Musa is in a building that used to be some sort of church or chapel, it's a great use for this sort of building. We have many underused religious buildings in Cumbria that really should be turned into some other form of use. I'm sure however that there are people resisting the change of use, certainly there are several such examples near us where planning permission has been refused and the buildings are becoming increasingly derelict. I have a feeling it is on a point of principle; rather a church fall down than it be used for something that might bring enjoyment. A bit like the pointless resistance of pubs closing - if the congregation isn't attending then why resist?
In this case the inside of the building is nice and friendly. Much of the original feel of the building is maintained, although I suspect the desire to stay is enhanced by the lack of homily and the need to kneel or stand. Best of all 5am Saint, even kegged, beats communion wine any day.
The food is nicely eclectic with a nod to Scottish tradition. Hardcore IPA duck stovies, Stir fried crayfish, chorizo and olives or Chilli poached smoked haddock all appealed to me. Each dish was matched with a beer, normally a BrewDog beer although the wild mushroom risotto with rocket was wisely matched with Orval.
Desert would have gone well with either Paradox or Tokyo*. Blue cheese ice cream, Dark chocolate and chilli pannacotta or christmas pudding tart. There were three of us, it would have been silly not to try all three. Sadly, the earlier business meeting, which we missed, cleaned them out of the obvious desert beers.
I don't think I've ever had as good a selection of beers with such good food except at decent beer dinners. Normally good restaurants have a reasonable selection of wine and the usual omni-present beers. I think that places like this could really work and I would love to see more of them.
Onwards back to the bar. By now it was after 9pm and the bar really was very busy indeed. James ensures me that the majority of the AGM crowd had long since left. Certainly it was a much younger looking crowd compared to the earlier shareholder people. James says the place "rocks" every Friday and Saturday. "If we put in handpulls it would be full of stuffy real ale drinkers" James explains to me. Certainly there were a lot of younger people, mid 20's - mid 30's I'd say. The place buzzed, perhaps in some ways a little too much for my liking, but once I'd got a seat, which didn't take long, I really enjoyed the atmosphere.
James and Martin joined us and we shared bottles of AleSmith Speedway and Lost Abbey Angel's Share. James asked me to choose which I preferred. Comparing an espresso imperial stout with a barrel aged barley wine? When they are both very good examples it is hard to choose.
If I sit at a beer festival and I drink with brewers and all they drink is their own beer I worry. Part of the definition of a craft brewer for me is an inherent desire to brew beers as good as their peers. As good, not better, few good brewers think that their beers can be as good as their role models, very few indeed. But many aspire to do so. Martin, James and Stuart are examples of this. Bringing out beers they wished they had brewed and sharing them with me, enthusing about them and sharing that enthusiasm is proof to me that they are interested in making the very best beer they can.
The bar started to thin out. The licence was only until midnight so the bar manager kicked us all out, James, Martin and all. It was the end of a very enjoyable day getting to know better what I had bought into.
I promised some information, here's some bare facts:
- Sales doubled in 12 months (£1.7m - £3.4m)
- Keg in more than 25 outlets using own brand fonts
- 5.25% ownership of Anchor Brewers and Distillers
- Anchor to handle US sales and distribution
- US production by late 2011
- Expected to open three more bars in 2011
- Expect to increase turnover in 2011 to £6m
- Broke into profit in 2010 all of which will be reinvested
Meanwhile I'm still comfortable with the money I invested in the brewery. If you want to tell me it's not an investment then go ahead, but I still think it is. Call it a craft revolution, artisanal beer or, as a someone suggested to me today, an Indie brewing movement, that's what I've bought into, and my buy-in extends much, much further than BrewDog, but more on that later. Much more later still.