|Un de nos réservoirs – nouvelle valeur maintenant proche de £ 7k
Nous voulons seulement autour de £ 3k
J'ai travaillé sur diverses solutions pour garder Hardknott en vie. Celles-ci consistent principalement à essayer de trouver un partenaire, une entreprise de brassage dont la composition est faussée, et à son tour, elles pourraient peut-être nous apporter quelque chose qui nous fait défaut. Nous avons suivi diverses pistes, offert de parler et nous avons également approché certaines personnes que nous estimons susceptibles de bien convenir. Malheureusement, cela n’a pas fonctionné et nous a largement menés dans des impasses, faisant perdre du temps et des ressources que nous ne pouvons pas nous permettre.2
Je suis certain qu'il y a maintenant trop de brasseries au Royaume-Uni. Il y a des succès et ceux qui ont réussi à tout bien continueront à prospérer et à se développer. Cependant, je suis fermement convaincu que la grande majorité des brasseries de moins de 5 000 hl auront du mal à trouver un véritable succès durable, c'est-à-dire sans changements significatifs de la culture au sein de l'industrie. Mes expériences récentes en cherchant une solution à notre propre position sont, à mon sens, la preuve de notre certitude.
Laissez-moi vous expliquer cela un peu plus en détail. Au-dessous de 5 000 hl, la rentabilité de la production annuelle est extrêmement réduite3. C'est une échelle mobile et plus on se rapproche de ce chiffre important, plus une brasserie est susceptible de dégager des bénéfices, mais ces bénéfices ne satisferont probablement que les besoins vitaux des propriétaires à court terme. Au-dessous de 2 000 hl, mes recherches suggèrent fortement une opération déficitaire. Du point de vue de l’évaluation des entreprises, cela signifie que, dans l’ensemble des tailles de brasseries, toute stratégie de sortie du propriétaire de l’entreprise a l'air médiocre. Faire un retour sur investissement est hautement improbable sans croissance.
La consolidation est à mon avis la réponse évidente à cela. Les critiques de la taxe sur les bières progressive dans son état actuel évoquent un "bord de falaise" à 5 000 hl qui, prétend-on, créerait une incitation négative aux fusions et acquisitions. Je conteste cela pour diverses raisons. En réalité, le véritable obstacle à une activité aussi "normale" semble se situer dans la psyché même des propriétaires de microbrasseries. "C’est mon bébé, nous pensons que nous allons réussir à tout faire nous-mêmes" est un message paraphrasé et légèrement exagéré que la majorité des personnes à qui nous avons parlé a maintenant entendu parler.
Entre-temps, des talents et des passions se perdent dans le secteur, alors que des personnes comme moi sont déçues par le désespoir suscité par la surabondance massive de bière et la sous-évaluation de micro-brasseurs assidus.
Il y a environ 2 000 brasseries dans le pays, la grande majorité, environ 1 400 d'entre elles, ont moins de 5 000 hl. Leur volume total de production est actuellement d’environ 1,3 million de HL par an. Si chacun d'entre eux produisait 5 000 hl par an, il leur faudrait augmenter leur part de marché totale d'environ 3% à 16%. Cette pensée abrupte et assez effrayante omet d'inclure le fait que si les 2 000 brasseries souhaitent se développer, comme nous le supposons, une part énorme du marché doit être reprise à la fois des multinationales et des brasseries régionales. Cela ne peut tout simplement pas se produire car, malgré les tentatives du contraire et le bluff de certains, la forme du marché de la bière n'a pas vraiment changé autant que nous aimerions le penser.
En fait, pointer du doigt ceux de moins de 5 000 ml est un peu injuste et il me semble que personne dans l’industrie brassicole n’est vraiment intéressé par les fusions et les acquisitions tant que nous n’avons pas atteint le stade le plus important. D'énormes brasseries cotées en bourse ont découvert certaines des marques les plus prospères, mais à moins que je manque quelque chose, il se passe très peu de chose.
Ma prédiction est que la plupart des brasseries auront du mal à se développer et laisseront donc leurs propriétaires sans stratégie de sortie plausible. Si vous associez ceci à la réalisation que personne ne va rire à la banque, pourquoi alors quelqu'un se fiche-t-il encore du rêve alors que la probabilité de se brûler les doigts est si élevée? Tout me laisse un peu confus.
|Moi, grimpeur, libre et heureux|
J'ai passé trois semaines dans les Alpes françaises cet été, ce que je n'aurais pas réussi à faire si j'essayais de faire l'effort nécessaire pour que notre entreprise fonctionne. J'ai atteint le but de ma vie d'atteindre le sommet du Mont-Blanc, une histoire que je vais pouvoir raconter ici, j'espère4.
J'ai d'autres objectifs dans la vie, et je travaille très fort sur un objectif qui, espérons-le, se concrétisera dans les 6 prochains mois. Cependant, pour pouvoir financer ces activités, je dois trouver un travail qui n’a rien à voir avec la bière. Il n'y a tout simplement pas d'argent dans cet emploi idiot pour survivre, encore moins pour gagner sa vie décemment, à moins que je ne travaille pour l'ennemi et que je ne me voie pas faire face à cela. Donc, mon CV a été épousseté et est envoyé, je l’espère, à l’ingénierie.
