"yeah, not had the incentive, or motivation, or inspiration to be honest" I replied "This year's beginning has been less than ideally inspirational" I complained.
Rob Millichamp is head brewer at Mordue Brewery. We had called in to pick up some empties they had collected for us, and we'd got some for them. Despite trying very, very hard to organise better routes to market for our beer, the distribution systems have just not been performing well in terms of volume for draught beer1. So we had decided to make the trip over to the NE with some beer, and pick up the empties.
It is my feeling that this year the post Christmas beer sales slump have been worse than ever. Dry-January seems to be getting ever more popular. Yes, I'm sure you, the reader, who has decided for whatever reason that you are right to take part. You help us out every other month of the year shouldn't feel any guilt. Perhaps you are right, but it still puts a great big hole in our cash-flow and our yeast maintenance alike2. Not to mention the problem of managing stock. You see, most cask beer has at best 6 weeks best before date on it. This makes it hard to sell any stock in February that was racked at the end of December3. Rob, I noticed, has a post on his blog mentioning this headache.
I get asked, when I travel outside Cumbria, if we were effected by the floods. "Not directly" I tend dismissively reply "We're well away from any flood risk" - Which is true, but still there is a huge knock-on effect. The A591 is still severed just north of Grasmere causing a problem distributing to the north of Cumbria. Visitors to our county have been staying way in their droves meaning many of our customers are likewise ordering less beer. This, along with some significant over-supply and undercutting by new and often boring beer has resulted in a struggle at the start of the year.
Of course, there is that daft alcohol consumption advice issued by our neo-prohibitionist fitness-freak we have as a health minister. Jeez.
But we've managed to get to March, somehow. We have a couple of customers causing us some real issues with invoices remaining unpaid beyond a reasonable time, and we have suppliers quite rightly shouting for their invoices to be paid. Keeping the show going can be tricky when there is little slack at this time, how do you buy more malt and hops4 when the suppliers won't send them out until you pay down the previous? And how do you do that when you've got customers that owe from such a long time ago?
I noticed Boak and Bailey's post on a certain bar that had received public shaming on twitter. I missed that, I don't do that. I wonder if I should, but anyway us brewers talk, it's best to pay our invoices really. It turned out, after some investigations, that we too are being caught out by that very same bar that is not named in Boak and Bailey's post. I'm not entirely sure, but I doubt that particular business will be there for much longer, and if it does go down it'll do so collectively owing us small brewers a huge amount of money. I may at that point in time have comment, it has been very tempting to do so previously about poor accounts, but you can never be sure when one might pull through good. Besides, it might not be great for customer relations in general to be seen to do such things. I decided to stop supplying one route to market after another brewer contacted me regarding late payment from the same distributor. A threat to put them on stop and perhaps take other action simply antagonised the situation.
|Mixed emotions about daffodils|
they'll be dust someday too.
And so that day, with it's long and tiring drive, did give me a boost, and enthusiasm to look towards a future. We've got some exciting new things going on, new beer, new plans and now that the daffodils are coming out I might just get my blogging head back. I need that inspiration, as it is difficult to focus on getting more really stunning beer out to more really great people when you feel a bit demoralised by it all. Plus, I fear this post might just be the sort of negative projection that fails to improve my situation. I need to feel inspired so that you can feel inspired about our inspirational beer. I may end up feeling a backlash from Ann and the team for posting this, but I feel it is difficult to engage my enthusiasm without projecting to people just how difficult this time of year really is. I do at least know there are far more brewers feel like this than the general beer drinker is aware of.
Meanwhile, when did you last drink a Hardknott beer? When did you last even ask in a pub or bar if they were going to get any in? Are we really forgotten heroes? Does the majority of beer drinkers no longer love Hardknott like you used to, despite the fact our beer is better than it has ever been? Have you all moved on to newer, shinier things and lost interest?
You see, what we need is y'all to buy more of our beer, then we can move the whole financial stagnation through a bit and get this show back on the damn road.
1In contrast to the supply arrangement we have with Morrisons and M & S where the margins are at least solid, if slim. The fact is that although the price to supermarkets is low, the impact on overheads is also minimal compared to draught into trade. Plus, payment terms are generally reasonable, but more importantly they pay when they say they are going to pay. All in all highly manageable, repeatable and predictable.
2Sarah, our resident microbiologist, has been doing a great job of managing our yeast, but it really needs a good brew schedule to keep it going. During January the last two years that has been a bit difficult to say the least due to dropping brew regularity. Added to that the timings get shot at due to problems with the cash-flow resulting in orders for malt being delayed as we wait for the cash to ripple through. We then find that we can't brew when we want, we don't have the right beer when we want it so as we now ramp back up for spring we can't sell to capacity.
3Who would buy beer with just a week left before best before? Or even two weeks. Most pubs start to worry if it has less than 3 weeks best before date on the cask on delivery. A week to get from us to a distributor, a second week in the distributor's warehouse. Before long that 6 weeks from racking to best before date has disappeared.
4I'd really like to single out various supplies for the variety of support, or otherwise in this regard. Some are simply fantastic. I hope you know who you are and give yourselves a huge pat on the back for helping, and frankly taking a bit of a risk. The others, well I guess you are just running your business in a tight and orderly fashion. I'm trying to do likewise.
5It continually annoys me the critiques of various brewery PR tactics. Yes, some of them are lame, naff, crass and frankly stupid. But despite assertion from some quarters it is simply not good enough just to make really, really fantastic beer. If it was we'd be doing better than we are.