Saturday 25 June 2011

Saturday Kitchen

CAMRA do it, some good food pubs do it, at the annual British Guild of Beer Writers awards dinner it is done for an audience of over 200 people, even some Michelin Stared chefs do it; Beer and Food matching.

Why then does the BBC not do it? No, we don't know either. Saturday Kitchen is a very good food program, but it does not feature beer, almost never. I think this should change and I'm hoping my good blog readers will agree and help us out.

Hardknott today launched a campain today to change that. I've sent a complaint to OfCom, here is what I said to them:
Beer is the national indigenous drink of Great Britain
Beer is deliberately omitted from Saturday Kitchen
Wine is almost completely an imported product
Beer can be matched with food very successfully
By omitting beer in favour of wine, the BBC is deliberately and unreasonably biasing its content to a foreign import
The BBC, our national broadcasting authority, which is paid for by a tax on television ownership, is deliberately and recklessly damaging the UK economy by its unreasonable and deliberate rejection of beer as a beverage to drink with food. The vast majority of beer consumed in the UK is brewed in the UK using British grown ingredients
Drinking alcohol when eating is a much more responsible activity than heavy drinking sessions when no food is consumed. The BBC, in omitting beer from one of its prime time food programs is alienating beer drinkers from the healthy activity of moderate drinking whilst eating; therefore the BBC is being reckless with the nations health
With many eating and family pubs it is disingenuous to suggest that beer does not form part of the British dining culture
Promoting brands of wine in named supermarkets without also giving air time to quality British beer brands is unacceptable bias for a public funded organisation
Beer is an inclusive beverage. Choosing wine in favour of beer is divisive and deliberately seeks to engage with a much narrower section of society than is acceptable in todays cosmopolitan and liberal Britain.
You can also send in a complaint from the OfCom web site. Imagine the effect this could have if we all sent in a complaint about this one program? The reader is welcome to use the words here, their own or a combination. Please be aware that the complaint must be limited to 1500 characters, so you need to be careful you don't cut and paste hidden control characters.

Depending on your browser you can either select the program or enter the details below:

Programme title:
Saturday Kitchen

Date and time of broadcast(e.g. 01 January 2009 23:00):
25 Jun 2011 10:00

Channel / station:

If you are less antagonistic than me then you might like to write to Points of View.

My good friend, and also our design consultant, Neil Bowness, has written a nice letter to them.

If we all do our bit then perhaps we can properly get beer on the telly.

Monday 13 June 2011

Attempting to end Heath Robinsonness

When we first moved to our current brewery location, to enable us to continue to brew with minimum delay and expense, the kit was somewhat cobbled together. Things have remained in a similar state of Heath Robinsonness for some time despite extra kit being added.

I'm intending on buying some new, bigger tanks soon. We're currently brewing to capacity and need more tanks in which to put beer to ferment and mature, on bucket loads of dry hops, obviously.

I want to get the rest of the brew house in order before the tanks arrive. Today saw a major step forward with delivery of two nice heavy and strong RSJs to support my mezzanine floor. This will eliminate the scaffolding that supports my grist cases and cold liquor tank.

Additionally the walls that we have been building will help me to tidy up the pipe-work and cabling, essential as I hope it won't be too long before I can start employing someone to do some of the brewing. Right now a degree in bodging along is required to be able to brew on my kit.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Doing the PR bit

A couple of weeks ago the local network centre held an interesting event which invited local businesses to impress local dignitaries, such as my favourite MP Jamie Reed, and convince them that Millom is a great town.

There is a great community spirit in our town, and with some reluctance I pitched up at the event to show some support for the altruistic outlook of the organisers. I doubted if the event would provide return on investment for the time, and free beer that was provided although I do like the people involved. As it happened I had a couple of hours free and pitched up.

It was fun, I even convinced one notary attendee that despite her assurance that she didn't like beer, barley wine in the form of Granite, was indeed worthy of her 800 year lineage.