Cet article est un peu un "au revoir" à l'industrie de la bière. Nous en avons vraiment assez. La description ci-dessus, qu'elle soit inexacte ou non à cause de mon point de vue blasé, m'a amené à décider qu'il ne me restait plus qu'à vendre tout stock restant, dont il ne restait plus grand-chose, et à en disposer des atouts pour le meilleur que je puisse obtenir pour eux, qui ne seront malheureusement pas aussi loin que je le souhaiterais.5
Ce blog restera, mais risque de s'éloigner complètement du sujet de la bière et des pubs. Je suis ici depuis assez longtemps, j'ai vu les mêmes vieux arguments revenir sans cesse et bien que les choses aient changé et j'espère avoir contribué à améliorer les choses, il y a toujours une inertie incroyablement déprimante pour les choses nouvelles et radicales .
|Quitter le sommet du Mont Blanc (4810m d'altitude)|
1Oui, c'est vrai, nous avons complètement abandonné. Nous brisons la brasserie et vendons tout ce que nous avons. Surveillez les annonces sur le site Web SIBA et sur mon compte eBay. Les meilleures choses que nous ayons sont des citernes fermées coniques brutes de 6 x 2 000 litres qui coûtent apparemment près de 7 000 £ + TVA pour l’achat neuf. Nous avons également une ligne d'embouteillage 661 qui n'a pas été travaillée dur. Nous avons divers autres types de réservoirs et d'autres choses, bien que l'acier inoxydable valant 900 livres sterling la tonne pour peser à la ferraille locale, une partie va aller dans cette direction.
2Toutes nos excuses aux entreprises avec lesquelles nous avons entamé un dialogue et c'est nous qui avons décidé de nous retirer. Il y a de nombreuses raisons pour lesquelles les offres peuvent parfois échouer bien sûr. Parfois, c'est le moment choisi, et lorsque nous poursuivons une piste possible aux dépens d'une autre pour nous rendre compte que le poing est une impasse, cela peut devenir très frustrant pour toutes les personnes impliquées.
Le fait est que sans suffisamment d'entreprises pensant réellement à la durabilité et aux gains personnels à long terme, il devient impossible de trouver des partenariats appropriés et je pense que pour que l'industrie de la micro-brasserie prospère et combatte des ennemis beaucoup plus grands, il faut trouver un effort concerté pour travailler ensemble.
3Bien sûr, il existe toujours une brasserie qui possède également des cafés. Que ce soit une brasserie de style brasserie, une brasserie avec une salle de robinetterie ou une brasserie qui possède un parc de pubs, ils ont tous de puissants avantages par rapport à la brasserie autonome. Mon conseil actuel est de ne pas posséder de brasserie à moins que vous ne souhaitiez également posséder un chemin d'accès au marché.
Pourquoi je ne fais pas ça? En termes simples, été là et fait que. Le détaillant autorisé est difficile aussi.
4En effet c'était épique. Après 14 ans de travail en tant que propre patron, j'ai beaucoup appris et je ne le regrette pas une minute, mais beaucoup de choses ont souffert et ma passion pour l'alpinisme est restée insatisfaite jusqu'à présent. Pourquoi grimper? Parce que les émotions associées au fait d’atteindre le sommet sont incroyablement puissantes, en particulier lorsque cela est fait sans céder à la pression croissante qui pousse à engager un guide.
"Dave, pourquoi je pleure?" demanda Fran, ce qui bien sûr était une question rhétorique; quand vous avez planifié, rêvé et formé pour une telle chose depuis si longtemps, le bonheur de la réussite devient incroyablement émotionnel. J'ai parlé à ma GoPro, dans l'intérêt du disque "Le sommet du Mont-Blanc", alors que je cherchais à montrer que tout le reste à une distance visible était effectivement plus bas que nous. Il y a eu des moments où je me suis demandé si j'y serais un jour et j'ai donc moi-même trouvé qu'il était impossible de retenir les larmes de bonheur.
5"Si notre entreprise dépense 1 million £ dans un pub le lendemain, nous aurons toujours un pub d'une valeur de 1 million £ et cet atout est susceptible d'apprécier" un directeur de brasserie très respecté m'expose "Si je convaincs le conseil d'administration de dépenser 1 million de £ en kit de brasserie le lendemain de son installation, c’est simplement une valeur de rebut "
En fait, je dirais qu'il existe un risque que les installations de brasserie deviennent des passifs, car les coûts de retrait peuvent parfois être supérieurs à la valeur de l'un des composants installés. Bien que les microbrasseries présentent un risque moins élevé, car le matériel de brasserie d’occasion peut facilement être retiré et permet de mieux rentabiliser la vente. Je sais que nous avons des coûts importants à assumer pour pouvoir restituer notre immeuble au propriétaire.
