Yesterday I woke up thinking about the procreation of yeast, which is odd, as primeval physiological instinct of my own procreation used to be my normal morning distraction. I awoke unusually early which was handy as I had a lot to do. The yeast subject was catalysed by the discovery of my American friend's beer presence on Bières Sans Frontières at the festival. The two main thrusts, if you'll pardon further reproductive connection, of my considerations of this were; 1. Why does his beer taste the way it does? 2. How come Ted, who is 8 time zones away and has been brewing less time than me, has his beer at GBBF already? The second question I'll come to further down, but the first was what woke me up and will be the subject of another post, promise.
However, before I could get around to writing this post we had beer to deliver beer and an install to do at a pub. Along with our cask
The owners have gone, quite sensibly in my opinion, for multiple suppliers. We will have to sit alongside Bank Top, Veltins, Stoweford Press and Grolsh as well as Hawkshead. To be honest it is the last in that list that I worry about most from a competitive point of view; Hawkshead make damn good beer. Having had my run-ins with Alex Brodie, the owner, I hope we have put this behind us after several pints together resulting in frank discussion and a realisation that perhaps we have quite a lot in common, even if neither of us want to admit it.
It is not the first time Hardknott and Hawkshead beers have sat on the same bar and I hope not the last. Progressive and interesting beers are likely to succeed by learning to get along, and even perhaps helping each other out; I connected the cooling jackets on the Hawkshead pumps on this occasion, there you go Alex, I do hope you approve.
At GBBF most of us beer geeks, bloggers and twitteratti assembled near BSF. Frankly, it's where most of the beer is that we want to seek out. We may well not represent the majority of the beer market and it is important for us to remember that. However, I don't travel 300 miles to try some clone of a "traditional" recipe, frankly, I can get that at home. I go to find like minded people and search for great, progressive beer.
Sid Boggle considers this on his blog. I seem to have been mistakenly included in some of the best brewing talent around, but apart from this point, the piece is interesting and provoking. I'm still trying to understand the beer market and exploring what is said I must consider further. A key issue for me is exactly why people buy beer and what type of beers interest the various types of beer enthusiasts.
Cumbria did achieve one award at GBBF; Beckstones got bronze in the Strong Bitters category. David Taylor is a very diligent brewer and the consistency and cleanliness of his product shows through. In 2008 he also got overall silver in Champion Beer of Britain with Black Gun Dog Freddie. David's brewery is the closest geographically to mine, begging the question of the sense in me thinking I can survive in a declining market with such competition around.
However, despite there being a significant number of breweries in Cumbria, many of whom I think brew technically competent beer, is it only Beckstones1 that seems to win.
My conclusion, currently, is that the beer market in Cumbria is not particularly progressive. The beers chosen at local level to represent Cumbria don't show off all the best beers, in my humble opinion. The personal preferences of local CAMRA branches have to be an influence.
There must also be an influence as a result of the style of market in The Lakes. Most breweries are pushing the fact that they produce local traditional ale, made with traditional ingredients, you know, British Marris Otter and English hops and made with Lake District water. Beer miles and quaffability being the main selling points; after all, if you are on a walking holiday in The Lakes you want a piece of the locale that will slake your thirst. Interesting flavours cost more and have minimum impact on sales.
The rest of the County, the industrial belt around the outside, is also steeped in tradition. Insular and lacking progressive thinking; the majority of the drinking population secure in it's contentment. Quite unlike the forward thinking alternative beer community I have come to love in Sheffield, London, Leeds and other big cities.
The fact that Cumbria rarely wins much at GBBF, despite having a high number of breweries and beers to choose from, might be partly due to the fact that we need to do better at brewing, but the choices put forward at local level do appear to be mired in local branch politics and the Cumbrian palate having a fondness for all that is bland. I'm not convinced that the best beers are put forward.
After all, despite my aforementioned rivalry with Hawkshead, I feel their absence tells a story; they are probably one of the best breweries in Cumbria right now, but not one of their beers was represented.
Furthermore, the fact that BSF provides such a fantastic array of esoteric beers, very few progressive UK breweries can showcase beer at this, the key beer event of the year in the UK. I can imagine that in years to come there is likely to be an increase of fringe beer events in the capital that will cater more for the beer geek community. I suspect I will see you there and you never know, I might even be prepared to bury hatchets for anyone else who will join this journey.
1I am pleased Beckstones did well, and the fact the this brewery has already gained two awards in GBBF is good reason to carry on putting David's beers forward. Yes, I also know Coniston has been successful a few years ago and Great Gable did very well with Yewbarrow in the bottle section - I like this beer too.