Wednesday 25 January 2012

What is Craft Beer?

One of the criticisms against Craft Beer is that it does not have a definition. We don't think it needs one, but there is an explanation in this video that might help people to find their own answer.

Friday 13 January 2012

A question for CAMRA

I have repeatedly complained about the High Strength Beer Duty levied on beers over 7.5%. I still question CAMRA's approach on this matter. On my last writings on the subject it was suggested I talk to CAMRA. I decided to write to Mike Benner, Chief Executive of CAMRA.

I was delighted that he replied. Many will no doubt see his reply as satisfactory. It will probably disappoint, but not surprise those people to know that I don't see it that way.

However, my views have been made and some assurances have been given that my concerns are being addressed. Most importantly I very much welcome that fact that Mike took the time to reply and agreed for his words to be published.



I hope you don't mind me contacting you, a commenter on my blog suggested I should talk directly to CAMRA, and it seems appropriate that I should approach you.

You may be aware that I am one of an increasing number of CAMRA sceptic "noisome" bloggers. Indeed, I suspect you are already familier with the views I wish to communicate. I should also point out that I have held CAMRA membership for some years now, and intend to retain that membership even if I disagree with some policies. I understand that CAMRA must follow policies that are for the benefit of the majority of the membership. I recognise that the organisation's aims are not to provide a blanket beer-related organisation but a cask beer and pub focused organisation.

However, I still feel that it is better to have a general consideration for the wider beer community if we wish not to see further fragmentation within the community.

CAMRA helped to introduce the progressive beer duty system along with strong help from SIBA. Without progressive beer duty it is unlikely that the beer market would be shaped the way it is. There would be significantly less microbreweries and there would very certainly be much less consumer choice.

Part of the choice that has developed is a much wider range of beer with a wider alcohol content. Many of these beers are extremely flavoursome and have revitalised the whole market. This revitalisation has also encouraged many bigger brewers to up their game significantly and further stimulating a broader choice for consumers. The fact that there has been an increase of more flavoursome beers, I would suggest, has helped to contribute to a much more responsible drinking culture amongst the consumers who have been persuaded into this market.

Unfortunately, introduction of the low and high strength beer duty bands is in danger of undoing all of this excellent work. It is effectively undermining the benefit of progressive beer duty. The discount given to small producers of beer is designed to address the fact that stagnation was occurring in the beer market. It was almost impossible to start a microbrewery and remain competitive as the larger breweries had economies of scale which cannot be achieved in the microbrewing sector.

The low strength beer duty discount is benefiting larger producers who already have a competitive edge due to economies of scale. The microbrewers cannot take advantage of any further discount. This is resulting in the very large breweries having significant advantages when producing products under the low strength threshold.

The high strength duty increase, which Government documents state is being used to pay for the low strength discount, is creating additional costs for microbrewers who choose to make beers over 7.5%. This is likely to inhibit further product development in this area. Beers in these strengths are looking likely to provide an export growth market. however, if it is uneconomic to develop for a domestic market first then this is likely to inhibit the development of this important part of the British brewing industry.Exporting is one of the potential areas to generate economic growth.

I understand that CAMRA are now asking for an increase in the low strength threshold to 3.5% and so allow big brewers to retake this bread and butter market. My sources are confident that any widening of the low strength beer duty band will be paid for with significant changes in HSBD too. I ask that CAMRA rethink this policy for the sake of the many microbrewing businesses. If this proposal goes ahead there is likely to be a decrease in the number of breweries that will remain viable.

Dave Bailey



Thanks again for your e-mail.

The key point is that CAMRA is totally committed to the retention of small brewers relief and are keen to see the scheme extended further to assist small brewers to grow.

Additionally, we would like to find a way of ensuring small brewers can benefit from the reduction in duty on low strength beers and would be very keen to work with SIBA on this.

CAMRA opposed the levy on beers above 7.5% along with SIBA and the BBPA.

Increasing the EU cap on reduced duty for low strength beers from 2.8% to 3.5% would require a change to an EU Directive to make it possible. That is quite a challenge and wouldn’t happen overnight. CAMRA would also like to see this Directive amended so that small brewers can benefit from this concession, which I think would deal with some of your concerns.



Saturday 7 January 2012

Today we labelled Granite 2011

And, we also made a video of it.

Warning, general fooling around occurs for time to time.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Hairy on Walney

Did you watch The Hairy Bikers Christmas Special that when out just before Christmas?

If you did, perhaps you noticed that they actually drank beer?

Dave and Si are great fans of beer and pubs and this has managed to get the main passions of this blog onto the TV. I am, perhaps, feeling just a little guilty for having a dig at the BBC earlier in the year.

And, just for the record, we think their nuts taste great.

