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.