Monday, 9 May 2016

Best Supermarket for Craft Beer?

If you have been following Hardknott for any length of time you'll know we've had great success with our beers into Morrisons. Certainly most of the supermarkets are now realising they need to add some craft beer to their line-up. Morrisons have certainly upped their game and are pushing to have better beers. We are part of that push.

Nothing can ever stay the same. We started with three beers in Morrisons, Azimuth, obviously, as our staple, Infra Red, which is a bit of a darling for us, and Code Black, which if I were honest is a bit extreme in the favour profile for most people.

Code Black didn't make the sales needed to justify the shelf space. It's a fairly hard costing issue. Shelf space costs the retailer money. Turnover per shelf metre is a key indicator of performance. Not surprisingly Code Black got the chop quite early. A shame, but hardly surprising given a microsecond of thought.

A year into supplying Morrisons and they are keeping things very live, as are we. It's fun to produce something new and it really excites me to get that new thing out there to the great craft beer fans. Last year we launched Intergalactic Space Hopper at Craft Beer Rising in Glasgow. It was well received and we supported it in our own way with a very daft video, where I make quite certain that no one is going to accuse me of not putting my own reputation on the line for the purposes of getting us noticed.


Intergalactic Space Hopper from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Looking at the total craft beer range the beer buyer decided that Infra Red perhaps hasn't done quite as well as they would like and we should try some thing else in it's place. He noticed Intergalactic Space Hopper had been making a few waves and asked if we'd like to consider supplying that instead of Infra Red. To be fair, I guess Morrisons probably listed it despite my crazy video antics, or for that matter any other imagery that might have originated from the Hardknott PR clunky machinery. Whichever, we're just pleased we can once again get much more of our great craft beer out to very many more people.

Apparently it is going live today, although twitter tells me it's been on the shelves for a few days already in some stores. Out goes Infra Red, in with Intergalactic Space Hopper, and early indications are that it is doing well.

Looking at Twitter I'm seeing some people finding Hardknott in Morrisons and declaring them the best supermarket for craft beer. I don't know if this is fair, or entirely due to Hardknott, but I'm going to claim it anyway, as outrageous and potentially inaccurate declarations are by and far the most successful ways of getting one's name better respected.

So, get sown to Morriosns and buy some stunning craft beer from Hardknott.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Due Diligence

This is mainly aimed at brewers, it's a long post, sorry. If you are interested about beer pricing as a drinker, you might also be interested, but it is a long and weighty read. If you are a brewer, and you are not worried about the subject of due diligence and how it applies to your own business risks I suggest you read this carefully.

Beer is taxed quite heavily. This will not be news to the reader, at least I hope not. Around 40% of the gross money we collect for the beer we sell goes off in VAT and duty. On top of that we have such things as PAYE, NI contribution, both employee and employer1, business rates, insurance tax2 and more.

If we dare make a profit we'd be taxed on that too, not that there is much left in the pot for profit, such are the narrow margins on beer. You see, we haven't put up our wholesale list price in six years. To make more sales we are finding we have to discount harder despite our beer getting better and better and better.

I would estimate, and without checking my accounts properly, that close to 50% of the gross monies we collect go right back to the Government.

This is all good in many ways. We live in a civilised and caring society. The politicians want to try and tell us that everything is broken. Personally I think we live in a great country where we all have the right to vote, our children get free schooling, you are not charged to go to see a doctor, they don't check your medical insurance when you are admitted to hospital. You can call the cop shop and a person in a uniform will generally take you seriously without you having to bribe him.  We can drive down our roads without having to pay tolls in the most part and deaths have been reduced significantly due to spending on all sorts of road safety measures.

We, the brewers help pay for a lot of that, and I'm proud that our industry helps keep public services going. We run an honest and above board business and have had the ethos that if we try to pay our taxes, within the lawful constraints that exist, then we will stay out of trouble with HMRC. Our accountant advises us on the best way of ensuring we only pay what we should, and ensure we have the correct business structure to do so.

