Friday 21 December 2012

Obsolete technology

I was sent a pocket diary the other day. You know, one made of that quaint stuff called paper. It was a well meaning present from a supplier. I doubt I'll use it as I have a smart phone. My smart phone can store dairy diary1 type information, tell the time, send texts, emails, tweet, browse the internet after a fashion and can be used to phone people. It is smaller than the pocket diary and does a whole load more. I change my smart phone about every 3 years, mainly because I use it a lot and it breaks due to heavy use. It confuses me why anyone who is possession of a busy life requires a paper diary that only lasts a year.

Facsimile machines are another thing that baffles me, along with typewriters and steam engines. Although I'll admit that the romantic part of me does see the point of museum railway companies that are for the purpose of amusement for occasional family outings and something for well meaning enthusiasts to be enthusiastic about. However, having a father who is something of an over enthusiastic railway bore I tire very quickly of the noisy, dirty, inefficient modes of transport. I like to travel in comfort and speed these days.

Cask beer is of course a Great British tradition, but I do wonder if it is now being pushed beyond the scope of its very outdated method of dispense. Don't get me wrong, I do not wish to see its demise and hope that it will continue to be strong where it is well executed. But there are places that seem to feel the need to serve cask beer, and beer drinkers who are overly choosy due to, what I believe to be a misguided view, that cask beer is always better.

The number of times I have tried my beer, in two different venues, knowing full well that the beer is from the same gyle, racked on the same day, and delivered on the same run but the taste in the two pubs has been very different. It would be very easy to blame cellaring techniques. It would be easy to blame dirty lines, and sometimes these are the reasons. Sometimes however, it is simply down to the very real disadvantage of cask beer and the fact that pubs are urged to have it, even though they would be better with an alternative method of dispense for their micro-brewed beer.

I feel that some of the issues do make consumers quite sure that they "don't like bitter" and "I only drink lagers" when that same group, when faced with micro-brewed keg, irrespective of the beer style, are more likely to have a go. Distrust of handpulls, especially with younger demographics, is a problem that faces the microbrewery industry.

As we expand at Hardknott we have to make choices as to what technology is best for us to continue to invest in. We will have to increase our container population, our container washing throughput capacity and our racking facilities. Is it wise to continue to invest in cask equipment when the technology is outdated, the market is driven more by cost than quality and often portrays a quint, marginal and sometimes even amateurish marketing image?

The reader no doubt will have their own view.


1To be fair, although it was a typo, I can store information about milk too. Thanks Phil.

Sunday 9 December 2012


Light can be considered to be both a wave and a particle1. It can be a difficult thing to understand unless you have a massive brain, which is why I struggle to understand it. But, I am assured by physicists that this is a truth. It's not that light is sometimes a wave and sometimes a particle. No, they are both things at the same time. Actually, this applies to all types of electromagnetic radiation. You see, the only difference between visible light, infra red, ultra-violet, gamma radiation, radio signals, x-rays, microwaves and the stuff that carries your tweets to your mobile phone, is the energy in the particles, or the wave length, or the frequency of the signal. The relationship of the frequency, wavelength and individual quantum energy is accurately and firmly linked by equations that I suspect some bloke called Albert made up.

So, what has this to do with beer?

Beer is beer. There are different types of beer, but they are all beer.

Some people like to group beer into two types; Real Ale and chemical fizzy lager.

Lots of people like chemical fizzy lager, market data confirms this.

Some brewers like to make stuff they call Real Lager, put it into casks and proclaim they are clever for doing so.

Other brewers make mild, yellow beers, put them into casks and give them a name that invariably has "Gold"2 or "Blond"in the name, which are designed to be popular by being something pale, balanced, competently brewed but unchallenging in the flavour department. They appeal to a broad audience and it is a shrewd business move to do so.

Many chemical fizzy lagers are brewed in big breweries where it is important to achieve a short production time. The result has mass appeal, but is barely honest to give the name lager. I have no idea how these beers are actually made, but I have heard tails of relatively warm fermentations and next to no lagering time whatsoever. The main thing is that they are manufactured for mass appeal. Who actually cares if they are genuine lagers? Does it matter?

Then there are stouts, barley wines, dark milds, red ales, IPA's of various colours, various speciality beers and not to leave out the good old faithful hoppy bitter. These are all, at the end of the day, beer, mostly made from a juice we call wort made from hops and barley fermented into a beverage.

We generally, up to now, made beers that have higher hopping, increased coloured malts and otherwise different to what everyone else has done. We like it that way but is hardly a way to gain widespread acceptance.

So, we decided to brew a beer that is slightly less challenging, but doesn't leave behind our core values. We hope that on cask it is enough like a blonde, gold or other "Real lager" type beer to be acceptable to the drinker who likes that sort of thing. We also hope that on keg it will be enough like a "lager" to appeal to those who like a cold fizzy thing.

It's pale, made with lager malt and noble hops. Oh, and it's dry hopped with some special stuff, just to add that little bit of Hardknotty magic.

What is it?

It's Duality.


1I personally, don't like doing things by halves, I always prefer a full tickle.

 2Apologies to all my brewing friends who do just that, I'm not having a dig, your beer is lovely and sells very well.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Today Booths tomorrow The World

One thing about having a bottling machine is that to make it pay it needs to put lots of beer into bottle. Selling large amounts of beer needs a major partner, one way or another. Either that, or a big tied estate. We started planning our recent expansion back in February. We attracted grant approval around the beginning of June and ordered the equipment soon afterwards.

By July I was starting to think about how I was going to get full use of our machine. How we might increase the volume of sales. It's a tricky one to start selling to supermarkets, with the inevitable accusation from the beer geek world of selling out, but realistically I knew it was an essential business step.

For various reasons we wanted to be selective. Partly, I guess, because I didn't want to be seen as selling to a low-cost, pile-em-high type operation. More-over, I don't like to over-sell and then have difficulty delivering. Booths, who have 29 stores in the North West of England and 7 in Cumbria focus much more on quality rather than attracting purely on price. I had long considered the friendly family run business, an ideal place for our products.

The founders ethos was simple "Sell the best goods available, in attractive stores, staffed with first class assistants.” - and over 160 years later this easy rule makes an attractive place to buy food and drinks. If there is a problem it's that there are far too many nice, tasty things to buy resulting in me buying too much quality, and then feeling the need to enjoy it all before it goes off. Cheese, that is our biggest downfall, and olives, and those nice Fudges crackers, and the nice continental cooked meats and.......

