Monday, 20 January 2014

Brewing Bubble. I doubt it.

I read an interesting blog today by Turnip Ale, which you can see here: Turnip Ale. The authour is carrying out research into the reasons the breweries that are failing are failing. It's an interesting question and the authour acknowledges that even those ex-brewers who co-operate in the research may not be speaking the whole truth. I can't imagine too many conversations went like this: Q. "Why do you think your brewery failed?" A. "Because i am a useless tosser." It's in most people's nature to blame outside factors for their own failures so hey ho.

My contribution to this is to take a macro view of the sector and make sweeping generalisations about what I think is going on. No change there then, that's my thing.

The article I'm referring to used a phrase I don't think I've heard before, "Brewing Bubble." I suppose I know what that means but I'm not sure whether such a thing exists. My reading of the past 6 Cask Ale Reports by SIBA, which show locally produced cask ale volumes growing at approximately the rate that the producers are expanding in number and capacity lads me to believe that it is supply that is driving growth and supply is nowhere near the potential demand as the market matures.

There is an assumption in the article, I think, that if there was plenty of demand then no breweries should be going out of business. I don't agree with that. Ever since I started my brewery in 2008 I've heard a minority of brewers complaining about there being too many breweries. Keep an eye on these guys because among the established players they are going to be the ones who are going to decline.

Again, since 2008 I've seen a massive rise in the standard quality of cask ales which is expected by the market, purely because it has been driven by competition from new entrants who have by and large astounded me with the quality of their first offerings. So many excellent breweries have opened their doors in recent years that I find them humbling and inspirational in equal measure.

The upshot of this is a phenomenon something like Moore's Law. The quality and flavour of each pint of "The Average" cask ale is increasing every year. This poses a problem for some established "Micros" whose management tend to be among those complaining about the number of new breweries. I can think of some such breweries whose products were inspirational to me 6 years ago but by merely remaining consistent have faded by comparison to "Average." The beers haven't got worse, the competition has got better, way better. IBM would have gone out of business years ago if their products had been "Consistent." 

Many established brewers have recognised this and responded by keeping pace with the higher expectations of the marketplace or even outpacing it. These brewers are doing well. Even some big regionals have responded positively, some setting up microbreweries to brew interesting craft beers on their existing sites. The managements of these companies are to be praised for their efforts. They are sufficiently open minded to realise that harking back to the old days and pointing to the consistency of your beers that used to be good enough isn't going to wash.

When I go out I'm looking to taste beers that are better than mine so i can learn from them. That's one of the things that's responsible for my brewery's success so far: We've increased production by 50% every year since we started. We didn't do that by being consistent. We did it by looking, learning and working bloody hard with total commitment to being the best. I'm not saying we are the best but the important thing is that that's what we aspire to and that means continuous improvement is integral to what we do. If that doesn't sound like how you like to run a business then I suggest you buy a newsagents or become a taxi driver rather than open a brewery. If it sounds like your idea of fun, I'll buy you a drink at the bar at some award ceremony.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

Reactionary Attitudes in (fringe) Media

It's Saturday and I'm drinking beer by the fire in my pyjamas so I finally have time to unveil my slightly amused thoughts on a "blog" which is in fact, and I apologise for this, really an article in a huge .pdf of a fanzine which you can read here . If you can't be bothered to read the whole thing you will have heard similar stuff before: "This modern hoppy beer is a load of undrinkable piss water and everyone who thinks it's good is suffereing from Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome." To provide a short summary.

The article in question was posted on Facebook by +Sue Hayward earlier this week and I found the reactionary sentiments within it somewhat familiar. Particularly because, even though, as previously established, I am always right, I used to expound such sentiments myself to anyone who would listen. Famous listeners of the past including none other than Richard Burhouse, now of Magic Rock, then of MBT and Justin from Moor brewery, both in the same sitting. It was pretty much the only time I ever met Justin (For some reason) and the first of many hilarious japes with Richard. 

