Thursday 20 June 2013

Let There be Beer

I'm getting a few emails from a PR company at the moment. This isn't unusual. I'm a proud member of The British Guild of Beer Writers and my details are on the web site. I often get information from PR companies trying to get me to blog about their client's beery story. Occasionally I do, but mainly I just ignore the request and put it down as "nice try, better luck with the next blogger" I don't really mind be contacted, I guess it makes me feel important enough for them to contact me.

On this occasion I'm completely unsure as to what my response should be. The company is Frank PR and it seems that their clients are big beer brewers and associated companies. They are claiming "The campaign (and the name) is very much a rallying cry to the nation to remind us just how good it is to have a beer."

Apparently "The coalition behind 'Let There Be Beer' comprises some of the world's biggest brewers, UK brewers, pub businesses, retailers and organisations such as the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) and Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)."

Frank PR states  "to make sure the key messages of our campaign are spread nationally to revive the nations passion for beer - we feel it's time to restore lagers, ales, bitters, pilsners and stouts firmly in the nation's hearts."

Now, from my perspective I'm unsure what this will do for me. There are no details and the angle at the moment is very nebulous. It has also never been a greater time to be a beer drinker. If the wealth of great beers doesn't get more people drinking more beer then I'm not sure a generic campaign will. There is lots of grand stuff going on and plenty to temp prospective beer drinkers. I suspect the campaign is designed to try and revitalise the drooping success of the major brands. I doubt it'll point out that there is actually a wealth of exiting things happening in our sector of the beer industry.

I think the following snippet of highly produced video may just prove my point. I don't get it, but remain slightly intrigued as to where it's going, and have therefore fallen into their little trap. I also expect that by responding I'll get more emails. Ho hum.

So, what d'ya reckon? A load of nonsense, or am I being unfair to a genuine backer of UK beer? Indeed, has anyone else heard about this "initiative" and can shed more light on it?

I shall wait and see what happens, trying my hardest to remain open minded. Perhaps it will be a great campaign for all beer ever.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

How much, is too much, for a pint of beer?

The title here is the opening question used by Mike Zeller of BBC Radio Cumbria this morning as he opened his piece on the question of prices in the centre of the Lake District compared to some town centre pubs. His point is that generally prices of beer in tourist locations are more than in city centres.

You can hear a recording of it here.

There does seem to be a confusion between towns and cities. And of course, sweeping generalisations abound.

It seems Radio Cumbria like to call me in to fill a few minutes. Never short of an opinion, and happy to get my brewery a free mention, it's a good exchange between me and the local radio station.

They always phone me up the afternoon before, give me a little gist of the subject, and I have a little think about what I might say.

This time I was determined to get across the point that buying beer in a pub is about a lot more than just buying beer. You are buying a service, renting a part of the pub for the time you are there. Possibly sharing your sorrows with the barman. Perhaps pushing your luck with the pretty young barmaid, who really doesn't need to be flirted with by some bloke who she'd not even tolerate outside her job.

We complain about pubs closing. Far too many are closing, it is claimed. And then, we complain about beer in pubs being too expensive.

Now, I understand about PubCo's. I understand about the smoking ban. I understand about beer duty. These are all undoubtedly influences on the pub's fate.

However, I'm pleased I managed to get in a key point at the end: if people don't value pubs enough to buy beer in them they will die, commercial fact.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Infra Red will be in Sainsbury's

You might have heard of the Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt. Indeed, if you regularly buy beer from Sainsbury's you might have been invited to judge. I like the scheme because it's not based purely on taste, although obviously taste plays a huge part.

Don't get me wrong, I see the point of blind tastings, and on pure technical brewing skill there is no better test. However, the best beer in the world is pointless if the drinker isn't attracted by it's bottle label. Great beer could stay on the shelf gathering dust if the buyer walks on by. Clearly a brewery name can count for a lot, a sense of security, the buyer knows what he is getting. Equally a great label design can be the difference between success and failure.

The Sainsbury competition starts with the judges choosing a number of bottles they like the look of. Clearly any preconceived notion of the breweries trustworthiness, the appeal of the bottle label etc will have an influence. The judge is then asked to rank the the top 5 from their choice based on subsequent tasting.

We entered four beers, including Infra Red. We couldn't enter any beers that were already listed in Booths, as this would be against the rules. This eliminated Continuum, Code Black, Azimuth and Queboid. Still, it left Infra Red, which we had requested should be permitted to go through to the National Finals, were it to be good enough.

And it was, good enough that is. I have no idea if it did well because it's a Hardknott beer, and there are people who know and trust our beer. I can't say if perhaps the very good work done by LemonTop Creative influenced a few who had never heard of us. Or perhaps the beer is just a good beer that impressed. I may be biased, but I do think it's a great beer, mainly due to the huge amount of Cascade and Centennial hops we pile into the stuff and a healthy balance of maltiness.

I suspect it is a combination of all three. But, never the less, we got through to the National competition. This involves us selling quite a lot of beer to Sainsbury's at a price a little below what we'd really like to sell beer for. It will then appear on the shelves all over the country. People will buy it and if enough people buy it then we will get a prize of a more permanent listing.

The good news for you, the drinker, is that our beer will be available for a short while at a really great price.  The good news for me is that if lots of you go out and buy it from Sainsbury's whilst it's on offer we'll get a more permanent listing that, by the time we average out the promotional deals and the regular prices, will actually be worth doing.

So, if you'd like to see out beer more widely available, go and buy Infra Red from Sainsbury's during September, and tell your mates to do the same.

Now, you'll have to excuse me, I need to order a huge amount of Cascade and Centennial hops.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Axial Tilt

You may know; the seasons are caused by a tilt in the Earth's axis. In summer, in northern climes, the North Pole tilts towards the sun and we see very much more than 12 hours of daylight. Indeed, at this time of year it barely goes dark. This means that the extra energy from the extended sunlight warms the atmospheres, and more slowly the oceans, and we get good weather. Well, at least sometimes.

When it gets warm, and we get a period of dry weather, like right now, people get thirsty. We like this as it means people drink more beer. Nice, pale, refreshing, tasty, cold and perhaps fizzy beer.

Digressing slightly, and talking about yeast, unadventurous brewers often tend to stick with one strain of yeast. In particular the big brewers can get quite shirty if it is suggested they brew with say a wheat beer yeast, or even more radical, a wild yeast like Brettanomyces. You see, contamination of the house yeast can cause all sorts of nightmare problems for brewers who need absolute consistency for their precious brands.

Little brewers can afford to play around a bit more. That's what we do. We currently use 3 yeast strains to get the desired effect. At least, it was three.

The French for season is saison. A Saison style beer is one that uses a particular type of yeast that creates interesting fruity and spicy flavours.  Additionally the beer tends to be a little hazy as the yeast is a bit stubborn at flocing.

Traditionally it is made in the winter months where this type of yeast prefers the lower temperatures of fermentation but is then saved for the summer months when it is absolutely delicious drunk in the warm summer weather.

We made a Saison and called it Axial Tilt. It's going to be a warm weekend. It's also Boot Beer Festival at our old haunt, The Woolpack Inn. We've got a keg bar there for the weekend and we're launching Axial Tilt, on keg, all cold, fizzy and everything.

And now, our yeast management has been further complicated with a total of four yeast strains used in our production. That's good really, I like complicated.


Tonight we're doing a food and beer matched dinner. It'll incorporate nearly a full range of Hardknott beers, including Axial Tilt.