Tuesday 31 December 2013

Healthy Living - Happy New Year

Here we are again. You know feel like a fat oink. You just know you ate too much of the wrong stuff at Christmas, you didn't do enough exercise and, well, let's not think about your liver.

A resolution, you know, that's the solution. We are all wicked and pursue an evil assault on our bodies. As a result the NHS is struggling to cope with all you damn evil unhealthy people. Diet, detox, give up smoking, alcohol, chocolate, fried food and everything else that is bad for you. Book into a gym, go for a run three times a week and get out those rust covered weights from the shed. Turn over a new leaf, it's the thing you must do, else you will die at an early age from some-thing-or-other.

Really? Well, I don't buy it. Sure, I do feel a little bloated after Christmas. I did give up smoking a few years ago, and I'm quite proud of that. Yes, stopping smoking will almost certainly mean I'll live longer. I also don't spend money on tobacco, what a waste on money that is. But if that's what you want, go on, why not?

Because we're told that unhealthy lifestyles cost the NHS money, that's why you shouldn't smoke, or drink, or eat bacon, or burgers. So, stop your damn smoking and drinking.

But wait. 70 years ago when the NHS was formed, we spent around 4% of GDP on the NHS. Today it is around 8%. It is forecast to get to approaching 13% in the next 50 years, depending on what forecast you look at. No one is forecasting a drop, not even those silly people that would like to make it so.

There are of course all sorts of reasons for this increase in NHS costs. The fact that technology is increasing in it's ability to treat previously untreatable illnesses. The fact that we feel healthcare is worth more than just money, so perhaps we should treat, if the technology is available, irrespective of cost.

Now, I'm not here to make some sort of political point over the NHS. I've no doubt someone will jump in the comments and do so, but I'd rather not get tangled up in that nasty little argument. Needless to say, funding what I believe to be a fantastic health care model into the future is a headache, and no mistake.

But, it does annoy me that we are told smoking, drinking and eating bad food is costing the NHS money. IT IS NOT. (FFS!!!!) - one of the reasons the NHS costs us more money is because people are living longer, due to the general public living healthier. We smoke less, we drink less, we eat more healthily, as a general rule. An ageing population, that lives longer due to constant mind control to improve healthy living produces an ageing population that has a greater burden on healthcare.

Back in the bad old days everyone smoked and drank themselves to death, mortality was greater, life expectancy was shorter. There were not so many old people around, clogging up GPs waiting rooms with ailments.

So, I'm off for a skinful, it's New Years Eve after all. Then next week I might go for a run or two, and try and manage my five-a-day, but I'll not bother with any of this silly detox nonsense, that's for sure.

"If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and loving, you don't actually live longer; it just seems longer." - Clement Freud.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Green Tea and Szechuan Pepper

In our home town, indeed in Cumbria as a whole, it can be difficult to get hold of some of the more esoteric culinary ingredients. I have recently developed a liking for green tea. I have for a long time liked szechuan pepper for use in various dishes. When we visited Manchester for IndyManBeerCon we had a look around China Town for such items.

And this is why I was sat opposite Yvan Seth with a carrier bag full of such items. "Are they for your next brew?" he asked "No, just for domestic supplies" I replied "Although......" 

It was one of those moments. I had been looking for something a little different for Rhetoric III for a while, but couldn't think of anything that hadn't been done before. OK, green tea has been used, and pepper in beer is not entirely new. But green tea and szechuan pepper...... that was worthy of thought.

I seem to remember that I possibly feigned disinterest in the idea, fearful that Yvan might take the idea away and apply it elsewhere before I had a chance to implement it.

However, a couple of weeks ago, armed with 5kg of green tea and 1kg of said peppercorns we made a great big wort of around 11301 - we're not entirely sure as our hydrometers can't get up this high. Cutting the wort with water to get into range leaves me with an amount of doubt as to it's accuracy of measurement.

This wort is now, as I type, down to less than 1050, and the yeast is showing signs of weakness at the approximately 11.5% ABV already attained. There should be some fermentables left in there so it's time for a packet of champagne yeast to keep it going. Besides, we're going to dump some glucose in there too, should get above 13% I hope, making a new Hardknott record for ABV.

Never mind ABV, whilst that is important, taste and aroma was what I was looking for. It's an IPA style beer. Normally at these alcohol concentrations I use a Belgian yeast, as it seems to do well. However, I wanted a cleaner flavour. Using a regular American Ale yeast should do the trick, but I had never gone this high with such a strain.

So far, although still mucky and heavy with yeast, the beer has a surprisingly clean favour. A hint of spice but none of that estery thing going on. No bananas or cloves. Good IPA feel, if a little lacking in bitterness. But the aroma is heaven. The pepper is perhaps understated, but there and somehow seems to lift the green tea to new delights. And a nice tingle on the lips.

The tingle is interesting, and I might just get into trouble for pointing out the Interesting stimulant effect it might have.

This beer, Rhetoric III, should be ready before the end of January. Look out for it.


1Yes, you are right, you can't extract sugar from either green tea or peppercorns. We did use malt, and malt extract and quite a bit of sugar too.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Freetrade Tap Takeover

One of the best pub views in the world has to be from The Freetrade Inn. OK, there are some over in our part of the world, with The Lakes on our doorstep, that trump it. But for an urban pub, the view over the Tyne, especially when the sun is setting, makes for a nicely augmented drinking experience.

Tomorrow night, Thursday, we are holding a tap takeover at this particularly delightful place. We'll have the great array of Hardknott Beers.

We will have, on keg - Vitesse Noir, Queboid and Colonial Mayhem and on cask there will be Infra Red, Azimuth, Code Black, Cool Fusion and Katalyst.

On a related topic, we keep getting asked about Hardknott Sooty, I think a little bit of history here might be useful. Sooty started out as a toy for one of our children. As such there was already a little bit of affection for the glove puppet. We have little idea why he happened to be in Ann's bag the day we went to the Manchester Twiss-up, I think we'd been having a tidy out of something and found him. Stuffed in the bag he later became useful to help attract attention of other twiss-uppers at Manchester station.

After a while he seemed to become engrained into Hardknott's line-up. We gave him his own twitter handle and he developed a rather entertaining persona, surprisingly easy for either of us to tweet as him without you lot guessing who was doing it. He attended several twiss-ups in the end.

Now, one slight problem was, as was pointed out by a curmudgeonly and pessimistic friend, that Sooty is a brand owned by some TV company or other. At first we didn't care, and even thought it would be a bit of a laugh if someone did try to sue our asses off. However, partly due to a decision to reign in a bit on anarchistic behaviour, and the real danger of the probability of a costly legal battle, we were already trying to think of a way of replacing his character with something else, but similar. We have still failed.

However, his fate was sealed one day at the first Leeds International Beer Festival. He was proudly sat on the bar, looking after things during that busy event. At the close, we couldn't find him anywhere. We can only assume some drunken reveller thought it a laugh to steal him. We have not seen him since.

A few people have asked for Sooty to come back. In particular some of the drinkers that are planning on attending the Freetrade Tap Takeover have asked. Sorry, although we could no doubt hunt down a new glove puppet, it'll never be quite the same.

Sunday 1 December 2013

The Inappropriate Censorship of Beer

It's that time of year again. I'll no doubt end up in Waterstones at some point in time looking for ideas for Christmas presents. I may also browse Amazon for books or even DVDs and the like. There is a high probability that on these occasions I'll be biased towards any books that are about beer, pubs or general food and drink. I can buy these things without any requirement for an age check.

