable traits, like getting wound-up unnecessarily, demanding that things are done in un-realistic timescales or just generally having un-provoked hissy-fits.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Tom Fool

We take our name, Hardknott, from the infamous pass that travels between Eskdale and upper Dunnerdale. There is a Roman Fort on the pass and reputedly a Roman Road which was used to navigate the pass nearly 2,000 years ago. We started our brewery at The Woolpack Inn back in 2005, which is only a short distance from the pass, in the valley of Eskdale.

The river Esk travels down the valley, past the bottom of the pass, and very close to the pub, and then winds its way down to the sea followed, allegedly, by the route of the Roman Road1. Close to the sea the river passes by a castle up on a hill. It's called Muncaster Castle. The Roman road is likely to have passed by the Castle too.

Castra is a Latin name meaning military camp. Chester, for instance, derives it's name from this Latin word. This is strong indication that the site of Muncaster Castle has been inhabited in one form or another since Roman times. There is a family who live there who go by the name of Pennington. They have been there since 1208. Well, not the people who are there now, that's ridiculous, but some ancestors of theirs many generations ago.

What isn't well known is that there is archaeological evidence of ancient Roman hop-yards at Muncaster. The Romans, fed up of being unable to grow decent grapes in the British climate, turned their hands to hop growing, developing cultivars quite advanced. It is said that they managed a variety so packed full of resinous fruity flavours that the ancient craft brewers would fight for their share of the yearly crop. Further evidence of Roman craft brewing came to light when a Latin stone carving was found discussing the various merits of alternative dispense methods.  "SPUMANS FRIGIDUS CERVISIAM, EST OPUS EST DIABOLI"

Sadly, at the fall of the Roman Empire we lost hop growing skills, along with the skills to make aqueducts, central heating systems and organise really good orgies. It was not until many years later we re-discovered the skills of growing hops. I'm still waiting to attend a really good orgy.

But I digress, although I'm sure Tom Fool would have liked my wanderings. Tom, aka Tom Skelton, is reputed to be a joking scallywag who sat under a tree outside the Castle and directed passersby into routes across the river Esk that were less than ideal. His ghost still haunts the castle, and many a poor soul has had a misfortunate mishap after forgetting to toast the poltergeist.

Anyway, whatever the truth or otherwise of the history of Tom, and other stories from The Castle, what I can promise is that we made a beer exclusively for The Pennington's, the nice people who live there. Peter quite likes beer you see, and we can easily make a few bottles with their label on, it's easy. The beer is called Tom Fool2

I was at The Castle today for some publicity shots. Oh, and to drink beer with Peter Frost-Pennington and Tom's ghost.

The picture on the left of Tom is an original Collingwood of The Fort at Hardknott as it might have appeared in Roman Times.

The beer is also available on cask in the Pennington's hostelries in Ravenglass from tomorrow.


1Actually, there is much debate about the route that the Roman road took in Eskdale. Very few positive verifications have been made as to its location.

2Before any of you point out that another Cumbrian Brewery makes Tom Fool, they don't any more. And The Pennington's own the trade mark too, so there.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Hardknott OnTrack

It's just over 10 years since we first got into the beer trade when we bought a pub. It's just over 4 years since we sold the pub to concentrate on growing Hardknott Brewery. There are many things I don't miss about running a pub, and some I do miss. We learnt a lot in our 6 years there, made lots of new friends. It would be a bit of a shame that some of the things we learnt and the ideas we have had are not used again for our own outlet. In any case, the one thing I really miss from the days of having a pub is the chance to drink my own beer, when I want, and have exactly the beers on the bar I like.

So it is with some pleasure, and an equal amount of trepidation, that we have agreed to take on a small space on Millom station. Formally a café, and before that an Indian Takeaway and even earlier, I'm told, some sort of restaurant. Well now we're going to make it into a beer bar, all being well.

We have been holding off announcing it for fear that it might not happen. However, as we have had to announce it publicly for various legal reasons it is now in the public domain. So, we might as well let the world know our plans.

We are not sure when it'll open. We're sort of hoping we'll have it up and running for Easter, but that might be a bit of a push from the premises licence point of view. We've also got to get change of use planning permission. In the mean time a coat of paint, new lighting, bar and cellar fit out, signage, furniture, bottle coolers, glasses, choosing things like wine and spirits selection1.  Lots to do and very likely not enough time to do it all in.

