Monday, 24 November 2014

A list which is short

Working out how to push out beer to more people is something that preoccupies me quite a lot. Being tucked away in a corner of Cumbria, where there is not exactly a bustling centre of urban activity, creates challenges. The country side is stunning, but we don't have an easy ride from the perspective of finding sales opportunities.



View Larger Map

Luckily for us we keep getting mentioned in various publications, on-line and in the printed media. This doesn't happen by magic. It doesn't just happen because we make stunning beer. It happens because we work very hard to get our name noticed. The great thing is I enjoy engaging with the beer world, being a bit controversial, and helping to shake things up a bit. It gets me into trouble a little, but you know, you can't bake a cake without cracking eggs.

It isn't that there is a lower proportion of the population locally looking for stunning progressive craft beer, it is just that there are less people. A niche market in a small population is quite tiny. For this reason we do have to try a little harder than breweries that reside under a railway arch in a metropolis1. Our rent might be lower for our quite deliciously expansive industrial unit on our significantly under-occupied industrial estate, but conversely our transport costs are higher.

But I digress into another preoccupation eating my Azimuth soaked braincells, that of the assertion beer is "cheap to make" - I do feel a little like tackling this one, but that's for another post. Hopefully Stringers Beer2 might actually engage in a less rascally way this time, as he seems to be on my side from the nice rebuff he is seen to make on that point on an interesting comment exchange on Ed's blog.

In looking at costs associated with filling a glass with a particular beer, one thing that has to be done to make it happen is finding the correct audience. The route to market can be complex and is largely invisible to the beer drinker. For us, getting beer efficiently to say London we have to convince a distributor to buy the beer of us and then that distributor has to find pubs, bars or shops to buy it off them. The pubs and bars then have to sell the beer fast enough for them to want to re-order next time. This diverse route to market is like a chain; if any of links become damaged or broken our beer doesn't sell as well. Our market is geographically large but selectively niche. It is the way it is and we quite like it this way.

For any product, beer or otherwise, to succeed its awareness has to be heightened in all links of the supply chain. This, all by itself, can introduce significant costs into the overheads of the brand by way of traditional advertising and perhaps PR consultancy. Luckily for me I write this blog, which only costs me my time. We tweet and engage in Facebook etc. We deal with social media with what I believe is an honest and forthright approach. Sometimes this helps my business and sometimes it seems it doesn't.

We can't afford to pump lots of money into marketing and advertising, although we do a little. I hope to demonstrate the tight margins with beer when I do get around to my own rebuff of "beer is cheap to make" But just trust me, we are not rolling in cash, far from it. What we do instead is think up tangental things to do like silly Christmas Videos and taking beer halfway up a mountain.

Making good beer is of course important, but doing other stuff to actually get people to remember our name is also important.

This week we see our efforts pay off a little with Azimuth being listed on ShortList.com as one of 13 of the most exciting British Craft Beers. I doubt we'd have made the list by only making exciting beer, making noises about the fact also helps.

Stunning result, I think you'll agree.



---------

1No, I'm not really thinking of anyone in particular, there are several that make very good beer, good on 'em.

2We are still friends, I think. Well, Ann and Becky are still talking even if us blokes are still strutting a bit of faux literary confrontation.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Storming - why we need conflict

I've already mentioned, I'm taking part in an amateur production of Peter Pan at the beginning of December. We're an enthusiastic lot. Everyone is working towards one goal, that of a finished show, 5 performances and the after show party. The producers have their own take on what everyone should do, that’s their job.

Wednesday's rehearsal was a little more fraught than usual. Two weeks tomorrow we'll have dress rehearsal. Tensions are building and conflict is not far away. There are a few things going slightly wrong and enthusiasm from some means they want to chip in with their own ideas as to how to fix things, but of course, not everyone sees things the same way.

Now, if the dozen or so adults who are key to the whole thing didn't care, if we were not full of enthusiasm for making the whole thing work, if there was no passion for what we are doing then the stress levels would not be rising. But equally, without that drive and the fire in the belly of all involved the show would turn out to be rubbish, lack-luster, and we'd bore the audience1.