When we first started brewing we had two visits from HMRC within a fairly short period of time. Both were fairly thorough, but the outcomes showed that we were doing things right. The inspectors made comments about how we should tighten up on one or two things, but due to our careful and above board record keeping we got a clean bill of health.

The most important thing that we gained was a line of communications to HMRC should we have any questions. The officer was very helpful and seemed to welcome communication regarding various matters. Then, all of a sudden, the banking crisis and subsequent deficit hit hard. One day we decided to throw a whole tank full of beer away. I tried to contact the officer in HMRC and was told he had been moved out of the beer duty department and in fact HMRC wasn't chasing the likes of us anyway. Funding to the officers was slashed and there was no one left to help us. We were almost told that we could do what we liked.

Since then a huge number of new breweries have sprung up. Many are very enthusiastic, some even make good beer, but with little gap in that market in our corner of the world there is very definitely oversupply of fair-to-middling cask beer. We are told we are expensive. We know we are expensive and there is two very good reasons for us to be so; we make good beer, and we pay all our taxes and duty. We know that some businesses do not, and in particular some micro-breweries cannot be doing so at the wholesale prices they are charging.

We have unsubstantiated reports of newer breweries delivering beer without paperwork, for cash, no questions asked. The prices can only be viable if VAT and duty are being evaded. There is also significant evidence further down the supply chain of businesses avoiding paying VAT, corporation tax and worse still, limited companies that seem to deliberately set up to run up debts and then become dissolved by a mechanism called compulsory strike-off. This last one is very important, so take notice of this.

From 1st November 2014 it became a condition of approval to produce alcohol, or run any sort of alcohol warehouse, that we apply "due diligence" to our business. We are, if I were honest, still trying to work out the full implications of this, but we are considering the fact that it might mean looking very carefully at all our business transaction.

I take the following from the Excise Notice 226: Beer Duty;
35.1  What is due diligence?
Due diligence is the appropriate reasonable care a company exercises when entering into business relations or contracts with other companies, and how it responds in a deliberate reflexive manner to trading risks identified. 
It does go on to say specifically about duty evasion and fraud.

35.3  What am I expected to do?
From 1 November 2014 it becomes a condition of your approval as a registered producer or packager of beer that you must:
(a) objectively assess the risks of alcohol duty fraud within the supply chains in which you operate
(b) put in place reasonable and proportionate checks, in your day to day trading, to identify transactions that may lead to fraud or involve goods on which duty may have been evaded
(c) have procedures in place to take timely and effective mitigating action where a risk of fraud is identified
(d) document the checks you intend to carry out and have appropriate management governance in place to ensure that these are, and continue to be, carried out as intended
From this, talking to other brewers, it seems that the interpretation is that we only have a responsibility to monitor for duty evasion. Little breweries don't send out beer under "duty suspense" and all duty is paid by them, so why do they need to worry?

Well, if you think HMRC are only interested in beer duty, and don't care about VAT evasion or unpaid PAYE and NI, or other evasion then I think you are wrong. Equally, you have a responsibility to your own business to manage your risks and exposure to bad debts. We have a hard line on this and upset some customers as a result. But frankly, when we see a risk approaching, and we have our well respected maltsters and hop merchants rightly putting us on stop, and the cash hasn't come in from a customer yet again we believe we have a right to get a little hissy. We are happy to risk losing a customer who isn't paying fast enough anyway.

When a business is looking a bit dodgy and payment is repeatedly, consistently and grossly overdue we start to view continued trading with them a problem. At the very least, remember that around 50% of what they owe us is tax, which in all likelihood we have already paid. If we continue to trade with them they are risking our business.

Bad payers have offered on many occasions cash on delivery solution for future deliveries. I feel that is a great idea, provided they pay down first what they owe. However, this is not their meaning, what they intend is to keep the debt just where it is, and future payments will be cash for just the beer delivered. I feel that once a business has got into this situation it is so much in trouble that there is a real risk of the situation being compounded. We always say no, even if they are trying hard to "trade out" of their predicament.