And Jeff, of course, is legendary for his desire of nuts when drinking beer.

Obviously, celebrities like this do not endorse products, unless they get paid lots of dosh, but we all know what they drank. Thanks guys, we love you.

When this was filmed we all had a brilliant time. These two are no different when the camera stops rolling. Although, there were one or two bits of film that didn't make the final edit, a bit rude I suspect, they've got a wicked sense of humour.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

That was 2011

It seems such a long time now since we sold our pub. It was March 2010 when we started Hardknott as a stand alone brewery. At that time we had a tiny 2-and-a-bit barrel plant. Pushing no more than 9 firkins from a brew length made sense in a quiet country pub, but as a stand alone brewery is far, far too small. Before the first year was out we had acquired slightly larger brew vessels and could manage around 5 barrels, 7 hectolitres or around 20 firkins from a brew.

It became obvious that we had to grow a little more if we were to be financially viable. Beer, you see, is a little undervalued for very small artisan producers to be capable of making a profit from such small volumes. Additionally, as we had decided to focus on more contemporary styles of beer, dry hopped and style breaking, rather than the usual easy drinking regular traditional session beers. The major market here was always going to be with the city centre buzz rather than the quiet rural idyllic. To make transport into various cities cost-effective we simply had to increase volumes and order sizes.

Upon leaving 2010 we had somehow been demoted to one vehicle, which was a Ka. A very economical run-about, but if I remember rightly, we could only fit one firkin into the boot. Our trusty Pathfinder had been used to discover black ice just prior to the New Year and we were lucky not to have a right off on our hands. Even so, going from a less than ideal vehicle to one that was completely impractical, in that shape of the ridiculously small Ford courtesy car, while the garage took 2 months to execute repairs, forced the purchase of the Hardknott Van.

Jumping from a maximum delivery load of 12 firkins to 24 made a huge difference. Occasionally we would run out of beer, rather than time to deliver. Pushing plant capacity to the absolute limits and putting together all our brew vessels, combining gyles and hop sparging/liqouring back we were easily filling the fermenting vessels to the point of overflowing. Time, perhaps, for some bigger vessels.

Because we like dry hopped beers, and because of the problems of dry hopping in cask, we wanted tanks that could cope with the process. Additionally we wanted to bottom crop yeast and be able to carbonate in tank. Fully enclosed conical bottom tanks are the only way forward. We ordered the tanks in July from Willis European. Very competitive price, if a little long on the lead time; the tanks turned up at the beginning of December, a total of nearly 5 months after ordering. To be fair, we were told it would be a long time.

Other highlights of 2011 was to follow our passion about beer and food matching. I know some think it's a daft nonsense, but it certainly captures the imagination of others. Why not? If it gets more people interested in good beer then it has to be a good thing.

We complained about Saturday Kitchen not including beer. I believe they are now including some mention of beer. We helped at a total of three beer matching dinners this year. The first was at The Masons Arms, which was a success if a little low key. The second at The Kirkstile Inn, where the portions of food were mountainous and the third at Fayre Gardens where the food was exquisite.

Steven, from Ale Talk, bullied me into making Vitesse Noir. We launched it at the last dinner and have found that although the market for such beers might be small, it has been well received within that market. Well enough for the current batch to have been sold. We'll make some more and we hope to do a few more crazy things in 2012 that will top that one.

We joined in with a beer verses wine dinner that was partly catalysed by our Saturday Kitchen complaint. It was great fun and I believe that the whole of the hospitality industry could be given a boost by doing more themed evenings. It certainly drags the punters in at events I've seen.

Hardknott Beer from PiciFilms on Vimeo.

We made a silly film, and hope to do more sometime soon. It was fun and people still remind me of it's silliness. I have a plan to throw some casks into a Cumbrian Lake somewhere and perhaps I'll call the result Mere Beer. Or perhaps I'm kidding. You'll have to watch out for the film when we do it.

2012 looks very exciting, and quite scary too. We've got various export routes opening up and lots of new ideas. Funding it all is the scary bit; borrowing money might be possible, but with our accountant working hard to get all the information in order, we are hopeful we can fund the ideas we have. With the inevitable cash flow lag that appears to occur with growth we may be constrained by limits on bank funding, although you, the beer drinker can help by drinking more of our beers.

If you can't find our beer near you, preferably we'd like you to suggest to your local pub or shop that they stock Hardknott, otherwise, you can order it from our on-line shop, another addition in 2011.

So, I wish all my readers, whoever you are, a very happy and prosperous New Year, I for one believe that determination and imagination can help overturn all the economic gloom, and although it's not easy, keep optimistic, as pessimism only fuels a lack of confidence and further downwards spirals.