.....but this is not about my own weakness for scrummy things to consume, no, this is about our experience of pitching at a major retailer, the experience from beginning to end.

Having decided to properly seek a listing in this worthwhile outlet I started to research how I should do this. I hoped, and had been led to believe that their treatment of suppliers was slightly less daunting than bigger, nasty retailers.

After a short hunt on the interwebby thing I found a page that allowed me to propose my products to Booths. They have a nice and helpful website dedicated to inviting suppliers to pitch at their buyers. I filled out the form and back came an automated reply confirming receipt of my gallant attempt to attract their attention.

At this point I had no idea how long it might take to actually start talking to a real buyer. I knew that the original web-form is just the sort of filter that any buying department must need1. I imagined they got loads of applicants and might have a huge long backlog of people to sift through and form a shortlist. Never-the-less, I had hoped to get listed in time for Christmas.

To my surprise, less than a week later we received an invite to pitch at a meet-the-buyer event. Cool, perhaps we will get in before Christmas.

We were told that we had 15 minutes with the buyer, only 15 minutes. And we were told this would be very strict. We drafted a script. 5 minutes of pitch and 10 minutes of Q&A, we were informed.

Damn, they were not wrong. It was done by bells. A bell to say "all change" and a bell 5 minutes from the end of the session. The script went out of the window as it seemed our buyer just wanted to ask questions. We hurriedly tried to get in our points as much as we could; why we thought Booths and Hardknott were a perfect match.

Indeed, the whole experience seemed a lot like speed dating. Almost bizarre, but also exciting, challenging and quite rewarding, even if we felt unsure that we did the right thing. But John, our buyer, assured us he'd be in touch.

John did get in touch. Initially through his secretary inviting us for a more relaxed meeting. We have now met, mostly agreed the beers that will go into Booths and our supply price. We have yet to find out  what the retail prices will be, but I imagine it'll be about right.

Sadly we were too late for Christmas. Just as well in reality. As is the case with these things, the expansion is only just getting up to speed. If they had ordered for Christmas we might not have been able to deliver.

I am told by John that the first official order3 will be placed in mid January and the beers will appear for February. Initially only in the 7 Cumbrian stores, but you know what you have to do if you want our beer in the other Booths stores.

It looks likely that they will be Continuum, Code Black, Azimuth and Queboid. Great choices John, if you don't mind me saying.


1One of the things I'd most like to change about the way my business is run is stopping every single cold caller wasting my time. And the time of others in the business. For example, just today I had sterilised an important fitting and had it in my hand, carefully keeping from all forms of potential microbial contamination. Ann was loading the grist case for tomorrows brew and other staff were fruitfully engaged cleaning up the brewery at the end of a brewday. The phone rang. It might be someone important. A customer perhaps wanting to buy beer. Damn, I had to put that fitting down on the sink and go ad answer the phone. It was a time-wasting cold caller. I had to go back and re-santitise the fitting.

I want a web-form for potential suppliers. And a nice, leggy2 secretary who tells cold callers that, if they don't mind, would they like to go fill in the damn web-form if they want to sell us owt.

2Yes, I'm a leg man. Breast is OK, but for the very best stir-frys I bone out legs. I do love to get my teeth into a good bit of thigh.

3Apparently the official order will be sent by fax. Now, I don't want to seem rude about a new customer, but are faxes not a little 20th century? Surely, for heavens sake, everyone does things through the internet these days?

I have been in business for nearly 10 years now, and although that nasty f word has cropped up from time to time, I really did think that the fax machine had been consigned to the same bin as the typewriter. What does the reader think? For goodness sake, do we need to call BT and get a fax line put in?

I've asked the question. I guess if we have to we'll get a fax line, but really.................

Thursday 22 November 2012


Off-sales of beer are outstripping on-sales. This is of course very sad. More beer is sold through off-licences and supermarkets than is sold  in bars, restaurants, hotels and pubs. I can, and frequently do, lament this situation. I could stick to my principles and say that I will not sell my beer to the off-trade and maintain a on-trade only brand. This, in some ways, would seem to be a nobel thing to do.

I'm a business man. Not a very good one it seems as I've yet to be hugely rich. Indeed, for a while I was able to claim free prescriptions, for instance, so low was my disposable income1. We have consistently found it easier and more profitable to sell bottled beer than cask. We are very happy to sell cask beer, but if we divert more of our output into bottle and avoid the inevitable fact that cask competes largely on price, we can perhaps make an honest living.

So, when we got to the New Year that was nearly 12 months ago I had a couple of business goals. Apparently that is the thing one is supposed to do in the New Year, make resolutions. As giving up beer wasn't an option, I vowed to make the process of bottling easier and more efficient. I vowed to get a bottling machine. You see, hand bottling is all very well, but it's just not cost effective. To be honest, it's a right pain in the arse and no one really cared for bottling days.

On Monday we put a little bit of Azimuth in bottles. It went quite well, although we have a few tweaks to do.

Today we got our new labels, so I'm hoping we are getting very close to full production runs of all our beers.

It's been hard work getting this far. Put simply, we couldn't really afford to buy a bottling machine. When we went to the banks with our business plan they pointed out that we hadn't made enough profit yet. Explaining, patiently, that the business plan showed that we would make a profit if we had the efficiencies of the bottling machine got the persistent insistence that we hadn't made a profit yet.

However, a couple of public funded schemes have made it work. Lots more paperwork, business plans and a forecast on something called gross added value. It's all to do with jobs and profit seemingly. I guess if I employ more people they pay tax they mightn't have done, and if I make a profit I pay tax. I'll even have to start paying for my prescriptions, although not for long, as the way life is flying by at the moment I'll be retired before I know what happened.

But we did it, we got a working bottling machine that'll probably spit out up to 1000 330ml bottles an hour, provided Alex and Jules load and unload at that rate. Watch out, before long we'll have loads more beer in loads more places, and that has to be good for us and you.