Three paragraphs and I haven't mentioned beer once. OK, I did allude to an after show party, but really, what the blazes has this got to do with beer? It struck me after the rehearsals, when three or four of us were finishing off a keg of Azimuth2 and thus helping the overall stress levels to subside, that the conflict between like minded people who are all broadly on the same side is a necessary part of creativity.

And here we have the nub of my point; the beer world is full of passionate people. There are CAMRA activists, brewers within various styles and sizes of brewery and there are beer drinkers of a huge range of desires and aspirations. We have distributors, bar and pub owners and operators and other important people who form the systems that get beer from the fermenting tanks to the beer drinker’s mouths. We then have people writing about beer for a living, or perhaps as part of a more diverse journalistic career. And we also have bloggers, who often bridge into most of the above groups.

Many of these people are intensely passionate about what they do. They also have different opinions, perspectives, aims and goals. You can probably put any 10 people from the beer world all together in one room and give them long enough, and perhaps enough beer, they will find something to split opinion.

My last post created quite a discussion thread, culminating in me being accused of bullshit. I know what I want to do with Hardknott, where I think we should be going and how that fits, or doesn't fit with the rest of the beer world. Other breweries that are destined for success need to have the same level of focus. They will have their own vision, that determination to achieve the concept they set out to create. I think it is important to shout out about what is good in the beer world and to do that we sometimes have to compare against the things that we don''t like. We should not be swayed by fear of a few blog comments, or the voice of beer institutions, that appear to be trying to curtail those of us that have a point of view.

The passion to create something stunning is what keeps us guys going. Without it we'd just be making the same bland and boring beer like the next guy. Without that drive to gain the recognition we'd go nowhere and achieve nothing. Without the desire to shout out about the ways we differ from other breweries we'd probably end up being no different, and what good would that do us?

I hear so many cries that there is too much arguing within the beer world. Really? Too much? Conflict can be good, indeed I firmly believe it is essential to success of a truly stunning project. I think without the conflict between CAMRA, craft keg, discussion about the beer tie, even sparklers we'd be living in a much blander, more boring beer world.

This is why I feel it is time for me, and my brewery, to rise up and be more confrontational. We've been too quiet for a while, and I don't believe this has been good for me, my business or the greater beer world. The beer world needs people to stand up and shout about what they think is wrong, or at least what could be added to make it better because without it we will return to a more homogenous bland world with nothing but a few almost indistinguishable beers perhaps simply separated by the dispense method.

-------

1Yes, it might well end up that way in any case, but at least we'll be sure we've all tried our hardest.

2The main revenue for the Palladium is the bar takings. OK, we'll be hoping for a reasonable box office from the show, and hiring the hall out helps too, but the building, which is in dire need of a new roof at around £100,000, needs the bar to bring in the dish. I'm fortunate that the people in charge of the bar have increasingly patronised Hardknott. This isn't the only reason I'm now becoming more involved, but it's a factor. Anyway, helping to finish the keg before it went all foisty, as even keg can after a while, is just another example of the selfless sacrifice I'm making for good causes.

Monday, 10 November 2014

A Beer For That - a brewer's view

"It’s a great time to be a beer drinker"- this, if anything, is a statement I have a huge amount of agreement with. The "Let There Be Beer" campaign has recently re-launched itself because the veneer of justification on its original incarnation was so thin as to be transparent. The campaign is mostly funded by large multinational corporations who's logos appear by default on the new site. There are then a splattering of smaller organisations which include national pub companies, regional brewers and some industry bodies. Unfortunately for me, it almost doesn't matter if everything they say I agree with, the sponsors are after only one thing; a return on the investment they are putting in, the agenda will be the same, irrespective of the thickness of pretence hiding the motivation.

Let's look at the statement that I agree with, why is it such a good time to drink beer? Is it because of these organisations? No, absolutely it isn't. It is the microbrewer that have nurtured and championed diversity and a move away from bland, homogeneous offerings. Even the "family brewers" who may well have helped keep cask beer alive, would much prefer to make a narrow range of beers as the economies of scale this affords gives a better return for share holders.