Is that too hardball? Perhaps, and to say I don't feel a pang of guilt about it would be lying. However, to load the van, pay a driver, put miles on that van, and then to find the cash isn't there when the van gets there is too much of a risk for me. If they cannot at least put some money in our account first we just will not deliver.

"But we need the trade" says one brewer. "OK, but what about due diligence?" is my reply. "That only applies to beer sent in duty suspense, surely?"3

I do not think so. I don't know for sure, but it appears that HMRC have identified that there is significant risk in the alcohol supply chain of tax evasion and even tax and company fraud. I think they are putting the onus on brewers to start to rattle this out. If as an HMRC registered alcohol producers we supply a company that becomes insolvent or we have not verified that they are VAT registered, or are otherwise evading taxation then we may well be liable for a lot more than we bargain for. I do not believe HMRC are limiting our responsibility to just beer duty. Even if they are, if we cannot pay our beer duty because we have traded irresponsibly they will have no sympathy for us.

SIBA members are offered due diligence support. As is the case with SIBA it isn't always easy to find all the information you need, but it is there. If you are a brewing member go to http://siba.co.uk and then click on "members toolbox" - enter your username and password. If you do not have this then ring 01765 640441 and there should be a helpful person there who will assist. If you are not a member of SIBA I strongly recommend you join up, they are the best solution to ensuring compliance with due diligence.4

Once in your toolbox find the My Toolbox drop down and select My Tools, Due Diligence Tool. There is full instruction on what you can do. It is not compulsory to use this method, but it is a template that SIBA have developed that might help. The bit that is most helpful in my mind is the ability to run a due diligence company search. This should bring back any concerns about a company. My advice is if there are any concerns about the health of a company, whatever risk you feel is appropriate for your own trading situation, consider that there is the extra risk that HMRC might prosecute you if there is any evidence of tax evasion of any sort in your supply chain. If your company fails because of bad decisions on your part then it seems clear HMRC will blame you for not being diligent.

I would also advise checking companies house, if the business you are trading with is a limited company. Check they exist and that their filing is up to date. This is an easy check to do. I strongly recommend this as a free check that anyone can do, even if you are not a member of SIBA. Also check out the directors, and search as if they might be trying to hide something, because some do. Directors can have different personas on companies house by entering a different addresses, or using nicknames or shortened version of their names, or by missing out middle names etc.

Oh, and check they are VAT registered. It's easy to do for any EU company.

For me there is a further responsibility to your own company. Yes, I know, when you go into business, as an entrepreneur. you take risks. You want your baby to work, you've dreamed of setting up a microbrewery for ever. Trading is hard, you need to make that sale, that beer needs to be shifted. You might not get paid for that beer. If your business ends up not working because you made bad choices, you might lose your business, perhaps you owe you family because they supported your mad-capped dream. Perhaps you have a charge on your house, you might lose that too.

But if you trade without doing the checks, or worse, you are aware that there is a risk and you carry on trading anyway, not only might you lose your business, and your house, and the respect of your family and friends, you might also end up in prison. Yes, I think it is that serious. HMRC know there are problems, and they are coming after everyone that is evading taxation and those that aide and abet it.


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1We pay more for the privilege of employing people than the people pay themselves with respect to NI.

2Public and employee liability insurance is mandatory when in business, quite rightly so. It does seem wrong to me that something that is essential and correct to spend money on when in business is then taxed too.

3It concerns me that some brewers are happy to continue to supply businesses that are clearly so far adrift that the debt to the whole industry is so large that they cannot clearly be sustainable. Long term I do not believe it is helpful to the industry and is propagating an ever increasing debt issue in the brewing industry. I am concerned that the situation is not sustainable.