1And at times, negative. That's the nature of business, you have to invest to get anywhere.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

The Jennings Worlds Biggest Liar Competition

I often show contempt for some of the larger family brewers, and nearly any brewery larger than that. It's not surprising, I want some of their market and generally I don't care for much of their beer. I hope the observer can forgive me for this hot headed contempt. Some of the breweries bigger than me fail to hide their open contempt for the microbrewery industry, or their obvious aggressive approach to pushing out broader choice in pubs. I could tell stories and name names, but I've had my fingers burnt before when doing this.

There are, however, some very friendly brewing businesses, who could quite easily treat me with equal contempt, but don't. They have no real reason to treat me nicely, and even, on occasions, positively offer help. They do, and when they do they make me feel quite humble and genuinely pleased to be involved with the bigger world of beer.

Examples of great brewing businesses that have shown me genuine warmth include Fuller's of Chiswick. John Keeling is one of those great brewers who deserves respect, not only for his open embrace of the bigger beer picture, but his down to earth approach to life.

I remain tolerant of one of the biggest lager brands in the UK, Carling. This is not only because in all fairness it's very competently brewed, but because Molson Coors have, in the past, extended unconditional hospitality on a number of occasions.

I could mention many other breweries for which I hold a healthy respect, the list is too long to make here, so don't read too much into a lack of mention. There are some that I'd like to name and shame for what I see as underhand or irresponsible approaches to a wider goodness in the beer world. Your list, dear reader, will no doubt be different to mine. This blog entry is about a brewery that most certainly is not on that list for me.

Jennings are the biggest brewery in Cumbria. They are owned by Marston's, who have been very clever in avoiding controversy by keeping the likes of The Jennings Brewery in Cockermouth not only open, but by investing in it. Jennings, in my opinion, do make some very good beer and are above average in interest compared to other breweries of similar size, and indeed many who are much smaller. It would be churlish for me to do anything other than acknowledge the fact we are very fortunate that the biggest brewery in our county is Jennings.

Most importantly for me, when we first came into the industry, Jennings fitted out our cellar and supplied very nice brand new handpulls for the bar. Water jacketed beer engines are essential for the very best cask dispense. They are brilliant and made by Angram of course, I wouldn't endorse anything else.

When we decided to brew our own beer, and eventually decided to stop ordering Jennings beer, they could have, and would have been legally entitled to come and claim back their cellar equipment and handpulls. They didn't, and I'm very grateful to them for that. Of course I left them in the pub when we left and they have since been used for Jennings beer.

The other week I got an email from their PR agency asking me if I'd like to attend The World's Biggest Liar competition and blog about it. Jennings, you see, kindly sponsor the event and quite rightly wanted some ROI for their trouble. I was very tempted. However, for various reasons, I felt there were other things that required my attention. This didn't stop me finding a way to have a representation.

My American friend Ted was in the country and was persuaded, perhaps unfairly, to pretend to be me. I was glad about this because having agreed to be there I felt a bit of guilt about letting people down.

As it happens, Ted's blog about the night is probably more poignant than any ramblings I might have produced and gives an interesting insight into how a "large American" views such a unique and very special Cumbrian event.

The competition, by the way, was won by Jack Harvey, 25, who beat eleven other entrants to take the Liar cup at Jennings pub, The Bridge Inn, Santon Bridge on November 15th.

Monday 12 November 2012

Colonial Mayhem, Ted and Friends of Ham

You might have heard of my friend Ted Sobel. He brews beer in a little brewpub, called Brewers Union Local 180, in Oakridge, Oregon, USA. His little town nestles in the Willamette1 Valley just before the start of the really long climb up to the pass.

Ted came here last year and brewed Colonial Mayhem. It was fun, I think. It's not the first time he's brewed in my brewery, but the first time in the current brewery.

I think it was also the fullest we've had our mash tuns. I'm just about over the trauma.

Ted is back. He's in the UK doing what I think he's persuaded his wife and the IRS is legitimate beer research. We brewed his recipe of Colonial Mayhem again earlier in the year and saved one pin2

So, in order to bring the beer and the man together we have arranged a little tap takeover in Friends of Ham, Leeds, on Tuesday 20th November. This might well be your only chance to try this beer on draught. It is certainly a rare chance to drink Hardknott beer with Ted. Trust me, it's worth it, he's quite mad.

"Yes Dave, this mash tun does need to be this full"

We love Friends of Ham, not just because they have great beer but also because they have a quality food offering. The ham really is very good, great olives and cheese. I can't think of better food to go with a general evening of beer drinking.

We will also bring some bottles of the original beer batch along with some bottles of the 2nd batch. A very rare chance of a vertical tasting.

If you are in Leeds that day, please do call in and say "Hi"


1Absolutely, that is where the hops by the same name originate. We use quite a lot in Dark Energy and a hint in Continuum.

2Just the one pin. The rest went into keg and bottles. Say what you like about cask, it's far easier to sell strong beer like this in keg and bottles.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Sexy new bottles

It's all getting very exciting here at Hardknott HQ. We understand that our bottling machine is being packed and will very soon be on it's way over here to the UK. Thanks to everyone that ordered beer over the last 24 hours, it helped pay just a little bit more off the balance and there is not far to go now.

We are also nearly there with things like label designs, all worked in to coincide with the delivery of the new machine. We think they look quite good.

There have been requests for the ability to pre-order on our web-shop. As this would certainly help us get the project to completion we though "why not?"

So, here's the page if you want to be the very first people to get the full set.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Raking in a few quid

You may have heard, we've got new tanks.

You may have heard we also have a new bottling machine waiting in Italy to be delivered.

The tanks are full of beer waiting to go into nice bottles with fancy new branding.

The problem with all of this is that the machine won't arrive here until we've paid the balance of the cost. We are a few quid short. We could ask you, the Hardknott fans, to lend us some, but I've thought of a great idea which will suit us all.....

I sell you some beer a little bit cheaper, so you spend a little bit more, the money goes right into our PayPal account making up that little difference.

Everyone's a winner. What do you say?

Rhetoric Ed I £5.15 NOW £3.85 (One-off beer, never to be repeated)

We have Rhetoric II and Azimuth and other great new beers in tank ready for bottle, but we need to keep the bank account topped up you see, so we can buy empty bottles and labels and stuff. And all you need to do to help is buy these beers at these great prices.

Oh, and you best hurry, this offer won't last forever.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Beer and fitness

Today we finally see the beer duty escalator debated in Parliament. I am pleased about this for many reasons. The most important reason is because at the last budget most press reports gave the erroneous impression that beer duty was not going to increase. We knew, of course, that beer duty increased by 2% above the rate of inflation.

