I have recently been strongly encouraged to support, endorse and be involved with Let There Be Beer. I shall explain here why I am somewhat reluctant.
Hardknott is a member of SIBA, The Society of Independent Brewers. I have had reservations about the organisation, but generally, on balance, I believe it to be useful to most independent brewers as a trade organisation. I find that by engaging with this organisation, one that is owned by the members, one can influence the direction it heads in.
I am a member of CAMRA because, despite some reservations, I think they do provide some benefits to me as a beer drinker. Sometimes they are helpful to me as a business, even if I do sometimes use them to point out that we are not that type of brewery.
I do like some of the things the regional brewers do. I like quite a lot of the brewers who work in these businesses and have huge respect for what they do. I like the fact that these regionals reach out from time to time to us micro-brewers. Collaborations, friendly technical brewing advice, help with various important beery events and other such stuff.
Very, very occasionally I have had contact with large multi-national breweries. It can be helpful, sometimes. I have helped brew on the William Worthington's White Shield Brewery in Burton-upon-Trent. That was fun, I'd have to admit.
I run a business. I have to consider how I project my image to the people who I'd like to buy my beer. I don't always get that right, but hey, I am human and therefore fallible. It might be nice to consider some altruistic position that is for the greater good of this, or that, or the other, but when in business it can be very important to consider the allegiances that one makes.
I have been told many, many times by various people in the beer industry that it is important to get behind all types of beer. Apparently this is important because drinks like wine, spirits and alcopops are eroding the total beer market. If we all get behind beer as a category we will all be better off.
Bollocks, I say.
I like good quality food and drink. OK, I'm a beer enthusiast. I also run a brewery as my only form of living. I'm in the thick of it. I am most certainly part of the beer industry.
However, I do like good food, well prepared from fresh ingredients by a skilful person. I like single malt whisky. I appreciate a good rum. I have even been known, when no-one is watching, perhaps when in another country away from eyes that might dob me in, to enjoy good wine.
Hardknott beer tends to appear in good pubs, bars and specialist bottle shops. There are good restaurants in the London area that stock our beer, matched with artisan food on their menu. We want to be associated with all things that are quality, innovative, modern and progressive. Small scale producers that care about the product and about providing something different.
I would much rather side with the small artisanal vintner who tends his precious vines, presses his grapes, ferments and matures his wines in some terracotta tiled roof adorned town in France than cuddle up to the major mass producers of beer.
The beer market is shrinking. The cask beer market is static. According to CGA Strategy beers that they define as "craft beers" are the only section of the beer market that is growing. They also state that this is generally a consumer driven effect. Consumers are waking up to products that are different, have provenance, and are made by people who care about what they are doing.
So, the questions I have to ask myself is this; Do I align with a sector of the beer industry that is failing? Do I trust the large brewers who are only really interested in me because they see the way things are going? Do I risk losing the loyalty of those beer drinkers who have found Hardknott Beers, love us because of what we are, and what we stand for, and accept our mistakes because we are trying to do something different?
Or should I be more vocal in saying that we are different? Should we not point out that, although we are a business and therefore do care about making money, we want to produce beer that is truly different and are prepared to take the financial risk in doing so? Should we not reinforce the fact that although the cost of making beer is important, and so ensuring a profitable business, securing jobs and looking after our future, we also care about choosing ingredients to make our beer some of the best there is?
All of the above aligns us much more with the French wine maker who cares about his craft than the major beer producer. Alcohol consumption in the UK is dropping generally and drinkers are looking for more quality than volume. I believe the beer industry is suffering for this, all except those of us who are trying to produce something truly different.
This blogpost is the outpouring of my thoughts on the latest cynical attempt by the big brewers to claw back some of the market they have lost. We are, of course, talking about Let There Be Beer.
What disappoints me is not their campaign; they have a right to do that. What disappoints me is that SIBA and CAMRA have decided to put their names to the campaign. After all, it is simply a campaign to help boost big brand beer sales and goes against some of the basic principles of organisations I am a member of.
Most of all it goes very strongly against the ethos of Hardknott, and so it is my right and duty to myself and my business to be against it.