Friday 22 January 2016

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival

This week started somewhat badly. My New Year's plan of getting out into the Cumbrian Fells more was actioned by a day out on Saturday. Parking on the small, untreated side road and getting out of the car onto sheet ice on a slight incline resulted in me falling flat on my back, quite literally. The resultant injury to my ribs necessitated combined use of ibuprofen and co-codamol. I mention it here party because it is relevant to the story, but much more importantly because I crave a little sympathy, although I doubt it'll be forthcoming.

Of course we all know that co-codamol must never be taken in conjunction with alcohol. the codeine can make one disorientated and dizzy, as can alcohol, and we couldn't possibly want to double such effects now would we? So on Wednesday, with some trepidation and a pocket full of painkillers, I headed along with Ann and Scott to the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival trade session.

Before we arrived we felt it necessary to visit Piccadilly Tap. I hadn't been completely paying attention to what was going on since it opened, but something, somewhere told me that Stonch aka @jeffreyjohnbell had a hand in the goings on at said establishment. Besides, we'd also been alerted to there being keg Infra Red on tap, and it is always good to check our beers in the wild and ensure top class quality.

To our marginal surprise, we found the man himself behind the bar. Additionally, there was several other folk including @ErlangerNick and @ArthurJScargill present, making the visit very worthwhile. Both Infra Red and Jeffrey were in top form. Unfortunately, Ann decided to order a half pint of something at about 8%, before lunch. I hurried her to drink up as we needed to move on. She can get very silly when strong beer hits her stomach so quickly. Me, however, found that the combination of codeine and alcohol to be pleasant enough, and so off to the festival we toddled via a Turkish restaurant, to which Scott wanted to take us.

This year the Manc Beer Fest has relocated to Manchester Central Convention Complex, better know to me as the G-MEX centre. I'm not sure why, but it seems the authorities failed to send me the memo to say it had change its name.

I'd must report to being quite impressed with the venue. Central to Manchester makes it very easy to access. Spacious, and at least on Wednesday, plenty of seating was to be had. Queues did develop for the toilets, and I'd be interested in seeing how that develops on Saturday, but otherwise all very pleasant.

Very pleased to bump into The Pub Curmudgeon and various other beery people too many to list here. Not least of all was The Tandleman, busy organising of course, it is partly his gig after all. Thankfully I got a chance to discuss a little detail regarding the live beer discussion that is likely to be the most electric discussion on beer so far this century. I've been invited, as part of a "star-studded" panel, to discuss beer with the general public.

Here is the official words off the beer festival website:


Saturday festival-goers can take a foyer seat and join in The Great Manchester Beer Debate, a free discussion on Saturday afternoon, starting at 2.30pm.

If you’re opinionated, interested or passionate about beer and everything associated with making, promoting or just drinking it, we have a star-studded panel for you. Chaired by Connor Murphy – who may take every opportunity to promote the first Manchester Beer Week in June – the panel comprises:

Peter Alexander – our Deputy Organiser who blogs about beer as Tandleman
Dave Bailey – HardKnott Brewery owner, brewer and force majeure
Jerermy Stull – Beermoth co-owner and man of opinions
Mark Welsby – Runaway brewer and non-shrinking violet
We expect it to be a rather more lively affair than the BBC’s fast-fading Question Time, and the Chair hopes that questions will flow – especially from “you, yes you – the chap at the back holding the pint”.

All welcome, no charge.

I'm looking forward to it. Besides, I am hopeful there will be a KeyKeg of our new beer, Brownian Motion 4.5%, a salted smoked porter. CAMRA have moved to a position where they are now allowing KegKegs of beer at festivals. This is one of the first such festivals to take advantage of this splendid compromise, and very welcome from my perspective.

And the co-codamol/alcohol combination? My biggest worry was that Scott got somewhat silly towards the end of our visit to Manchester. Despite my pleas for him not to make me laugh, he simply continued to attempt to do so. The train journey started as a mildly uncomfortable but highly amusing giddy affair which at its pinnacle  resulted in Ann comparing Cliff Richard's on stage energy with that of Mick Jagger. "That is like comparing Budweiser with Infra Red" to which the poor chap we'd been sharing a table with finally cracked up at our inebriated banter.