The main reason, in my view, that alcohol duty is so easy to increase is because the general public are constantly fed the idea that alcohol is bad, and we, the general public, are bad for enjoying it. We deserve to be punished. We are, in fact, very, very, very naughty indeed.

Alcohol is bad for you, irrespective of what you do, so we are told. We are constantly being informed that it is likely that there may be no level of alcohol intake which doesn't cause health problems of some type or another. Statistics, you see, tell us this.

I'm always a little sceptical of statistical studies which place the blame squarely at the feet of just one thing. Fat, sugar, white flour, chocolate, coffee, red meat, pork, processed chicken meat, fruit and vegetables that have been sprayed with pesticides, fruit and vegetables riddled with nasty organisms. The list is so long it makes me wonder if in fact life may well be a terminal illness.

I believe statistics show that people who do something specifically bad are also more likely to do many other things which are specifically bad. They are also less likely to do enough things that are specifically good. I balance my alcohol intake with exercise. I balance my cured pork intake with a good level of vegetables and fruit. I balance my over-indulence listening to stupid politicians on BBC News 24 by avoiding watching X-Factor.

I have long believed that health is provided by a balanced lifestyle. A nice mix of not too much of anything, but plenty of everything.

Exercise is good, providing you don't overdo it and have a sports injury1.

I did a little video.

Craft Beer Adrenalin Junkies from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

1I managed to incur an injury known as a tibia plateau, whilst skiing, some years ago. I am very pleased to report that I now feel like I'm skiing just well as I ever have. Or perhaps, as badly. Either way, I'm very pleased to have fully recovered2, at last.

2So, if in future I complain about my knees, I'm probably making it up.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

More progress

I've been quiet, at least on my blog. There has been a lot going on, and there is still a lot to do.

Some time ago I announced that we had been awarded a grant to help us expand. The project is now well underway and really we are only waiting for delivery of the bottling machine. Our new tanks arrived a less than three weeks ago and are now mostly full of wort, conditioning beer or some similar liquid that will at some point in time become beer.

You will also all know of my involvement with a Samsung TV advert, which is now being aired. Look out for it, apparently it tends to go in the commercial breaks in the like of X-Factor, I'm sure the reader can imagine my thoughts on that.

Samsung – We Are David Bailey from Rokkit on Vimeo.

Anyway, here's an on-line version, in case you don't get X-Factor. See if you can spot me, I am there.

We've also been in Italy, promoting our beer out there. We were invited by Ales and Co, who look after our beer in Italy, to go along to Salone Del Gusto. This was a massive, and I really do mean massive, food and drink exhibition. Far too much fun was had by all.

The most bizarre foodstuff we ate was in a restaurant in the centre of Turin. This seemed to specialise in strange and unusual dishes that included tripe, brains and spinal cord. If that wasn't enough to put us off, we were told that one pile of squid looking offal was, in fact, uteri. I'm still trying to convince myself that it was squid, otherwise I feel I may have gained a taste for uteri.

Several other breweries were represented including Black Isle, Summer Wine and BrewDog. You might recognise notable brewery personnel in the picture.

Whilst we were in Italy we also got to see our new bottling machine, finished and ready to ship to the UK. Cool.

And there was the small matter of a four day holiday to fit in too. I love The Alps and the great outdoors. It's been about 5 years since we got to use our passports so this was very much a necessary indulgence.

Now, I must get back to work, we have a bottling machine to commission.

Monday 1 October 2012

I am David Bailey

My name is David Bailey. There is another bloke called David Bailey who, when I was a teenager at school, caused me some unintentional indirect irritation. It wasn't his fault really, it was the fault of one of those Japanese camera makers, namely, Olympus. You see, they made a series of adverts with various tag lines like "David Bailey, who's he?" - you can understand why my peers used it as reference to ensure my ridicule and a reason I now prefer to be referred to by the more casual sounding Dave.

I guess this is the right place then
However, this week I'm pleased to say my name association has paid off. I do have some interest in photography, and not just your normal holiday snap stuff, but occasionally I take to trying to take really good pictures. Last week, several very good people alerted me to the fact that Samsung were giving away cameras to people called David Bailey as part of a campaign called We Are David Bailey. All I had to do was pop the short journey down to London and take part in the shooting of a TV commercial. They also promised to pay expenses, cool.

The film crew, filming David Baileys
taking pictures of models

Apparently I was supposed to take pictures of the stuff they had arranged in the building, like sexy models, a very interesting female contortionist and various still life stuff. The fact is, I was quite interested in the professional film crew and all their equpment, I ended up taking pictures of them, filming various David Baileys taking pictures.

There were a lot of David Baileys, 143 in total, including the man himself. Unfortunately not quite enough to break the world record of the most number people with the same name in the same place, but close. If everyone who had applied and been accepted had turned up then apparently we'd have got the record. It seems not all David Baileys are as good to their word as me.

Just a few David Baileys

Well, there you go
Some bloke who shares my name
It might be sunny, but for a proper shoot you just HAVE to have great big lights.
You might all be wondering what on earth this has to do with beer. Well, as part of my blag to get accepted on the program I talked about Hardknott, my blog and the videoing I've been doing. The researcher had already found me online but figured I couldn't possibly be stupid enough to travel all the way down to London. I also indicated that I liked the video facility of the camera and hoped to be using it for Hardknott promotional stuff later. Watch this space for some combined Olympus DSLR, JVC video and Samsung NX1000 Smart Camera productions from the Hardknott production team.

Meanwhile, after the event we had to pick the van back up from a friends pub, Land of Liberty, Peace and Plenty, who as it happened have a hopbine growing in the car park. Here we have a couple of picies, one with my trusty Olympus and one with the new Samsung. Make your own mind up.

Picture of hop cones taken with Samsung NX100
Picture of hop cones taken with an Olympus E-420

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Leeds International Beer Festival 2012

It's the first one. It happened and it was great.

I need to thank Eric and his team, Maria and Darren for making the festival work.

For making my video representation complete thanks to Wilful Missing and Serious Sam Barret for letting me use their fabulous music. Without the sound track this video would be seriously lacking.

I apologise for not getting more footage of the great bands that played.