I explained in detail to both of them why they were mistaken in thinking that Richard's particular favourite USIPA which he'd brought to the SIBA conference was good and that, on the contrary, it was like drinking ear-wax, except that ear wax would have been clearer.

In my defence I will say that I did not lump all hoppy beers together in this. At the time I was already a big fan of and indeed in the early stages of acting on my inspiration by Sierra Nevada IPA and the like, and I still am a fan although my homage is not in such an early stage any more. the thing I've always admired about American beers is the level of flavour and aroma achieved combined with low or moderate bitterness. Hopefully you can taste that in Great Heck Beers. 

Nonetheless I now publicly admit to Richard and my few readers that, in spite of years of leg pulling fun which must probably draw to a close hereafter, I was talking out of my arse.

What it comes down to is the perception of the drinker. Does he or she like what he or she is drinking or not? That's all that matters. 

Some of my readers will be at some point in a journey of acquiring a taste for hoppy beers. I think that's how it works. Luckily for brewers like Richard and Justin that development of a taste for it seems to be a one way street. You're as likely to switch back from drinking Magic Rock to drinking John Smiths as you are to switch back from crack to Vick's vapo-rub. It's a one way street. A one way street with many stops along the way.

My journey started with beers like Landlord. I remember trying it and thinking how amazingly full of flavour it was. It blew my mind. It was and still is a great, iconic beer but I don't drink it or particularly like it any more. It's not Timothy, it's me. I'd probably drink a gallon of that stuff Richard forced on me at SIBA 09, or whenever it was.

So what does this say about our self published journalist's reactionary editorial? Remember when you were a teenager and you had a boyfriend or girlfriend? You thought they were ace right? And they probably were but would you go back to them now? Maybe you would but it probably wouldn't be much fun. Our columnist is, in beer terms, still seeing his first girlfriend. that's fine. Maybe they'll stay together forever and be perfectly happy. It doesn't mean I'm stupid for shacking up with a hot blonde 12 years my junior though does it? 

The difference is, I know what I'm missing and he doesn't. 

Hahahaha! (Loudly)

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Everybody is falling out

It's a new year, a new web site and a new blog so now you finally get to hear my perceptive analyses of events. Which is very nice because I'm always right.

We'll start off with a sweeping overview of all the internal nattering and falling our over things that is currently going on in what is now known as "Craft brewing." What better way to do that than to give you my views on the term, Craft?

I personally do use the term craft. I use it in the same way I use the term, Quality: As a lazy shorthand to evoke some idea about values. I think that's all it can ever be because it doesn't actually mean anything. It just associates the user with other users of the term.

That in itself makes me feel uncomfortable. I don't really want to be associated with the negative hype against CAMRA and others which some of the disciples of craft are associated. So much so that I enjoy saying that we make craft real ale. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

Craft isn't my least favourite word though. that honour goes to the word "Brand." Ugh! I'm interested in making great beer. Call it what you like, I want to keep on making it better every time. A brand may well build up on the back of that, that would be nice, but setting out to build a brand and using beer as a mere commodity to be branded... that's just horrible and it's not something i have any interest in.

So how does all this shine light on why everyone is falling out over keg beers, hoppy beers, real ale, whatever? I think it's because some people are being disingenuous about what motivates them. That wouldn't be so bad if they didn't make such a big deal about how their motivation somehow makes their craft product better, but that's what they do. 

Please don't tell me you're a skater punk who's trying to overthrow the establishment by brewing narly beers and expect me to believe you just because you wear enormous gymn shoes with the laces undone and have a pierced tongue, when your actions make it obvious that your prime motivation is to build a brand to sell to a multinational brewing brand conglomerate. I don't mind anyone doing either of those things, they are both pretty cool things to do if that's what floats your boat, but in combination they make an odour not dissimilar to what comes out the back of a bull.

Happy New Year!