What I can promise is a bar that is done our way. It'll take all the things I like from all the places I've visited and cherry-pick the best. I'm looking forward to it, I think.

I'm hoping this won't be the only Hardknott bar, but we do have to learn to walk before we can run.

Wish us luck!

You can find out up-to-the-minute news by following @HardknottOnTrak

1Yes, I know, it's going to be a beer bar, but apparently there are still people out there that don't like beer. Tsk. Although to be fair, I don't mind a bit of rancid grape juice myself, when no one's looking. And I'm not afraid to admit to an occasional nip of single malt.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


No, that isn't the shout that came just before the Titanic hit the iceberg. It's the name we've given to our latest experimental beer. It's an eisbock.

I've wanted to have a go at freezing a beer for a while. Really, to make it worth doing, it's best to start with a fairly strong beer. Having now tried it, I would further endorse this starting point.

Rhetoric III, our green tea and Szechuan pepper infused beer was 12.4% and interesting enough. I racked some off into firkins and got an old unused chest freezer and bunged the firks inside that. After several days we ran off what hadn't frozen and then refroze that.

The then double-freeze concentrated beer was re-carbonated and bottled for your delight. There are only just over 100 bottles. If you buy it all I'll have a go at making a bigger batch, and perhaps next time we'll try for a higher ABV. It's not that we're looking to break any records you understand, just learn how to make really good eisbock.

This one came out at 20.4%, but more importantly it's very interesting trying out the differences between the base beer and the concentrated version. You can buy it here if you'd like to try it.

It's an interesting process incidentally. Quite a lot harder than I expected. For a start, it is not really very easy to measure the ABV of what comes off and so judging when to stop is rather tricky. We'd love to have a means of checking ABV at each stage of the process, but sending multiple samples off to the lab is somewhat expensive. When we did send the finished product off for testing the lab reported some difficulties in getting an answer.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Four new beers

Well, actually, I lied there in the title a little. Three of the beers aren't new, indeed they've been languishing in some scruffy old wooden casks for a few months, because we thought it would be a good idea.

The beers were Vitesse Noir and Granite 2013. We put the Vitesse Noir in a Bourbon cask, because chocolate and bourbon work. We were not wrong.

Granite 2013 Bourbon Cask Granite 2013 Whisky CaskVitesse Noir Bourbon Cask

We thought the Granite might be a whole load more interesting. For a start the beer is quite dry for a barley wine. The yeasty things got themselves all worked up and just continued eating maltose like some sort of Ovaltine addicted creature. This version is the strongest and driest we've ever made.

Putting it in a Bourbon cask seems to have calmed it down quite a bit. Putting it into a Islay Whisky cask seems to have done quite the reverse.

We have produced less than 500 bottles of each of these beers. Sorry about that, but that's just the way it is.

Rhetoric IIIThe other beer really is a new one, and is the third in our range of Rhetoric beers. The idea for this came from Yvan Seth last year, when I was sat at IndyManBeerCon with some shopping in front of me. He asked if my stash of green tea and baggy of pepper was for a beer. "No" I replied "But that's not a bad idea"

It turns out not to be too bad an idea at all, the beer is not over-the-top and nicely balanced for a 12.4%. Additionally, it's got some subtle and quite interesting flavours going on. Distinctive and delicious.

We've made a little more of this one. Around 3000 bottle in total. We've also put a little bit into some KeyKegs, so if you are really lucky, you'll find some in your favourite beer bar sometime soon.

I also spent some time messing around with a little sample, some milk, cream, egg yokes and stuff to see what might happen. The resultant ice-cream was really tasty, I might tell you some more details sometime soon. Lets just say strong beers and freezers make for an extra-special result - watch this space.

You can buy all these beers on-line at our webshop.


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Beer Innovation Summit 2014

Beer Innovation, they say, is largely marketing bullshit.

But, perhaps, whilst it might be nothing more than clever use of bullshit to gain competitive edge, that might just be innovation in itself.

I'll let you ponder that one.

The key point made by the innovation skeptics is that there really isn't anything new in the beer world. Barley wines, oak cask aged beers, imperial stouts, mahousively dry hopped IPAs and even eisbocks have all been done before. Kegged beers, serving beers out of fancy bottles, more art than beer, or any other fancy, value added claptrap, is nothing new.