However, this local Cumbrian excellence is all very well, but is barely relevant to my business. When the local paper phoned me to ask my views on the event I didn't want to miss the opportunity for some local exposure. I thought quickly and, perhaps rather rashly, decided to challenge the barriers to my operation in the town as more than 50% of our sales are out of the county. More than 95% of our deliveries are over 20 miles away from our base.

I pointed out transport is a big issue to us and that local government has no intention of improving road structures which could encourage economic growth and employment. I also pointed out that there was effectively saturation of a locally stale traditional market that is suffering due to the number of breweries, and an inability to accept more progressive flavours in beer.

The result of the interview made the front page of the local paper.

I didn't expect this to hit the front page of our edition, but it did. The attention grabbing headline doesn't quite match my sentiments, but getting our name on the front page is well worth it. The quotes really are what I said, but it is interesting the way it has been embellished by the reporter.

Incidentally, a local CAMRA active member, Steven Walker is also quoted. It could be assumed from this that I'm at odds with local CAMRA. Steven is a grand guy and it would certainly be untrue to suggest that I find the majority of the Cumbrian branch members at odds with us.

A bit of perspective

Beer is a highly scalable product. It is highly industrialiseable. It can be made in large quantities, in big breweries, with inevitable economies of scale. It can be made really economically, by faceless multinational corporations, by cutting costs on ingredients so that the result is a bland, fizzy, cold product, sold to numpties who know no better. Oh wait, I'm denigrating 90% of beer. Never mind, that's what CAMRA started with 40 years ago, it was OK to do it then.

Beer can also be made in small sheds, hand crafted by passionate artisanal brewers who care more about the flavour of the beer rather than saving a few pennies on the production costs. The consistency of the resultant beer can often be highly variable and the experimental nature often produces beers with dubious palatability. Additionally, they are mainly Real Ales which might turn out to be flat, warm and vinegary.

These two examples of denigration of various beers are still all too rife. Some commentators are prophesying that this is damaging the world of beer in general. We should all just get on with making good beer and let the beer do the talking, apparently.

Now, I like the sound of that, I really do. I'd love it if I could just get on and make beer, make sure my phone number is in the telephone directory1 and wait for the phone to ring red hot with enquiries. This just doesn't work.

I saw recently, somewhere, someone stating that the only beer which is not marketed is made in your garage. In other words beer, or any product for that matter, cannot sell without it being marketed. Sometimes that marketing can be low key. Sometimes it can just be a micro-brewer going around a few pubs and convincing them to buy his beer. That can work, but I can tell you from experience that this does not produce sales of any significant amount compared to the effort that is put in.

I'd like to consider something, something that concerns me a great deal but doesn't come to light very often; The majority of beer that is sold in this country is lager made in relatively large quantities and marketed at the masses. The majority of it is targeted at the football supporting males of the population. I know the vast majority of football supporters are sensible, law abiding and non-violent. The mainstream press do not view football supporters in this way. The stereotype football supporter is often portrayed as a mindless thug whose choice of alcoholic beverage is dirty lout drunk until he2 vomits in the street. Consider, do the large brewers do the beer industry any favours by aligning themselves with this market?

Craft beer, and in this context I include the majority of cask beer, bottle conditioned beers, various imported foreign beers and some notable non-bottle conditioned and keg beers alike, are not mentioned in main stream media to any great extent. Wine gets talked about a great deal in the mainstream media. In fact, beer is barely mentioned much at all on TV, radio or in the papers, except to point out that it gets people drunk, makes them violent and causes disorder in city centres, especially if there is a football match occurring at the same time.

Do we really think that the current spats occurring between bloggers and CAMRA, CAMRA and BrewDog, or BrewDog and beer geeks who didn't get their beer, is really making much of an impact on the overall creditability of beer? No, I don't think it's making much impact at all.

Most of the general public know about big beer brands, mainly because of sport related advertising. Most of the general public are aware of the value of cask beer and to some extent that is down to CAMRA and the quiet work done by micro-brewers and regional brewers alike along with organisations like SIBA.

