Thursday 6 November 2014

Figgy Pudding

I’m known to be a bit of a humbug. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas itself, or even the week or so before, it’s just that it seems to start so damn early.

You see, commercially this is much more of a necessity than might be thought. I went a few weeks ago into our local hardware store. You know the type, where you can buy hose, peas, handles for forks, and probably even billhooks, providing you ask carefully. We were looking for tinsel, for the reasons that will become clear, if you haven’t already found out. They had already started putting up their Christmas display around 12 weeks before the event. Makes me wonder if asking for fairly lights might result in the thoughts of some form of LED vagazzle. Normally I’d have been slightly irritated by the earliness of it, however, I had good need.

We know the owners and chatted about the whole commercial aspect for the festivities. It surprised me to find that to ensure good supply prices for their stock they have to forward order in February. It seems that the stuff is largely made in the far-east where commitment 9 months before delivery ensures supply and a good price. We have similar hop commitment arrangements.

Christmas beer is not that much different. Indeed it is partly my humbug tendencies that have prevented me from doing a Christmas beer. I normally really don’t like to think about Christmas until the beginning of December. However, in reality, as a brewer if you are not thinking about it in August it’s possibly too late.

This year I was contacted late summer by a new distributor who asked if we were considering a Christmas beer. “What a good idea!” I exclaimed “but if we are to deliver mid October we had best get on with it” And that was how the telephone conversation ended, having agreed it would be great to make a 7% beer loosely based on Colonial Mayhem, with fruit and spices in it, called Figgy Pudding.

Our previous experience with fruit in strong beers shows that a bit of planning, time to source the quantities of fruit needed at economics required, and time to make the beer did indeed show that we had to get along with the job. We did a parti-gyle with Scott’s Colonial Mischief, which neatly coincided with our seasonal Autumn beer, out in the beer world now. Figgy Pudding, needing a little bit longer in tank, is now ready to release.

Figgy Pudding (We Wish You a Merry Christmas) from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

As this was all happening I was also thinking about the PR angle to this beer. On the one hand I object to cynical over commercialisation of Christmas, much of which is emotional blackmail based on leverage of the “Well, you’re a humbug if you don’t buy our stuff” – I’m more intelligent than that, and I believe Hardknott fans are too. Buying cheap, tacky nonsense, at over inflated prices, that finds itself as bin fodder in early January, seems contrary to the season of good will to all humanity. Are we really doing ourselves, our neighbours, the poor in the world or our environment any good by gross over indulgence and often incredible wastage? All this is possible by a strange “Well, you are just like Ebenezer if you don’t fall for our tacky Christmas” from many quarters.

On the other hand, that was a bit of a grumpy rant. Christmas can be a fabulous time of year for sharing, friendship, fun and good natured frolics. A bit of seasonal indulgence is no bad thing if kept in proportion. Besides, altruistic views on such matters are unlikely to make me any commercial success.

I felt I had to find an angle that was true to Hardknott values, and that of my own, but allow me to start work so early. What I knew I wanted to do was provide a bit of fun, humour, and something genuinely for free without some form of cynical “free if you buy our stuff” nonsense, which if you think about it isn’t free at all.

Music is a bit of a passion for me. I might not be brilliant at composing, performing, recording, mixing etc, but it’s a bit of a fun hobby which I don’t enjoy often enough.  Contrary to the impression I sometimes give, I love a bit of fun. Starting so early, I thought I’d have a bash at my own Christmas song. But what to do? I couldn’t afford to pay royalties to cover some existing song. Neither did I think I was good enough to pen my own, as it would be bound to be so tacky that even I’d be embarrassed.

I looked at the words and music for “We wish you a Merry Christmas” expecting them to have some form of recent copyright associated, only to find it seems to be a 16th Century traditional song. But, how to contemporise it? For a start it’s in ¾ time. Most contemporary popular stuff is 4/4 time. I looked on YouTube and found one or two “rock waltzes” and decided something up-tempo was perfectly possible.

It had to be a little daft. The idea was to start the track fairly twee. I hit on the idea of beer glasses as a kind of improvised glockenspiel. That seemed to work OK. From there I added acoustic guitar, mandolin and octave mandolin. Then came in the bass, electric rhythm and drums before overlaying with the melody on harmonised electric guitars and a rising keyboard power chord base. I wanted to finish properly rocky, rousing and raucous. Partly to show that Hardknott believes it is part of the contemporisation of a flagging, tired traditional UK beer culture. Part of the fun of craftisaion we are now seeing.

Filming on the day of bottling was something of a challenge. Not least of which making sure that the safety of staff and my precious musical instruments alike were protected. The staff were great, and no-one was hurt. I did drop my silent Yamaha guitar when climbing down off the tanks, much to my deep distress. You’ll be pleased to know, perhaps, that it lives to play another day.

Getting the team, and some friends, to provide a community rousing choral vocals seemed to set of the whole tone just right. However, the finale could be considered just a little bit too much free-beer powered. That final night of shooting did leave me feeling in a great mood for Christmas way earlier than I have since I was about 7 years of age, so that’s worth it for sure.

The final result is, I believe, a great bit of Christmas fun. I have decided to allow free distribution, public playing, even for commercial purposes, provided direct commercial gain is not sought for its distribution or playing (other than appropriate distribution costs associated. I believe this allows mass media to play without me expecting a royalty payment. It’s perhaps hoping too much, but it’s be great to get a play on the radio) , and that Hardknott is attributed. This means that it can be copied onto your iPod, given to friends, played in the pub (no PRS or PPL charges apply) or even used for promoting your own beer. Now, that’s our Christmas gift to the world, how good are we?

Me, as Captain Hook in the forthcoming Millom Panto.
Yes, I know, it isn’t exactly top quality, and expecting you to want to play it might be asking too much, but just remember, it’s just a bit of fun and worth every penny it cost you. All I’d like is for it to be distributed widely, promoting the Hardknott name, so we sell all our Figgy Pudding and other beers. If that happens I might get a new toy for Christmas to help me make better Hardknott videos. (Please Santa, I want a GoPro camera and a gimble for my Quadcopter. And if the budget will stretch, a portable digital sound recordery thing. Zoom do a good one. Ta)

But you know, just to prove I'm not just making up this apparent change of heart over the whole Christmas thing, I've also gone and got myself involved with the local Pantomime. They were looking for a menacing type person to act the part of Captain Hook. They couldn't find anyone suitable, so had to make do with me.

Merry Christmas!!


Phil said...

Well, that was fun. I believe in a thing called Christmas!

Brewers Union Local 180 said...