Tuesday 5 April 2011


Beer is generally over 90% water. Indeed, many pale hoppy session beers might well be more than 95% water. Water, and therefore beer, is quite heavy. The containers we use to move beer around in, be it stainless steel casks or glass bottles, add to that weight. The issues associated with moving all this mass about is significant for any commercial brewer.

We were using our domestic car for deliveries, it is a big fuel guzzling 4x4 and very capable of hauling around heavy loads, but in reality not ideal. I had been thinking about the fact that I could get around twice the amount of beer in a van. I'd been thinking this for some time. I think our car will take around 12 firkins plus a few cases of beer. Both on payload and volume it was full at this point. I knew that a van would most likely be more economical per firkin-mile.

Sadly, Ann managed to find some black ice on Christmas day. Our nice big car was significantly damaged as was a length of fencing and a big road sign. However, perhaps due to modern electronic stability control, Ann's skill or maybe just plain good luck, the car missed the icy tidal stretch of the river Esk just the other side of said fence. The salt water would surely have ruined the engine turning an expensive repair into a write-off. Ann might not have come off with just mere fright for that matter, as a dip in the river may well have had significant consequences.

The car was reasonably quickly taken away for repair, all sorted by the insurance. Better than that we were also promised a courtesy car while ours was being repaired.

A Ka. A flippin' Ford Ka.

So, we went out to find a van. Some nice people at Poulton near Blackpool had a nice big T350 Transit. Volume wise, being a long wheelbase high roof, it is bigger than we need, but as previously stated, beer is heavy and at least, with a payload of up to 1.5 tonnes it is possible to carry around 30 firkins without overloading. Great for dragging loads of beer long distances.

Our market seems to be developing in major city specialist beer bars. Our local market is somewhat saturated. There are many breweries in Cumbria. Too many it could be argued. The only really sensible option is to export most of our beer out of the county. Big cities are good where we can deliver to a few specialist bars and pubs who are within a short distance of each other.

This raises cost problems. Even with a full van, travelling several hundred miles has a significant transport cost per unit for each firkin. This is something we have to monitor very carefully indeed.

When we ran our remote pub, in the middle of nowhere, we became acutely aware of the impact of transport costs. So much so that the onset, in my view, of the current economic crisis, has been in part created by fuel costs. Sub-prime mortgages and irresponsible lending aside, which have indeed been a problem, the fuel costs rises saw our suppliers pulling out from our area citing transport costs as the issue; This inevitable contraction of business catalysed the onset of the banking crisis. I believe that fuel costs will continue to form a significant barrier to many businesses as the economy improves. Businesses that fail to cover transport costs will inevitably fail.

Our answer to this is to be careful about ensuring our van is full on long trips, perhaps combining pallet delivery and collection of empties by van1. To help all of this we will forward publish our delivery dates and ask that beer drinkers who like to see our beer can help us by encouraging pub and bar managers to order generously.

Equally, it is essential that we maintain our return on investing on such journeys and as such, with the current duty rises, cost of fuel, and many other financial pressures, we will have to look at maintaining the price we ask and resisting the many calls for deep discounting that is sure to eventually result in brewery casualties.

To help out, look at our newsletter, which lists our current committed delivery dates, along with a few other snippets of Hardknott News. We've already received helpful support and on-the-ground information from beer drinkers. Thank you to you all, it's all very much appreciated.

If you are interested, we now have our car back, after something of a pageant. It now does significantly less miles which I'm sure is good both for our pocket and the environment.


1We can get more than 70 empties in the van, they only weigh about 10kg each. We are happy to pallet out in advance to any venue taking reasonable numbers. We also have other breweries in the area that we share pallet space with. There is a Cumbrian brewery festival planned at The Rake Bar for instance.

1 comment:

Leigh said...

Another interesting post, Dave...I know how much you and Ann get out on the road with the truck and trust me - it's appreciated! (but im sure you know that!)