There is a lot of fuss at the moment about how brewers should not criticise the UK brewing industry. Now, before I go any further, I have lots of very good friends in the UK brewing industry. These friends span the whole industry from the very biggest companies to the very smallest. There are many people who help us out with all sorts of problems, be it the loan of the odd bag of malt, advice on technical problems, sharing transport or even just being able to call people up for support.
On the customer side of things there are lots of great licensees, bar staff, bar managers and drinkers who are absolutely great and a pleasure to be acquainted with. Despite my misgivings of CAMRA policies the majority of the members are fantastic people.
An area of the industry that I have always struggled with however is SIBA. I find the organisation generally to be bullish and to take the "well this is the way we run our organisation, so tough" kind of approach. Or even a bullish "we don't care what your opinion is, SIBA do things this way"
I had failed to see any advantage of joining, but as we grew, and as a result of what I think was proactive canvasing from various top officials, we realised that there may be some important advantages in joining. Access to their beer competitions, perhaps, or the advantage of the Direct Delivery Scheme (DDS) maybe.
DDS is something we've yet to find beneficial, and I could write a whole piece on that by itself. But what I want to discuss here is SIBA competitions; specifically, the SIBA Craft keg festival.
All fine and dandy, and despite my initial reaction to the organic lager winning, along the lines of "how can a lager be a speciality beer?" - I feel quite stupid now that I've found out it was a DARK lager. I am of course delighted that another of my beers has seen recognition at a competition. Even more important as this was the first batch of beer I have put into KeyKeg.
However, my outrage is not to go hungry it would seem. Despite Queboid, which was the second strongest beer there, being a medalist and Mutiny, the strongest there, although not being a medalist is still delicious, the organisers BANNED both beers from being served because they were TOO STRONG.
Apparently, so our contacts are being told, no beer over 7.5% was to be served.
I was tweeted at last night:
It was later confirmed to me when the Stringers team got back. They also seem to be the only people to have confirmed the results on the interweb.
I cannot quite express how shocked I am by this. SIBA is supposed to support smaller breweries. It is smaller breweries, craft breweries like ourselves, who are both making the stronger beers and are being most affected by the introduction of HSBD. I am hopeful that this is a terrible misunderstand between SIBA and the venue. But even so I find it extremely insulting that the style of product we specialise in has been banned from being served to the public.
With the increase of craft beer bars and the number of small breweries now producing stronger, more flavourful beers that are capturing the imagination of beer connoisseurs, rather than just targeting the mass beer drinker with session blandness. It seems churlish in the extreme to ban the style of beers that are currently bucking the trends in the bigger beer market.
Craft keg lends itself to stronger beers. Many of the current craft keg beers found in the likes of The Rake, Craft Beer Co, Euston, Sheffield and York Taps and Port Street Beer house, to name just a few, are imported. Although more of us are making stronger UK beers there is an increase of home grown keg beers available. I know people who don't like session beer and prefer wine or stronger beers. I know there is a danger of stereo-typing as a result of my own narrow experience, but it is often women, with their apparent superior flavour and olfactory receptors, who are enjoying these stronger beers.
We are unsure as to whether the refusal to serve these strong beers is directly the fault of SIBA or a premises decision. However, what is clear is that SIBA chose this venue. It is the ONLY keg competition and festival that is nationally recognised. To fail to serve to the general public a beer that has been entered and listed is grossly offensive.
Jon and Becky were at the public session afterwards. Becky asked for a 1/3 pint of Mutiny and was confronted with the staff at the venue with them saying "What, a whole 1/3 of a pint?" - for the record, 1/3 pint a 9.3% beer has exactly the same number of units in it as a pint of 3.1% beer.
All the beers were donated free of charge to the venue. Obviously, part of the motivation for us giving away beer is to enter the competition. Equally, we also expecting our beer to be served to the general public as well. Hopefully we will have the remaining beer uplifted and it will be served in a pub in another location.
I am getting an increasing suspicion that a large part of the brewing industry, and that includes SIBA, is becoming unsettled by the progress of craft beer. Certainly the reports I have got back about the keg festival would indicate a lack of professionalism in its approach. Be that the fault of the venue or SIBA I have yet to find out.