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.