Adverts for alcohol are not limited to viewing only by over 18s. Indeed there are adverts for many beverages during prime time TV and hoardings adorn many public places.

We have a fairly open and relaxed attitude towards sex in our house. You may feel this is a digression, but I believe this is relevant. Sex is important to me, probably more so than beer. Asking myself a crucial question; what if I had to choose between sex and beer? The answer would be fairly easy and quick. I'm not ashamed of this; it is a very basic instinct and without it none of us would be here.

I want my offspring to grow up to have a healthy and fulfilling life, and that includes satisfying sex. Sure, I don't want them to be promiscuous, but even if they do, I'd like to be here for them should they find themselves in any sort of trouble, whatever that might be. Most importantly I want them to be able to enjoy life and be equipped with knowledge to do so. Therefore, it is important to be able to share knowledge on all sorts of subjects, even those that might be seen as taboo in polite society. I therefore, at the risk of occasionally turning into Jim Levenstein's Dad, encourage debate on the subject.

Indeed, the most risky situation is the combination of alcohol and sex. The increased likelihood of risky activity, pregnancy, STIs and even the application of those dreaded beer goggles. "You're not the person I went to bed with last night, he/she was much more handsome/beautiful"

I sit in Ann's Aunties house as I type this. I'm using her WiFi. The first time I did this, access to my own website was blocked by her ISP. She had to switch ISP before I was able to access our website and blog when visiting her. You can probably imagine this annoyed me. I've also had occasions when borrowing WiFi in other locations for perfectly legitimate reasons, particular web sites have been blocked.

There are many occasions when using the internet to access information about the beer industry I come up against the irritation of the "please confirm your age" dialogue. Out of principle I always put the most ridiculous DoB I can manage. Often putting me at an age of approximately 113. It is of course obvious that any minor can do exactly the same thing.

Our ex-brewer, Alex Routledge pointed out on one occasion the ridiculous and pointless nature of this.  "The law says you have to be 18 to buy beer, not read about it on the internet" Indeed, this is one point that disturbs me. I don't want to discuss here at which point I think it's appropriate for my kids to have an active sex life, but obviously it would be after they reach the age of consent at the very least. However, I believe it would be most unhealthy if they were not educated about the subject before that time arrives. I firmly believe alcohol education is similar.

To carry the comparison between sex and alcohol still further, it is quite normal for teenagers to explore physical sexual response by themselves. Indeed I have a firm1 belief that it is essential for later healthy sex life to do so. Far from making them perverts it probably helps ensure a more likely success when they do find a loving relationship within which to enjoy such activities. I believe it is much more likely that abstinence and lack of knowledge produces frustration that in turn creates the monsters. Yes, sure, inappropriate abuse within a family group can later produce such monsters, but my own experience would certainly indicate that appropriate knowledge produces much nicer sexual partners.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't want to underestimate the scary problem of young children getting hold of inappropriate material. Perhaps porn should be restricted in some way, although I'll be honest I'm not sure about that either. Certainly the problem of illegal activites like child pornography deserve some thought, although even then, censorship may not be the answer but appropriate methods of investigation to find that illegal activity and take appropriate criminal action against the perpetrators might be better. That might actually be easier through a more open system anyway.

I remain convinced that the continual erosion of the idea that small exposure to adult behaviour for young people is wrong, and even as has been suggested in the tabloid recently, evil, is actually detrimental to young lives.

I have long believed that introduction of controlled and supervised consumption of alcohol, and free ability to access balanced and full knowledge is healthy for good development into adulthood. Without this we are far more likely to see youngsters, at an age they can escape the clutches of parents or the law, drink to excess and have unsatisfactory sex in a bus shelter.

Young people, below the legal age, wish to drink alcohol and have sex. It is quite normal for them to want to do so. It is our responsibility as adults to guide and educate. To supervise2 and protect, but certainly not to inhibit completely.

My teenagers do drink. Mostly, I hope, this is under my supervision, and in moderation. They do go to parties, and whilst I believe there is adult supervision, It's not easy for me to check. Of course I could insist they don't go to any party unless I check, but if you've ever had the pleasure of being owned by a teenager you will understand how difficult that is. "Dad, do you not trust me?"

In reality I do trust them, partly because I believe we have instilled a sense of responsibility by carefully educating rather than denying. This is partly by sharing small, controlled and supervised family drinking experiences where appropriate. And, most importantly, with education. I feel that internet censorship is generally ineffective and if anything detrimental to my attempts at bringing my teenagers up as adults.

The plus point of course is that generally it is only the alcohol sites run by the great big multinational alcohol producers and their umbrella organisations that put age checks on their sites. This means that the new youngsters are much more likely to grow up with a more discerning approach to alcohol, if we believe that any real effect is realised as a result of such censorship.

None the less, it seems counterproductive to think that inhibiting under 18s from even reading on-line writings about beer is good.


1Sorry about that, wasn't deliberate, just happened.

2Although the direct supervision of your child's own exploration into being sexually active may be considered wrong.

Friday 29 November 2013

Christmas Gimmicks

One of the jobs Ann and I spend quite a lot of time doing is getting on the phone, or emailing distributors to encourage them to order our beer. A conversation with one of our favourite distributors recently about taking some beer indicated that they were mainly busy with Christmas novelty beers rather than wanting to deal with our stuff.

I'm not into seasonal novelty stuff as a way of selling my beer. I'd rather be known as someone who makes beers that are interesting and different in their own right, rather than because they have a twee Christmas pun, seasonally festive name or has a label with holly and ivy twined upon it's graphics.

Our line-up is well adorned with beers that are suitable for the winter months, or for giving away as presents or even to get in to keep you going as regular beers, but they just haven't got specific Christmas themes.

It's too late to change that for this year. I'm reluctant to do anything about it for next year for fear of established Hardknott fans. Really, does good beer need seasonal nonsense to sell?

So, my blog reading friends, what should I do? Should I fall in with the myriad of nonsense that happens at this time of year? Sell my soul to the devil that forms the rest of the hogwash that you all seem to be falling for? Or are there enough people out there that are outraged by this sort of novelty who are offended by the Christmasification of good beer?

Thursday 21 November 2013

Rare and Expensive Beer

I find the beer world amusing sometimes. One of the things that gets me a little is the principle some hold to that no beer should be too expensive. This one really has me baffled.

Now, don't get me wrong, I get the idea that everyone should be able to afford to buy a beer. Arguably the supermarkets do a great job of making beer affordable. Yes, I know it might not be beer you or I approve of, or like, or whatever, but it is there and it's available. It might be nice to make all beer this cheap, but that is an unrealistic option.

Andy Mogg's Hardknott Stash part 1
Now, most discerning beer drinkers would prefer to spend a little more on buying a better beer. The individual will have an opinion on that, but that's personal choice. Many good people will prefer to drink beer in a pub, or perhaps one of these new-fangled "Craft Beer Bars" - whatever, good beer is better in great company. This, we should accept, will be more expensive than buying beer at the supermarket.

When it comes to production beers we have decided to try and maintain our products the way we like them, and try to sell them for an appropriate price when considering this fact. It has been tempting on occasions to invent new beers, that might be less expensive to make, and therefore be able to undercut other breweries where a customer just wants cheap beer, but that's not the way we wish to operate.

Basically, everything we sell is sold at the price we believe it's worth. If you don't agree it's worth that much then fine, we understand and you simply don't buy it.

