Friday 29 July 2011

This is NOT anti-CAMRA

This is NOT anti-CAMRA, it's just against the facade of traditional Real Ale as a means of selling beer. How many times have we heard "brewed using traditional recipes, English barley and English hops" and we find that the beer is anything but inspiring. It might be cheap. It might be a brand name that has been around for decades, but no one deserves to be able to sell beer that fails to inspire. Cask, keg, chill filtered and bottled or properly bottle conditioned, we love them all providing they have some flavour.

We think the brand group of Real Ale is looking tired and old. What the alternative is for the 21st century we don't know, perhaps just good beer.

Meanwhile we've been busy making some video. When I get some time I'm going to blog about the making of this.

Hardknott Beer from PiciFilms on Vimeo.

Music, incidentally, is composed by me and almost entirely performed by me. @WithoutaVision did the hitting things with sticks.

Cast is:
@BarmanAlex soon to be @HardknottAlex

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Marketing and Position

Yesterday we had quite a busy day racking, doing some CIP improvements, training my new secret production technician, transferring beer and getting ready to bottle today. It wasn't until quite late I found out that BrewDog and CAMRA had fallen out.

Upon learning this HardknottAnn immediately insisted on commandeering my MacBook for the purposes of writing a blog.

Last night and this morning we got carried away with discussions on twitter regarding GBBF and how beers are selected. I touched on the subject last year as it happens, and it is interesting for me to look back at what beers were actually on. I'll admit to being surprised to see that Punk IPA was there. The fact that it was on the same bar as Cumbrian beer is a little baffling.

It may be that I have a few facts wrong about various specifics regarding GBBF, but despite that I maintain that there are interesting selection influences at play. It might well be that various officials can attempt to reassure that it is all fair and transparent. The impression I am left with is very different; There is a massive disparity between local breweries who appeal to local markets and those of us who are more successful further afield.

Besides all that, the fact that BrewDog will not be at GBBF is no great surprise to me. This was a win-win situation for them in many ways. If they got their beer there in KeyKeg it would have been a result, the fact that it eventually fell through is also a result. PR win again. I seem to remember several people, including me, forecasting that this would be what would happen.

It has been pointed out to me that BrewDog are no different to any other brewery in as much as they want to sell more beer. Spot on there, we all do. What we all have to work out is if CAMRA, and indeed cask beer, are important to us or if they are more useful in opposition.

I'm still working that one out, but it appears to me that the latter might be more successful if a brewer is looking for a gap in the market. Also, it could very well be a useful marketing and positional ploy to be quite public about the fact.

Sunday 17 July 2011

New BrewDog B Share issue

For some reason my blog statistics are showing it is being found using search terms like "BrewDog share price" and "BrewDog AGM" - That might be because I was the very first person to sign up to their "Ordinary B" shares and blogged about it. It might also have something to do with a new share issue by BrewDog.

I've decided not to extend my investment in BrewDog, I need all the money I have to invest in my own stainless steel. It does however enable me to look back at what my share has been doing. At first sight it doesn't look good. The new shares cost £95 for 4. I paid £230 for one. Hang on, what's going on?

Looking at 4.3.2 in the offer document tells us:
the existing issued share capital (following the re-classification referred above), being £51,609.50 divided into 100,298 "A‟ Ordinary Shares of £0.50 each and 2921 "B‟ Shares of £0.50 each, will be sub-divided into 1,002,980 "A‟ Ordinary Shares of £0.05 each and 29,210 "B‟ Shares of £0.05 each;
(Lets ignore what appears to be a typo in the glossary under "existing B share")

So, my one share gets divided into 10 each worth £23.75 - I've made £7.50 then as it would now cost me £237.50 to buy more of the same. The down side could be that I currently own 0.00097% of BrewDog, but because of the new share issue it will drop to 0.00089%. However, this should help the company grow still further. I'll have a slightly smaller share of a much bigger beast.

Since I invested in BrewDog the sales have increased by around 8 times. The current share issue price values the company at nearly £27m. Is that an appropriate value for a company that turns over £6.5m, looks like being able to make in excess of 10% profit on turnover and has net assets of £3.4m?

I don't know, I'm not an expert on these things, and perhaps the value is currently a little optimistic. If the plans work out, and so far I feel that everything promised (apart from my Equity for Punks password) has been more-or-less realised.

If the plan carries on with the same level of success that has already been achieved then a further 12 fold increase in the size of the business is possible. I've had people criticise me for calling my purchase of shares an investment; Call it what you want, I still see it as an investment and if I didn't need to invest in my own brewery I would certainly have considered buying more of BrewDog.

