Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Overlord returns to the track

It is no secret that many years and several pounds of excess weight ago I used to do a bit of motorcycle racing, with quite a bit of success as far as it went. A few weeks ago I was invited to take part in an endurance race, riding as part of a team with my old friend Ian Hutchinson. because there is no fool like an old fool, I agreed.

the upshot is that Ian and I shall be competing at a four hour endurance event at Langbargh circuit near Middlesbrough on, get this, the 30th of December 2015! Madness! 

In order to make this venture worthwhile it occurs to me that it would be a nice idea to attempt to use the spectacle of an overweight, middle aged brewery magnate wobbling around on a motorcycle for hours on end in terrible winter conditions to do a bit of good for Great Heck Brewery's charity of choice, namely Yorkshire Air Ambulance. To that end I'll be reaching out to all our customers and my friends to stump up some cash.

Great Heck Brewery will match the total of donations up to £100 and add it to the contribution to YAA. 

Here's a link to a justgiving page so you can make a contribution if you so wish.


Friday, 18 September 2015

What do parents have the right to consent to on behalf of children?

Earlier this week I received a letter from school telling me that they want my kids' fingerprints so they can operate a cashless system in the canteen. My letter to the headmistress can be seen here: http://greatheckbrewery.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/yesterday-i-received-letter-from-my.html

The issue has been fermenting in my brain to the point that it woke me up at 5am this morning and caused me to write this email to Human Rights Watch's Joanna Nowak. I hope you find it interesting.

Dear Joanna,

Earlier this week I received a letter from my children's school stating that they are to implement a cashless system in the canteen, it said that they 'Require' their fingerprints to operate it. There is an opt-out available with a lower level of security, which I will be taking them up on.

I find the idea of harvesting biometric data from school children very disturbing for reasons which are set out in this blog post (a reproduction of my letter to the headmistress).  http://greatheckbrewery.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/yesterday-i-received-letter-from-my.html

Since publicising this in my small way it has come to my attention that this practice is widespread and it occurs to me that, in addition to the concerns laid out in my letter, there is a human rights issue in relation to the right of the children whose parents consent to this practice. When those kids become adults they will have the right to withhold their fingerprints from the authorities except in certain circumstances, e.g. they are subject to a criminal investigation. If their parents have previously consented to their fingerprints or other biometric information having been taken whilst they were too young to give consent themselves then their right to withhold is effectively nullified. The State already has the information without their consent.

As my letter to school says, I do not impute any sinister motive to the schools in collecting this data but I believe that its very existence is very dangerous and that the school system has no right to collect such data in order to operate such schemes.

The school replied to my letter without addressing any of my concerns, justifying the scheme by saying "We are one of the few schools in East Yorkshire not already doing this." A line of reasoning which never used to work on teachers when I was at school.

My children are very keen to be a part of this scheme but I won't let them. They are being conditioned to give up their rights literally in return for food. It amounts to grooming the population for subservience to the State whilst they are at their most susceptible. I don't think that a parent should have the right to consent to this on behalf of their children any more than they should have the right to consent to anything else which requires adult consent, for example marriage.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and whether you'd be interested in helping to give the issue some publicity.

All The Best,

Denzil Vallance

(PS: A select few people are already following this saga so I will be making this email public.)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Snaith School to harvest fingerprints from children

NOTE: There is a follow up to this article here.

Yesterday I received a letter from my children's school saying they 'require' the fingerprints of the children so that they can operate a cashless system in the canteen. Here is my response, please share far and wide:

Harwinn House, Main Street
Great Heck
DN14 0BQ
Tel: 01977 661430
Mob: 077233 81002
Regd. No. 05967347
17 September 2015

Jean Pickerill
The Snaith School
Pontefract Rd,
DN14 9LB

Dear Ms Pickerill,

I am writing in response to the letter I received yesterday about the new cashless system you are set to introduce for the children on October 12th. I will certainly not be giving permission for my children to have their fingerprints registered on your scheme. In fact I don’t even feel that I have a moral right to give such a permission on their behalf if they are deemed too young to do so themselves. They are not my property, they are people.