Rare beer is an interesting point. Some critics point to the fact that some brewers deliberately make beer rare so as to inflate the price. Well, I can see that point of view. Of course, the consumers choice is still there. Don't buy that beer and forget about it.

Andy Mogg's Hardknott Stash part 2
We've never really done that. All our beers are sold based on what we think they are worth from the point of view that we know how much they cost to make and we know how much we need to add to that to make a reasonable living and pay all the overheads and staff wages. And lets not beat about the bush, we don't make a great living, we are not rich.

When stocks of one off beers have dwindled in stock levels we have stopped selling them because we want to keep some back for ourselves. You've all had your chance to buy them at the normal price, so you can't really complain. Some people have the sense to buy them early and store themselves. You know who you are, well done.

My feelings are that I don't want to sell the small stock we have, but Christmas is coming and my nephews and nieces will expect presents. The Christmas budget is just a little too small this year. So, I've put nominal values on all our limited stock of beers and I am offering them for sale1. If no one buys them, I'll be happy because I'll still have my stock for personal use, or for meet the brewer events, etc.

If people buy any of them it's because they have a desire to own, try or collect the beer. The alternative is just to keep it for myself, it's my beer after all.

Click here to find the beers


1To work out how to price up the rare stock I started by asking myself "What if I only had one bottle of a particular beer, how much would I sell it for?"

My initial reaction to asking myself that question was to reply with "Never, I'd never sell that last bottle"

"What? Even for a million quid?"

"Well don't be silly, a million quid is a lot of money. I'd be stupid to turn that down"

"So, what price, you stubborn git, would you accept in that scenario?"

After some discussion, which started to get quite heated, and both of me were in danger of falling out with each other, we both agreed that perhaps a figure of £1000, a grand, was about right.

Both of me are quite happy with that figure. We'd both like the last bottles of my stuff to out live us really. We have an amusing image of all our friends gathered round my coffin necking my last bottles and claiming that I wasn't such a bad chap after all.

We've now got a nice complex2 algorithm with which to calculate the price of rare stock. As the stock level decreases so the price goes up. Neither of me fell out with the other during the formulation of this algorithm. We're quite proud of it actually.

2OK, I lied, it's really quite simple. Take the last remaining hypothetical bottle price and divide that by the number remaining and add in a "if" to make sure it isn't below the production price. The resulting prices are to my liking. The "if" statement also defines the threshold of "rare"

If you are clever, and you must be if you read this blog, you will note that the total accumulated value of all my remaining rare stock adds up to quite a lot of money. If I sell it all I'll be sad that all my back issues beers have gone. On the other hand, I'll have made quite a bit of money. These are the finical choices that have to be made in a commercial world. I suspect I'll end up remaining poor, but happy.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Granite 2013 12.7%

It's a long time ago that I fell in love with strong beer. Indeed, I can't really remember when, exactly. But I do know that I felt that especially warm and cosy feeling of having a lush, velvet elixir flow, not just down my gullet, but somehow to envelop my whole physical and mental state. It's not just the bigger alcohol hit, although that in itself is good. There is more, an extension, a bigger, better, more satisfying experience for me from a big beer. When fermenting at these gravities there is just so much more going on, more complex flavours produced.

More recently I have discovered great big beers that have impressed me. In particular barley wines find a special place in my heart. In 2009 I decided to make my first barley wine, Granite. Again in 2010 and 2011. Sadly I never got around to making that beer in 2012, so you can't have that one at all. Even so, there are but a few dozen of the previous year's in our own stash. You could only have them if you offered me a large amount of money per bottle, or be very lucky enough to come along to a meet the brewer event were we might bring one or two out for you to try. Other than that previous years editions are nill stock - sorry.

We thought it wise not not miss another year, and as 2013 is coming to an end quite soon, we are pleased to be able to announce that we have just released this years edition. Bottled and kegged today. A cask, just the one, and the only one, has gone to The White Horse at Parsons Green for their Old Ales Festival.

We're fairly pleased with this years result. We got up to 12.7%, which I think is quite an achievement from an all grain brew. No added sugars, no added malt extract. All done using skill and knowledge. Oh, and quite a few yeast cells working really, really hard for us.

Anyway, if you would like to buy some, and we suggest you buy several if you'd like to experiment with ageing, which is fun I'd suggest, than you can do so through our web-shop.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Brewer's Kitchen Episode 5 - Muncaster Beer Dinner

Phone 01229 779309 or 01946 841601 to book for this dinner.

One of the reasons I started my Brewer's Kitchen videos was to combat the failing in much of the restaurant market where beer is given little consideration. How many Italian or Indian restaurants, or even good "Modern European" style establishments have you been to that fail to have even a half decent beer list?

When trying to sell our beer to restaurants we find a baffled response which appears to indicate that any sort of quality beer is a waste of time. Yes, there are some establishments that are executing a more considered look at beer, but they are far from mainstream.

I'm lucky that I have a friend who is an excellent 1 rosette Chef in part of the small but successful Pennington Hotels estate, which belongs to Muncaster Castle. I'm delighted that Jon Fell1, the chef in question, is enthusiastic about Hardknott beer. We are to put on a beer dinner at Muncaster Castle itself as part of their Christmas Fayre over the weekend of 7th and 8th December.

Episode 5 of Hardknott Brewer's Kitchen is of our taste testing the menu and it's beer matching. It's a tough job, but it had to be done. You will notice from the video that we all hated the task.

Hardknott Brewer's Kitchen Episode 5 from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

I'm hoping to achieve two main things from this beer dinner.

1. Prove that such things can work in our part of the world - to achieve this we do need bums on seats. If you can, please do come, it'll be great value for money.

2. Raise the incentive for other chefs and restaurants to increase their appetite for such events and so increase the chance of great beer being available in good restaurants.

Any help from you, my readers, would be greatly appreciated.


1Follow him on twitter, his pictures of his food are great. He's a bit ranty sometimes, but hey, I'm that last one who should criticise that.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Craft Beer is Dead, long live Hardknott

It’s been a long journey for me. From the young man who cared little about beer, even though I rebelled against my peers who drank big brand lager. Through to being a confirmed beer geek who really believes he understands the spectrum of beer.

From a discerning food and drink loving professional who gave up a lucrative career, perhaps on an early mid-life crisis whim, to buy a pub, then set up a micro-brewery. Eventually selling the pub to put everything into what I believed in.

It really has been a long journey, and I've been through many phases and viewpoints along the way. Indeed, I doubt very much I've reached the end of the journey. Moreover, as I think about it, I enjoy the journey I'm on, so I hope really it only ends the day the lid is nailed on my coffin.

A reason for us selling our pub in 2010 was to concentrate more on the type of beer I wanted to make. Beer that was different, beer I believed in, beer to divide opinion and make the world sit up and take notice. Not just micro-brewed beer, made in a shed, by nice people, sold to local pubs with the main differentiation being "it's not fizzy chemical lager" - I did not want to depend on being a little cuddly local brewery that deserved to be liked, just because...

I believed in craft beer.

OK, the term craft beer is controversial. Yes, it has no clear definition. Some hang on to the dictionary definition of craft, failing to realise every single word in the dictionary can have topical or fashionable context that changes it's meaning1

It could be said it is a marketing term. I have no problem admitting it is, but to suggest it is nothing more than a marketing term is unfair to the beer drinkers who understand what is meant by it. Many have called for it's definition to be made clear. I've always said it is dangerous to define it, mainly because it is not a switch, it is not a hard and fast line in the sand.

