Saturday 4 February 2012

Queboid too strong for SIBA

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.

We entered Queboid, our 8% Belgian Style IPA. It gained bronze in the speciality beers section. Beaten by Thornbridge Versa, which won silver and gold going to Freedom for their Organic Dark Lager; Well done guys. Our friends from Stringers Beer were there and they had entered Mutiny, their 9.3% big stout, as well as a slightly more run-of-the-mill IPA called Hop Priest 6.5% - sadly for Jon and Becky they didn't win any prizes. That fact in itself puts that quality of the festival in question.

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:!/westy9000/statuses/165541672824999936

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.


Paul Hext said...

Where was it judged please? I fail to see the difference between the alcoholic value of such beers and a run of the mill glass of wine, why should beers be treated so differently?

Paul Hext said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zak Avery said...

Dave, have you asked SIBA themselves to comment on this, or have them confirm that it was actually the case the no beer over 7.5%abv was to be served?

Sid Boggle said...

Good piece with valid points Dave. Assuming SIBA have a problem with beers handily exceeding the new duty level, perhaps they're feeling political pressure to march with the band and stop 'promoting' them. Then,of course, that would beg the question as to why they allowed them to be entered in the first place.

Brewers making 7.5%-plus strength beers are contributing more tax, so it's fair to assume you wouldn't do it for shit and giggles. There's obviously a market, and like you say, it's a market UK brewers should be aiming to compete in. What are bar owners and drinkers supposed to do? Feel stigmatised and drink them while wearing bags over our heads?

All in all, potentially unsavoury...

Cooking Lager said...

Bitch slap the Mo Fos responsible, Dave.

beersiveknown said...

I'd understand if they wanted to limit it to smaller servings, say only a half or a third per customer, though I know from experience there'll always be those who go to drink the "silly beers" in order to get pissed. They shouldn't have prevented sale of it, especially as it won a prize!

StringersBeer said...

Actually Dave, that's not quite how it happened. Before the room was opened to The Public, herself expressed a desire to try some of that Mutiny, which we couldn't find on the bar. On asking, we we told that it wasn't going to be sold to the public, but the nice lady behind the bar commenced to pouring a half, at which point an officious young gentleman interjected "don't give her the whole half" at which the well-mannered lady behind the bar laughed "but she made it!", and turning to Becky asked "You'd like the whole half?", then poured it out.

Anyhoo, we drank that, and a couple of other tasty items that we were interested in and then got off for a curry. Fortified, we returned later for the public session and attempted to buy (from a new relief of barstaff) some Queboid and some Mutiny. "No" we were told, "we're not selling those, they're too strong".

Of course, it's for the management to decide what they sell, and I find it hard to believe that SIBA issued any sort of diktat prohibiting the sale of these items. It does seem odd that at the "craft keg festival" we'd have been able to buy a double vodka or a glass of wine but weren't allowed to buy a small glass of one of these beers.

Unknown said...

Paul, this all occurred at The Barrels, Hereford.

Zak, no, you are right, I haven't challenged SIBA directly, but Stringers was on site and not withstanding my slight errors in telling the story, the 7.5% figure did seem to be an issue.

I state again, we do not know if it is directly SIBA's fault or The Barrels management. However SIBA chose the venue.

I make absolutely no apology for this. I gave away free beer on the understanding that we would get both entry into the festival AND the PR from having it available at a Craft Beer Festival.

I am now claiming the PR that is owed to me.

In other news; a brewer has just contacted me and made the comment "Their members & trustees are extremely 'cask & session' ale centric" a thought I've had for some time myself.

The current stance of Hardknott is that we are reviewing our membership of SIBA. We feel it is of almost no use to Craft Brewers.

Hardknott Ann said...

Zak, I have spoken to the duty manager today at The Barrels who informed me that it was under Siba's control and I should take it up with them. So far I have not done this. However, from my previous dealings with Siba I think we maybe reaching the end of the road in trying to understand their perspective.

Zak Avery said...

Dave/Ann - that does seem like a bonkers stance, as reported by Stringers. I guess the issue is whether it was anything to do with SIBA, or just a bumptious venue manager.

Ed said...

I suspect it's the venue, as my 10% ABV Imperial Stout was served on draught at our regional SIBA festival.

I've never been to a SIBA conference but I'm dubious about them being 'cask and session' ale centric. They've recently changed their logo so it doesn't have hand pumps on it, and, as you know, have started running a keg beer competition, and have a bottled beer competition too.