I was slightly bothered that my own intoxication and painkiller combo would result in masking further aggravation of my rib-cage injury. However, yesterday morning I seemed to have woken up quite well, and today I am, so far, painkiller free. Watch out on Saturday, I might even be fighting fit. It would be irresponsible for me to suggest that codeine and alcohol is a cure-all remedy, but my own selfless research, and statistically insignificant sample of one, might show worthy of further research.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Hardknott Stream - moving forward

Our little project to launch a Live Streaming event has been interesting. We enjoyed doing the couple of trials and now need to take stock of both the production issues and the technical issues alike. I'm looking for any feedback, constructive criticism or any other input to the idea. The viewing statistics make it good enough to consider further efforts. 53 viewers, 9 hours 49 minutes total viewing time on our last pilot and does make the effort we put in worth further consideration.

The biggest challenge of course is upload speed. Even the rental of a room with supposed fibre broadband only achieved just short of 1Mbit/s, which isn't really fast enough to stream 720pand not exactly what I'd say is "super fast" But we've ordered our own FTTC service which should arrive in a couple of weeks. It is claimed we should be able to upload at up to 19.5Mbits/s - we shall see.

The other technical problem is deciding exactly how to input the video sources. I have a couple of capture devices, but it seems I cannot plug both into the same computer. The software does not recognise both devices and has a bit of a meltdown. Getting a second source into the system involves two computers and using screen sharing and screen capture. All a bit messy and introduces lags that cause more nightmares.

We then there is the question of how to move forward the whole concept; How to utilise the technology to provide an on-line streamed "program" that has some added value of being live. My thoughts were to have social media engagement, however this appeared to produce no interaction, despite us having people on hand to deal with it.

We scripted about 20 minutes and in the end, with adlibs, this probably caused us to run over our target 30 minutes by another 10 minutes. However, it is our channel, so other than ensuring we do not bore people perhaps this is not an issue. My thoughts are that scripting helps to ensure sticking to topics and ensures flow. However it always risks making the whole thing to rigid and formal, which is not quite what I'm looking for.

Further considerations are the news items. Of course most of my sources of beer news are freely available on the internet. Conversely, it surprises me sometimes when in talking to people and mention news-worthy topics that I thought everyone would already know and somehow they slip through the net.

The pile of gear I used for last show
So, for content and style I'm keen to get feedback.

Returning to technical issues, the other slight logistical consideration is the set-up and clear-down time. The amount of equipment I seem to need to make it work to the level of technical perfection I'm looking for results in a small mountain of gear. Some of this gear is from my home office, other stuff is my personal music-related gear (to try and sync the audio and video and have reasonable audio quality and flexibility) and some is from the office at the brewery. All in all a small effort to get it going. I may rationalise this and the next event run from my home location, which is actually where most of the gear is, and where the fibre broadband will be installed.

Finally, the one thing that was a definite success in my view was getting a guest to appear. On this occasion it was Jon Kyme from Stringers brewery. He's a good chap, and his other half Becky controlled the telepromter most competently, despite various excursions off-script by Ann and I. We need to look at how we can include other brewers or beer drinkers in the whole concept. Perhaps we can take it on the road, assuming we can find venues with good upload broadband speeds.

Ann and I will be running a cut-down show tomorrow night at 19:30. Ann is planning on showing how to make a desert that we invented when we used to run a pub - Blue Bore Bomb, which is a blue cheese and white chocolate fondant filled crunch based dark chocolate covered bomb. It's surprisingly delicious and goes rather well with barley wine or similar.

I'm hoping to mess around in the background whilst taking various safety measure that will reduce the risks associated with any alcohol consumption.


1720p is a standard of HD video. I'd prefer to go for 1080p, being full HD video, but that would require some huge bandwidth, and besides, I'm not sure I have the video source capability at the moment. We could really do with a minim of 3Mbit/s to be comfortable, and more is always handy.

Saturday 9 January 2016

Life risks

I like taking risks. I also like to manage those risks. The most satisfying risk that I take is various forms of mountaineering. I've enjoyed rock climbing, scrambling1 and alpine mountaineering, including traversing glaciers and navigating serious rock-fall areas. It is all about understanding and managing that risk. Making sure that serious injury or even death are kept to very low probability is actually something that makes the activities worthwhile. One of my favourite mountaineering quotes is by Edward Whymper;
"Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end."
But then, this is in direct contradiction of the need for excitement. If no risks exist then the whole buzz from doing it disappears. Equally, especially when mountaineering in the Alps, or other major snow and ice bound regions, just getting to the top necessitates speedy movement and deploying excessive safety measures would result in failure to reach the objective. So I also subscribe to the  Tibetan saying;
"It is better to live for one day as a tiger than to live for a thousand years as a sheep."
There is one thing in life that we can be absolutely certain about; we will die, sometime, somewhere and of something. We might die many years from now, and of course we all hope this will be the case. Some of us will last less time, be it through illness or accident. Few of us will have too much idea, except for life expectancy statistics, when that is likely to be. I for one would prefer to die knowing that I've had a fulfilling and exciting life, rather than living to a grand age and achieving nothing.

