Sunday 18 December 2011

Leaning towards extreme

Hardknott for the faint hearted?

I can never claim to have led an ordinary life. Sunday, for instance, is not about washing the car or cutting the lawns. OK, sometimes it is, but only because it is well past needing to be done and I've not been able to squeeze those essential, but tiresomely boring jobs into my schedule at any other spare time.

An ideal Sunday for me would be something that raises the pulse rate a little1 and might involve a little bit of outdoor sport with an element of adrenalin. Climbing is my most favourite pass-time, when I get a chance. Rock climbing in the summer and snow and ice climbing in the winter. Sadly, since leaving regular employment just over 8 years ago, the time consumed in the pursuit of a reasonable level of income from being self employed seems to have rather limited my time available for pure pleasure.

My approach to beer is somewhat similar to other aspects of my life; anything but mainstream. I could probably sell more beer if I concentrated on making low cost pale session bitter. My view is that Hardknott is about something different, something challenging, and something that sets the pulse racing. It's not for everyone. It's probably not even for the majority.

I recently wondered if Continuum was too extreme for it to be really successful. I know that due to it's very high hop loading, right from bittering hops, through late aroma hops and ending with a stupid level of dry hopping in tank, it clearly strikes fear into those meek drinkers who get vertigo when faced with high level hop compounds. My love of crystal malt as a belay for protection against unbalancing, when on the edge of top level hop exposure, often attracts criticism.

My daughter, Sarah, has just turned 14. That fact in itself only goes to strengthen my biggest fear of all; my advancing age resulting in my knees no longer being able to cope with some of my favourite activities2. I was very much younger and fitter 14 years ago when that bundle of fun made an entrance into the world. Having a birthday at this time of year can be troublesome for the girl, as less attention to birthday presents are given due to everyone being consumed with the details of our ever increasingly burdensome Christmas celebrations.

She's a clever cookie, takes after her Dad, recently requesting climbing equipment for presents. That's easy, I thought, you can never spend too much money on beer or climbing equipment. Of course, the detail of exactly what to get would require a little bit of thought. Given that the weather this time of year is unpredictable, climbing gear might not get used until the summer and an all weather solution was needed.

Looking at a blank wall in the brewery and suddenly a devious plan was hatched. A quick look at the internet revealed that climbing wall holds were easily attainable. Job sorted, daughter happy, and I now have a climbing wall in the brewery that I can play on whenever I like.

"Dad?" you know, in the both cute but irritating way that only daughters can do.
"Yes Sarah?"
"Just because we now have a climbing wall, you know you can't get out of taking me proper climbing in the summer, don't you?"
"Oh, I suppose so" I say, pretending that I'm reluctant, but really, pleased that I'll probably now get bullied into spending more time away from work and doing something I really enjoy
Thinking about Continuum, I like it the way it is. I know other people do too. I left a well paid job to take up a career in an industry I enjoy being part of. I have always concentrated on doing things in an off-the-wall shunning-the-mainstream approach to my business. A little bit extreme, pushing into areas of risk and incurring costs that often cannot be recouped due to the very low margins that exist in the beer industry.

I've been in the bottom of a glacier crevasse, on top of many mountains, broken my leg skiing, nearly frightened myself to death more times than I care to remember being half way up a rock climb that really I shouldn't have been on.

I've run a pub3, started a brewery, sold the pub, made strong beer, week beer, well-hopped beer, had a pop at CAMRA and The Portman Group. I do these things because this is who I am, what I do. I make the beers I want to drink, and I shouldn't have to apologise for that. I write about the things I want to write about, I don't think I should have to apologise for that either. Inevitably this blog is now shaped by the fact that I run a brewery which is trying to make money out of brewing the very beers I like to brew. Getting to the markets that might return sufficient margin for me to continue to make these beers does require a rather extreme approach to marketing and this is always going to upset a few. And sometimes I get a little scared as a result.

But, a little bit of what scares me is what keeps me feeling alive.


1Now look, there really wasn't any need for you to think that.

2There you go again. But, although the fear of ceasing to be able to manage that is also there, I am told there are little blue pills that might keep everything in that department functional long after it ought to be.

3And really, that in itself I could fill a book with those stories.


Mike said...

Great post. Keep on trucking!

Anonymous said...

And I think this is exactly what holds me back. I succumb to the things that scare me and stay in a safe place.

Of course there is a little bit of controversy in most things you have a hand in and you explain why in your post...but if people can see past that, then they would also see that there is a lot to benefit from feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Ed said...

Nice one having a climbing wall in the brewery. Not sure about your marketing strategy though.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

We have these things called "mountains" where they engage in that sort of activity.

Not enough pubs, though, so I had better get to work.