See you all next year

Leeds Int Beer Fest 2012 final cut from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

KeyKeg dispense

Some stuff on dispensing KeyKegs via either regular keg fonts, handpull, but most importantly, how to reduce excess condition in a KeyKeg.

KeyKeg Dispense from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Not the best video I've done from a production point of view, but I have spent ages on it, have a heart.........

Thursday 23 August 2012

Kegs Without Extraneous CO2

We quite like KeyKegs. We wish they cost a little less, or at least that we could find a more cost effective way of getting them transported from Germany. But still, the bag-in-a-ball type of thing is handy and the non-returnable nature cuts costs in other areas.

We can put the beer into KeyKeg with minimal filtering, after carbonating by secondary fermentation in our tanks. It's difficult to find a reason, from this brewers point of view, why the beer in KeyKegs is any different from that in cask. The only disadvantage I can see is that it is difficult to vent off a KeyKeg if the beer is more fizzy than desired1.

In just about 2 weeks from today we'll be pitching up at Leeds to serve beer from KeyKeg. I hope, if I get it all sorted, I may, just for the novelty, seve some of it through handpull.

Meanwhile, here is Jules and I messing around with various human powered compressed air generators.

KeyKeg dispense using foot-pump from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.


1However, it is not impossible to reduce carbonation levels by venting. I'm planning a tutorial video on dealing with Craft Keg when it gets too carbonated.

Friday 10 August 2012


Of course, Hardknott like to be different. We brew Infra Red as our 6.2% IPA despite complaints that it's got too much Crystal malt in it. I like it, and it seems quite a few other people are reasonably happy with it too. We know it has a fairly narrow appeal, and tends to be a bit of a marmite beer. Drinkers who like it tend to really like it. Anyone who isn't keen, really isn't keen. It's a niche beer and therefore has a narrow market. We like it the way it is, so we aren't changing it.

However, everyone else is making proper IPAs at that strength. You know the type, nice and pale, plenty of West Cost American or NZ contemporary hops. Nice balance of malt sweetness to give a very satisfying fruity Indian Pale Ale. Our recent collaboration with John Keeling of Fullers has been incredibly successful. The English Experiment has enjoyed a good reception from quite a few people whose opinions I respect.

The English Experiment also sells well, which is a very important point. You may have heard that we are expanding a little. That means we want to ensure people have no excuse for not buying our beer.

We1 brewed the first ever batch of our new 5.8% IPA yesterday. It builds on everything we have already done, copies ideas from other people where needed, and then we added a very healthy dose of our own Hardknott stamp of authority. We think you'll like it. We really hope you'll like it.

Today we named it. Alex used to mess around on ships in a previous employ, which links nicely to the IPA theme. I have always had a fascination with maps, navigation, astronomy and geographic learning. Azimuth seems a name that fits the occasion, so that's what we'll call it. It's a beer with direction, you see.

We'll be serving it, assuming nothing goes terribly wrong, at the Leeds International Beer Festival. You can come along, try it, tell us what you think and then we'll go away and try and improved the recipe based on what you've told us. A month later we'll be at the Independent Manchester Beer Convention with the new improved version. We will again listen, take in everything you tell us, go away and have another go.

It's not really possible to involve the beer drinker any closer than this without actually getting them to brew the beer.


1Actually, Alex brewed it whilst we were out delivering. We had a few email exchanges discussing hopping regimes, which was tricky when I was on the M1, having to pull off into the services to make replies.

It was the first time Alex brewed when I was outside Cumbria. It has to happen occasionally as I'd like to have a holiday sometime.

Thursday 2 August 2012

A great leap forward

The blame for the country's woes are firmly placed at the door of the banks. The political parties try to blame each other, and although I have my own views on that, by and large I feel that their squabbling is pointless irritation that detracts from the truth. The only conclusion I can therefore reach is that the banks have indeed been responsible for our downfall.

Our recent experience with the banks would bear this out. Despite the fact that several years ago they were happy to lend to any hair-brained scheme, now it seems an overreaction has occurred resulting in them not lending to anything but an absolute cast-iron certain project.

For the last 12 months we've been investigating various modest expansion options. This is based on the fact that we have managed to grow a demand that we found difficult to meet. So, cap in hand, all togged up all neat and that, to meetings with several banks. Mostly they went like this;

"We can't make enough beer because we haven't got enough shiny stainless steel" we would say, probably with more eloquence "Please may we borrow some money so we can expand?"

"No, you didn't make a profit yet"

"Ah, yes, we know, it's part of the plan. We've been developing markets and products and investing in the brand" We would patiently explain "Now we've done that, if you would care to look at our business plan, into which we've put a lot of effort, you will see that with the economies of scale, we project a profit in the future. But we do need to borrow some money to realise this"

"We're not lending you any more, you haven't made a profit"

And so the discussion would go around in circles. Apparently we could have lied to them, which is a tactic that works. We are not liars I'm afraid. We have many faults, and we try our best to improve, but we are not liars.

One day, around the time we were wasting our valuable efforts talking to ineffectual banks, we got told that there was a scheme giving out grant money. It's called the Rural Development Program for England, part of DEFRA. This is in turn funded out of Europe.

I've had experience of grants before, and generally it's a mixed bag. Sometimes it's good, and sometimes the money you get is not worth the red tape. This, it turned out, is probably going to be worth it.

We put in an expression of interest for funding for more tanks and a bottling machine. It seemed we were eligible because our town is rural. A rural town? I try not to think too hard about the contradiction.

We tried to keep the overall costs down because, even with the grant, it would be stretching our finances. We budgeted the investment for around £74k, which anyone who knows anything about decent brewery equipment will know doesn't buy much, especially if part of that is to include an automated bottling machine. We were hoping to get 40% grant aid on this.

I could bore you silly with the details of the complexities of putting together a grant application, but suffice to say you don't get the grant up front. Oh no, you have to spend the money first, including the VAT element, and then claim it all back. In the mean time hoping the cash flow works out OK.

Luckily there is another Government backed organisation called Enterprise Answers. They lend money to people who have been told to get lost by the banks. They are, by their nature, an expensive way to borrow money, but at least they do lend, and offset against the benefits of grant aid, it looked like we might actually get to expand and create a few jobs.

When we got the answer back we were somewhat surprised with the great news that we were authorised to spend a little bit more on the project. Thus allowing us to buy a slightly better bottling machine. Additionally, rather then us gaining a 40% grant they gave us 50%. The total grant funding rising from about £30k to around £42k. Delighted? Bloody estatic.