It is clear to me that even the family brewers would, if given a choice, use much blander and cheaper run-of-the-mill hops. It is only the actions of us micro brewers, and the support that the beer enthusiast has given us, that has enabled this explosion of great beer in the UK. It is us that have imported the idea of using much more flavoursome and exciting hops from the west cost of USA or New Zealand hops to create beers with stunning flavours. It is us that have brought forward those flavours as a major part of the beer, rather than as a blend to just spice up very slightly Fuggles and Goldings.

Over the last 10 or so years, since I've been involved with the beer industry, things have moved a long way. There is much more choice, much more diversity and some real changes have happened. This would never have happened without us micro brewers, independent pub owners and of course a good discerning and genuinely curious beer drinker. A demand for more diversity and interest from drinkers has in turn helped micro brewers flourish in a spectacular way.

This enlargement of drinkers curiosity and desire for something new and different has hit the big beer producers a double whammy. The much more interesting and diverse arena of wines and sprits, as well as RTDs1 have seen the consumer turn its back on less aspirational big brand beers. In turn micro brewers have also been eating at this market share.

We should look more closely at why beer is seeing a decline in overall volume. Although we could question if measuring success in terms of volume is a good thing, that is possibly another topic altogether. Beer, generally, is seen a a dirty, cheap mass produced commodity. Whether we like it or not this is probably the view of the vast majority of people. Beer is also still perceived as a masculine product, by and large. Yes, I know moves have been made to some extent in this area, but largely it remains the domaine of the microbrewer to even look at that subject, and even then, not all micro brewers look at it that way.

Make no doubt about it the chase for volume by big brewers and some smaller ones alike has cheapened beer to the point that it has no aspiration for a population that is nowadays much more educated and ambitious than we were 30 years ago. When I was in my teens around 10% of the population were gaining University degrees. It is now approaching 40%2 - we are an upwardly mobile population and we no longer want the offering of the big brand beers. The micro brewers have taken part of that market share and wine and spirits other parts. We can't turn the clock back, the future of beer is small batch producers like us. We can grow the beer market by ourselves, we don't need the help of the big boys who have messed it all up anyway.

Beer is now viewed in a poor light by many a demographic, and this is backed up by many a alcohol related harm article in papers featuring a picture of beer. Of course we can suggest that its all the fault of the press for this, but I'd not agree, and I shall try to explain why.

For many years the bigger beer producers have been interested in one thing and one thing only; volume. Look in the supermarkets, there are products from those big producers often brought in on pallets to sit in great big stacks on aisle ends. Apart from potatoes, I'm not sure there is any other products that are pilled quite so high as cut-price big-brand beers.

The advertising campaigns are largely macho imagery that does nothing to encourage discerning drinking. The big boys are now seeing that the hard work done by the craft beer producers, the micro brewers, the small batch breweries, is actually catching the imagination of the public. Now they want to jump on our bandwagon. Well I for one am not letting them on my bandwagon.

But we know that the sales volume of these beers is decreasing, and let us make no bones about it, if it wasn't for us smaller brewers making an impact there would be no way they would set to on an otherwise apparently altruistic PR campaign. Sorry, but I don't buy the "we're all in this falling beer volume mess thing together" story.

We're absolutely not in it together. The big brand multinational brewers have repeatedly and consistently ruined any variation, interest, aspiration, kudos or self respect for the beer industry. They have found that their volume chase tactics are now finding a backlash with punters who prefer something a bit more sophisticated. Punters who are disliking the macho orientated advertising and turning to craft beer, wine or artizanal spirits. Luckily for us, and other more refined areas of the drinks industry, we are seeing the benefits.

I also don't buy the idea that if we support this initiative the benefits will ripple through to us. For the big boys a few percent change in sales is a massive multimillion pound benefit. To us, supporting this initiative will be benefits that are lost in the noise, at best, and more likely representing us turning our backs on our core values.

