It seems such a long time now since we sold our pub. It was March 2010 when we started Hardknott as a stand alone brewery. At that time we had a tiny 2-and-a-bit barrel plant. Pushing no more than 9 firkins from a brew length made sense in a quiet country pub, but as a stand alone brewery is far, far too small. Before the first year was out we had acquired slightly larger brew vessels and could manage around 5 barrels, 7 hectolitres or around 20 firkins from a brew.
It became obvious that we had to grow a little more if we were to be financially viable. Beer, you see, is a little undervalued for very small artisan producers to be capable of making a profit from such small volumes. Additionally, as we had decided to focus on more contemporary styles of beer, dry hopped and style breaking, rather than the usual easy drinking regular traditional session beers. The major market here was always going to be with the city centre buzz rather than the quiet rural idyllic. To make transport into various cities cost-effective we simply had to increase volumes and order sizes.
Upon leaving 2010 we had somehow been demoted to one vehicle, which was a Ka. A very economical run-about, but if I remember rightly, we could only fit one firkin into the boot. Our trusty Pathfinder had been used to discover black ice just prior to the New Year and we were lucky not to have a right off on our hands. Even so, going from a less than ideal vehicle to one that was completely impractical, in that shape of the ridiculously small Ford courtesy car, while the garage took 2 months to execute repairs, forced the purchase of the Hardknott Van.
Jumping from a maximum delivery load of 12 firkins to 24 made a huge difference. Occasionally we would run out of beer, rather than time to deliver. Pushing plant capacity to the absolute limits and putting together all our brew vessels, combining gyles and hop sparging/liqouring back we were easily filling the fermenting vessels to the point of overflowing. Time, perhaps, for some bigger vessels.
Because we like dry hopped beers, and because of the problems of dry hopping in cask, we wanted tanks that could cope with the process. Additionally we wanted to bottom crop yeast and be able to carbonate in tank. Fully enclosed conical bottom tanks are the only way forward. We ordered the tanks in July from Willis European. Very competitive price, if a little long on the lead time; the tanks turned up at the beginning of December, a total of nearly 5 months after ordering. To be fair, we were told it would be a long time.
Other highlights of 2011 was to follow our passion about beer and food matching. I know some think it's a daft nonsense, but it certainly captures the imagination of others. Why not? If it gets more people interested in good beer then it has to be a good thing.
complained about Saturday Kitchen not including beer. I believe they are now including some mention of beer. We helped at a total of three beer matching dinners this year. The first was at The Masons Arms, which was a success if a little low key. The second at The Kirkstile Inn, where the portions of food were mountainous and the third at Fayre Gardens where the food was exquisite.
Steven, from Ale Talk, bullied me into making Vitesse Noir. We launched it at the last dinner and have found that although the market for such beers might be small, it has been well received within that market. Well enough for the current batch to have been sold. We'll make some more and we hope to do a few more crazy things in 2012 that will top that one.
We joined in with a beer verses wine dinner that was partly catalysed by our Saturday Kitchen complaint. It was great fun and I believe that the whole of the hospitality industry could be given a boost by doing more themed evenings. It certainly drags the punters in at events I've seen.
Hardknott Beer from PiciFilms on Vimeo.
We made a silly film, and hope to do more sometime soon. It was fun and people still remind me of it's silliness. I have a plan to throw some casks into a Cumbrian Lake somewhere and perhaps I'll call the result Mere Beer. Or perhaps I'm kidding. You'll have to watch out for the film when we do it.
2012 looks very exciting, and quite scary too. We've got various export routes opening up and lots of new ideas. Funding it all is the scary bit; borrowing money might be possible, but with our accountant working hard to get all the information in order, we are hopeful we can fund the ideas we have. With the inevitable cash flow lag that appears to occur with growth we may be constrained by limits on bank funding, although you, the beer drinker can help by drinking more of our beers.
If you can't find our beer near you, preferably we'd like you to suggest to your local pub or shop that they stock Hardknott, otherwise, you can order it from our on-line shop, another addition in 2011.
So, I wish all my readers, whoever you are, a very happy and prosperous New Year, I for one believe that determination and imagination can help overturn all the economic gloom, and although it's not easy, keep optimistic, as pessimism only fuels a lack of confidence and further downwards spirals.