My reason for writing to you is not my attitude to my own children but far more importantly my deep concerns about the very existence of such a scheme in , of all places, a school. First of all I would like to make clear that I do not impute any sinister motive to the school in the implementation of the system. My concern is that with the best will in the world and the most diligent application of data protection rules the very existence of biometric records of school children (I can barely believe I just had to type that phrase) is terribly dangerous.

During the German occupation of France during the Second World War, municipal and school records which had been collected for legitimate reasons and carefully stored away were used for perverted purposes by the occupying Nazis. Huge numbers of people were deported, robbed, used as slaves, for medical experiments and executed.

I don’t doubt that as your letter states, the fingerprint is stored as an algorithm but this is pretty academic. The fact is that unless it were possible to recognise the child from his or her fingerprint using the system it would be useless. Imagine the consequences for the entire cohort of children if this technology and information were to fall into the hands of those who wished to do down certain groups of them. Especially given that the school and other State institutions routinely collect information about the ethnicity and religion of the kids. (I don’t co-operate with that either by the way.)

It is all very well that there is no public record of my Children’s race or religion and that you won’t take their fingerprints but even so, the very lack of this information in relation to a small group could, if the records fell into the wrong hands, be used to mark that group out as trouble makers.

Furthermore by implementing this system on a cohort of impressionable young kids you would be conditioning them to give biometric information away willy-nilly before they are old enough to consent to it themselves. We are already one of the most routinely CCTV photographed populations in the World. Surely it is my job as a parent and yours as an educator to warn children of the dangers of this kind of intrusion. Not to soften them up for a life of being snooped on by the State.

I have nothing against a chashless system in principle. They have been operated in numerous workplaces over many years using a card and PIN system.

Therefore I implore you to abandon this new scheme altogether, substituting a card and pin system in its place or at least delay it so that the case against it may be put to other parents who may not have considered these points fully before giving consent. At the very least I would ask you to circulate this letter to all parents giving it equal prominence to the letter I received yesterday.

I shall also be writing to local MPs and media and I shall tell them as I tell you now that other than on this issue I am very impressed with Snaith School and that I would recommend it to anyone.

Best Regards

NOTE: There is a follow up to this article here.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


I'm no friend to the public health industry. I'm also sceptical about most charities, especially health ones. MacMillan on the other hand is, as far as I know, very good. It provides nurses to help care for people with cancer. That's a great thing to do and I applaud them for it.

I am very annoyed with them now because of their latest temperance campaign. TV commercials, media coverage, all asking people to give up drink for October. 

Having a month off the sauce is no doubt a very wise course of action for everybody, maybe even as often as once a year, but since when was it MacMillan's job to add its voice to the throng of puritanical guilt trippery coming from the largely publicly funded public health "lobby"? 

Furthermore, do you remember the fuel protests of the early 21st century? Some people tried to organise a protest whereby nobody bought any petrol on one certain day of the week. The point being that the supply chain wouldn't be able to cope and the oil companies would have to slash prices on that day or face overflowing storage tanks. Same goes for the drinks industry. Nobody's saying you have to get pissed every day. It's good for people to have some time off the sauce. But all at the same time? That could push quite a few businesses, social amenities and livelihoods over the edge.

There are already plenty of preachers in the health charity sector without MacMillan adding its hitherto sensible voice to the din. If you are involved in or value the beer and pub industry you might like to think about suspending any future support for MacMillan until next October when you'll find out whether they intend to continue their assault on your living. Unlike MacMillan however, I'm not going to tell you what to do.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Annual "Complain about CAMRA" season in full swing.

It's that time of year again. After the wonderful preamble of complaints about what beers CAMRA chooses to buy for the massive beer festival it puts on without any subsidy, it's now time for the main event. Complaining About The Winner Of Champion Beer Of Britain. Deep joy.