I was hoping to hold off telling this story until we had some proper stuff to show you, but I let it slip to a local reporter and he's been desperate to get it into his paper. It happened yesterday, so it's out there now, you lot should have known first, to be honest.

Anyway, the future looks good for us, we will soon be able to make more Hardknott beer. It's all a little bit scary because we are effectivly spending taxpayers money. There is stuff I have to worry about which involves audit trails and the like. Splendid, not. But we'll manage, one way or another.

We only need you guys to do one thing; drink our beer, whereever you find it, cask, keg or bottle we don't care, just get it drunk, then we can make more of it.

Simple, eh?

Monday 30 July 2012

Olympic Doubt

I think The Olympics are great. I really enjoyed watching the opening ceremony in our local. I was a little apprehensive about the brand new big screen, but actually, it works and the bar is long and narrow enough to be able to escape its intrusiveness. I'm sure it'll help drive customers to the pub, especially as places without any TV often suffer during major sporting events.

I'm digressing from my main point. Although the Olympics are great, and I understand the need for both acceptance of some inconvenience and the need for big business sponsors, I am concerned that in reality there is little payback and much inconvenience for small business.

I've been told that there is a strict ban on any use of the Olympics by businesses for promotion unless they are directly sponsoring the games. I have heard some horror stories about various small concerns being forcibly told not to support the Olympics. I haven't got direct corroboration of this, but my information is from a reliable source. Update: Found the story.  One story is about a small shop that got raided simply for putting up a few balloons (and, it turns out, banners, flags and stuff). The shop thought they was just joining in with the spirit of the thing.

I do know that some places in central London have found that their businesses have been disrupted by The Games. In particular, deliveries have been made more difficult by insisting deliveries are made at night. I'm sure London in general will benefit from the event, and perhaps most small businesses will also see an increased footfall negating the disadvantages. However, there seems to be an indication that the extra people in London have been countered by people staying away due to the fear of it being busy, I wonder if the overall effect is positive.

We have been indirectly impacted in various ways. We do sell some beer to places in London. We have seen disruption to ordering patterns that we are told is a result of The Games. We decided not to do anything Olympic orientated for fear of reprisals. We could have been bold and provoked controversy, of course, but that seems to be the wrong thing to do.

So, in summary, the little guy is told to put up with the disruption because it's good for the country, but we are prevented by law from taking advantage of the publicity because the big sponsors have insisted.

I'd love to know if this is just a jaded view, an overly biased conspiracy theory about big multinationals stamping on small business under the name of a common good. Perhaps I am paranoid. Or perhaps small business has been shit on again.

Friday 20 July 2012

Progressive Beer Festivals

It has been an increasing irritation for some time that there has yet to be a really great, all embracing beer festival in this country. Beer enthusiasts and progressive brewers alike have been frustrated that there is yet to be non-constraining festival where beers can be shown off irrespective of dispense method.

It was only a matter of time, of course, but it seems that the chit-chat about it has finally turned into real action.

There are to be at least two events happening this autumn which will include beer dispensed in a variety of ways. One is the Leeds International Beer Festival. We will be there.

This event is taking place in the Leeds Town Hall1 6th-9th September 2012.

We have agreed to take part in this great event. The organisers are allowing breweries to pitch up with whatever format of beer they wish. For logistical reasons we have taken the decision to serve only keg and bottled beers. As it is, with our small team, it will be something of a challenge, so we feel that the extra problems of cask would make it impossible.

There is also a second event we have heard about, which will be great fun, but as yet news is sketchy. This is the Independent Manchester Beer Convention, which will be held on 5th and 6th October 2012. We've been invited to this too. Watch this space for more news.

We're all full of nervous anticipation about these great events. 2012 is turning out to be a fantastic year for all sorts of reasons.


1I'm sure Leeds is a city, surely it should be a city hall?

Friday 13 July 2012

Busy pubs and bars

I was in one of my favourite pubs last night. They had a beer festival last weekend. We went on Friday night, which was nice, it was busy enough, a bit of live, acoustic music and a selection of beers. They had some Hardknott beer on the temporary bar in the marquee. A lot of work had been put in by the manager and his staff and I was a little worried, with the weather and everything, that the event might not have been a success. Friday night, after all, was quiet enough for me, and really not the roaringly busy thing that was needed to shift beer and make all the effort worthwhile.

Last night I returned, being Thursday, it was quiet. I was enjoying a couple of quiet pints and a nice chat with the guys in the pub. One chap I was chatting to, who was helping out at the beer festival at the weekend, was asked if it was busy on Saturday. "Rammed" he assured me "Needed shoehorns to get more people in" he continued, with obvious glee "Great" I was also really pleased, if for no other reason than I want the pub to do well so that they buy more beer off me.

"I prefer mid-week nights in here, to be honest" I confessed "It gets too busy in here on a Saturday, even when there isn't a beer festival" This particular pub has just had a makeover which has made it a little more contemporary. Most of the carpet has been removed and the walls re-plastered and re-painted making the whole place a little more sterile and echoey. Quite a few folk don't really like it as much, and complain there should be more pictures to break it up. It can easily get noisy and difficult to be understood by other people, or hear what they are saying to you. When there is live music it gets to be impossible to hold a conversation.

But the pub is doing very well. Often busy and getting busier. It is most often full of younger people and has a real buzz about it. I wish they would have some craft keg. I wish they would buy more Hardknott. I suspect that will come with time.

Port Street Beer House
a cool contemporary velvet-less paradise
Pete Brown is now complaining that the new age, contemporary craft beer bar scene is full of boxy, echoey and sterile establishments. No soft furnishings, and nothing to break up the noisiness of the place. I understand Pete, I do, I'm getting old as well. It's crap, having to say "eh" all the time, but it's what happens. Though really, do we think that velvet drapes would be cool, or hip, or funky?

Craft beer bars are successful because of what they are; modern and trendy. I'm also not convinced that sound proofing is what would help. Generally, busy bars are noisy because they are busy. Indeed, I'd even argue that people are in themselves sound absorbers. If you have ever tried to set up a sound system in an empty room and then noticed how much it needs to be turned up when the room is full, you'd know.