"The term Craft Beer does mean something. Even if exactly what that is remains debated, it does still mean something, and the number of people to whom it means something is increasing." - I was pleased to see this quote by me in a presentation by Rob Plant of CGA Strategy. In my view they are the only proper industry organisation that actually acknowledge the term means something special to craft beer drinkers.

I now feel betrayed, not by CGA Strategy, they are my friends, but by most of the rest of the beer industry. Even by a certain brewery who have had a significant influence on this special part of the beer world. Even by my own trade organisation, who is trying to suggest every full brewing member is a craft brewer.

I certainly feel defining craft brewing mainly by size of the brewery is in the UK a pointless and meaningless action. Lumping in "Blue F****ng Moon" might be a mistake by some, and used as a useful diversionary tactic by others, but it is not an excuse to use size as a blunt instrument in the definition. We will eventually find those who have the power will redefine the size boundary anyway.

It was inevitable I guess. Eventually there would be enough people wanting to jump on the bandwagon and dilute the meaning. I think the time has about come. Craft beer, as a term, is getting to the dangerous point where it will cease to mean what I believe it to mean.

Hardknott is much more than just a small brewery, much more than just a member of SIBA. We stand for much more than simply a brewer who doesn't use rice or corn to lessen costs. We are all about a lot more than simply brewing beer at its original gravity.

None of these things are what defines beer that is truly different, ground breaking, progressive, innovative, contemporary and individual.

Hardknott is inspired by the concept of being really very different, modern, exploratory, cutting edge and exciting. We might not have always stepped up to the plate, and feel we might have diverted from these goals along the way from time to time, but now we are feeling like we simply have to tackle the latest rounds of dumbing down beer and make our own individual way of it.

So, for me, the term craft beer is dead as far as Hardknott is concerned, and so we shall look for something else to define ourselves by.

Craft beer is dead, but long live Hardknott.


1"Wicked", for instance, did for a while mean "absolutely bloody brilliant" - quite the opposite of something evil.

Friday 1 November 2013

Brewer's Kitchen Episode 4

It's Friday. Tomorrow is Saturday. There will be cooking programs on the telebox. Mostly, if they talk about drink at all, it'll be wine. Don't you know? There is going to be a world shortage of wine.

Don't panic, drink beer instead.

One of my favourite Indian foods is Rogan Josh. I think it works with Infra Red.

Here is a video of me making Rogan Josh. It's less than 10 minutes too, getting good we are.

Hardknott Brewer's Kitchen Episode 4 from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Muncaster Christmas Fair and Hardknott Beer Dinner

They say Muncaster Castle is haunted. Well, for certain, when I called in there the other day to meet someone, there were lots of strange things happening. I know some people up at the castle. Mostly they are good folk, even the resident ghost is reputed to be Tom Fool, who is responsible for the modern day phrase "Tom Foolery" - apparently a simple joker who means no harm, so they say. There, that's my Halloween theme done.

The people who run Muncaster also have several hotels and so have various chefs. One such chef is a Mr Jon-Robert Fell.

Jon and I have been talking for some time about doing a beer matching dinner. We chatted the other day and decided to organise something on the weekend of the Muncaster Christmas Fair.

It'll be at Muncaster Castle itself, which is a splendid medieval building. The menu will incorporate local produce including Muncaster reared pork and local cheeses all served, of course, with Hardknott beer.

Provisional menu - Muncaster Christmas Fair Beer Dinner 7th December

Mild Curried Winter Veg Soup - served with Cool Fusion

Jon's own treacle cured salmon - served with Queboid

Muncaster Chorizo stuffed Pork Belly - served with Infra Red

Local Thornby Moor cheeses - served with a selection of vintages of Granite inc 2013 new release

Vitesse Noir pudding - served with Vitesse Noir

Please note this menu is subject to change. Ticket price TBA - watch this space.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Brewer's Kitchen Episode 3

Finally got there. It's been "in the can" for a few weeks, but these things take a bit of editing even to get down to the marathon length that they are.

We know they are too long and boring, so we will endeavour to get it much slicker.

The next episode is going to be a bit better planned. Much less footage of me cutting stuff up; we'll do that in the age old "and here's some we prepared earlier" leaving me to just explain what's going on in a much more compact way.

Meanwhile, I'd still like you to watch this, if you have the patience.

Hardknott Brewer's Kitchen Episode 3 from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Friday 18 October 2013

Should we love all beer?

I have recently been strongly encouraged to support, endorse and be involved with Let There Be Beer. I shall explain here why I am somewhat reluctant.

Hardknott is a member of SIBA, The Society of Independent Brewers. I have had reservations about the organisation, but generally, on balance, I believe it to be useful to most independent brewers as a trade organisation. I find that by engaging with this organisation, one that is owned by the members, one can influence the direction it heads in.

I am a member of CAMRA because, despite some reservations, I think they do provide some benefits to me as a beer drinker. Sometimes they are helpful to me as a business, even if I do sometimes use them to point out that we are not that type of brewery.

I do like some of the things the regional brewers do. I like quite a lot of the brewers who work in these businesses and have huge respect for what they do. I like the fact that these regionals reach out from time to time to us micro-brewers. Collaborations, friendly technical brewing advice, help with various important beery events and other such stuff.

Very, very occasionally I have had contact with large multi-national breweries. It can be helpful, sometimes. I have helped brew on the William Worthington's White Shield Brewery in Burton-upon-Trent. That was fun, I'd have to admit.

I run a business. I have to consider how I project my image to the people who I'd like to buy my beer. I don't always get that right, but hey, I am human and therefore fallible. It might be nice to consider some altruistic position that is for the greater good of this, or that, or the other, but when in business it can be very important to consider the allegiances that one makes.

I have been told many, many times by various people in the beer industry that it is important to get behind all types of beer. Apparently this is important because drinks like wine, spirits and alcopops are eroding the total beer market. If we all get behind beer as a category we will all be better off.

Bollocks, I say.

I like good quality food and drink. OK, I'm a beer enthusiast. I also run a brewery as my only form of living. I'm in the thick of it. I am most certainly part of the beer industry.

However, I do like good food, well prepared from fresh ingredients by a skilful person. I like single malt whisky. I appreciate a good rum. I have even been known, when no-one is watching, perhaps when in another country away from eyes that might dob me in, to enjoy good wine.

Hardknott beer tends to appear in good pubs, bars and specialist bottle shops. There are good restaurants in the London area that stock our beer, matched with artisan food on their menu. We want to be associated with all things that are quality, innovative, modern and progressive. Small scale producers that care about the product and about providing something different.

I would much rather side with the small artisanal vintner who tends his precious vines, presses his grapes, ferments and matures his wines in some terracotta tiled roof adorned town in France than cuddle up to the major mass producers of beer.

The beer market is shrinking. The cask beer market is static. According to CGA Strategy beers that they define as "craft beers" are the only section of the beer market that is growing. They also state that this is generally a consumer driven effect. Consumers are waking up to products that are different, have provenance, and are made by people who care about what they are doing.

So, the questions I have to ask myself is this; Do I align with a sector of the beer industry that is failing? Do I trust the large brewers who are only really interested in me because they see the way things are going? Do I risk losing the loyalty of those beer drinkers who have found Hardknott Beers, love us because of what we are, and what we stand for, and accept our mistakes because we are trying to do something different?

