Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Stunning Craft Beer from the Western Lakes

Oh, and the launch of;

Juxta Beer - 1.9% position; low ABV craft

We don't make as much of a deal out of the fact that we are located in a stunning part of the world as we should. Indeed, I think our side of the The Lake District is far more stunning than any other part of our national park. All that twee Beatrix Potter stuff is all very well, and Wordsworth did do some fine poetry, it's true, but nothing beats the majesty of my favourite valley, Wasdale. Our part of the world is what I class as the real Lake District.

Stunning Craft Beer - Juxta from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

It was also an opportunity to serve our brand new experimental low ABV beer, Juxta Beer 1.9%. What could be better than climbing a mountain to find a nice pint of refreshing, thirst quenching beer at the top?

We set up the bar, using a pile of stones, called a cairn, to locate the tap. We did this at a place called Sprinkling Tarn, which is just below the 2000ft mark above sea level.

We had worried about the problem of being responsible for creating drunks on the mountain. I was quite sure my friends in the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team would take a dim view of the safety aspect of strong beer on the mountains. It is a good job we did behave so responsibly, as the leader of the team happened to drop by when we were there. He seemed to enjoy his pint.

To the best of our knowledge, for one day, we created the highest Craft Beer Bar in the UK. Clearly we had no licence to sell beer, so we had to give it away. One group of gents were so pleased they emailed us with a picture.

What was amusing on the day was the fact that as the people we'd served passed other walkers who were approaching, they were obviously telling of our strategic bar. Unfortunately we didn't get reactions on camera, but some were definitely in the "Well we heard the rumours, but just thought they were playing a practical joke on us!"

We're starting to send Juxta Beer out in cask this week. The first load is going to Cask Pub and Kitchen. Bottles will follow on soon. Look out for it, I think it's a good low strength beer. Stunning, even.

The KeyKeg setup

The team
Left to right; Alfie Bailey, Dave Bailey, Scott Larrabee,
Laura Larrabee, Stuart Roche

The Sprinkling Tarn Bar Punters

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Arguments in favour of keg

It is still amazing that there are people out there who believe keg is evil. It is now staggering me, considering the success of many new breweries with their keg offering, that there are people out there still decrying the introduction of Craft Keg, and citing it as a bad thing.

Of course mostly these people are middle aged, or older, stick-in-the-mud killjoys.

I've been looking back at some of my early blog posts. Back when I was really on a roll and trying to make my own mind up about CAMRA, cask beer, keg beer and the best way to package, distribute, dispense beer for the sake of the best drinker's experience.

Way back in 2009 I had a little play with keg beer. The results were encouraging. Since that time we have been honing our skills at putting beer into keg and strongly believe that there is a huge future for beers from small independent breweries to be distributed in this format.

What has never left my mind is the simple fact that around 85%1 of all draught beer sold is keg.

Moreover, having recently done some sales calls around various local hostelries, I notice that there is a significant brand of IPA making its way into the mainstream in a big way, in the more trendy bars and circuit pubs that are much more popular with the younger drinker.

Many people like their beers cold, fizzy and crisp. Is this wrong? Are we wrong to try and tell them otherwise? I think that if people like fizzy chilled beer than they should be provided with it. I'd prefer they drank my cold fizzy beer than rather than someone else's.

So, we must accept that the overall keg market is much bigger than cask, and despite noises to the contrary, this situation is likely to remain the case for a long time to come. Notwithstanding the fact that for many outlets there are significant technical advantages of keg beer, for the small brewer it can also be an important route to market for their products.

But more than that, although there has been some ideas stating cask beer can be trendy by virtue of it being retro, it fails to have any long term real impact to a significant number of younger people. By contrast, I notice that many younger people are looking for more trendy drinks, and this has long included keg beers.

So, with the advantage of solid consistency, without the need for cask expertise in the outlet, staying fresher for longer once a container is breached, and an appeal to youngsters, surely we should stop demonising breweries who decide to push keg.

Getting youngsters to enjoy a broader range of beer has to be a good thing, even if they need keg to convince them of it. Frankly I don't care if they never decide to drink cask. Perhaps they like cold fizzy beer. But I'd like more people to drink my beer and if I have to make it cold and fizzy to get them to do it, then I will.


1Source:The Cask Report 2011-2012 - yes, I know, this is out of date. However, the 2013-2014 doesn't publish the figures, as best I can see. One can only assume this is because up until 2010, the last figures I can find, there was in fact a growth of cask as a proportion of the market. In 2010 cask had a 15.0% share of the total on-trade beer market. This figure was only beaten previously in 1998 when it was 16.1% - there was then a drop down during the Noughties to as low as 12.4%. All very interesting I feel.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Random Thoughts on Craft Beer

Of course, it was forecast by some to be incapable of gaining momentum. However, it is the case that the idea of craft beer is becoming more and more important in the beer marketing lexicon. Those who choose to ignore this are firmly putting their heads into the sand.

How can I be so sure that it is quite so significant? Well, it's the number of times the term gets mentioned in various arenas. Of course it's been discussed within brewing circles for a number of years now. Often even here with a split of opinion as to it's usefulness as a term. Often, too, with a mind on the troubled sub-issue of definition.

On the anti-side there is often the feeling that it is just a rouse to push out cask beer, and are under the impression that craft beer is only to be found in keg. On the pro-side most are happy to include at least some cask beer into the definition of craft.

It is a divisive issue within CAMRA too. I know some members would love to see a less confrontational approach regarding the subject. Other members, often the ones that would probably consider themselves experienced enough to say "You don't know what you are talking about laddie, you don't remember Watney's Red Barrel!" as if that is some sort of everlasting reason to stay firmly stuck in the past.

What I find curious, and quite a positively interesting phenomena, is the number of times recently I've heard slight scathing comments from CAMRA festival organisers regarding the subject. "Of course, if it wasn't for festivals like this we'd all have to drink craft beer" as if it would be some sort of terrible thing. However, looking along the line of beers, or scanning the program, it becomes clear to me that it would perhaps be a good thing. I know what I like, and it isn't the generally bland stuff at these sort of festivals.

I'm returning to the subject myself as an overall review of where I think Hardknott should be, and where we should go. The overall success of Hardknott OnTrack proves that it is far from essential to provide a one-size-fits-all approach to beer service establishments, even in a small town. The slightly left-field narrower appeal idea certainly hits a customer base that regular old-fashioned pubs fails to satisfy.

I've been out over the years and found what I like in the beer world, and considered what it is about the things I like that makes them so. There is a danger in listening to the "don't forget about Watney's" and the "That tradition is worth saving" brigade to the detriment of finding something that is truly interesting, splendid, different, even stunning.

I know what I like, and from that point of view this is an interesting take on craft beer; It is brewed by people who care about what they are doing, have found something that really fires up their imagination and want to share it with the world.

I have perviously scorned a high profile attempt to suggest a definition of craft beer. I firmly believe in craft beer, but also firmly believe it is complete folly to try and define it in any rules based system.

And so, whatever you think about it, wherever your own beery journey is taking you, it's hard for anyone to completely ignore the craft beer subject, even if the choice is never to mention it.