How then does a brewer who wishes to make in-roads to what he/she sees as a gap in the market? With existing polarised views that beer consists either of fizzy cold keg for football supporters or cask beer for middle aged gentlemen, how does a brewer make the point that his beer is different? How does a brewer who wants to target his beers at people who don't want to drink mainstream lager or cask session beer if the brewer doesn't actually point out that their product is neither of these things?

Well, we know the answer to that one.

Meanwhile, I have been getting a little bit bemused by various notary people in the beer world being concerned about the bad image being given to beer by various marketing campaigns. Referring to the football link, I can't help feeling that nearly any marketing activity associated with beer is going to be seen by someone, somewhere, as a bad thing for beer.

Moreover, why do we think beer is different? Why do we think that it is the only market that suffers from promotion via highlighting the differences between products? I'm convinced it's not.

I asked a friend on twitter, who runs a software technology company, if the same sort of teacup based storms occur in the software industry:
"@HardKnottDave the world of Beer is a polite tea party compared to the ongoing brawl that is the software industry." - @JunkLight
Come on everyone, get a bit of perspective.


1Do telephone directories still exist? Do people still use them?

2Yes, he is always male.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Justifiable Extreme or Hyperbole?

I'm sat here drinking a Bitch Please. It's the second time I've drunk this beer. The first time was after I'd seen some comments about it, including a few complaining that it tasted phenolic. I had not actually realised that it was whisky cask aged, and neither had Ann when she ordered a case from BrewDog. It's a barley wine, and she likes barley wine, she thought she'd like this one. She most certainly does not like Paradox, but I do. I was keen to try it.

On this particular occasion I'd been to the pub already, so my taste buds, and perhaps synapses, were not operating at full potential. Yup it smelled and tasted of phenols, so what? I tweeted the fact to the world in general.

That got a few replies, mostly questioning the sense in making a beer taste so horrible. There is part of me wonders if that was part of the understandable BrewDog backlash that is a current theme around the beer-related social network. But I still maintain that if you put a beer in a cask that previously held a phenolic whisky then the beer is very probably going to be phenolic. It's a bit like complaining that a vindaloo is 'king hot.

And to carry on that food analogy one has to realise that most people don't like over-the-top spicy food. Indeed, I cannot remember the last time I heard anyone order such silly dishes as Vindaloo. Likewise, it is expected that most beer drinkers won't like this beer.

In any case, I've decided to drink another bottle of Bitch Please, to suffer so I can give a more considered view on what is admittedly a stupidly boundary pushing beer.

Smell: strong charcoal, smoke, TCP, typical malt whisky aromas. Dissipates as the glass is swilled around and allowed to breathe. Gives way to barley wine aromas of dried fruit, but only after some time to let the whisky dissipate.

Taste: Overpowering magic marker, solvent, alcoholic. The base barley wine has been beaten to a quiet whimper, those Scots have bloody well nigh on killed any subtlety. Sure, the base beer is still there, fighting its last breath smothered by the big clout of Jura, but I have difficulty discerning anything I can find flavour descriptors for.

So, what's the point? It is just a crazy idea designed to do nothing more than send the beer geeks crazy and raise the profile of an already over-hyped brewery. Isn't it?

And yes, I'd agree, but I still like it for some bizarre reason. But then I like phenols and I like those mad extreme single malts. To be fair, there are plenty of people that don't. Paradox works because the base stout still works in balance and isn't nearly beaten to death in the process. Bitch Please starts to question the sense in spirit cask ageing, and I'm drawn to love it just for that, despite its faults.

What really interests me is not so much how successful the beer is in its execution; there are plenty of reasons to say that there are flaws. What really interests me is how it fits with the developing esoteric beer market.

It is our view that the traditional cask market is becoming somewhat stagnant and saturated. With an ever increasing number of breweries, and with us all fighting for front-bar font space, back-bar fridge space and off-sales shelf space we all have to fight for a part of that market.