Or should I be more vocal in saying that we are different? Should we not point out that, although we are a business and therefore do care about making money, we want to produce beer that is truly different and are prepared to take the financial risk in doing so? Should we not reinforce the fact that although the cost of making beer is important, and so ensuring a profitable business, securing jobs and looking after our future, we also care about choosing ingredients to make our beer some of the best there is?

All of the above aligns us much more with the French wine maker who cares about his craft than the major beer producer. Alcohol consumption in the UK is dropping generally and drinkers are looking for more quality than volume. I believe the beer industry is suffering for this, all except those of us who are trying to produce something truly different.

This blogpost is the outpouring of my thoughts on the latest cynical attempt by the big brewers to claw back some of the market they have lost. We are, of course, talking about Let There Be Beer.

What disappoints me is not their campaign; they have a right to do that. What disappoints me is that SIBA and CAMRA have decided to put their names to the campaign. After all, it is simply a campaign to help boost big brand beer sales and goes against some of the basic principles of organisations I am a member of.

Most of all it goes very strongly against the ethos of Hardknott, and so it is my right and duty to myself and my business to be against it.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Hardknott Brewer's Kitchen

If you've been following this blog for a while you may know that I've complained about Saturday Kitchen failing to give beer reasonable airtime. Generally, it is an irritation to me that TV food programs really fail to give quality beer any credence. This just isn't right.

Well, we've decided the only real way to combat the problem is to come up with our own alternative program that covers a little bit more beer.

We've done a couple of episodes and posted them on Vimeo. They may not be quite up to the production quality of the BBC, but we're only doing this as a little bit of a laugh, even if the message and subject has a more serious underlying principle.

We know these videos are a little on the long side. We filmed kind of ad-libbed and mostly unscripted. We can put a lot more effort into proper scripting, directing, editing and generally better planning if there is enough interest in the idea.

These two episodes took me three days to produce in total, so if you don't like them, let me know I'm wasting my time.

Please, feel free to comment and let us know what you think. We hope you like the general idea.

I've one more episode "In the can" - slow cooked belly pork in Cool Fusion. I've not started editing the footage yet until I hear what you all have to say about our work so far.

Hardknott Brewer's Kitchen Episode 1 from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Hardknott Brewer's Kitchen Episode 2 from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Brewer versus Writer at The Rake -

Everyone in the beer world has different perspectives, different agendas, and different reasons to engage. Brewers are going to have a different view to the drinker. Traditional cask drinkers will have a different view to the contemporary Craft Beer Drinker. Beer writers will also have their own agendas, which will be coloured by their own view of the beer world, combined with the reward they get for writing about beer.

You will know that I am not only a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers but also sit on the committee. I take this role quite seriously as I believe in the underpinning principles of The Guild; “To improve the standards of beer writing and to extend the public's knowledge of beer.”

I’ve known Adrian Tierney-Jones for some time. He’s a great bloke and has written quite a lot about beer in many areas. He’s won several awards with The Guild Annual Awards but most importantly to me does a sterling job as secretary of The Guild, if with a slightly understandable and endearingly grumpy approach sometimes.

We don’t always agree. Indeed, I occasionally get barbed and satirical emails from him when he feels I make some remark on twitter, or in my blog, that is at odds with his world view. Or indeed, when we exchange views as committee members via email. I think it is only likely that a beer writer, one who wants to be respected for his knowledge and impartial take on the beer scene, will disagree with me.

The classic discussion is the exchanges about craft beer. I like to align myself as a Craft Brewer. I think it is useful to be able to mark Hardknott out as something different to the traditional brewer. It’s not necessarily about fighting between those factions, but more a way of highlighting the difference.

Adrian, I feel, stands above this and thinks it’s silly. I guess the experienced beer writer is bound to feel that all beer is worthy of consideration. I, on the other-hand, am a keen advocate of Craft Beer as an important part of brewing into the 21st century and am proud to be part of that future, which is different to the staid flavours of the 20th century.

I’ve bunged various beers to various writers. Generally it’s in the hope they might mention them in stuff they write. I once gave Adrian a bottle of Vitesse Noir. To be honest I didn’t really expect him to write about it, especially considering we sometimes seem at odds with some of our opinions. I perhaps just wanted him to like it. However, he must have thought it quite good as he put it in his new book , A 1001 Beer You Must Try Before You Die. It’s a good book. Obviously I’m right chuffed it’s in there.

Luckily, and by almost complete coincidence, we are just about to bottle and keg a new batch. It’s not available in keg often, but it is this time. Adrian and I thought it’d be fun to have a brewer versus writer event so we can try a few beers.

I'll introduce a few of my beers, finishing with Vitesse Noir. Then we'll talk a bit about, and taste a few of the other beers in 1001 Beers. There will be copies of the book on sale as well which Adrian would love people to buy. If you ask him nicely he'll even sign copies.

Perhaps, once we’ve had a few drinks Adrian and I can start a good old drunken argument about Craft Beer, or biased beer reviews, or some other contentious topic.

Oh, and Adrian says he’ll sign copies of his book, but only if you buy a copy first.

This will all happen from about 7pm in The Rake on 9th October. Be there.

Monday 23 September 2013

A Philosophical View of Craft Beer

I was sent an email containing a scanned copy of an interesting article the other day. The friend who sent it knows my interest in the question of Craft Beer, what it is, and whether it is relevant or not. I actually think my friend is fairly ambivalent about the subject, generally declaring he just likes beer. None-the-less, the article obviously fired a level of recognition of something that he did like.

The article in question appeared in Brewing and Distilling International - I'm not a member of the IBD so I don't get a copy. The article is called "Craft Beer - A Philosopher's Perspective". I liked it a lot. As I can't link to the article, as it seems to only be available in print, I shall explain what it talks about.

It talks about direction of fit. It talks about whether a beer is produced to appeal to a large potential customer base, or if the beer is made to appeal to the brewer, or perhaps a brewer and his mates, and then an attempt to try and find enough people, or convert enough people into liking it.

This is exactly, to me, what most true craft brewers are doing. Making beer they believe in and then attempting to convince people to like their approach to beer. These brewers truly believe they make something that people should like, but perhaps it doesn't conform to the staid conformist beers on general sale.
"If you want to make a successful, high-
selling beer, brewing a beer tailored to suit
people’s tastes, the beer-to-public direction-of-
fit is the rational approach"
And actually, more recently, as we've grown from where we were three years ago, we've made some beers deliberately to have broader appeal. There are many breweries who only ever do that. Moreover, and I think this is very important, it's got nothing to do with dispense format.

The other day I found myself in a London pub, with a series of about 6 handpulls. I tried most of the beers, and frankly, they were all the same in everything but name. All quite refreshing, balanced and very competently brewed, but to my palate quite bland and watery and with very little hop character. Obviously all brewed to fit the tastes of the wider1 cask beer drinker.

I still believe we stand by, and will continue to stand by the basic principle outlined in the article.
"Craft brewers are crazy about beer in the
sense that their desire to brew good beer has a
public-to-beer direction of fit. They try to
make a product which fulfils their conception
of the perfect beer and try to bring the public
over to it. As such, they’re personally invested
in the product. This is why craft beer has the
kind integrity and authenticity characteristic of
old-fashioned craft."
 The article was written by Andrew Jorgensen and published June 2013.


1 "Wider cask beer drinker" - what am I talking about? The width of the drinker has got nothing to do with it I expect.

