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.