Key to all of this is not to increase volume of beer sales overall, no, to me it is much more important to develop aspiration, interest, excitement, and a true added value that is tangible. Chasing volume will inevitably see a return to much more bland and uninteresting beers. We don't need people to drink more beer, we need people to be more discerning about what they drink. I am not interested in a few percentage points of sales growth off the back of a cynical "we're really interested in you little guys" sort of nonsense. We are looking at genuinely growing our business into a sustainable future, and we're doing that off the back of genuine concern to create genuinely stunning craft beer.

I haven't got a problem with people liking the campaign. Indeed, if you are the sort of person that thinks all beer is good, and there is no such thing as a bad beer, then go ahead and like the campaign. Just don't ask Hardknott to endorse it. I believe it is a trojan horse delivered in a way that says you mustn't look a gift horse in the mouth. Except these days, a horse that is only fit for the knackers yard will probably cost you more to get rid of than its worth as dog meat.

It seems there are a few people being hooked into its false promises. We mustn't loose sight of the fact that there is one motive and one motive alone that is driving this campaign. It is the desire of the big brewers, brewers much bigger than us, to drive their volume upwards. They are trying to convince me that if I get on board my volume will go up too. I don't agree, what will happen is we will see more "craft" brands from these bigger brewers once you have all taken the bait, and the big fluffy rug will be pulled from under our feet.

--------

1Ready to drink - you know, alchopops etc.
2It is hard to be sure of a citation for the figures I give here - for a start, Polytechnics converting to Universities have caused blips in the figures. Figures from the 80s are anecdotal from my memory back when I was considering degree education myself . However, there is a report that shows that in 1992 17% of the population were graduates compared to 38% in 2013 - that's more than doubling in 20 years. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_337841.pdf


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Brewery Arts Centre beer dinner Kendal

A beer dinner, in a place that used to be a brewery? In the place I've been many times and enjoyed various musical delights, for possibly as many as 30 years? A chance to stand in front of about 50 people and talk about my beers matched with some really truly stunning food?

No brainer really.

And so it was, a couple of months ago, Ann and I sat with Ged, the Brewery Arts Centre chef, and choose the beers to go with his superb food. I'm really looking forward to this.

It will be happening this coming Thursday, 13th November.

You can book tickets on-line here. But hurry, I believe it is nearly sold out.

I'm just off to make the Eisalloy Ice Cream.

Here's the menu;

Course 1
Bury Black Pudding, Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese Hash Brown & Caramelised Red Onion
Served with Azimuth 5.8%, Hardknott’s stunning IPA, flavours of peach and nectarines with spring gorse nose and a good lasting bitterness.
Course 2
Warm Pulled Gressingham Duck, Smoked Bacon, Rocket Leek Salad
Served with Colonial Mayhem, a cheeky 8.1% “Colonial Mild” toffee, and caramel flavours, fruity figs and gentle finish.
Course 3
A Cup of Celeriac Soup                                       
Served with Lux Borealis 3.8%, crisp and refreshing colsch stlye beer.
Course 4
Venison Steak
Raspberries, Apricots in a Rich Red Wine Sauce with Fondant Potato
Served with Gordian Knott 6.2%, resinous and citrus with a balance of malt
Course 5
Herdwick Roulade of Lamb                                          
Minced Lamb with Rosemary, Rolled in Pastry, White Wine Shallot Sauce on Buttered Cabbage
Served with Infra Red 6.2%, roast root vegitables in the full on body with a balance of orange note and strong lasting bitterness.
Course 6
Eisalloy Icebock Ice Cream with Chilli Shortbread Biscuit
Served with Rhet III 12.4% – Sichuan peppercorn and green tea infused pale
Course 7
Kendal Creamy & Westmorland Smoked Cheddar Cheese with Fruit Chutney
Served with Granite 2013 13.2% - Our vintage barley wine made every year. Bitter toffee, bananas, boozy and just a hint of spice in the finish

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Figgy Pudding

I’m known to be a bit of a humbug. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas itself, or even the week or so before, it’s just that it seems to start so damn early.