Saturday 21 September 2013

A Workshop Manual for Beer

A long time ago, when I was much younger than I am today, I used to do nearly all of my own car maintenance. I enjoyed it, quite a lot. The pinnacle of this success was taking a Triumph Dolomite 1500 twin carb1 engine that had mangled a big end bearing, stripping it down, sending the crank for a regrind, the head for a skim and rebuilding the whole lot. It started first time. Blow me over with a feather.

A socket set, a torque wrench, a set of allen-keys, various other tools and not least, a Haynes Manual was essential to complete the task. I still have all my old Haynes Manuals. I know I should throw them out, or sell them on eBay, but I just can't bring myself to leave go. Even the smell of swarfega gets me reminiscing about happy days.

Home-brewed beer has always been something well within the reach of those who want to have a go. It's simply not cost effective when you consider how easy it is to get hold of great beer these days, but for most people who do, it's not about the money. It's about gaining a skill, about being good at a hand-craft. The move of car makers to make cars so difficult to maintain always smacks of forcing car owners to use the dealers for servicing and repair. Beer, at least in this respect, is different. I like that, many real home-brew enthusiasts make some of the best beer evangelists there are.

Haynes manuals must be less popular than they were 20 years ago, probably as a direct result of the futility of trying to do anything other than an oil change or a fan belt replacement yourself. It makes me a little sad, really, even though these days I do not have the time to spend hours under the bonnet of our vehicles.2 It's nice to see Haynes do rather quirky manuals about all sorts of things these days.

That Dolomite eventually died completely, in the end. It seems the 1500 should have had 5 main bearings but Triumph only gave it three. Doing 85mph on the motorway for any more than 3 miles caused the oil to stop flowing to the middle bearing due to centrifugal force and so the bearing went. Again.

Anyway, you've probably guessed by now that I'm a fan of Haynes manuals, which is good, because they are just about to launch one on beer. I don't know what it's like, and if I get a copy I might even review it, but I think it's a cool idea. Apparently it tells you all about how beer is made in big breweries, and some stuff about how you can make your own.

It appears to be written by the British Guild of Beer Writers Chairman, Tim Hampson, as far as I can see from the Amazon website, although the Haynes PR peeps seem to omit him from their press release, shame.

The Beer Manual applies the unique Haynes Manual practical treatment to the world of beer and introduces the reader to the wonderful range of beers and the drink’s rich social past, which is entwined throughout our history and culture.
With the aid of numerous photographs, practical sections describe the brewing process in a large commercial brewery, and offer step-by-step guidance for those who wish to brew their very own beer at home, whether from an off-the-shelf homebrew kit or by devising their own recipes and sourcing suitable raw materials to produce unique beers. 
Case studies chart the journeys of brewers who have turned the rewarding hobby of home brewing into viable businesses. A huge variety of aromas, tastes, colours and strengths can be created by brewers, whether professionals working for large international brewers or amateur enthusiasts in their kitchens at home. 
This book challenges the notion that only wine can be matched with fine food, and looks at why beer should be an essential ingredient in any creative cook’s kitchen. This is the essential guide for new and experienced home brewers, and for readers wishing to learn a little more about beer’s journey from barley and hop fields to the glass.

Pictures curtesy of Haynes Manuals

1Twin carb!! I remember how excited I was as a twenty odd-year-old at getting to own a twin carburettor car. Injection was still a long way off my reach in those days.

As for the Dolomite, nick-named the "Dollop of shite" by a friend of mine, in the end I came round to his way of thinking.

2Actually, I lied. The right hand indicator went on the van the other day, again. The garage replaced the indicator stalk last time, but it clearly wasn't really the fault. Ford, the silly people, put the relay box in a place where the contacts would collect salty road water and corrode specialist crimp contacts. I fixed it myself, and even had to use a meter and a soldering iron. I also bought a Transit Van Workshop manual, published by Haynes. It's got circuit diagrams in it. It's almost accurate, well, more accurate than the official Ford owners manual fuse numbering anyway.

Thursday 19 September 2013

VAT in the on-trade

Regular readers will know that I take great interest in taxation across the industry. I remain quite split, in reality, on what is best to be done. On the one hand our tax bill, even as a small brewery taking advantage of progressive beer duty, is quite a high proportion of our sales. On the other hand, I support the need for publicly funded services like the NHS, schools, police and transport networks. The money has to come from somewhere.

Alcohol always has been, and will remain a cash cow for the Revenue. The vast majority of the general public have been successfully convinced that we are all very naughty and deserve to be punished. All we can hope for is to defend our position and if we are lucky, nibble a little to our advantage. Any improvement has to be realistic and achievable. The Scrap The Beer Duty Escalator was a huge success. I believe the Burton MP, Andrew Griffiths, was a great influence on this success.

On the surface the VAT Club's call for a reduction of VAT for the hospitality trade seems laudable. The argument goes that the supermarkets have zero VAT on food, so why should pubs and restaurants pay 20% VAT?

Now, there are several holes in this argument. Firstly, supermarkets still pay VAT on alcohol. Pubs would still have to pay VAT on alcohol, even if the proposed cut in VAT for the hospitality trade were realised. OK, so it could be said a reduction in VAT on food in pubs would help, right? Well, no. Food led pubs are actually doing all right, generally. The losses in the trade are the wet lead pubs. A reduction in VAT on food would not help wet led pubs at all. Indeed, it would probably further damage that sector.

Where it would help most would be in high-end restaurants, you know, the ones where you'd typically have over say £60 a head charges by the time you'd finished. Out of the £60 there would be a £10 VAT element. Fair enough I say. This is the underlying issue. VAT is zero rated on essential or altruistic purchases. Food to take home and feed your starving kids with should always be zero rated. Papers and other printed matter is good for your cognitive wellbeing. Eating out is a luxury. Going to the pub, or even drinking alcohol at home is, really, an indulgence. Sure, it's an indulgence that I firmly believe, when done responsibly and in reasonable moderation is good for the soul, but most of the general public would say it is an indulgence.

It is also interesting that Tim Martin has entered the fray. His chain of cut price Wetherspoon's pubs has, in itself, caused huge damage to the pub trade in general. Most of his pubs are not the community pubs that we love and want to maintain. They are cavernous unglamorous pile-em-high and cut price locations frequented often by marginal alcoholics.

Now, I'll admit Tim's empire also attracts people who are just looking for a value night out. Perhaps people who work hard, on low incomes, and deserve an affordable pint or two. All fine and dandy, and my desire to see free market forces at work does mean that I would never like to see positive action against him, contrary to my gut instincts about his places. However, I do not see why he should get preferential treatment against wet only outlets, which is what the crafty bugger realises, in all likelihood, he will get if he succeeds with his aims.

So, I feel that his attacks against Andrew Griffiths are a direct attack against one of the biggest supporters of the beer industry we have in the government. Andrew realises that this call is not realistic and even if something did happen, it would be unlikely to happen for on-sales alcohol. He realises it is unlikely to happen because, frankly, it would be a lot of money. scrapping of the beer duty escalator was good, and the additional penny off a pint. He realises that we need to be realistic and continue the defend and nibble tactic that works well.

What Andrew has argued is that a VAT cut to 5% would represent a loss to the Revenue of around £11-12 billion. It seems to me that Andrew understands the complete impracticability of such a cut, which represents over £200 for each and every person in the UK. That money would have to be found from somewhere.

I've stayed away from this argument because I know it divides opinion in the trade. What has recently been called to my attention is that The VAT club is run as a commercial enterprise. One French bloke seems to be running away with industry money with the promise of getting VAT cut for the hospitality trade. So now I feel like making a fuss.