Not being one to go with the herd I have two points to make here. The first being specific to the CBOB competition, the second being generally about CAMRA.

1. The CBOB competition is an extremely high profile event (whose rules are a mystery to me) which serves the purpose, among other things, of highlighting real ale to those who may not have tried it. 

Everyone I know who moans about the result annually is, like me, into more radical, hoppy beers, IPA's and suchlike. Good for them. I would like to pose this question to such moaners as a group. Do you think that the best way to convert people from John Smiths Smooth etc. or mass lager to real ale (that's the aim, forget craft beer for now) is to get them to try a West Coast style IPA? Really? 

I don't. My experience is that my road from drinking lager and not really liking it to swilling uber hoppy 10%ABV IPAs and loving it went through a good few stages. Gateway beers if you like. In the same way that a proportion of kids who enjoy eating candy cigarettes will end up doing crack, there is a progression to these things. I started off with extremely trad real ales and ended up drinking keg IPAs. Never would have happened without CAMRA.

This is my point with a lot of moaning about CAMRA. There is no need for them actively to promote keg IPAs. What they are doing already is massively helping that section of the market.

Results like this will encourage people to try a pretty inoffensive, technically good real ale. IPA makers should be pleased about this, the same way crack dealers are pleased when someone tries Marijuana.

2. Somebody said to me yesterday, "CAMRA should be abolished." I think this phrase neatly encapsulates the attitude that a small group has toward CAMRA but I would argue that it is based on a completely false premise. 

Because of CAMRA's huge success it has a lot of influence. It doesn't have that influence because of legislation or because it is in receipt, like the public health lobby for instance, of public funds. Therefore it cannot be abolished. It has to answer to nobody but its members. 

If it was failing maybe its members might hold it to account. They might even complain about who won CBOB, but I'm afraid I have to remind the moaners that all it has to answer for is more success than any other consumer group in the UK ever.

I personally would like to thank CAMRA for its role in creating the fantastic, exciting and varied beer market that we operate in. I salute you. I may even do so with a pint of Boltmaker.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Attacks on Progressive Beer Duty. Consumers, know your enemy

I have long held the suspicion that there are dark forces at work in many places in the brewing industry.

The three particular individuals who have been brave enough to say anything publicly about this are Jonathan Neame of the longest established family brewer Shepherd Neame, Stephen Pugh of long established family brewer Adnams and David Grant of Moorhouses.

In this article David Grant claims that the burgeoning number of breweries is stifling quality and innovation. He also accuses PBD recipients of using PBD to slash prices thus being unfair competition. 

This may well have been how he used it whilst he was in receipt of it, and there are a few people who do do that but for the most part they don't get very far or last very long because that isn't what the market wants. Would anyone who has been interested in the craft ale scene for the past few years recognise that declining quality and lack of innovation are a problem? Whose beers are we talking about here I wonder? Is it Magic Rock? Summer Wine? Mallinsons? Great Heck? Are Moorhouses beers seriously percieved as more innovative and of higher quality than those? And if so, by whom?

It seems obvious to me that the reverse is in fact true. We are involved in many beer festival orders and the number of un-servable cask ales at these events has plummeted over the past 5 years or so so that it is now and extremely rare event. As for stifled innovation, I can only assume David doesn't get out much.

Presumably Moorhouses are struggling to sell their huge volumes. A quick calculation based on the figures given in the article shows that their target average selling price per firkin is £56. Not rock bottom by any means but Mr Grant should see how much the innovative breweries can get for a firkin. 

Adnams are a bit different. The Adnams website has this article from Stephen Pugh. Unlike either Shepherd Neame or Moorhouses, Adnams are an innovative brewer and they have cleverly become one of the leading craft brewers in England and they are to be congratulated for that. A call for a reform of PBD in this case isn't because they don't understand the market. It's because they want to protect their long standing family property interests, just as I would in their position. 