Some people are risk averse, I don't judge that. If knowing a risk is present makes you feel unhappy then don't take that risk. Moreover, what one person sees as an acceptable risk in exchange for pleasure another will recoil. I expect many people find my pleasure from mountains difficult to understand. Conversely, I find the excitement associated with the risk of losing money on gambling completely baffling, but who I am to judge people who take pleasure from that activity?

Motor sport, cycling, scuba diving, motor cycling, sailing, sky diving, or even base-jumping wearing a wing suit carry risks. Drinking alcohol in significant amounts does carry a risk, but most of us understand that risk already and accept it as part of what we do.

We are told that drinking any amount of alcohol carrys a risk. We are told that this conclusion is based on scientific research. I will, in time, examine and give my own take on the leap from hard statistical data to the conclusions. I am fairly sure that the conclusions have a bias that results in them being significantly unscientific, but because they are based on science, the general public will swallow the story.

The hidden agenda is of course a need to raise revenue from alcohol duty. This latest report will give the treasury carte blanche to raise duty rates in the coming months, I am fairly sure of that.

However, the advice is based purely on the evidence of apparent mortality. It does not take into account the pleasure that alcohol brings to people. It does not take into account the fact that alcohol is part of our culture, part of our way of life. It does not even reflect the fact, recognised in the detail, that the effect of alcohol is also related to an individual's tolerance of alcohol.

It does not bring out into the open the fact that the seasoned drinker, who consumes alcohol every day, is actually at similar risk compared to someone who drinks significantly less but crams it into one session per week.2

The guidelines now state that irrespective of your body type, or metabolism, or genderwe should all limit our drinking the same. They do not reflect the fact that there are groups of people at higher risk, and conversely groups of people at lower risk. The guidelines are simply a one size fits all lowest common denominator figure, despite the fact that the details in the data show that there are significant variations in that risk.

I really fear some big changes to legislation, and it is hinted at in the documentation I've read. I believe that mandatory health warnings on all packaging and advertising is just around the corner. This is going to place a huge burden on us small producers. All our labels will need to be reviewedand I am fairly certain that mandated website health warnings are likely.

These burdens are much harder for us small producers to cope with compared with significantly larger producers. This contradicts the fact that I would consider, in general, the type of drinker that enjoys cask beer, craft beer or any other artisanal alcoholic beverage to generally be a more responsible and lower risk.

I fear for the viability of many small producers in this ever increasing burdensome, legislatively hungry, risk adverse culture.

Moreover, I worry that we are finding ourselves in an era where we forget the less tangible benefits of social cohesion that regular drinking achieves. It fails to recognise that hard working people deserve the relaxation and escape that a few sensible drinks bring.

Even if there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, and I'm still processing the information to see how true that actually is, the most recent guidelines fails to recognise the fact that perhaps these tiny risks are in fact worth the greater benefits. But most importantly, the conclusions drawn to achieve the guidelines do not reflect what I think is in the detail of the data. Moreover much of the data is from various studies over various countries. I feel that the distance between the people creating the data in the first place and the final recommendations to the Chief Medical Officer have so many layers of interpretation, coupled with hidden agendas, to render the whole conclusion significantly unscientific. I hope to be able to shed doubt in further posts regarding the distance the final conclusions are from the hard facts.


1A form of rock climbing on easier, but often longer routes in remoter areas. The risks can be greater as ropes are often not used and the consequence of a fall, although less likely, can be significant.

2A man aged between 18-34 who drinks about 42 units over a week is at about the same risk as the same demographic who consumes about 8 units in one day. 42 units per week is 6 units every single day!

3I actually think that if you compared body mass rather than gender we would find that actually this is a much more realistic correlation and that actually the only gender correlation is due to the fact that women statistically have a lower body mass. However, to suggest that you can drink more if you are heavier this would be contrary to other health messages the authorities would like to propagate.

4The cost associated with making sure we are compliant with allergens is by no means insignificant. Redesign, reprinting and wasted stock of labels that are no longer compliant.