Now, I might be proved wrong, and a huge drop from 20% down too 5% VAT across the hospitality trade might realise itself, without prejudice against alcohol. I doubt it, but if it does happen, I'll happily eat humble pie.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Hardknott in Sainsbury’s

Last week was the launch of the in-store round of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt. We have been successful in getting Infra Red to this stage. This involves us shipping 19,9921 bottles to the central depot for onward distribution to over 400 stores by Sainsbury’s own logistics.

Infra Red is not a beer that we sell a lot of in draught formats. Much of our output of this beer is in bottle. Indeed, in stark contrast to draught sales, it is the case that it appears there is a sweet spot for bottle beers in the 5%-7% range based on the demand we see. 4% beers, at least for us, sell in lower volumes in bottle.

I believe there are several factors that might improve our chances of getting though to the final, but for certain strong sales will help. If you would like to see more Hardknott in future then buying our beer from this scheme will help.

It seems appropriate for me to comment on the issue of supermarkets and their approach to selling beer. I’m sure some of you will be thinking that we’re selling out. I’ve seen comments on twitter and elsewhere regarding the fact that the breweries are being screwed and that it’s just a loss leader exercise.

What I can say with complete confidence is that the price charged by the supermarket, at least in this instance, is at an appropriate mark-up. We knew the price we’d be paid for our product well in advance and could make the appropriate commercial decision. The volume of beer delivered for this contract represents more than the total sales for the whole of January this year. Furthermore, all we had to do was take the bottles off the line, pack in boxes, onto pallets and out the door. Less than 24 hours from tank to lorry. 12 pallets of beer in 2 shipments three weeks apart. Save for the stress of meeting the deadlines, and a couple of long bottling shifts, it was a breeze.

We love the rest of our customer base too. We like having a variety of beers, we’d get bored otherwise. However, it can be a real logistics problem making sure we have the right beers in stock, in the right packaging and ready to ship. Every week Graeme, my production brewer, hassles me for a brew plan. I have to refer him to Ann who can try and guess what people are going to order in two or three weeks time. We never guess right. Almost always we have too little of this, and too much of that. Last time we did a stock take we had over £20k of beer stock, just to be able to keep enough on stock for potential orders.

If I only had Sainsbury’s as a customer I would not need to keep £20k of beer in stock and could operate a leaner just-in-time business. I would then have £20k more in the bank, or at least, owe the bank £20k less.

The exercise has made me realize that supermarkets are not loss leading, they are doing deals with breweries to shift volume. The loser may well be the pub, and this is unfortunate. But you can’t buy Continuum, or Azimuth, or Queboid, or even Katalyst in Sainsbury’s. At least not yet. I expect that if they take on any of these beers we may well invent something else exclusive for the on-trade, it’s not really that tricky.

Supermarkets give a very powerful and cost effective way of getting our beers to the people who want to drink them. It helps us get our beers to people who can’t normally get them. It helps get beers to people who might not be able to get to pubs as often as they like, perhaps because they have young children, or live somewhere where it’s a car drive to the nearest decent pub.

Obviously I’d like to get through to the next round of the competition, where we supply for a 6 month period, at a price that is slightly better. The bad news for you guys is that the price on the shelf will likely go up.

However, if we don’t succeed in this round, and to be fair the odds are against us, we’ll look elsewhere for similar volumes. After all, we have staff wages to pay and a bottling line that needs using to be worth having.

Meanwhile, be pleased that Infra Red is available at a really knock-down price, take advantage and fill your shopping trolley.


120,000 doesn't divide by the supply size of cases of 12.

Friday 6 September 2013

Craft beer means nothing outside the beer blogosphere

The title of this post is broadly what some are trying to say. Of course, I don't agree.

Now, perhaps it's true to say that a significant proportion of the general public may not "get" what we are on about. But then, the majority of the general public drink major brand lager by choice, and they most certainly don't like any of that "bitter" when asked if they would like to try something off handpull.

Before someone want's to criticise my overgeneralisation above, I have many times, when been behind a bar, offered a taster of cask beer and had this sort of rebuff.

To get back on topic, although I might be minded to agree that the term Craft Beer is not known by huge numbers of people, I disagree that it is confined to the understanding of a select few. It must be important because some of the big brand owners are trying to use the term too.

I do understand that we might have to disagree on how important the term is. However, there are media type giving the Craft Beer some credence.

A website called The Creative Tourist  has done a piece on Craft Beer. It's difficult for me not to like what they have written. I suspect it will annoy some of you.

Friday 30 August 2013

Beer Mats and stuff

We've been working really hard with LemonTop Creative this year to improve our bottle labels and various other stuff.

We think LemonTop are great to work with, they have really made our beers stand out. It's not always been an easy road, as I'm a feisty customer; I know what I want and don't take any prisoners along the way. But you know, when great partners like LemonTop are there, and can understand the need for perfection, a little bit of storming creativity is good.

I asked the guys at LemonTop to do me some beer mats. I wanted a continuously repeating pattern across four mats. It took some toing and froing to get it right, but I think the results are worth it.

So, next time you are enjoying a pint of Hardknott, and wish to while your time away on a bit of frivolous nonsense, why not see how many mats you can get to join up on your table?

But watch the side with the words as it's easy to think you got it right, we deliberately put some subtlety  in to confuse you, it's not as easy as it looks.

Monday 26 August 2013

Why is the debate about Craft Beer important?

Many of you are fed up of the recurring question; what is Craft Beer?

I understand why, much more than you might think.

I understand that you think it is nothing more than a marketing term. I know you think I want to keep the debate alive because it matters to my business. You are right, of course.

Even if that is all it is then there are good reasons to be concerned about how we approach the term. Good reasons not only for me, but you, as a beer drinker. In return, your view also matters to me. Therefore I welcome, and enjoy your comments on my blog telling me what you think. Even if sometimes I'm not in agreement, or can't quite see your point, I still enjoy the engagement.

But I think it's much more than just a marketing term. I think it really does mean something to an increasing proportion of beer drinkers. Most importantly the group of people that it matters to are part of the future of beer and cannot be simply dismissed as "hipsters"

I like to think Hardknott makes beer that is different. We try not to conform to the norm, we want to stand out from the crowd. If everyone simply said "we make great beer" then there would be nothing to differentiate one brewer from another.

The term Craft Beer does mean something. Even if exactly what that is remains debated, it does still mean something, and the number of people to whom it means something is increasing.

There are an increasing number of Craft Beer Bars. There are an increasing number of people who are going to those Craft Beer Bars. There are an increasing number of brewers who are calling themselves Craft Brewers in the hope of selling beer to these Craft Beer Bars, aimed at the increasing number of drinkers who are happy to call themselves Craft Beer Drinkers.

There are Craft Beer Festivals. They are very different to the same-old-same-old Real Ale festivals. There are even festivals that might not be overtly Craft Beer Festivals, as such, but do seek out new and interesting beers without pre-conceved and obviously biased selection against those of us who do wear the Craft Beer badge with pride.

There is beer that is excellent beer, made by micro brewers and is very acceptable to a broad audience. It has appeal, but isn't really that much different to beer that was brewed 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, or even 30 years ago. Some people think this is Craft Beer. I disagree. It it is the same-old-same-old which means it is not Craft Beer. It is not what the Craft Beer Drinker wants to drink.

