Tuesday 15 March 2016

Hardknott Keg at BeerX

It's that time of year again. Lots of brewers will descend on Sheffield Ice, talk about beer, and brewing,  drink lots of beer and then start talking bollocks. It's becoming a bit of a thing in the brewer's calendar.

Yes, that's right, it's SIBA BeerX

In previous years the only beers allowed on the bar were those that gained a medal in the regional competitions. That's quite nice for us this year as Azimuth gained medals for both cask and bottle at Bolton in October. We'll be on the cask bar for part of the festival with Azimuth. We won't have keg in the national finals mainly because we didn't enter at the regional level this year. Silly us.

This year there is a craft keg bar for a select few breweries. I'm told the selection was done by way of a random draw from those breweries that showed an interest. We missed out first time around, and were on the reserve list. However, someone dropped out, so we are now going to be there with our beer.

My intention is to have Azimuth on keg permanently. Irrespective of the assertions to the contrary by the cask lovers brigade Azimuth is just stunning on keg and way better than cask. The extra carbonation lifts the aromatics of the hop volatiles with stupendous results. Even if we don't medal at the finals, likely as there are some great beers being presented, at least we can show the general public just how great it is.

We will have two taps, so we will rotate the 2nd tap through various beers, just to give some variety. We're not sure exactly how we will do it yet, as we want to leave our options open until we see exactly how the thing pans out. However I hope to have some specials that we can rotate through, whilst balancing that against some more general crowd pleasers.

So, come along and say "hi" - most of the team will be there most of the time. Watch out on our twitter feeds to see if we change a beer out for something a bit more special.

Monday 14 March 2016

What Would YOU Do To Promote Your Brewery?

"Someone might point out the hygiene risk" said Ann "this is a food production facility"

"Yeah, OK, I can see your point" I was stood in the brewery with nothing on but a pair of boots "But in reality it would still take some effort to swing it so it touches anything important"

Ann looked down, it was quite cold "You're right" - she could see my point too.

We were discussing the pros and cons of our idea to raise a little bit of PR noise. My last post was a little negative, although it realistically details the current situation. We need to give ourselves a bit of a cash injection.

I could try to sell my body to raise a bit more money, but I suspect I'd probably make more money selling beer. As my children have all grown up and lead fairly independent lives it is too late to sell them. I need to consider doing whatever it takes to be able to buy more hops and malt. Ann was taking pictures of me naked with very little to cover any embarrassment. The whole situation being made somewhat harder by Ann reacting to my state of undress.

We need to raise the profile of Hardknott so that more people get to know about us and so buy more of our stunning beer. It is essential, to make enough noise to be noticed from our corner of Cumbria, to do things a bit more radical. This almost always causes some back-lash. The only way to mitigate this is to grow a bigger pair, swallow the criticism and be happy that profile raising has happened. After all, we might be Hardknott, but we're not soft.

It is therefore my intention to start to push out again with some risqué PR campaigns, which will undoubtedly upset some people, and likely put myself up for ridicule. However, I am determined to make the world realise that we do make great beer.

Charles Faram recently sent out some nice branded clocks. They asked brewers to take pictures of their clocks and submit them as ClockShots. Immediately the Fnar Fnar alarm sounded in my head. I simply had to get around to submitting my own version. It turned out that plucking up the courage to actually take my clothes off, get Ann to take the picture and then to submit it somewhat more troublesome.

And here it is. Obviously I'm scared that this is going to go viral, but then, that's what we need. Perhaps family and friends will be embarrassed. I think those closest to me, who know what we've fought for, and are still fighting to achieve will understand and I hope be supportive. So please, talk about that bonkers brewer at Hardknott. Perhaps you think I'm crazy, perhaps you think it's a step too far, perhaps you think 50 year old men shouldn't be posting pictures of their naked bodies on the internet. Whatever, retweet, share and comment. Call me what you want, because I can take it. Just buy my beer. If you don't, next time there will be no clock.

Having now done this, I am throwing down the gauntlet to other brewers. Who dares to do the same? Perhaps we should make a nude brewers calendar in aid of some charity or other? Who's up for it? After all, if a group of WI women can do it, why not a bunch of brewers? Calendar Brewers anyone?

Thursday 10 March 2016

Mad March

"You've not been blogging for a while" said Rob

"yeah, not had the incentive, or motivation, or inspiration to be honest" I replied "This year's beginning has been less than ideally inspirational" I complained.

Rob Millichamp is head brewer at Mordue Brewery. We had called in to pick up some empties they had collected for us, and we'd got some for them.  Despite trying very, very hard to organise better routes to market for our beer, the distribution systems have just not been performing well in terms of volume for draught beer1. So we had decided to make the trip over to the NE with some beer, and pick up the empties.

It is my feeling that this year the post Christmas beer sales slump have been worse than ever. Dry-January seems to be getting ever more popular. Yes, I'm sure you, the reader, who has decided for whatever reason that you are right to take part. You help us out every other month of the year shouldn't feel any guilt. Perhaps you are right, but it still puts a great big hole in our cash-flow and our yeast maintenance alike2. Not to mention the problem of managing stock. You see, most cask beer has at best 6 weeks best before date on it. This makes it hard to sell any stock in February that was racked at the end of December3. Rob, I noticed, has a post on his blog mentioning this headache.