You see, commercially this is much more of a necessity than might be thought. I went a few weeks ago into our local hardware store. You know the type, where you can buy hose, peas, handles for forks, and probably even billhooks, providing you ask carefully. We were looking for tinsel, for the reasons that will become clear, if you haven’t already found out. They had already started putting up their Christmas display around 12 weeks before the event. Makes me wonder if asking for fairly lights might result in the thoughts of some form of LED vagazzle. Normally I’d have been slightly irritated by the earliness of it, however, I had good need.

We know the owners and chatted about the whole commercial aspect for the festivities. It surprised me to find that to ensure good supply prices for their stock they have to forward order in February. It seems that the stuff is largely made in the far-east where commitment 9 months before delivery ensures supply and a good price. We have similar hop commitment arrangements.

Christmas beer is not that much different. Indeed it is partly my humbug tendencies that have prevented me from doing a Christmas beer. I normally really don’t like to think about Christmas until the beginning of December. However, in reality, as a brewer if you are not thinking about it in August it’s possibly too late.

This year I was contacted late summer by a new distributor who asked if we were considering a Christmas beer. “What a good idea!” I exclaimed “but if we are to deliver mid October we had best get on with it” And that was how the telephone conversation ended, having agreed it would be great to make a 7% beer loosely based on Colonial Mayhem, with fruit and spices in it, called Figgy Pudding.

Our previous experience with fruit in strong beers shows that a bit of planning, time to source the quantities of fruit needed at economics required, and time to make the beer did indeed show that we had to get along with the job. We did a parti-gyle with Scott’s Colonial Mischief, which neatly coincided with our seasonal Autumn beer, out in the beer world now. Figgy Pudding, needing a little bit longer in tank, is now ready to release.


Figgy Pudding (We Wish You a Merry Christmas) from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.




As this was all happening I was also thinking about the PR angle to this beer. On the one hand I object to cynical over commercialisation of Christmas, much of which is emotional blackmail based on leverage of the “Well, you’re a humbug if you don’t buy our stuff” – I’m more intelligent than that, and I believe Hardknott fans are too. Buying cheap, tacky nonsense, at over inflated prices, that finds itself as bin fodder in early January, seems contrary to the season of good will to all humanity. Are we really doing ourselves, our neighbours, the poor in the world or our environment any good by gross over indulgence and often incredible wastage? All this is possible by a strange “Well, you are just like Ebenezer if you don’t fall for our tacky Christmas” from many quarters.


On the other hand, that was a bit of a grumpy rant. Christmas can be a fabulous time of year for sharing, friendship, fun and good natured frolics. A bit of seasonal indulgence is no bad thing if kept in proportion. Besides, altruistic views on such matters are unlikely to make me any commercial success.

I felt I had to find an angle that was true to Hardknott values, and that of my own, but allow me to start work so early. What I knew I wanted to do was provide a bit of fun, humour, and something genuinely for free without some form of cynical “free if you buy our stuff” nonsense, which if you think about it isn’t free at all.

Music is a bit of a passion for me. I might not be brilliant at composing, performing, recording, mixing etc, but it’s a bit of a fun hobby which I don’t enjoy often enough.  Contrary to the impression I sometimes give, I love a bit of fun. Starting so early, I thought I’d have a bash at my own Christmas song. But what to do? I couldn’t afford to pay royalties to cover some existing song. Neither did I think I was good enough to pen my own, as it would be bound to be so tacky that even I’d be embarrassed.

I looked at the words and music for “We wish you a Merry Christmas” expecting them to have some form of recent copyright associated, only to find it seems to be a 16th Century traditional song. But, how to contemporise it? For a start it’s in ¾ time. Most contemporary popular stuff is 4/4 time. I looked on YouTube and found one or two “rock waltzes” and decided something up-tempo was perfectly possible.