Friday 8 January 2016

Statement from SIBA

I've been out in the van all day. I am desperate to blog about today's news that the chief medical officer, who's salary is paid for by us, the people, has declared some fairly outrageous things about alcohol consumption. You can imagine, as a brewer, I am absolutely spitting feathers. I will have my own angle to bring, however, Mike Benner, our SIBA MD has put out a splendid statement, echos many of my thoughts, so I copy it here.

“It is clearly important for the industry to consider the scientific evidence behind the new guidelines, not least because there is a widespread recognition of evidence of certain benefits associated with moderate and responsible consumption of alcohol. I think many men1 who regularly consume between 14 and 21 units of alcohol a week will be surprised to suddenly find themselves in an ‘at risk’ category and this may affect the guidelines’ credibility with many responsible drinkers, not least because they are significantly lower than guidelines in various other countries.

It’s also the case that the wider benefits on wellbeing and happiness which stem from the the responsible enjoyment of alcohol in a sociable environment such as a pub have been ignored and the industry and others need to work together to bring evidence to support this view to the fore. Enjoying a couple of beers in a pub with friends and colleagues at the end of a hard day can bring positive benefits to peoples’ lives

Britain’s independent craft breweries take pride in brewing fine high quality beers to be enjoyed by people who appreciate flavour and distinctiveness, responsibly and in moderation. I believe that, if people do respond to these guidelines by drinking less then they will inevitably turn to higher quality products for every occasion.”
Mike Benner, Managing Director of SIBA, the Society for Independent Brewers


1Pity he didn't say "people"

Thursday 7 January 2016

January and dampness

Well, here we are, 2016, don't the years fly? The last of our "children" have now grown up, surpassing the age of 18 just before Christmas. All have passed driving tests and all have some sort of career at least vaguely mapped out. Into the New Year and everyone seems to exude a mood of reflection, and those of us with an optimistic mind, a look to the future.

The evenings are noticeably moving lighter. Indeed, a fascination of mine is that the sunrise time actually got to its earliest around 12th December, rather than the midwinter date of 22nd December (at 04:44 if you are interested) The great thing about this is that by the time we get to early January sunset is moving later by several minutes per week and by the end of January by nearly quarter of an hours a week, or very close to an hour a month. By contrast the sunrise time hasn't even really started to get earlier yet, meaning mornings are still a bit depressing.

The above considerations are what helps me to get through what could otherwise be a difficult month. We've had all the fun of Christmas and New Years celebrations. To some extent, it does make me wonder how we'd cope with the dark nights if we didn't do something, despite the fact that I often cringe at the demands society seems to layer on us to conform, and part with money in a frankly unnecessary way.

For us brewers it is a time to take stock1 and look towards the future. What do we have left ready to sell, what do we need to brew to keep going and what should we brew that is new? And of course I have to say something about Dry January.

Supporters of beer, ho partake of the dubiousness of Dry January, often point to that fact that we have just had Christmas and so we brewers will now be rolling in money. Now, you might think that this is churlish to reject that notion, but every year I look at our overall position and think "So, for all that effort, we did that little?" - personally, the dearth of trade in January is by no means compensated for by Christmas, at least not from out point of view. The most poignant indicator is the bottle sales into our major retail customers, which we measure quite carefully, and I can report that overall sales have if anything been slightly down in the run-up to Christmas compared to Summer.

I'd like to explain a few things that I think are effects causing this. Firstly, most people are living it up at office parties, house parties and family get togethers. Most drinkers go with the flow. Very few of the general public care about being too snobby about what they drink when in larger social settings. Whether it be cask beer, or premium bottle ale, or craft beer if you like, then mostly this is not what is consumed during the festive season2. People are buying bulk, piling their trolleys high with all sorts of goodies, but it seems to me that the majority of the extra sales are in slabs of lager, John Smiths or whatever. Craft beer seems to not go through the peak we might expect.

So, Christmas isn't as wonderful to us as you might think. Couple that with the fact that Cumbria's hospitality trade is significantly seasonal, with by my estimates of an additional 150,0003 people in the county during the peak months compared to about 500,000 permanent residents. Of these extra 150,000 people many increase their consumption of alcohol when on holiday, and often they enjoy sampling the local beers. Add to that the very wet December we have had, which we certainly believe has damaged trade in our part of the world, even though Hardknott itself has not been directly hit by floods. Cumbria in general, and local brewing in particular needs you the beer drinker more than ever.