4I've just run a check, it came back within an hour. I'm pleased to say that the particular company came back with extremely good results, so they can have beer.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Distracted by something that exists

So, craft beer doesn't exist eh?

Well, we call our beer craft, and it certainly does exist.

There are people who like to call their beery retail outlets craft beer bars. I know of quite a few that certainly exist. They often sell cask beer too, and generally do not sell the sort of ubiquitous mess-produced crap that we all want to fight against. They do sell keg beers, and can often be a lot more down with the kids that more traditional pubs.

I've been talking behind the scenes with a nice man called Oliver Brooks. He's been tapping my brain for ideas to do with setting up a micro-pub. Finally this year he got his ideas, and some of mine, up and running. It's called Tapster's Promise and it's in Colne, Lancashire. My reward for helping in a really very tiny way was for him to order some beer from me. I like people who buy my beer.

I like what he has done. It's small enough to be intimate and friendly1 but probably just about big enough to make sense. He's variously calling it a micro-pub or a craft beer bar. I guess I don't really care, but it definitely exists.




We've just heard that right now they have our stunning Azimuth IPA on keg, as well as Dark Energy. And just to be properly inclusive, Oliver has also got a cask of Continuum, reportedly tasting very tasty.

Good job I don't live in Colne, else he'd rob back all the money I got off him for my beer.

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1This seems to be a trend that isn't mentioned often, but I think quite relevant to the craft beer thing. People like people. It is one of the things that is noticeable for craft breweries generally, the fact that there are people that the fan can find


Monday, 4 April 2016

Existential Crisis (probably part 1)

"Craft Beer Doesn't Exist"

So, CAMRA is having a rethink about how to remain relevant. I'm torn in several directions on this one. Instinctively, my first thought is "good, about time" My second reaction goes along the lines of "well, can it ever change enough to satisfy me?"  Finally my mind drifts to the question of "why does it matter anyway?"

I think it's a question of perspective. There is a dissonance between the commercial considerations of the beer industry and the underpinning principles of the hardcore activists in CAMRA. I became acutely aware of this very soon after I first entered into business in the beer and pub sector over 12 years ago.

Part of the motivation for starting to write this blog was that, as I saw it, the vast majority of the words about good beer were written by CAMRA sympathetic writers. Therefore it was a given that the beers that were lauded as good were all cask or bottle conditioned and everything else was rubbish. Unless of course they were foreign, because…… well I never really did understand the reason for that.

Equally, there were a whole load of things CAMRA told me I should be doing, to make them happy, that I didn't really think were sensible from the point of view of making an honest living1. I could list them all here, and perhaps I should in another blog post, but it is true that there is a commercial barrier to any significant changes being achieved.

The real consideration for any beer business is not whether it should engage positively with CAMRA, because it make direct business sense, but because there is a softer PR and community relationship to consider. Doing things to make CAMRA happy might make them say nice things about your pub or brewery. This is definitely a successful strategy for some businesses, but certainly not for all.

The alternative view is to consider if setting ones business against the ethos of CAMRA, a way that might be considered more craft, sends out a powerful message about whom you are and what you're trying to achieve.

Hardknott has been a little fickle in this regard. We've tried to engage positively from time-to-time. We've also been antagonistic on other occasions, mainly because we believe in certain things that are appropriate for good beer, things that make our beer better, and things that do not. 

Generally, engaging positively with CAMRA has rarely helped my business, and has rarely produced a return on the time and effort invested to be worth doing.

If I just ignore CAMRA and try and rub along, don't shout too much, and just get along with my job of brewing great beer, things are OK, but the world isn't set on fire.

If I start to mark out the differences between what I think is great for beer, and the way CAMRA sees beer, I get noticed as that antagonistic HardkntotDave and more people want to buy my beer.