It's perfectly rational for them but when I see a delegation of Adnams folk at SIBA conference a shiver runs down my spine.

Bloggers please bear in mind that however many free bottles of beer Adnams send you to blog about they spend money every year campaigning for your choice of breweries to be curtailed because they don't like the competition. If you're fine with that please carry on as you are.

Now we come to Jonathan Neame. He's the boss of Sheps and Chairman of the BBPA. Although I can now find no trace of it to provide you with a link, please take my word for the fact that Mr Neame recently appeared in print with his BBPA hat on attacking PBD as a barrier to consolidation in the business, yet in the Telegraph in 2005 he had said,

 "I think consolidation is unquestionably a threat as you need to look at your cost base but it's also an opportunity as there are fewer competitors."

Evidently now he thinks more of the opportunity bit than the threat bit. But of course as the boss of Britain's oldest independent brewery a pro-consolidation stance clearly only applies to other people. Otherwise why doesn't he sell out to Carlsberg for the good of the industry?

Here we have three individuals attacking PBD from slightly different angles but they all have one thing in common. They believe you have too much choice. They want to return to the days when breweries dictated market trends and take away power from the consumer.

The direction these people wish to take the brewing industry in is one where consolidation leads to uniformity and the elimination of everything except commodity beer. Sales will then be divided up between those who are privileged to be at the top table according to strokes of the pen in supermarket distribution and property deals on pubs.

Do you want that?


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Another Expansion

I haven't blogged for a while so it's past time for a post: This isn't the usual biting insight though, just an update on our current expansion and where we're going with the brewery and the beers.

Some of you may already be aware that we decided to expand the brewery again, it's only just over two years since we more than tripled our fermenting capacity, in the face of demand which pretty consistently outstrips supply.

The plan, which is well underway, will see us move everything except the office and the brewery itself off the site at Great Heck to a new refrigerated packaging site and warehouse in the neighbouring village of Balne, about three miles away. This will allow us ultimately almost to double our fermenting capacity at Great Heck, and will instantly give us an extra 20 brewer's barrels per week of capacity.

This will be achieved by converting our two existing 12 barrel conditioning tanks into two 10 barrel fermenters. Our existing procedures see all beer spend some time in one of the CTs before being racked into casks and this will still be the case using a fleet of 800 litre mobile Stainless Steel CTs which will be filled at Great Heck and taken, for storage and emptying into the appropriate containers, on a trailer to the new site which is currently being specially adapted for that exact job.

The logistics of this sometimes strike people as a little far-fetched but in fact it will eliminate many of our operational problems here at Great Heck. Notably reducing manual handling and it will give us a much better chance of filling the correct casks with the correct beer, thus giving more efficient utilisation of our container fleet.

Cask washing, vehicle loading and storage are also being moved to Balne which means I should get my back yard back! Other positive results are that we will be able drastically to reduce the number of vehicle movements in the village of Great Heck and in addition to an extra fermenting room, which is currently used for cask storage, we will be able to develop a staff canteen and visitor centre/bar at Great Heck in one of the current coldstores.

A new Role is being created as part of the project. Whilst Jarno @drumlordsj will be in charge of production at Great Heck, Karine @3somegirl will be promoted to Overlord of Balne where she'll be working with new boy Barry Weetman and our new drayman, Ged.

The extra space at Balne means we are going to be filling our own keykegs and there's a possibility of doing our own bottling at some point in the future as there is potential to expand our new premises when we are ready. Keykeg products will start off with Yakima IPA, Shankar IPA and Black Jesus. We'll also soon be kegging Amish Mash in proper Steel kegs and making it available to pubs looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous permanent German Weizen.

Thanks to all our lovely customers, now in the UK and abroad, we are experiencing huge demand and we're really looking forward to being able to come a bit closer to meeting it. Hopefully our beers should be just a little bit easier for you to find in the coming year. I hope you enjoy them.