I can't leave a discussion about January without the brewer's two biggest headaches associated with the seasonality of brewing. There is the first, that of cash-flow. Beer is a low margin beverage. It might well be that you, the beer drinker, thinks that the raw materials the go into beer are low-cost. And to some extent this is true4, but overall it is fairly expensive to make, loans to buy stainless steel, energy costs, labour (we employ people you know, good people at that) insurance, transport and of course duty. Keeping the show on the road during the difficult months is no mean feat. Any benefit of December, and the tight margins we see, do not make up for the deficit in January. We still need to pay rent, rates, staff wages snd various other overheads.

The second problem we have is yeast. We have been very successfully propagating our own yeast now for about 18 months. Prior to this we were using a combination of dried yeast and less than successful short-term purchased wet yeast which we were propagating until it failed. We now have a yeast strain trained to do what we want it to do. After our brewing staff, Scott and Sarah, our yeast is arguably our most valuable living asset. Indeed, even that comparison might be doubtful, and I suspect even Scott and Sarah might agree there. Keeping yeast going needs a brewing schedule5, and this schedule is not easy to keep going through dearth and surfeit cycles. We manage and train our yeast with careful selection and storage of croppings and often have more than two lines going at any one time.

As we move forward into 2016 we are looking at our next steps, how develop the Hardknott concept. We've come a long way in the 10 years we've been brewing but we think we still have more to offer the beer world. It is easy to get bogged down in the post Christmas blues, and despite Dryanuray nonsense, which I'm sure would only serve to increase a sense of loss and actually promotes binge activities6, I want to look forward positively and enthusiastically.

I knew this piece would turn into an attack on the concept of Dry January before I started writing it. I know that many people have their own reasons for deciding to enter into the practice, and I know some of you drink Hardknott beer. There is then a danger that I'll upset a few people that genuinely support Hardknott 11 months of the year. This is the reason I started with the fact that daylight is returning in the evenings. This is a positive and can be used to look with optimism to the future, which is in direct contrast in my mind to the removal of all fun that post festivities can represent.

Dry January? I do hope their is less rain, for sure, December was very wet. We could do very much with you all turning a concept on its head and helping to drink January dry.

So, here's to 2016, I'll be having a beer tonight, and a few on Saturday if nothing else. Whatever you do in January I hope you enjoy it, I'm looking forward to seeing the sky lighten every night, and indeed a steady improvement in a surprisingly linear way, as a result of the Equation of Time, right through to June, and moreover, keeps the evenings better right through from late December right through to September.

Happy New Year to everyone.


1Indeed, an opening stock take is important to start the New Year.

2Yes, I know mostly those of you that read this blog might well be a bit choosy. You may well take along beers of your own choice to that family get-together. But it is interesting, and with apologies to the very well meaning person should they read this, I remember a hurried trip to an off licence with a new partner of a family member to get the beers in. Dropping off said person whilst waiting in a less than ideal parking place. Returning to the car with the claim "I just got Stella, everyone likes that"

3This is based on some fairly crude assumptions. I'd love to get more reliable data, but this would cost me money to obtain. However, there are approximately 19.5 million visitor nights per year. That equates to an extra 53,000 people staying per night if averages across the year. However, "serviced" accommodation occupancy roughly doubles in peak months (~40% in January compared to ~80% in August) and self catering, camping and caravan accommodation roughly quadrupling (15-20% in January compared to 65-80% in August) besides, it feels much busier in August - these figures are taken from

4Raw materials can in fact make up a very tiny proportion of the costs associated with brewing beer. Even at Hardknott, where we think we spend quiet a lot on hops, our raw materials are about halve the value of the beer duty. I shudder to think what the ratio of raw materials to beer duty is in a macro-brewed beer, where duty is twice what we pay and they skimp to death the raw material bill.

5Yeast works best if it can be cropped from one beer and pitched right on into the next beer. Wet yeast can be stored, perhaps for as much as 2 weeks if you are careful, but it's viability drops scarily low.

6You see, for most people I meet who claim to be doing Dry January, it seems to mainly to make themselves feel better due to excessiveness of the festive season. Personally, I would prefer everyone just balanced their lifestyle all year round. Drink great, flavoursome beer, all year, and in appropriate amounts with perhaps some dry days mid week. Alcohol Concern seem to be generating an effect that supports binging to excess in December on mostly crap drinks because it is OK, you can all "detox" in January.