As a relevant aside, I've been known to be skeptically antagonist towards SIBA (Society for Independent Brewers) – this has almost entirely come to a halt recently. Initially, when I first started brewing, I was of the view that they were also out-of-touch and detrimental to the progression of small breweries. Last year, when Mike Benner became chief executive of SIBA, having moved from CAMRA, I was concerned this would be a backwards step for SIBA. I feared Mike would bring too much of the old CAMRA dogma to SIBA. I was wrong, and BeerX proved just how wrong I was. SIBA have listened to what is going on, and moreover, looked to the future. But that is the subject of a separate blog post altogether.

So, in summary, I discount the idea that I should just sit back and ignore CAMRA. I can't, and shouldn't. What they morph into, or not, will effect me one way or another. The remaining two thoughts will continue to be relevant. It certainly is about time for a solid review, but will it be enough? We'll see.

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1I am more and more minded about the negative vibe created by me pointing out that my foray into the beer and pub industry has, over the years, generated a negative trend of the real-value for my personal wealth. Pubs and brewing are not a game for anyone who wants to get rich. It is possible to do quite well, depending on how you wish to go about it. This blog has had the MO of remaining fairly candid about my perspective. Yes, I've sometimes slipped into an alternative up-beat kind of way of projecting my thoughts, by way of trying to big-up my own PR. The reality is that I'm significantly disappointed in the overall financial performance of my business ventures compared with how I'd be if I had stuck with PAYE way of living. I find CAMRA persuasion difficult in helping my business and the Craft Beer bandwagon the reverse. So, my executive summary is; CAMRA ethos = = bad for my business. Craft beer ethos = = good for my business.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Hardknott Keg at BeerX

It's that time of year again. Lots of brewers will descend on Sheffield Ice, talk about beer, and brewing,  drink lots of beer and then start talking bollocks. It's becoming a bit of a thing in the brewer's calendar.

Yes, that's right, it's SIBA BeerX

In previous years the only beers allowed on the bar were those that gained a medal in the regional competitions. That's quite nice for us this year as Azimuth gained medals for both cask and bottle at Bolton in October. We'll be on the cask bar for part of the festival with Azimuth. We won't have keg in the national finals mainly because we didn't enter at the regional level this year. Silly us.

This year there is a craft keg bar for a select few breweries. I'm told the selection was done by way of a random draw from those breweries that showed an interest. We missed out first time around, and were on the reserve list. However, someone dropped out, so we are now going to be there with our beer.

My intention is to have Azimuth on keg permanently. Irrespective of the assertions to the contrary by the cask lovers brigade Azimuth is just stunning on keg and way better than cask. The extra carbonation lifts the aromatics of the hop volatiles with stupendous results. Even if we don't medal at the finals, likely as there are some great beers being presented, at least we can show the general public just how great it is.

We will have two taps, so we will rotate the 2nd tap through various beers, just to give some variety. We're not sure exactly how we will do it yet, as we want to leave our options open until we see exactly how the thing pans out. However I hope to have some specials that we can rotate through, whilst balancing that against some more general crowd pleasers.

So, come along and say "hi" - most of the team will be there most of the time. Watch out on our twitter feeds to see if we change a beer out for something a bit more special.

Monday, 14 March 2016

What Would YOU Do To Promote Your Brewery?

"Someone might point out the hygiene risk" said Ann "this is a food production facility"

"Yeah, OK, I can see your point" I was stood in the brewery with nothing on but a pair of boots "But in reality it would still take some effort to swing it so it touches anything important"

Ann looked down, it was quite cold "You're right" - she could see my point too.

We were discussing the pros and cons of our idea to raise a little bit of PR noise. My last post was a little negative, although it realistically details the current situation. We need to give ourselves a bit of a cash injection.

I could try to sell my body to raise a bit more money, but I suspect I'd probably make more money selling beer. As my children have all grown up and lead fairly independent lives it is too late to sell them. I need to consider doing whatever it takes to be able to buy more hops and malt. Ann was taking pictures of me naked with very little to cover any embarrassment. The whole situation being made somewhat harder by Ann reacting to my state of undress.