Unknown said...

Zak, it might be the venue, but SIBA choose the venue and presumably were aware of the restriction on serving the stronger beers.

Ed, choosing a venue out in the sticks for a craft beer competition and festival shows a lack of forethought at the very least. Choosing a venue that clearly does not understand craft keg could be seen as erroneous. We have our suspicions that there are deliberate behind the scenes tactics at play, but I accept that might be more my paranoia.

I have

StringersBeer said...

"Out in the sticks"? The lovely cathedral city of Hereford? It's a smashing place. But if SIBA are taking their "Craft / Keg" fest seriously, they'd have been better off choosing a venue that wasn't going to insult and snub their members in this way.

Owen said...

"The current stance of Hardknott is that we are reviewing our membership of SIBA. We feel it is of almost no use to Craft Brewers."

Do you contend that the hundreds of excellent brewers who are passionate about their beer but choose to only produce in cask and bottle aren't producing "craft beer"?

Matthew Clark said...

Think you should drop SIBA, they clearly can do nothing for a brewer of your calibre. You should probably join the Craft Brewing Association here

Keep on fighting the good fight brother!

Unknown said...

Owen, there are many brewers who produce for just bottle and cask that are fantastic. Of course SIBA should support them. But I maintain that they appear to be somewhat reluctant to embrace anything else.

Owen said...

You haven't answered the question. You've implied that anyone who finds SIBA useful is not a craft brewer, and in doing so in a post focussed on keg, implied that cask and bottle are not craft.

Is that what you intended?

Unknown said...

No Owen, you have incorrectly interpreted my views.

The form of dispense is irrelevant as to whether it is craft or not.

Indeed, I quote the very learned Reluctant Scooper;

"There will never - never - be agreement in the UK as to what 'craft beer' really means."

Craft is what you want it to mean. It may mean something different to what it means to me. But method of packaging and dispense, in my view, is very much irrelevant.

For the record, what I really mean to say is that SIBA is of little use to any craft brewer who dares to make beer over 7.5% and put it in keg.

Yvan Seth said...

I know a few people who deal with SIBA at both ends of the pipe (brewers & publicans) - I've only ever heard complaints about them. Our best local brewery (IMHO) simply refuses to deal with them & they seem to be getting by just fine without them. Though sadly this means my local can't stock their beer.

Landlords I know specifically have to work around SIBA to communicate directly with brewers to ensure their orders are correctly fulfilled. Otherwise there is a tendency for them to have completely the wrong beer delivered. In other words SIBA isn't actually adding any value at all in the transaction (aside from the tied-pub shoe-in-the-door).

It's likely SIBA feel no need to up their game. In a way I guess it is a bit of a monopoly. The town where I live would be much worse off were it not for two pubs being tied to use SIBA (the alternative beer supply would be Punch & Enterprise.)

So it seems that thanks to pub-co ties we're stuck with SIBA? I long for the day I can take a trip up to Cumbria and bring back a couple of Hardknott firkins for the local... alas, I expect this will never eventuate. I expect the organisations with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo have deep pockets and a lot of influence (pub-cos, SIBA, big breweries).

Musing: Could removal of the beer tie destroy SIBA?

Meanwhile SIBA will continue to be useful to brewers (craft or not) who find their region saturated by pub-co pubs. It can represent a big part of the local market that you'd be locked out of if you didn't tow the SIBA line.

As for SIBA "keg" - is it all noise and no action? Trying jump on the "craft beer revolution" publicity band-wagon? I've never met a landlord who has an option to get kegged beers from SIBA. Where does SIBA keg go?

(Observations of an enthusiast; by no means experienced, or expert;)

StringersBeer said...

There's more to SIBA than the DDS, or beer competitions for that matter. It's worth bearing in mind that without the political / lobbying activities we'd probably not have Progressive Beer Duty for one thing.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

what have SIBA said to you, presumably you have been in touch with them?

Unknown said...

Stringers is right, DDS and competitions is only one part of what SIBA do.

As for progressive beer duty, SIBA is standing by whilst Progressive Beer Duty is being eroded, presumably because many of the original activists are now too big to take advantage and also many bigger brewers are joining.

Adrian, we've had many conversations behind the scenes with SIBA. There seems to be a distinct lack of friendliness from some quarters. Also, by the time we found out our beer was not going to be served it was too late.