Indeed, as a brewer who would like to be innovative it becomes increasingly difficult these days to come up with ideas that really are new.

Never-the-less, I feel that microbreweries do tend to be more innovative. Even if that innovation is nothing more than exploring how a more diverse acceptance and broader appeal is developed. Even if the product is similar to what has been produced before, perhaps even many times, if it reaches a new audience, or if it enables consumers to accept a less homogenous range of products, then this is certainly helpful.

My own living memory is not yet half a century in length. It might be getting close, a fact I'm not entirely happy about, but there we go, at least it does enable me to draw on some experiences and empirical, if anecdotal knowledge. I'd like to be more certain about some facts before the start of my memory, and if I were not so busy I'd do some research. However, I feel I can hopefully generalise some historical accepted situations to help illustrate my thoughts.

The vast majority of beer sold in this country today is some form of 4% ABV fizzy yellow liquid. The differences, in my mind, are much more to do with branding than flavour. On the one hand it could be said that this is the case because this is what people want. Whilst this might be true, at least in part, I also have some reservations.

I often compare beer to wine, spirits and other beverages. I also feel very nervous about doing so, after all, beer should be able to compete on it's own terms. I still think it is important to look at where we can learn lessons from a broader market, and so avoid the pitfalls of accepting the status quo as an unmovable certainty.

Beer has become, as a general rule in the mass market, very narrow in it's product variation, quite a surprise considering beer's real versatility. In reality the general public think of lager, bitter and stout and not much more. They think that anything over 5% is just plain crazy, and yet those same people will drink wine at 13% or whisky at 40% plus. Why?

Then there is the biggest bug-bare of mine when it comes to beer. Beer is, in general it would seem, quite masculine. My exploration of why this might be the case has gotten me into quite deep water, which continues to bother me. However, whatever the reasons, it must be something that most readers of this blog would agree with me on; beer is still considered by the vast majority of the general public as a mans drink, and nice ladies don't drink beer. The fact this is so is quite wrong and disturbing.

I cannot think of a single food or drink that divides along gender lines like main stream beer does. Are hops such a violent repulsive flavour as to inherently and instinctively alienate females? I really don't think so.

The generally accepted view among beer enthusiasts is that beer used to be stronger and more varied than it is today. The narrowing down and masculinising of the beer market would seem to me to be partly as a result of mass production and associated marketing.

Equally, and I'm drawing very much here on anecdotal experience, people who prefer to consider themselves more sophisticated don't tend to drink beer. TV often doesn't feature beer, although I do notice this is an improving situation, but for sure, many beer writers recognise that getting work into main stream media is not easy. A key blame for this is that up-and-coming editors and media types couldn't possibly be seen drinking beer and are much more likely to hang out in trendy wine bars. This then relates to a bias towards wine within the main stream media.

Whilst not universal, wanting to be successful, or wanting to be seen to be successful, biases the ambitious away from beer.

I've been invited to sit on a panel entailed "The State of the Nation" at the up coming Beer Innovation Summit, where apparently "top beer writers and brewers will discuss the challenges facing the industry"

Last year I was amongst a number of people who criticised the PMA for not choosing various important groups to be represented in the speakers. To me, it was obvious that micro-brewers were missing. One could assume that I've now been elevated to the rank of either top brewer or top beer writer by the fact I kicked up a fuss last year. Or perhaps I'm one of the token minorities.

The other objection, which I'd have to admit I failed to notice until it was pointed out, was that it was a very male dominated line-up last year. This year our panel includes Marvarine Cole, which I'm delighted about. Equally, Sarah Barton, who has already made her mark in the industry by being proactive about inclusion of people irrespective of gender, will also speak at the summit. Emma Reynolds from AB InBev is also to speak. It does still seem to be male dominated however, so I'll reserve judgement until after I've attended.

For me, the most powerful form of innovation that could be brought to the table is that of considering how to engage those markets, or social groups, or age ranges that are currently turning their back on beer. We live in an age where more and more people are moving away from the old-fasion stereotypes of gender roles and class status.

I'm very pleased to be involved with the Innovation Summit, and I hope to provide a robust but balanced view from my part of the market. For me there is an ever increasing trend for younger people to never even starting to look at beer. Alcho-pops, spirits, wine and many other drinks are making off with our market share. A fresh look is always a good idea, even if it is just giving beer marketing bullshit that that is less gendered and enables a broader acceptance of variety.