It had to be a little daft. The idea was to start the track fairly twee. I hit on the idea of beer glasses as a kind of improvised glockenspiel. That seemed to work OK. From there I added acoustic guitar, mandolin and octave mandolin. Then came in the bass, electric rhythm and drums before overlaying with the melody on harmonised electric guitars and a rising keyboard power chord base. I wanted to finish properly rocky, rousing and raucous. Partly to show that Hardknott believes it is part of the contemporisation of a flagging, tired traditional UK beer culture. Part of the fun of craftisaion we are now seeing.

Filming on the day of bottling was something of a challenge. Not least of which making sure that the safety of staff and my precious musical instruments alike were protected. The staff were great, and no-one was hurt. I did drop my silent Yamaha guitar when climbing down off the tanks, much to my deep distress. You’ll be pleased to know, perhaps, that it lives to play another day.

Getting the team, and some friends, to provide a community rousing choral vocals seemed to set of the whole tone just right. However, the finale could be considered just a little bit too much free-beer powered. That final night of shooting did leave me feeling in a great mood for Christmas way earlier than I have since I was about 7 years of age, so that’s worth it for sure.

The final result is, I believe, a great bit of Christmas fun. I have decided to allow free distribution, public playing, even for commercial purposes, provided direct commercial gain is not sought for its distribution or playing (other than appropriate distribution costs associated. I believe this allows mass media to play without me expecting a royalty payment. It’s perhaps hoping too much, but it’s be great to get a play on the radio) , and that Hardknott is attributed. This means that it can be copied onto your iPod, given to friends, played in the pub (no PRS or PPL charges apply) or even used for promoting your own beer. Now, that’s our Christmas gift to the world, how good are we?

Me, as Captain Hook in the forthcoming Millom Panto.
Yes, I know, it isn’t exactly top quality, and expecting you to want to play it might be asking too much, but just remember, it’s just a bit of fun and worth every penny it cost you. All I’d like is for it to be distributed widely, promoting the Hardknott name, so we sell all our Figgy Pudding and other beers. If that happens I might get a new toy for Christmas to help me make better Hardknott videos. (Please Santa, I want a GoPro camera and a gimble for my Quadcopter. And if the budget will stretch, a portable digital sound recordery thing. Zoom do a good one. Ta)

But you know, just to prove I'm not just making up this apparent change of heart over the whole Christmas thing, I've also gone and got myself involved with the local Pantomime. They were looking for a menacing type person to act the part of Captain Hook. They couldn't find anyone suitable, so had to make do with me.

Merry Christmas!!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Supermarkets and beer

It's the first of November. Yay! Christmas is nearly here!!

Today starts the first day of a very exciting promotion we are running with Booths supermarket in the run up to Christmas. Continuum, Code Black and Azimuth are all £1.25 per bottle. That's a lower price than we sell it direct to consumers at our brewery door. It helps get our beer out to more people, in more places and at a lower price. We are able to do this with Booths as we have worked hard at the partnership to bring down the costs of getting beer onto the shelves.

Stunning Craft beer at stunningly low prices at some of the best food and drink retailing stores in the North West. This, I hope, is only the start of what might become a better retail distribution; we've been talking to other supermarkets recently, with some positive news next year I hope. This will of course be limited to one or two lines, leaving the best independent bottle shops to do what they do best; provide diversity. Getting our beers into supermarkets will help bring much more efficient national distribution of Hardknott beer, getting it to more people in a more economic way.

I can hear the cries now "You're just helping the supermarkets close pubs" and no doubt some of you will want to say "The supermarket is selling at below cost just to get the punters in" There is the point that some people can't go to the pub. They have young kids, perhaps, or it's a drive to get to the closest pub, or even there isn't a pub anywhere near that has Hardknott beer. Besides, selling our core brands to supermarkets helps pay for us to do some of the more fun stuff that probably makes us very little money.
Azimuth, on a stunning snowy West Cumbrian fell

However, I'd like to address some of the fairly false myths associated with beer in supermarkets. 