We did however telephone the venue. They told us that it was SIBA decision to not serve our beer.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

But I would have thought it right to get a comment from them explaining why they took the decision, if they did, if I was writing something about this I would have to get comments from both sides irrespective of what has been said in the past,.

Unknown said...

Adrian, you would of course be welcome to get the SIBA side of the story.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

what’s your word rate? ;-)

Yvan Seth said...

OK - so there is more to SIBA than organising beer supply and running competitions. The average punter doesn't know this and only hears complaints about them from brewers & landlords.

Anyway - on the original issue it sounds like someone at the pub or someone at SIBA has lied about the origin of the decision that serving these beers was not "responsible" ( presumably the staff at the pub aren't good enough to simply spot when someone's had a bit too much and refuse further service. I really do hope this place doesn't stock any spirits or alcopops of the bar staff are that useless. In fact I'd advise them to stick to entirely non-alcoholic beverages.

Ed said...

Well I dunno what it's like in the NW but in the SE SIBA are obsessed with defending PDB

Unknown said...

Dave, feel free to take this comment down if it causes hassle or grief, but this is what I've been told.

Today, at Dave and Ann's request, I went to pick up the keykeg of Queboid from the barrels, a cracking pub in Hereford.

The manager there (perhaps festival manager or pub manager, I'm not sure) took me up to collect the keg, and told me it was their policy at the Barrels not to sell strong beer or cider, pointing out that Westons Vintage Cider was taken off the main bar 3 years ago for being to strong.

When I pointed out with surprise that a keg of unsold beer appeared half empty, he said that free samples of about a quarter pint were given to anyone that asked, but strictly no more.

I can confirm on Friday, to the judges after the judging and to the public when it opened that this was not certainly the case.

I'm looking forward to seeing if the remainder of the beer is still ok to sell, and if it is we'll be opening our new guest keg pump with it.

I'm of the opinion that people likely to order the beer in our pub will be old and mature enough to respect it's strength.


Unknown said...
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Hardknott Ann said...

Although I was told by the duty bar manager at The Barrels on Saturday evening that it was Siba's decision not to sell Queboid and Mutiny because they were too strong, I have spoken to the senior manager at length today and he has admitted that it was his decision as stated by Mr Grocock,

“It was the Barrels’ decision not to put the beers on,” Mr Grocock told Beer Today. “I questioned this, but I accepted our hosts’ decision.”

The manager informed me that they usually only serve beers which are 4.5% or less, and apparently even their wine selection is only 9-10% abv.

According to Siba website "the manager of The Barrels, who was responsible for the Beer Festival, made the decision, on the grounds of responsible alcohol retailing, not to sell either Hardknott Brewery’s Queboid at 8% ABV or Stringers’ Mutiny at 9.3% ABV."

The manager informed me that these 2 beers were supposed to be given away in free sample tasters to make it easier to control the quantity people were drinking. He was afraid someone may drink 4 pints of the 8% and therefore become unruly, the same as if someone had had 8 pints of 4% over potentially a good few hours. However I have received many comments from people who were refused the beers and so far have not heard from anyone who was given free samples.

Obviously the managers of The Barrels do not understand that people who enjoy strong beers like myself only drink very small quantities and do not drink them with the means of getting drunk and disorderly.

Although Siba may not have been directly to blame, their decision to chose such a venue which lacks, any appreciation of craft beers, is extremely poor when there are such brilliant, more easily accessible bars who appreciate craft keg.

beersiveknown said...

I wonder if the "free samples" were drunk by staff after the pub closed?

Unknown said...

Ed, Isn't Eddie Gadd in your area? If so, you need no more explanation.

Eddie86, absolutely no problem to me. Facts on the ground all help.

Steve, couldn't possibly comment.

What I will say, whilst there are licensees who are unable, unhappy, or too lazy to help change the perception of beer, what hope do we have?

We all know 8% beer needs to be treated with respect and reverence. Was it completely beyond this manger to be able to manage his customers.

It's a shame, because I agree with Eddie86, it is a very nice pub.

Unknown said...

The more I think about this, the more I dislike the attitude displayed by the pub's manager. At 25, I feel more than comfortable deciding what strength beer to drink. I think i'll chat to Pete about this next time I'm in.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy this bottle of Queboid I've found in my beer cupboard...