And it's far more than just looking for a financial return. I strongly believe there is a stagnation in the British brewing industry. Sure, there are many more breweries than there used to be, but many of them are putting out beer that could do with a lot more interest. We went out last night and the only decent beer we found was Stringers Victoria IPA, we should have patronised one of the pubs that serves Hardknott, I know, but we like a bit of variety. The rest of the beer we found was nothing more than micro-brewed beer made and sold to a price rather than quality and with very poor brand image. BrewDog is one of a number of breweries that are leading the British brewing scene away from stuffy, stagnation generating tradition and into the 21st century. Indeed, without BrewDog as an example, I doubt I'd have had the gumption to do what I have done with Hardknott. I also suspect that there are other breweries who have been similarly significantly inspired, even if they prefer not to be as overt about it as me.

Call it copying if you like, call it band-wagon jumping if it makes you feel better, or just view it as a realisation of where the real market expansion in beer lies. Beer revolution or just appealing to a potential market? it matters not when comercial success is important to keeping your brewery alive.

So, if you have some spare cash, why not buy some shares? you might lose the lot, but then, you could just keep your money in the hands of the bankers if you prefer.


Another view on the subject is written by Neil and there is also the one from The Beer Monkey

Friday 15 July 2011


Our activities to raise the profile of food and beer matching have attracted some interesting responses. I am pleased with the way it has gone in general, but there are some underlying issues to resolve. In particular, the question of beer and its "sense of place", as Tim Atkin likes to call it, is a nagging point.

Fine wine is almost exclusively made from grapes grown in a single vineyard, crushed, fermented, matured and possibly even bottles by the same artisan organisation within a particular village. That, we are told, makes fine wine better for food matching than beer ever can.

The best bottle of wine I ever consumed was on my 40th birthday, in a 3 rosette restaurant, in which, a few weeks later, the Queen dined. The wine was really was very good, but at around £45 for 750ml I'm unsure if I could claim it was better than some of the very best beer I have ever drunk. I can think of a few grand beers, of equal complexity and of better value for money than that wine example. Furthermore, I strongly suspect that the wine in question would be much more now; I've tried to buy it since and failed to do so for any less than around £60 a bottle, even at wholesale prices.

Despite knowing that some exceptional quality beers can equal fine wine, how do we counter the accusation that beer has no "sense of place", no terroir? Furthermore, I decided to enter into my "campaign" by citing the fact that British Beer is an indigenous product of our country and that aspect has been undermined a little by various people, not incorrectly of course, pointing out that some of the very best beers do in fact use imported hops. Chris King writes a constructive appraisal of where we are which brings up that question, and is one of a number of articles I need to address before moving forward.

So, what does this treasured terroir mean? Is it really that valuable? How does it make wine better than beer and able to command ridiculous prices? Can beer ever compete?

Let's look first at the meaning of the word:
terroir (tɛrwar)

— n
the combination of factors, including soil, climate, and environment, that gives a wine its distinctive character.

A " terroir " is a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine making savoir-faire, which contribute to give its specific personality to the wine.


Of course, if we directly try to parallel wine terroir to beer we will fail. The bulk ingredient in beer is water. Many will try to argue that you can tell the difference when a brewery changes its water supply, and I've tried to do so myself in the past. Wine, of course, is entirely grape juice and so all the water in wine has come through the soil and into the vine before being squeezed out of the grape. In beer the science behind liquor treatment almost entirely blows away the idea that water necessarily has to influence the beer production.

The grain is the next bulk ingredient. For a product like a good barley wine the bulk weight input might very well equal the mass of the finished product. Barley, and most of the other grist ingredients, are grown in the UK. They are then normally by a handful of fine and experienced malsters, also in the UK.

Hops, which are an ingredient that arguably most effects the flavour and aroma of some of the very best beers may very well not be grown in this country. Indeed, although I accept this is a matter of opinion and a controversial point, the finest beers are made with heavy doses of New World hops. However, I do not believe this undermines my point that beer is an indigenous UK product.

To counter the accusation of hops being imported it is important to note that the hops represent less than 1% by weight of the finished product. Value wise it is a little more complicated, and seasonally variable, but generally less than 1% of the price you pay for your beer actually contributes to a none UK economy. Hops are a low mass product, shipped by sea and of relatively low value compared to the overall value of the beer.