Owning a bottling machine brings new opportunities and challenges to a brewery like ours. On the one hand we can put any of our beers into bottle just about anytime time we want. We can do as short or as long a run as we want, provided we have the beer, and we have no transport costs associated with moving tanks of beer or finished bottles back to us. Sending beer to contract bottlers has all the issues associated with transport costs, minimum run lengths, scheduling time on the line to coincide with brewing schedules and many other issues. Moreover, it is less likely to go wrong as the beer is handled less, and if it does go wrong, at least we have full control over the problem1

However, we have a big fat loan associated with the purchase of our machine. It doesn't run quite as often as I'd like it to do, or pay enough to service the loan interest. I've been doing a lot of sums lately, comparing costs associated with making cask beer, keg beer and bottled beer. I've also been comparing various advantages of selling beer in these formats.

My top option, from a commercial point of view, based on the fact we have a bottling machine, is bottle. Of course, this works only if the price is right, and every deal has to stand on its merit. However, having looked at various routes to market, and the costs associated with them, supermarkets are far more commercially attractive than you might think.

Having looked carefully at the costs associated with getting beer, in cask, to pubs, we find that bottles, even at supermarket prices are more attractive due to the much lower cost of logistics. Margin per litre of beer is actually a little better when supplying to supermarkets compared to cask.

As for supermarkets selling beer at below cost, this is certainly not true from my perspective. The promotion we are running is entirely funded by us and the supermarket is still maintaining the same percentage margin. Furthermore, we are also looking at some much bigger contracts with supermarkets that have many more stores. Contracts that might see 200 fold or more increase on the Booths contract. Bulk logistics makes the eye watering discounts we might have to consider much more attractive than they seem at first sight. Having looked at the supply price we might be considering, and the eventual retail price, I can promise that they are not selling below cost, and neither are we.

It's not a one way street however, as the minimum order quantity (MOQ)  has been increased, for instance, to ensure our costs are reduced. For this reason, the MOQ thing, we cannot even sell it at the brewery to the public at this price. You see, we're not set up for efficient retail at the brewery, and stopping what we're doing to be nice to a member of the public can be a little distracting to brewing, or bottling, or packing thousands of pounds worth of beer onto a pallet to send to a supermarket.. We'll sell you beer, but we'd prefer you went to Booths, an independent bottle shop or to our bar.

As for the closing pubs thing, and even the whole cask versus keg issue. We've looked at the costs associated with cask, transport to local rural pubs, or eCasks and palleting out to wholesalers at necessary discount and decided a long time ago that we needed bottle to secure the commercial future of our brewery. This is why we bought the bottling machine in the first place. Less people are drinking in pubs than they used to. This is a shame, and we can discuss this all day until the cows come home, but it wont change the market statistics. Putting beer into bottles and making it suitable for supermarkets makes perfect commercial sense. When putting beer into bottle it is also easy to put the same beer into kegs at the very same time. You can't rack the same beer into cask at the same time and indeed it is better to brew specifically for cask.

Although I'll admit to feeling slightly guilty about not being in a position to sell more beer to pubs, and avoid the whole bottle thing, it's not us that is causing the damage. It might be the supermarkets, although in turn it could be argued that they are only responding to customer buying habits. It's not one of them, and no single business can succeed by taking an altruistic stance as someone else will surely take their place.

Equally, if we don't sell our craft beer to supermarkets, someone else will. We think drinkers should rejoice in the fact that many of these places are now actually waking up to the fact that they have to have some sort of craft beer. There appears to be three main categories of beer in supermarkets. Big brand, like lagers, Guinness and "Smooth" bitters, then premium bottled ales, which largely consists of traditional beer and now there is a growing section of craft beer. It's true, it's there and it is "signposted" with Sierra Nevada, Goose Island, Chimay and some Scottish brewery or other, I forget the name. I'd love Hardknott to be there too.

---------------------

1And, I can feel better as I'll know exactly which Scott to shout at. Unless it is my fault, which obviously is very unlikely, but not impossible. In that case I'll probably just take myself to one side and give myself a good talking to.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Boisterous Brown Beer

We're about to launch our Christmas beer. It's really stunning, but you'll just have to wait and see. First we need to get that business of Halloween and Bonfire Night out of the way. Once we've done that the Christmas beer will be released to the world.