Looking at keg, crazy stunts, fun poking, deliberate institution unsettling and the odd bit of stepping-over-the-boundary might well be something we will all have to do more of.

Bitch Please might be over-hyped, but over-hyping is the way to get your brewery noticed and grow up into a success. Furthermore, despite the current backlash, BrewDog continues to grow.

Right, now we've got that out of the way, I'm going to finish the glass..... and as I do, it's growing on me and the barley wine is fighting back.

Friday 3 June 2011

Fizzy is FUN!!!! :)

One of the reasons I like cask beer is because it's not generally too carbonated. I actually don't care too much for over-carbonated beer, or any drink that is too fizzy for that matter. Some soft drinks can be very refreshing on a hot day, but the gassy bloated feeling created when you feel like sinking a pint of cola can be particularly unpleasant.

When I was a kid it was a real treat to have fizzy pop. Often, being in a large family, squash would be the option provided. If we were really lucky Mum would put an ice tray in the freezer compartment, but lemonade or coke was reserved for parties and was a little bit of a treat.

The vast majority of draught beer served in this country is fizzy keg. I don't care for it much, although on a very hot day a pint of good lager is very refreshingly cold and the tongue scrubbing effect of the carbonation can be just the ticket.

I try to produce my keg, which I have to point out is currently very much in development, with a low level of carbonation and with minimal, if any filtering. I've been told by some craft beer people that it's not fizzy enough. Perhaps the new generation of craft keg lovers are looking for fizzy beer with flavour, because fizzy is fun.

It's an interesting conundrum; people expect keg to be colder and more carbonated. Indeed, some beer drinkers like kegged lager because it is cold and fizzy. Cask beer is flabby in comparison and is not cold enough. Some people like fizzy beer, and it is possible that at least a proportion of drinkers will engage with keg, especially the younger population. There is significant evidence to show that this is exactly what BrewDog are doing.

Of course, a potential problem of craft keg, even if it leaves the brewery at optimum carbonation levels, is ensuring it does not pick-up carbonation in the cellar of the pub. It's a fair concern and I'll be the first to admit that as more bars, like Port Street, Euston Tap, Sheffield Tap and many others start dispensing keg from small producers, we have to work with them to ensure gas settings and mixtures are correct for the product.

Oh, and guys, make sure your cellar is at 12 degrees and turn the gas off when the bar is closed.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Bad definition

Continuing the theme of blogeratti and craft keg, I noticed in The Cask Report the following definition;
"Keg beer:
Beer that has been pasteurized and/or filtered to remove any yeast, before being sealed in a pressurized container.
It is then dispensed with the aide of CO2, nitrogen or a mix of the two to give fizz or ‘smoothflow’ texture."

The author, Pete Brown, is well known for his broad appreciation of beer, including both keg and cask. Shame the definition is wrong, my keg beer is neither filtered nor pasteurised.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Hops and Craft Brewing

There seems to be a lot of fuss about keg beer at the moment. Some think it's great and others don't. Some think that cask is the only good beer and some think that some cask is good and some keg is good. Most of these people tend to agree that some beer really isn't good.

Generally most beer that finds favour with progressive beer enthusiasts use progressive hopping. Often using hops that come all the way from a place called America. The problem is, these hops are only harvested in Autumn and often aren't available until perhaps December. Of course there are places over here in the UK where the hops are stored and people like us buy them from time to time, but if they run out we have to wait until December to get them.

They just ran out.

Today Ann tried to order hops. "There is some good news" she reported back to me, with the hint in her voice that I should brace for the inevitable bad news. "Faram's are saying that their trade is up 50% this year, more people are brewing more progressive beer with more hops"

Coooool, I thought. "But?"

"They've run out of Willamette, Centennial, Citra and Amarillo"


So, while you lot have been worrying about who might or might not like extraneous CO2, the biggest threat to craft brewing just happened. If you are a brewer, have products that use these hops and haven't forward bought you might have problems.

However, the New Zealand harvest is in next week, so it's not all lost.