It is true that the flavour of hops is significantly effected by the climate of area the hops are grown. This does truly inhibit our ability to focus on one single terroir for beer, but in reality many brewers are highlighting the New World influence on beer making the drink much less stuffy and aloof than the pretentious wine parallel. Beer is a product that crosses many boundaries including national frontiers - I think that makes it better than wine. For that reason it can also be argued that beer is a better match for world cuisine. Beer is a much better beverage for the modern, all-embracing, cosmopolitan and democratic people.

Human controlled elements

The definition of terroir can be expanded to include elements that are controlled or influenced by human decisions. This can include the decision of which grape variety to plant, though whether or not that grape variety will produce quality wine is an innate element of terroir that may be beyond human influence. Some grape varieties thrive better in certain areas than they do in others. The winemaking decision of using wild or ambient yeast in fermentation instead of cultured or laboratory produced yeast can be a reflection of terroir. The use of oak is a controversial element since some will advocate that its use is beneficial in bringing out the natural terroir characteristics while others will argue that its use can mask the influences of the terroir.


Yeast, of course, has a significant effect on beer. I've recently been trying a few beers crafted by long-standing brewers that I have previously overlooked. There is a quite distinctive flavour that is created by some brewers as a result of careful selection of ingredients but more specifically the cultivation of yeast.

Where beer comes into its own is the human influence, selection of ingredients, cultivation of yeast and a panache for creating complexity, depth of flavour and aroma. Dexterous monitoring and control of the whole process from mash, boil, through fermentation and maturation is critical to a top class beer that has a house feel all of its own. It may very well not be important where the beer is made, and a "sense of place" more vague, but beer from a particular brewery has character and personality very special and often only surpassed by the personalities of the brewers.


The summer recess for Saturday Kitchen provides a useful time of reflection for our campaign to raise the awareness of food and beer matching. A post to follow concerns the fact that food and beer matching, when done well, would necessarily have to include beers from various countries, further undermining my "beer is the indigenous British drink" angle - this point needs to be addressed for the continuation of the "movement"


Sunday 10 July 2011

The image of beer - brand image

I should really be doing an update on our Saturday Kitchen attack and further considerations for a general attack on the media for not covering beer. It's been an interesting week that's for sure, and when an activity starts to raise a few questions about its appropriateness then you know it's starting to have an effect. There have been various discussions on twitter and blogs about the whole subject and I'm going to take stock in good time. Watch for a further post soon.

Meanwhile, I like to drill deeper into these things; Why is beer seen as such an unworthy subject for many of the major media productions? The answer to this I'm sure is complex and too much for my tiny brain. Still, I do have some ideas, and I'd like to explore them further.

My friends over at Pumpclip Parade did bemuse me slightly when it started; I still bought into the "well, it's just a laugh......." argument put forward in defence of childish puns, irritating alliteration, and bawdy Viz style jokes on pumpclips. The main ringleader of Pumpclip Parade, Jeff Pickthall, had a direct attack at me because of my amusement at Wychwood branding a short time after I started writing on this blog.

Despite that on-line poke at my good character, I have remained good friends with Jeff, and he has slowly whittled away at what has turned out to be a nerdy bias towards certain things1, like for instance the best beer can only ever be served from a cask. Or for that matter, that micro-brewed beer is inherently better than that made in a bigger brewery.

What I am very interested in is how beer can be given better stature across a broader cross section of demographics and there are a lot of things that let beer down in that respect. Branding is just one of them. The branding and image of "Real Ale" in particular is suffering with alarming contemptibility. For this reason we have avoided using "Ale" as a descriptor for our beer and will shortly be engaging in some publicity that more overtly promotes our cask beer as anything but old fashioned and stuffy "Ale"

I'm sure this will cause some shouting about how we are anti CAMRA, which is not true. What we are is pro-beer. We want all beer to succeed, and for it to do so we have to recognise that there might be some things that don't advertise beer that well.

I'll leave you with something that did amuse me, but at the same time worries me. A pumpclip by the well respected Mordue brewery. "A'l Wheat Pet" - I did laugh, out loud too. But on reflection I thought it also localised silliness, which if contained within the geeky pubs I love over in the North East might do no harm. I do think this sort of thing does have a continual and indelible subliminal impact on quality food and drink writers, newspaper editors or broadcast producers alike.

