Tuesday 29 July 2014


I like music. I have a broad appreciation of various genres and can even play a little guitar and piano. Music is useful in many retail situations like shops, restaurants, bars and pubs. It's also nice in some work situations to have a bit of something to cheer the day along.

Most customers don't think about the implications of playing music in a public space. Indeed, you might work in a place where the radio is on giving nice background vibes, and not realise that your employer is faced with a little problem.

PRS and PPL are organisations that supposedly collect money for music authors, recording artists and music publishers. They feed the line that without them artists would not get paid for their work. In reality, in this bloggers view, they are money grabbing monopolies. I simply do not agree with their policies, tactics and most importantly their apparent assertion that there is no other choice available for the business owner who wishes to stay the right side of the law.

Admittedly, if you wish to play popular contemporary music, in almost any public or work situation, this might in fact be true. Almost every artist, their promoter, recording company and distribution rights are, in fact, controlled by PRS and PPL. To play most well known music you need to have a licence with each of these rather dubious organisations. I think it is wrong that you cannot avoid it if you wish to play well-known music.

What really gets me is that royalties are collected from broadcasters for airplay. If I allowed a radio in the brewery I'd have to subscribe to PRS and PPL. We currently we don't allow a radio because I do not see why I should pay for something that has already been paid for. However, the law as it stands not only allows for this double charging, but demands it. I think it is wrong to insist that if my staff wish to bring in their own radio that I have to pay for that facility.

To digress slightly, if you wish to buy my beer, you could go to Booths stores, for instance. Or you could buy it on-line from our web-shop. Or you could go to our preferred on-line retailer, Beer Ritz. Equally you might like to pop into any number of specialist off-licences. Or, you could go to a good pub or even a craft beer bar.

You see, we give you a choice as to where you buy our products. We do not believe that any sort of  monopoly is a good thing. But there is a choice with music too, provided you are happy to go with talented unsigned artists. There are various systems for alternative PRS and PPL free music. I think it's a great idea as it helps not only to provide an alternative to the dubiousness of the apparent single option, but also gives an alternative to creative music artists as a route to market.

We've got in MusicStream in Hardknott OnTrack. We like it. It sort of conforms to our non-conformist take on everything. The music is good too, with way more genres than we'll ever need. There is even jazz, if you are into that sort of thing, which I'm not, and so have banned Neil from playing, much to his disgust, and probably some of my readers too.

For our size of little bar PRS and PPL might not be any more expensive, but that's not the point. PRS and PPL phone us up and give the impression that there is no other choice. This is simply not true.

Monday 28 July 2014


"What was that dark beer I had the other week?" the nice woman asked me "I don't normally like dark beer"

We'd popped into Hardknott OnTrack last night for a couple of beers. The nice couple were working their way through various beers and the discussion had turned to that of colour. As is so often the case, these people have been swayed by preconceptions, but thankfully we'd done something to help overturn this.

The beer in this case was Yerba, our collaboration with Metalman in Waterford, Ireland. It's a good beer with a whole load of interesting, if fairly subtle flavours.

I like collaborations because it always adds a new dimension to brewing hat might otherwise get missed if working in a environed closet. It's something that is important to me, to ensure that we keep exploring new ideas.

And so, when the Birmingham Beer Bash guys decided they wanted to do a collaboration with us we were very pleased to oblige. After various discussion, which I mostly forget, we came up with the idea of a beer that was as dark as we could get without having significant impact on flavour. A crisp, light tasting beer but with a bit of colour.

This weekend saw the launch of Squiddy, which is arguably a daft idea - a beer with squid ink in it. As it turned out the idea was somewhat dafter than I hard anticipated. Squid ink, it seems, clings to nearly anything it can rather than stay in suspension. I guess this must be true otherwise overtime the oceans would start to take on something of a hue.

The result was some very interesting coloured spent hops after the transfer, and a wort that was just about the same colour as if we hadn't bothered.

Watch the video to see how we solved the problem.  The resultant beer has a very interesting colour, a nose reminiscent of rock pools and a subtle salty seaweed flavour. If you listen carefully to your glass, in a quiet corner somewhere, which obviously was nowhere to be found at the buzzing B-Cubed event,  you can hear the sea. If you concentrate hard enough you can imagine the sound of children building sandcastles.