Our foray into seasonality is a bit of a first for me. I've been wary of making festive beers on the grounds that their best before date tends to coincide with the festival in question. Not because the beer is bad afterwards, but just because it is tied to that date by nature of the label. In particular, if a Christmas beer isn't all sold out before Christmas it becomes very difficult to sell.

Way back in August, when the sun was still shining and there was still daylight to be had outside of office hours, I was contacted by a customer asking if we were going to do a Christmas beer. Now, the other problem with such a beer is that if you are starting to think about it now, that is in October, then it's probably too late. This is the other reason we've not done it before, simply because I don't normally think much about Christmas in August. Generally I prefer Christmas to start on 24th December. I'm a bar humbug normally, but as you will find out in due course, I'm now actually quite excited about the whole idea. I'm really itching to tell you more, but kids, we'll all just have to be patient.

Now, I've already told you too much, as I'm supposed to be waiting until after 6th November to tell you, but it is relevant, as you shall see. I decided to make said beer as a parti-gyle with a weaker beer. There was a copious amount of less strong wort to be played with. An ideal test for Scott, our not quite so new production brewer.

We recruited Scott, an American, earlier this year. We needed a solid and reliable brewing type person to take over day-to-day operations. He had a steep learning curve having little experience in anything other than home-brew. But, by the time we got around to brewing this seasonal part-gyle he had gained my trust so much that I felt it was time to give him a project all of his own.

"Scott, why don't you decide what to do with this small beer?" I said to him. "Go wild, anything you want"

"What hops do you think I should use" he came back at me.

Sometimes you have to explain things to people more than once "It's your baby, whatever you choose"

Further discussion ensued, mainly with my replies consisting of "It's your project, I'm sure it'll be fine" I don't think he quite believed that he is one of the few people who have managed to break my control freakishness.

I would state here that Scott is possibly the best asset we have right now, only he might read this and demand some sort of improved T&Cs, which we can't really afford. It is true that Scott turns out not only to be a competent, skilled and creative brewer with a good palate, he also gets exactly where Hardknott is heading and totally understand our ethos. He also works very hard with a solid commitment to our goals. A giddy sense of humour helps lighten the day when things aren't always going to plan, as is often the case. It was time to give him a project all of his own.

Now, the beers were going to have a bit of colour as the big boy is based loosely on Colonial Mayhem. So, Scott eventually decided that an "American Brown" would be in order. With discussion it seemed to me this was a bit like a boring brown bitter, only with all elements of boring carefully removed. Indeed, with a slight glint of rascality in his eye, a waggish smirk and perhaps just an faint hint of an evil tone in his voice, he declared a list of hops that included Simcoe, Chinook, Galaxy and Cascade.

My American friend Ted, who was the inspiration behind Colonial Mayhem, called in to see us on one of his trips to the UK whilst Scott was brewing. Two Americans in my brew-house? What could possibly go wrong?

Back in 1605, when Guy Fawkes failed in his bid to rid us of those scallywags in Westminster, the British Colonies over on the American Continent were barely getting going. Scott and Ted both provided British Colonial influence to this beer. They also provide various amounts of playful misconduct that might be considered appropriate for Halloween and Bonfire night. The naming of this beer was easy.

Colonial Mischief is, according to Scott, a West Coast American Brown. I think it's quite tasty with plenty of great West Coast hops packed in but with just enough malt in the background too. A little mischievous, perhaps slightly naughty. It'll try to lead you astray, but at 4% it'll not get you into too much trouble.

It is rolling out of the door as I type, some off to Newcastle I believe and Lancaster too. Perhaps some might make it down to Manchester, Stockport and of course around our favourite pubs in Cumbria. We'll definitely have some in our bar sometime soon. So, indulge your darkest mischievous devil lurking inside, go out and find some cask, or even better keg version of this beer. We are quite sure that the elevated carbonation of the keg version will be something quite impish and bring out the hop characteristics in a vibrant goulishness that might just have the cask brigade citing high treason. Hopefully there will be plenty of fireworks.