Thursday 23 May 2013


I'm too busy to blog. Hardknott is fairly busy these days and we are at capacity with brewing. There are many reasons for our success, but it is very clear to me that the on-line beer world has a significant contribution to make to the success of many small breweries and we are for sure no exception to that.

I started this blog way back in the autumn of 2008, four and a half years ago. Things have moved very quickly since then. We had a pub then, we don't now. We had a tiny brewery then, ours is a little bigger now. We only sold beer in our own little pub then, now our beer makes it to several countries as well as all over the UK.

There are many people I have met through the on-line blogging and twitter world. Many, many people who have helped our passion blossom into a growing business that now employs 5 people full time and is likely to increase beyond that in the near future. I've made many great friends in the name of beer who I'd never want to lose touch with.

So, it is with great sadness and shock that I hear Simon Johnson has now left for that great bar in the sky, where no doubt for him Orval flows in a constant waterfall and bits of pig will be freely available roasting, grilling and frying. He will, I imagine, have a whole experimental factory playing with confectionary which he can inject with whatever liqueur takes his fancy.

Somedays I get far too serious about beer and business. Somedays I know I work too hard and forget to have fun. Simon reminds me that beer is about fun, happiness and friends. I will never forget that he, more than anyone, has taught me that. And that lesson has been taught to me, by Simon, on many memorable occasions including the very first twiss-up at Sheffield, several GBBFs and random meets in The Sheffield Tap.

I doubt he'll rest in peace. He won't in my mind, he'll live on as one of the greatest pioneers, in his own way, with his own contribution, to the continuing success of a very vibrant and wonderful UK beer world.

Today I have to blog, and forget for a few minutes that I'm too busy to blog, because I'm too busy, at least in part, because of Simon.

Friday 17 May 2013

Craft Beer World - Mark Dredge

OK, I'm biased. Mark Dredge mentioned me in his book, so I'm hardly going to say it's pants, am I. Even if Mark has called me "bonkers"1

Over and above my very real joy at seeing my beer, my brewery and a personal mention, I do think the book is good. It tackles the ever growing question of "what is Craft Beer" and admits right away that a clear definition isn't possible.

It is timely that today I was at a meeting of a new initiative called The Cumbria Food and Drink Growth Network - which is an interesting thing in itself. There was a speaker there talking about growing artisan food and drink businesses and it occurred to me that craft beer fits that quite nicely.

The speaker talked about all sorts of interesting things, many that I'll not share with you, in case you are a brewery and take away some initiative that is budding in my own mind. After all, I made the effort to go, the reader didn't. The speaker makes artisan chocolates, but much of what she said translates across. Much of what she said gave me new ideas, or perhaps more importantly a feeling of knowing that what we do here at Hardknott is good and right.

Importantly, artisan food and drink doesn't feel an intense need to define itself. OK, there are some pointers, some thoughts to indicate the difference between run-of-the-mill and artisan, but quite clearly for me there are parallels between artisan food and drink and craft beer.

Yes, there are the ingredients, a focus on quality. A real need to be innovative and creating new and fresh ideas. There was a little scepticism about passion and nonsense like that. But the speaker also touched on one thing that I really do think is important beyond the beer, but shows through very often in the beer itself; that of the people and their story. What is behind the beer and it's influences.

To me, Marks book is in the emerging style of beer writing where less focus is on facts and figures of the brewery or the beer, although there is just enough of that too. But also on the ideas, the people and the community behind what we are becoming used to understanding as the craft beer world, which is in turn part of the artisan food and drink world.

I suppose an interesting question is how long will the book be valid? Many of the beers listed, including mine, were not around even 5 years ago. I suspect there are a few beers that ought to be in even now, but missed the publishing deadline. This is an indication of how fast and exciting beer is right now.

Oh, and for the record, I'm actually a little proud to be labeled bonkers, if the truth be known. Meanwhile, I'll consider if we should label ourselves as an Artisan Brewery.