We need to raise the profile of Hardknott so that more people get to know about us and so buy more of our stunning beer. It is essential, to make enough noise to be noticed from our corner of Cumbria, to do things a bit more radical. This almost always causes some back-lash. The only way to mitigate this is to grow a bigger pair, swallow the criticism and be happy that profile raising has happened. After all, we might be Hardknott, but we're not soft.

It is therefore my intention to start to push out again with some risqué PR campaigns, which will undoubtedly upset some people, and likely put myself up for ridicule. However, I am determined to make the world realise that we do make great beer.

Charles Faram recently sent out some nice branded clocks. They asked brewers to take pictures of their clocks and submit them as ClockShots. Immediately the Fnar Fnar alarm sounded in my head. I simply had to get around to submitting my own version. It turned out that plucking up the courage to actually take my clothes off, get Ann to take the picture and then to submit it somewhat more troublesome.

And here it is. Obviously I'm scared that this is going to go viral, but then, that's what we need. Perhaps family and friends will be embarrassed. I think those closest to me, who know what we've fought for, and are still fighting to achieve will understand and I hope be supportive. So please, talk about that bonkers brewer at Hardknott. Perhaps you think I'm crazy, perhaps you think it's a step too far, perhaps you think 50 year old men shouldn't be posting pictures of their naked bodies on the internet. Whatever, retweet, share and comment. Call me what you want, because I can take it. Just buy my beer. If you don't, next time there will be no clock.

Having now done this, I am throwing down the gauntlet to other brewers. Who dares to do the same? Perhaps we should make a nude brewers calendar in aid of some charity or other? Who's up for it? After all, if a group of WI women can do it, why not a bunch of brewers? Calendar Brewers anyone?


Thursday, 10 March 2016

Mad March

"You've not been blogging for a while" said Rob

"yeah, not had the incentive, or motivation, or inspiration to be honest" I replied "This year's beginning has been less than ideally inspirational" I complained.

Rob Millichamp is head brewer at Mordue Brewery. We had called in to pick up some empties they had collected for us, and we'd got some for them.  Despite trying very, very hard to organise better routes to market for our beer, the distribution systems have just not been performing well in terms of volume for draught beer1. So we had decided to make the trip over to the NE with some beer, and pick up the empties.

It is my feeling that this year the post Christmas beer sales slump have been worse than ever. Dry-January seems to be getting ever more popular. Yes, I'm sure you, the reader, who has decided for whatever reason that you are right to take part. You help us out every other month of the year shouldn't feel any guilt. Perhaps you are right, but it still puts a great big hole in our cash-flow and our yeast maintenance alike2. Not to mention the problem of managing stock. You see, most cask beer has at best 6 weeks best before date on it. This makes it hard to sell any stock in February that was racked at the end of December3. Rob, I noticed, has a post on his blog mentioning this headache.

I get asked, when I travel outside Cumbria, if we were effected by the floods. "Not directly" I tend dismissively reply "We're well away from any flood risk" - Which is true, but still there is a huge knock-on effect. The A591 is still severed just north of Grasmere causing a problem distributing to the north of Cumbria. Visitors to our county have been staying way in their droves meaning many of our customers are likewise ordering less beer. This, along with some significant over-supply and undercutting by new and often boring beer has resulted in a struggle at the start of the year.

Of course, there is that daft alcohol consumption advice issued by our neo-prohibitionist fitness-freak we have as a health minister. Jeez.

But we've managed to get to March, somehow. We have a couple of customers causing us some real issues with invoices remaining unpaid beyond a reasonable time, and we have suppliers quite rightly shouting for their invoices to be paid. Keeping the show going can be tricky when there is little slack at this time, how do you buy more malt and hops4 when the suppliers won't send them out until you pay down the previous? And how do you do that when you've got customers that owe from such a long time ago?