Pete does have a point. Some places could be less sterile, they could break up the lines a little and perhaps just a little bit of softness. Just don't make it velvet, for goodness sake, that isn't cool at all.

There are pubs that span the gap and provide a little of both. The White Horse at Parson Green for instance is, in my view, providing a balance. My way of thinking is that the craft beer bar growth will be followed by less trendy places moving in a copy-cat fashion. I think it's happening, a fusion of ideas where some of Pete's wishes are being implemented. The surviving businesses will be the ones that are popular, whatever they do.

Still, I do worry that Pete is coming across a little like the old man who has his peace and quiet ruined by the youngsters in the pub. I've so many times heard people complain about a place being OK, but it does seem to get a little too busy sometimes. All that noise and people, you can't hear what people say.

I think the future of pubs, beer and nearly everything else is in the youngsters. Success is in being busy and thriving and having a little bit of a buzz. Yes, some of us old fogeys might not like it, but that's fact.


Sorry, I had to Google Keira Knightley, but then did go "phoar"

Thursday 12 July 2012

Back to Port Street

We've made a couple of new beers lately.

One is The English Experiment.We brewed this with John Keeling of Fullers. We had great fun making it and it's been so popular that we've made it again, of course, using every last little bit of advice and instructions from John himself. The second batch is soaking up dry-hop flavours and aromas right now and will be packaged shortly.

The other, Rhetoric Ed.I, is a crazy star anise infused "Quasi-Bombastic Belgique quad" - whatever that is. We like it a lot, although it might not make the hop-heads swoon with ecstasy, we still think it's a great full flavoured beer.

We filled a KeyKeg with some of the first batch of The English Experiment. This is the genuine article, made with John waving his brewers magic around the place. We put some of the Rhetoric Ed.I in a regular keg. Our Alex dropped them off at Port Street Beer House when we sent him round Manchester in the trusty Hardknott Van.

We're all going to storm over there next Wednesday, 18th July and be our usual entertaining selves. It's a chance to try a couple of rare keg beers that don't normally get presented in this format.

Wednesday 27 June 2012


noun /ˈretərik/ 

The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, esp. the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques

Language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content

There is a lot of nonsense said, and written, about beer. Sometimes it's just ill information spread around by well meaning people who have simply misunderstood what they have heard, or been told. Sometimes it is misinformation propagated innocently by enthusiastic beery folk in the name of good beer. On occasions it might be deformed truths, hidden behind suggestions of something that isn't, aimed at fuggling the brains of the poor beer consumer. Sometimes it can be downright lies spouted by brewery PR people who somehow manage to get away with deflecting the beer drinkers thought process away from some reality or other.

I'd like to think at Hardknott we are reasonably honest about our methods of promoting our beer. Yes, we jump the odd band wagon occasionally1, and we might shout about something we don't like, or someone who has upset us, if we think it'll get us noticed. But, we do always act from our hearts, with honesty about what we do. We don't tend to use hollow rhetoric.

However, it seems to us that a little bit of rhetoric might help us out, so we brewed some.

Rhetoric is our "concept" beer range. The experimental stuff that might, or might not quite work. It might be more art than beer, although I think someone once tried to use that tag line, so perhaps I won't. It's certainly craft, mainly because the results will be one off, and largely unpredictable at the mercy of the whim of the head brewer. Me.

I was kind of gunning for 13% on this one. We threw lots of various sugars at the damn thing. Lots and lots, in fact. We used three different types of yeast and mucked around with rousing, but tentatively for fear of the danger of oxidisation. In the end it stopped at just a shade over 10%.

There are all sorts of things you can throw into beer, like yeast nutrients and, if you really want to go all Heston on the job, artificial enzymes to help the yeast get along with more troublesome to digest sugars. We didn't use them on this occasion, but we do have other projects on the go...

But, for this one, as usual, we bottle conditioned. It wasn't one of those pretend bottle conditioning activities where the beer is filtered, carbonated and then just a token bit of yeast dobbed in, an absence of any fermentables or oxygen rendering secondary fermentation, with any meaning, a complete myth.2 No, this beer was flat when it went in the bottle and any sparkle is the result of what went on after we put the lid on our creation.

I'd like to make a quick note about reediness to drink. This beer has been in the bottle for the best part of 6 weeks now. It's about there, and we've decided to release it on the world. I expect the yeast might continue to improve the condition in the bottle, or perhaps not. We think the condition is a little on the soft side, but the beer is tasty, and worth drinking.

The point is, the Rhetoric range of beers, this is the first edition you see, are hopefully going to continue to age, if looked after, for a long time. Like any fine beverage, it will peak sometime after it leaves the primary producer. If you want to buy just one bottle to drink very soon then go ahead. We think you'd be better buying two, one for now and one for some time later. We will not make this beer ever again. The next one will be quite different. We want people to buy them, keep them, look at them and gloat at other people when our supply runs out, and occasionally drink them some time in the future. I think this one will be great in 3-5 years time.

It's great now, of course. "Bonkers" someone told me recently, and then continuing to assure me that this particular bonkers was a good thing "all sorts of flavours going on". Probably as opposed to the sort of bonkers that I am, which possibly isn't good.

The beer? It's a Star Anise 3 Infused, Quasi-Bombastic, Belgique Quad. The people who have been given a pre-release bottle are invited to join an OpenIt session on twitter, Saturday, around 7:30pm.

The rest of you will be able to buy it on our on-line shop very soon now.


1but normally very quickly fall off the wagon.

2For the sake of clarity, I'm not going to say I'll never do these things. Indeed, I know that for various commercial reasons true bottle conditioning may not be viable at scale. However, a little bit of yeast in any beer helps, in my view, to add to flavour and protect the beer from harmful oxygen. Yeast eats oxygen you see, improving the shelf life when done right. Indeed, when looking to age beers yeast can be very helpful indeed, even if the majority of the carbonation comes from a big heavy pressure cylinder.

Additionally, the effects of chill haze, and something that I believe might be termed "colloidal stability" or an insufficiency of said stability, can cause problems in a wider market where people seem to drink with their eyes. These reasons can necessitate the need for heavy filtering. We will try to avoid it if we can.

3Anyone who knows Kristy McCready will know she has a pathological hatred of fennel, celery and aniseed. I already had her in mind when we brewed this beer. But then she declared that despite not liking rhubarb either, she found it OK in at least one beer.