I think the Craft Beer Movement is real. I think its much more than a marketing term, even if it is vague and disputed. It is real and important even if it is abused by some brewers and retailers who seem to think a major Italian brand of beer is Craft Beer.

Keep it Craft.

Friday 23 August 2013

Is Blue Moon craft?

"What lager do you have?" said the stranger in town, who was obviously having difficulty with the array of handpulls on the bar. I know I shouldn't really butt into the job when there are perfectly good bar staff there to help, but I'd prefer he chose a "craft" lager, rather than some macro-brewed tasteless beer made by some huge multi-national corporation who use sexist TV adverts in prime time screening.

"There is Hawkshead Lager" I ventured. Well, Hardknott don't really do a lager, and even our closest options of Lux Borealis or Duality had given way to Azimuth on the bar on this occasion, which I had already been tucking into, and was probably helping the fluidity of my verbal communications at the expense of  tact.

"It's not a cloudy wheat beer is it?" I can't help myself in these situations "do you drink with your eyes?" I asked without thinking, and with far more sarcasm than the poor gentleman deserved.

I did proceed to explain that it was a very good lager and that it was indeed quite bright and on good form.

I am quite sure that any hazy beer to this gent would have been classed as one of those trendy types of Craft Beer. Assuming of course that he had heard of the concept of craft beer. I'm sure to him craft are the slightly wonky hand thrown vases seen at car boot sales punted by people who have a notion that they might one day make a living at their own passion. Or perhaps to him the artisanal rag woven bed-spreads that no-one really likes to buy, but have been painstakingly made, by hand, for some very worthy local charity.

He very probably prefers the security of consistency gained from mass produced branded products and hazy beer is just a sign of poorly made beer, he is sure of that. He is absolutely certain that anything at all that comes from a handpull is in the same hand-crafted zone.

This story, which is loosely based on a true event that happened recently, was brought to my mind after the various discussions surrounding a recent definition of Craft Beer. A significant point of contention is the refusal to exclude Blue Moon from the category despite being made and marketed by a major multinational. I'll admit, I'm split on the issue myself.

On the one hand it could very easily be seen as a cynical attempt to try and reverse the falling sales of the nasty chemical beer producers. Having seen micro-brewed beer and Craft Beer erode volume they see the need to make something that might appeal. In itself it is reported to be a highly processed beer transported at high gravity and diluted and treated for consistency with tetra hop and goodness knows what else.

But, equally, it is different. Both flavour and presentation is very different to the standard, pale, highly filtered, clean flavoured, and quite frankly boring lagers that are sold by the same large producer. The banana and clove flavours, the hazy presentation, the theatre of serve created by the addition of a slice of citrus fruit all add to a beer experience that is designed to appeal to a more adventurous drinker. Our man in the story is put off by all this.

Of course I don't want Blue Moon included in the Craft Beer category. None-the-less, many people do not trust small brands, very often this manifests itself at a very simple level of distrust of anything that is from a handpull and much more trust put in things from keg fonts. "I don't like bitters" a simple and common reaction to being offered cask beer. In some respects this can be partly due to the inevitable variability of artisanal producers. This is to some extent where the unfortunate but arguably unavoidable additions large brewers use to gain that consistency could be beneficial. Yes, it goes against the concept of craft, but gaining trust of the wider consumer base is where Craft Beer can fail.

From that point of view a beer like Blue Moon, if we can bring ourselves to welcome it, and I admit the difficulty in doing so, may help consumers who thus far only trust lager to venture a little into the Craft Beer world. Is this a bad thing?

If we can accept the above then we simply have to assess the beer for it's attributes. We must consider a beer drinker who does not have some sort of pre-conceived political motive that sways their judgement simply based on the nature of the business that is responsible for the product.

Going back to the basics of our reference definition, we ask.

Does the beer differ significantly from the styles available to mainstream consumers in the last 10 years? - YES

Is the brewer generally attempting to challenge/create something interesting/resurrect a style? - ABSOLUTELY

If a brand is British/American is the branding modern, is it inclusive? - Oh, VERY MUCH SO. No macho branding, but equally not patronising to any sex or gender.

Has the brand been historically widely available in GB? - NO, and here I assume that a no is a positive answer,

If we simplify this we end up asking if the beer in question is bringing something new and positive to the beer scene. Something that might change perceptions and broaden appreciation of beer.

I believe Blue Moon does do this whilst it is still new and fresh to the broader consumer. Of course, like many things that are new, it will one day be old. It might gain big market saturation. But then, many brands that we now might consider craft will in turn suffer this once they gain widespread acceptance.

This last point is important. The criteria create a sector which by definition must remain dynamic. Reinvention and a need to innovate and react is essential. A point that is not made explicit, but is inextricably implicit.

Even so, I still think you can still say "Blue f*****g Moon is NOT Craft Beer" if it makes you feel happy. Indeed, you'll make me feel happy if you do.

Next up, why I think the term Craft Beer is important.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

A Commercial Craft Beer Definition.

The definition of Craft Beer in the UK is a hotly debated topic. Many think, including me, that it is difficult to define and it might well be better if we don't try. However, from a commercial point of view there is a need to have a go at broadly identifying it as a market sector.

Robert Plant, I always thought, was a member of the band Led Zeplin. I recently met a Robert Plant, who gave a splendid talk about the state of beer sales in the on-trade. It turned out it was not the man who wrote "Stairway to Heaven" addressing the seminar, but a "senior account manager" at CGA Strategy, who are rather good at collating market data about the drinks industry. I like them, quite a lot.

Despite his lack of rock fame, Rob did give an entertaining talk on beer and how it was doing in the on-trade. There was a simple distillation1 given of the various sectors of beer including regional cask beer, macro-brewed keg and micro-brewed cask. There was also some interesting facts on performance of various types of licensed outlets. Needless to say the wet only pub wasn't looking like a great business in general.

It seems outlets that "premiumise" are likely to do well. Outlets that provide some form of food offering, Cafe bars and branded food pubs it seems. None of this is particularly good news for the traditional pub lover, but they seem to be getting less in numbers anyhow.

But, the big question I had on my mind was "how does this fit with the Craft Beer sector?" - so I asked it. Of course I expected a reply along the lines of "well, we would first have to define craft beer" - which was indeed the reply given. However, this didn't stop a discussion ensuing on the subject and a suggestion that perhaps knowing a bit more might be nice.

I'd like to think it was my awkward question that galvanised Rob into finding an answer for me. However, I suspect I'm not that important to CGA and they probably have quite a few big customers asking them the same question. You see, we're not even a customer of CGA.

It seems they have some answers. They have been through 1000s of beer brands and chosen some to class as Craft Beer. I have no idea if Hardknott has been lumped into it or not.  I am pleased to be able to update this post and confirm that Hardknott does fit their criteria.

The basic facts appeared on twitter a few days ago. I missed some of it, but that's OK because the boys copied it on their blog. Nice chaps. Read about it on the post entitled Craft Beer Quantified

Now, the comments did raise a few eyebrows. "How did you define Craft Beer then?" It's obvious that to collate statistics about a market you have to define it first.

Anyhow, they have sort of defined it, and tell us how on another blog post called Craft Beer Quantified - How did we create the category? Apparently it's annoyed a few folk. Personally I think it's a great attempt. What does the reader think?

In any case it's appropriate that a guy named Robert Plant is looking at how the Craft Beer scene rocks.


1 I'm not sure a simple distillation of any sort of malted beverage is a good idea, really.