I noticed Boak and Bailey's post on a certain bar that had received public shaming on twitter. I missed that, I don't do that. I wonder if I should, but anyway us brewers talk, it's best to pay our invoices really. It turned out, after some investigations, that we too are being caught out by that very same bar that is not named in Boak and Bailey's post.  I'm not entirely sure, but I doubt that particular business will be there for much longer, and if it does go down it'll do so collectively owing us small brewers a huge amount of money. I may at that point in time have comment, it has been very tempting to do so previously about poor accounts, but you can never be sure when one might pull through good. Besides, it might not be great for customer relations in general to be seen to do such things. I decided to stop supplying one route to market after another brewer contacted me regarding late payment from the same distributor. A threat to put them on stop and perhaps take other action simply antagonised the situation.

Mixed emotions about daffodils
they'll be dust someday too.
At some point in time during the dray run around Newcastle I noticed some social media activity from Chester. A bar called Kash, which I do not believe I've been to, but have supplied with beer and have heard lots of good things about is running a beer festival. They are entitling it Forgotten Heroes. We are to take part it seems. A nice idea that warmed my heart significantly. With all the new shiny breweries staring up it does feel a little like some of us have been somewhat forgotten, despite us getting better and better and better at brewing stunning beer5.

And so that day, with it's long and tiring drive, did give me a boost, and enthusiasm to look towards a future. We've got some exciting new things going on, new beer, new plans and now that the daffodils are coming out I might just get my blogging head back. I need that inspiration, as it is difficult to focus on getting more really stunning beer out to more really great people when you feel a bit demoralised by it all. Plus, I fear this post might just be the sort of negative projection that fails to improve my situation. I need to feel inspired so that you can feel inspired about our inspirational beer. I may end up feeling a backlash from Ann and the team for posting this, but I feel it is difficult to engage my enthusiasm without projecting to people just how difficult this time of year really is. I do at least know there are far more brewers feel like this than the general beer drinker is aware of.

Meanwhile, when did you last drink a Hardknott beer? When did you last even ask in a pub or bar if they were going to get any in? Are we really forgotten heroes? Does the majority of beer drinkers no longer love Hardknott like you used to, despite the fact our beer is better than it has ever been? Have you all moved on to newer, shinier things and lost interest?

You see, what we need is y'all to buy more of our beer, then we can move the whole financial stagnation through a bit and get this show back on the damn road.

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1In contrast to the supply arrangement we have with Morrisons and M & S where the margins are at least solid, if slim. The fact is that although the price to supermarkets is low, the impact on overheads is also minimal compared to draught into trade. Plus, payment terms are generally reasonable, but more importantly they pay when they say they are going to pay. All in all highly manageable, repeatable and predictable.

2Sarah, our resident microbiologist, has been doing a great job of managing our yeast, but it really needs a good brew schedule to keep it going. During January the last two years that has been a bit difficult to say the least due to dropping brew regularity. Added to that the timings get shot at due to problems with the cash-flow resulting in orders for malt being delayed as we wait for the cash to ripple through. We then find that we can't brew when we want, we don't have the right beer when we want it so as we now ramp back up for spring we can't sell to capacity.

3Who would buy beer with just a week left before best before? Or even two weeks. Most pubs start to worry if it has less than 3 weeks best before date on the cask on delivery. A week to get from us to a distributor, a second week in the distributor's warehouse. Before long that 6 weeks from racking to best before date has disappeared.

4I'd really like to single out various supplies for the variety of support, or otherwise in this regard. Some are simply fantastic. I hope you know who you are and give yourselves a huge pat on the back for helping, and frankly taking a bit of a risk. The others, well I guess you are just running your business in a tight and orderly fashion. I'm trying to do likewise.

5It continually annoys me the critiques of various brewery PR tactics. Yes, some of them are lame, naff, crass and frankly stupid. But despite assertion from some quarters it is simply not good enough just to make really, really fantastic beer. If it was we'd be doing better than we are.