1To be fair, I did show the book to the staff today, proudly showing them the entry. An appropriate level of pride, as you would expect the team to have, was evident. However, there was a tinge of amusement, with Jules stating "So, he's met you then"

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Beer Posters

One or two of our distributors have suggested that we consider getting some posters printed. I quite liked the idea. Our friends at LemonTop Creative have been busy doing some designs for me. They are quite good at doing designs for breweries, partly I suspect because Andy Mogg, who is part of the management team there, also quite likes beer.

I like these poster designs. So do most people I've shown them to. Interestingly, I have my favourite, other people choose different favourites. Please feel free to comment on what you like, or more importantly don't like about these designs. Andy and I will no doubt ignore most of the comments and print them all anyway.

The resolution here could be better, I'm waiting for Andy to send me a full resolution file....

Thursday 9 May 2013

The Apprentice

I never watch The Apprentice. I really don't care for this sort of none reality "reality TV" - it's false, contrived and in this case a poor representation of real business.

However, I do like our local paper, The North West Evening Mail and it's company, CN News, who also publish an on-line business magazine They often ask me for copy, or comment, which I am always happy to give for free in return for a little bit of publicity. It's a nice partnership.

I was contacted yesterday and asked if I would watch last night's episode of The Apprentice, as it was about beer, and be prepared to comment, apparently I know a little bit about beer. I was happy to help out, although I knew I would hate the experience. I was right.

See what I thought by reading the article.

If you missed the program you can watch it on iPlayer

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Booths - we're there!

It's a tough choice for a brewer to decide to put his beers into a supermarket. There is always the question about cheapening the brand, for a start. Equally, the question about supporting pubs. One of the things that can be a great selling point for pubs are beers that cannot be found in supermarkets.

And so, it was with some trepidation that we decided to explore listings in some of the better outlets. On balance, the increase in volume sales, that will in time give us the business comfort to enable us to make more of the type of beer we want to make, like our experimental Rhetoric range and our ever more famous Vitesse Noir, is a strong incentive. Extra revenue will help us to invest in ever more advanced brewing plant so we can have more flexibility in what we make.

One of the supermarkets we approached was Booths. We've been successful in getting our beers into the Cumbrian branches. We like them because they have a strong local theme coupled with a great outlook towards quality. It's not a pile-them-high-sell-them-cheap outlet, although obviously they do a little bit of the old 4 bottles for a fiver type of thing, (actually it's 6 pounds) although currently our beers don't feature in that sort of promotion.

Anyway, I think they look great on the shelf, appropriately priced. Yes it's a tiny bit less expensive than buying the same beer in the pub, but then that's what you would expect. I feel confident that this isn't an example of "selling out" and I'm really pleased with the way they look on the shelf. We are hopeful that we will in time get into most of their other branches too, although that will depend on sales volumes. So, if you want to see our beers more widely available, buy them next time you are in a Cumbrian branch of Booths.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Dulcimer - music to my ears

I often get requests for information from people who want to know where to get my beers. The trouble is, mostly, they go out on pallet, far, far away. And even then, even when we deliver direct, that bit is all organised nicely by Ann, so generally if the question is asked of me, then I normally look a bit of a twit and have to say "eerr, dunno, sorry"

A Dulcimer is an interesting stringed instrument that I particularly like. The hammered version, which I guess would have been the forerunner to the piano, can create in the right hands an interesting percussive-melodic sound, slightly medieval in feel, but with a seductive embrace that does it for me. Not enough musicians play them, and I'd buy one and have a go, if it weren't for the fact that Ann thinks I have enough instruments cluttering up the house already.

There is a place called The Dulcimer in Chorlton, near Manchester. They are arranging a festival for this coming Bank Holiday weekend. They have some of our beers, and for once I am in receipt of this information, hence I am sharing it with the world.

So get along there if you want to try Dark Energy, Infra Red or Azimuth. There are other great craft brewer's beers there too. There is apparently some music, although I have no idea if there will be a dulcimer player there or not.