This pumpclip stirred something in my brain. It started to irritate me, despite the NE accent and dialect being my favourite regional vocal sound. I tweeted the image for the attention of @Pumpclip parade as I thought, despite Mordue's good branding image, it was just on the wrong side of the line for the overall good of beer. I got a couple of replies suggesting that it was generally clever and amusing, suggesting perhaps I overreacted. An interesting debate to have, where does the line exist? After all, I used to like Goblins, especially if they mocked lager drinkers, but not now, partly because I've found that given the right lager, I drink it.

In summary, the wider world thinks beer is either mass produced lager for drunken hooligans or "Real Ale" of invariably poor quality, brewed by good people with the right intentions, but with little flair or imagination, doing things on a shoe string, in sheds, for old fashioned, penny pinching, poor joke loving, deliberately fashion snubbing, anti-commerce ageing hippies2. Perhaps it is no wonder beer doesn't appear on the TV.


1He has failed to convince me that ketchup is a good accompaniment for double fried chips any more than anyone could convince me that shandy is a worthy beer cocktail, but there you go.

2and I realised, I probably fit into some of those descriptions too.

Saturday 2 July 2011

Saturday Kitchen Attack

OK, so it was only twitter; it's not real life and nothing will change if it just ends here. However, bigger things have started with less, and it's hard to believe that at least a few cages haven't been rattled1.

It all started a week ago when Neil Bowness tweeted2 that it was strange that Saturday Kitchen regularly plugs imported wines that can be bought in major supermarkets but regularly fails to mention British Beer. A mutual twitter friend, Vickie Hunter, asked if there was anyone we could complain to. This set me thinking that there probably was. To me, the obvious snub given to the beverage that is indigenous to Britain, seems to be broadcasting bias, so I complained to OfCom.

I also decided to write a press release, which was helpfully edited and distributed by Tim Hampson, the chairman of the Guild of Beer Writers. This generated some further publicity on local radio and papers as well as a sniff from the Independent, although for the latter I expect it will get no further than their blog.

This morning we flooded the Saturday Kitchen hashtag with beer matches and various other beer and food related comments. Although difficult to measure as all the previous records for Saturday Kitchen tweets seem too unimportant for the search tools to find, we can be sure we made a difference. We created over 1500 tweets and I am certain that the production team now know we are here.

There is a Facebook page now dedicated to the cause of raising the profile of good beer in the media, please like it and contribute with comments, or links to blog posts etc. I'm hoping this will not be the end of the matter. It's called Libeeration, which I'm told is a play on words. Libation is the act of partaking in alcoholic beverages, beer is an alcoholic beverage and liberation is the act of freeing from previous constraints. It wasn't my idea, it was the brainchild of The Director of vituperation, @AKA_Franklin.

However, I am concerned that this will just be a flash in the pan. Hopefully we'll do the same next Saturday, but I expect the novelty will wear off and it would take a significantly greater event to get us noticed enough to change the way major media people think about beer. I expect it is going to take a real life publicity stunt. Beer and food picnic outside the studio anyone?

Meanwhile I've been accused of this being a publicity stunt for Hardknott. I would hope that my readers are clever enough to feel that their intelligence is being called into question if I tried to deny that this is part of my motive. However, I hope that this shows our whole publicity ethos is one of playing to the all-inclusive nature of beer. Yes, we will occasionally have a pop at things that are in conflict with what we do, and that includes other sectors of the beer market on occasions, but we do firmly buy into the concept that we must all consider what is good for beer in the long run.

Other perceptions on the morning's events have been chronicled by Beer Beauty, Pub Champion and Thatchers Arms.


1The series producer is quite obviously ignoring us on twitter. Several of us have tweeted directly at him. Mind you, I also know that abuse is thrown at the program because a few people don't like some of the presenters. I'm guessing that success is often accompanied by abuse and it might be worth remembering that what we did today could be cited as abuse.

2I'm slightly miffed that searches have failed to find the original tweets.

Friday 1 July 2011

#SaturdayKitchen #Beer

It's been a busy week, and we're nearly round to Saturday again. Our campaign to raise the profile of beer and food matching had gained almost universal support in the beer world and I'm moved by the genuine messages of encouragement from a wide range of people from brewers, beer writers and beer enthusiasts alike.

Tomorrow we will be attempting to flood the SaturdayKitchen hashtag with beer matches for food presented. We would welcome all to join in, suggest beers that might work, discuss and generally show that there is great support for beer in this country.

Please include #SaturdayKitchen and #Beer in your tweets.

In other news, you can listen to me talking about beer and food matching on my local BBC Radio Cumbria breakfast show on Jeff Pickthall's blog.