I'm not holding out too much hope for Kristy liking this one, however.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

The Humanity of Craft Beer

The good old craft beer definition thing keeps rearing its head. There are people that don’t see the need to define it. Sometimes this seems to be because they feel comfortable with what they see as craft and wonder why there is a fuss at all. Some people, it seems, feel that beer is just beer and we shouldn’t try to differentiate.

I can find good reason to hook with these synergies; on the one hand I know what I class as craft and what I don’t, and on the other appreciate that the world of beer is broad, and even that which I dismiss as not craft still deserves a worthy place in the broader sense.
But still, the desire is still there to attempt a demarcation. We all have the need to assign to a club, a clan, our tribe that defines our inner sense of being. Our own individual need to say “this is who I am and these are the people with whom I belong”

Despite this obvious need to define ourselves it is unlikely that we will ever find the answer. What you feel is worthy, dear drinker, of being part of your craft world will always differ to mine. We should not be afraid to admit to this and remember that whilst we can discuss, argue and perhaps occasionally get annoyed with each other over what we feel is right, the fact that we all care about it is proof that it matters enough.

Momentarily I shall remove myself from the abstract and consider a practical point of view. I make and sell beer. I need a way to put across how the beer I sell differs from the other beer that customers could buy from other brewers.

To allow me to explain I will apologise in advance for in part being a little derogatory about beer that I don’t make, but could, at least in the eyes of some, still be classed as craft. I am, of course, referring to cask beer, made as inoffensive as possible, to appeal to as broad an audience as possible and brewed mainly to the cost constraints laid down by accountants. Made by people who might well be brewers, and may well be quite technically competent and indeed, far more competent than me, but have had all the flair and imagination knocked out of them by financial targets imposed by men in suits. It might be cask and it might be local, but it isn’t exactly what you would call inspirational.

I can hear a sigh “There you go again Dave” will come a comment “Why can’t you just say what is good about your beer, rather than condemn other beers” and the reason is quite simple; comparison. The people who like, and drink everyday the beers I am describing are content with what they drink. If they are happy then that is all good to me. Equally, it is important for me to say that this is not the sort of beer I wish to make. Partly by saying this it helps me to apologise to the people who don’t like what I brew, and to define what the people who like my beer might drink.

To this end one definition of craft beer is that which has flavours, strengths, aromas and presentation that steps far away from the criteria needed for the common man. Perhaps it is hopped to hell, or is 10%++ or has some crazy adjunct flavour that just shouldn’t be in beer. Perhaps, as I saw one commentator write, brewed in the American style.

You can say these things, and more. I would like to offer one other asset of craft beer. One that seems to ring through all others; Craft beers have a real story behind them. Real personalities. Real people. People who care about touching base with the drinker who buys the beer. People who’s inspiration shines through not only in the beer itself but also the fact that they take time to communicate what the beer is about. People who are not just influenced by accountants, and shareholders who care only about their dividend, but are also influenced by wanting to inspire the drinker.

John Keeling, me and The English Experiment at The Rake
I am writing this sat on a train to Euston Station. We have already sent a cask to The Rake Bar. John Keeling, Alex and I made a beer a few weeks back and we called it The English Experiment. One thing is for sure, after John’s expenses to travel up to Cumbria and my expenses for today are taken into account, this beer is making a substantial loss financially, at least for this batch. If we brew a lot more of it we might well make money. If so, can we still call it the same beer if John isn’t there to wave his Fullers’ magic?

Rhetorical, is the answer for now. Making money, directly at least, was not the point of the exercise. Obviously, we hope that the PR will be mutually beneficial to both our enterprises.

We hope that this transparent and public show of what the comradeship within inspirational UK brewers can mean will strengthen my point that in part, beer is about people. From the people who load the grist case, dig out the mash tun, scrub the copper, fill the casks, run the bottling line, analyse the results, sell the beer, buy the beer and of course, drink the beer, it’s about the people.

People, personalities, emotions, fun and fears, and many, many more human factors are what, in my mind, makes craft beer more than any other definable quality.

Because of that, we will never define craft beer, nor should we be able to. The people and the personalities who make it will, in themselves, continue to discuss for a very long time what it means. It is good that we do, I’m happy that we do, because it shows we are human.

Friday 8 June 2012

Photo Competition

It occurs to me that some of the people who enjoy our beer very definitely buck the idea that beer drinkers are unhealthy podgy people who can't be bothered to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. I could list everyone who springs to mind, but it's too long a list to include here. There are a couple of people who have even taken the time to cart a bottle or two up a mountain and photograph it in all it's splendour. I can't think of a better backdrop for one of our beers than some majestic mountain view, be it from the pub beer garden or atop that hill you've just struggled up.

One such trouper is Yvan Seth who regularly drops by the brewery to pick up beer, or drop off empties, whilst visiting our area on a walking expedition.

He was here very recently and as he's been doing such a great job in getting beer around the country the least we could do was let him have some beer.

Off he went and took pictures of it in various great locations
It struck me that the best pictures of The English Experiment have actually been taken in Scotland. Alex Salmond, eat your heart out.

Yvan has also taken some on top of a New Zealand mountain, however, the record this end has been lost in my twitter timeline somewhere......

I'm sure Yvan will send it me again.

Another, more local walker/photographer is a guy called Adam, who has been partly responsible for getting our town a decent beer outlet. Tweeting as @BearOnThSquare he sent me a picture from the top of Pavey Ark in The Lake District.

I really like all these pictures and hope to build up a collection.

To help me find more pictures I have been thinking for a while of running a competition. So, today I'm doing something about it. If you would like to receive a mixed case of our beer and have, or would like to take some pictures of our beer in unusual locations, you can email them to dave at

Get snapping!!


Rules, we don't really believe in rules, but best make some up anyway.

By sending us your picture you permit the use of your work by Hardknott. All credit will be given to the originator of the work. You will retain copyright and will be free to use the photography as you feel fit for any other purpose.
To enable us to assign credits please include all information regarding the originator of the work.
To enable us to send out any prizes full postal address must be included.
Although we encourage entries from all parts of the world, please note that we can only guarantee shipping beer prizes to UK mainland addresses.
Hardknott reserves the right to assign prizes as it sees fit, or to not issue any prizes should no entry be deemed suitable.
Winners will be announced on this blog and a selection of worthy mentions may also be included.