Whatever you might think of this beer, it at least does further prove the point; Don't judge a beer by it's appearance, that's the road to preconceptions that will colour your overall judgement of beer. If we can change these preconceptions, like we have with the people in our bar last night, one person at a time, than I can consider my work worthwhile.

Squiddy Episode One from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Squiddy Episode Two from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

As a footnote; the idea of squid ink in beer was first suggested to me by Alex Routledge when he was brewing for me. I completely poo-pooed the idea at that time thinking it probably wouldn't work. However, over time the idea had burrowed a dark and erie cavern in my thought processes leaving me wandering like Smeegle in my own troubled mind. In the end I had to find out just how silly an idea it was.

Thanks Alex.

Friday 4 July 2014

Containing a Problem

There are many interesting issues associated with running a brewery. It is not unreasonable for those who don't work in a brewery to be blissfully unaware of many of these problems. It's not their fault.

One very interesting problem is that of containers. Casks, kegs, KeyKegs and other draught beer transport mechanisms.

They cost money. Sometimes quite a lot of money. There are ways of reducing those costs, i.e. through the use of plastic casks for instance. However, there is generally a cost of ownership somewhere along the line.

We like eCasks and eKegs. We like them a lot because we simply call up our friends over in the depot, they send a pallet or two, or three and we get along with filling them. We generally buy them in clean, which costs a little more, but we reckon it's worth it as cask washing is somewhat labour intensive. We could reduce the man-hours for cask washing by buying a big expensive machine, but then we'd have costs associated with the big bank loan we'd need to take out.

Plastic casks are less expense than stainless steel, but our experience is that they also have a significantly shorter life span and eventually you'll loose more than the savings in lost beer due to split casks. Stainless casks cost around £75 each to buy. Some might be less, and better ones a little more. There is second hand, but often the differences are not that great.

We are lucky at the moment that none of our finance is associated with our container population. This probably won't last long as we need to up our population. We do have some kegs on lease, which is not too bad, but there is a monthly charge.

All in all there is no wary around the fact that there is a "cost of ownership" associated with container populations. There is an inevitable shrinkage of this asset pool and every day a container is out of the brewery it's costing money.

Pubs probably don't think too much about it. It's not uncommon for pubs to have the clever idea of cutting casks open to use as planters, or make hand stools from, or even to use as parking bollards.

This last example did sort of annoy me as they were our casks. We uplifted them. I considered many courses of action including sending the offender a bill or asking the police to look at the criminal damage aspect. I also considered contacting the paper and putting our case, but thought that might just be bad PR. I ended up doing very little on the grounds that it might just spiral out of control resulting in an unpleasant tit-for-tat fight with the pub out of which no one would win. After all, the pub landlord probably didn't really understand.

You can perhaps understand my bewilderment when I saw the Publican Morning Advertiser piece where the pub has clearly decided to use their criminal behaviour1 to gain more publicity.

You can imagine I was somewhat further annoyed by the audacity of the pub's landlady for clearly going out of her way to publicise her clear vandalism. However, after further consideration we still decided to do very little2.

But I duo want to record some errors and misinformation in the report.

1. We have more than once tried to recover the casks, but had been told they were not there. We have also phoned the pub for orders, but they hadn't ordered since those casks were delivered. They had every opportunity to inform us that the casks were there to be picked up. One can only assume they knew the state of the casks.

2. The casks have been out of the brewery for less then 2 years and not the stated 6 years in the article. We know this from our cask tracking software.

3. We did not "confiscate" them. They our ours, we were simply reclaiming our own property.

But meanwhile, there is a nice thread on Facebook regarding the matter. Certainly those in the know in the industry seem to think the pub is out of order.

In other news, we have a nice table in our new bar.


1We have since gained advice from various sources and we could indeed ask the police to consider a case of criminal damage. We would of course be totally within our rights to send a bill for either refurbishment or replacement and follow up with debt collection should it remain unpaid.

1Write this blog post, actually, was the agreed course of action. I suspect few of my readers will side with the landlady. Also, I think there might be an attitude that casks are free for operators of pubs to do with as they wish. I mean, leave them out in the hot sunshine, without a bung, so as the files lay eggs and cutovers post in fag ends. Makes the job of cask cleaning such a delight.

The point is that there is a lot of work to do to inform the on-trade of the costs they push onto breweries and so the cost of beer due mainly to a lack of appreciation rather than maliciousness. I can imagine that out there in pub land many publicans actually don't see a problem. It's not their fault, bless them.