I get asked, when I travel outside Cumbria, if we were effected by the floods. "Not directly" I tend dismissively reply "We're well away from any flood risk" - Which is true, but still there is a huge knock-on effect. The A591 is still severed just north of Grasmere causing a problem distributing to the north of Cumbria. Visitors to our county have been staying way in their droves meaning many of our customers are likewise ordering less beer. This, along with some significant over-supply and undercutting by new and often boring beer has resulted in a struggle at the start of the year.

Of course, there is that daft alcohol consumption advice issued by our neo-prohibitionist fitness-freak we have as a health minister. Jeez.

But we've managed to get to March, somehow. We have a couple of customers causing us some real issues with invoices remaining unpaid beyond a reasonable time, and we have suppliers quite rightly shouting for their invoices to be paid. Keeping the show going can be tricky when there is little slack at this time, how do you buy more malt and hops4 when the suppliers won't send them out until you pay down the previous? And how do you do that when you've got customers that owe from such a long time ago?

I noticed Boak and Bailey's post on a certain bar that had received public shaming on twitter. I missed that, I don't do that. I wonder if I should, but anyway us brewers talk, it's best to pay our invoices really. It turned out, after some investigations, that we too are being caught out by that very same bar that is not named in Boak and Bailey's post.  I'm not entirely sure, but I doubt that particular business will be there for much longer, and if it does go down it'll do so collectively owing us small brewers a huge amount of money. I may at that point in time have comment, it has been very tempting to do so previously about poor accounts, but you can never be sure when one might pull through good. Besides, it might not be great for customer relations in general to be seen to do such things. I decided to stop supplying one route to market after another brewer contacted me regarding late payment from the same distributor. A threat to put them on stop and perhaps take other action simply antagonised the situation.

Mixed emotions about daffodils
they'll be dust someday too.
At some point in time during the dray run around Newcastle I noticed some social media activity from Chester. A bar called Kash, which I do not believe I've been to, but have supplied with beer and have heard lots of good things about is running a beer festival. They are entitling it Forgotten Heroes. We are to take part it seems. A nice idea that warmed my heart significantly. With all the new shiny breweries staring up it does feel a little like some of us have been somewhat forgotten, despite us getting better and better and better at brewing stunning beer5.

And so that day, with it's long and tiring drive, did give me a boost, and enthusiasm to look towards a future. We've got some exciting new things going on, new beer, new plans and now that the daffodils are coming out I might just get my blogging head back. I need that inspiration, as it is difficult to focus on getting more really stunning beer out to more really great people when you feel a bit demoralised by it all. Plus, I fear this post might just be the sort of negative projection that fails to improve my situation. I need to feel inspired so that you can feel inspired about our inspirational beer. I may end up feeling a backlash from Ann and the team for posting this, but I feel it is difficult to engage my enthusiasm without projecting to people just how difficult this time of year really is. I do at least know there are far more brewers feel like this than the general beer drinker is aware of.

Meanwhile, when did you last drink a Hardknott beer? When did you last even ask in a pub or bar if they were going to get any in? Are we really forgotten heroes? Does the majority of beer drinkers no longer love Hardknott like you used to, despite the fact our beer is better than it has ever been? Have you all moved on to newer, shinier things and lost interest?

You see, what we need is y'all to buy more of our beer, then we can move the whole financial stagnation through a bit and get this show back on the damn road.


1In contrast to the supply arrangement we have with Morrisons and M & S where the margins are at least solid, if slim. The fact is that although the price to supermarkets is low, the impact on overheads is also minimal compared to draught into trade. Plus, payment terms are generally reasonable, but more importantly they pay when they say they are going to pay. All in all highly manageable, repeatable and predictable.

2Sarah, our resident microbiologist, has been doing a great job of managing our yeast, but it really needs a good brew schedule to keep it going. During January the last two years that has been a bit difficult to say the least due to dropping brew regularity. Added to that the timings get shot at due to problems with the cash-flow resulting in orders for malt being delayed as we wait for the cash to ripple through. We then find that we can't brew when we want, we don't have the right beer when we want it so as we now ramp back up for spring we can't sell to capacity.

3Who would buy beer with just a week left before best before? Or even two weeks. Most pubs start to worry if it has less than 3 weeks best before date on the cask on delivery. A week to get from us to a distributor, a second week in the distributor's warehouse. Before long that 6 weeks from racking to best before date has disappeared.

4I'd really like to single out various supplies for the variety of support, or otherwise in this regard. Some are simply fantastic. I hope you know who you are and give yourselves a huge pat on the back for helping, and frankly taking a bit of a risk. The others, well I guess you are just running your business in a tight and orderly fashion. I'm trying to do likewise.

5It continually annoys me the critiques of various brewery PR tactics. Yes, some of them are lame, naff, crass and frankly stupid. But despite assertion from some quarters it is simply not good enough just to make really, really fantastic beer. If it was we'd be doing better than we are.