"Il y a eu un type intéressant au téléphone", m'a informée Ann au retour au bureau. "Il vient d'acheter un hôtel et il veut notre bière"
À ce moment-là, cela semblait être une enquête assez ordinaire et je pensais que cela faisait partie du bruit de fond irritant habituel qui me distrait de mon propre travail.
"OK, c'est bon" répondis-je, avec une couche assez épaisse de dédain "Allez-y, vendez-leur une partie de notre bière, après tout, vous êtes le service des ventes"1
"Ils veulent Space Hopper dans un baril" Ann a persisté à briser la barrière qui gênait son flux d'informations "le gars l'a essayé à cet endroit, nous avons envoyé un baril à l'autre semaine et l'aime vraiment. Aime la bière et aime l'image de marque"
"Oh?" J'ai répondu "pas de fût, c'est gentil, mais ….. équipement?" elle commençait à s'en sortir, une vente de fût à un nouveau compte m'intéressait.
|Trémie spatiale intergalactique à Haweswater|
"Il ne pense pas qu'il serait capable de servir de la bière en fût, car ils n'ont pas de cave" ah, alors ça va me voir partir pour régler quelque chose dans cet endroit. "Vous avez besoin2 d'aller voir s'ils ont le droit de servir notre fût "
Cela faisait suite à une mauvaise expérience récente dans laquelle nous avions installé une fonte à fût dans un pub et, quelques mois plus tard, lorsque le gérant a changé, ils ont alors décidé de ne plus acheter notre bière. Je me suis précipité au pub immédiatement après avoir découvert cela pour retirer notre équipement et y trouver un représentant des ventes Marstons qui essayait de faire valoir que mon équipement leur appartenait en fait.
Donc, je me suis senti un peu meurtri et réticent à dépenser la plus grande partie de 500 £ sur un autre projet au résultat inconnu. Néanmoins, j'ai grimpé en rond à cet endroit plutôt isolé sur les rives de Haweswater, dans les lacs de l'Est.
C'était il y a plus de deux ans. J'ai installé le robinet que j'avais retiré du précédent pub et nous vendons joyeusement la bière de la place depuis et dans suffisamment de qualité pour justifier l'effort et les dépenses. Il s'avère que le nouveau propriétaire de l'hôtel est délicieusement alternatif dans ses perspectives commerciales.
Ils m'ont contacté il y a quelques mois alors qu'ils négociaient avec les fournisseurs de leur plus grande marque. Il semble qu'on leur ait offert une somme forfaitaire en espèces pour un contrat d'exclusivité de deux ans. On leur a offert 2 000 £ en espèces pour lancer notre Intergalactic Space Hopper du bar. Apparemment, ce n’est pas seulement un grand producteur de bière qui le fait, il s’agit de la plupart des grandes marques multinationales et ressemble un peu à un cartel et à une action anticoncurrentielle.
Stephen, le propriétaire, n’est pas un hôtelier ordinaire. Il semble n'avoir aucune intention de retirer notre bière, même avec un stimulant aussi génial. John, qui s'occupe de la plupart des choses sérieuses, me contactait simplement pour voir si nous pouvions faire quelque chose pour faire quelque chose qui corresponde à l'offre des grands garçons. Pendant un certain temps, nous avons envisagé de prendre le relais avec notre propre accord d’exclusivité visant à obtenir davantage de bière blonde artisanale, etc., mais notre décision de cesser de brasser à Millom a plutôt repris la situation en main. En effet, le fait de se rendre compte que les grandes marques de bière multinationales empruntaient activement de nombreuses voies de commercialisation d'une manière que nous ne pouvions tout simplement pas concurrencer sur le plan commercial avait en partie contribué à nous faire décider que nous devions être radicaux avec la progression de nos activités.
£ 2k est à peu près la valeur annuelle de ce compte particulier. Nous ne pouvons pas rivaliser sur ce territoire. Il ne s’agit pas de la petite quantité de revenus supplémentaires qu’ils essaient d’acheter, mais bien de maintenir la croissance des fûts de petits producteurs à l’abri des barres dans les points de vente habituels.
Je crois fermement que la croissance de la microbrasserie doit viser avant tout à être acceptée sur le bar. Cela doit se trouver dans votre pub, vos restaurants, vos hôtels, etc., normalement libres de tout lien. Cependant, il semble bien que les grandes brasseries multinationales se soient mises d’accord sur un plan visant à éviter de faire beaucoup de progrès dans ces domaines.
Je reconnais une barrière, mais pour citer une personne célèbre, nous choisissons de faire ces choses "non parce qu'elles sont faciles, mais parce qu'elles sont difficiles". Je souhaite juste que le reste du monde de la bière se réveille et réalise que c'est là que le véritable effort doit être ciblé.
La bonne nouvelle est que depuis que nous avons annoncé notre arrêt de la brasserie à Millom, nous avons discuté un peu plus avec Stephen et John. Des personnes intéressantes et solidaires avec lesquelles j'espère que nous continuerons à avoir des relations d'affaires.
1Il est tout à fait probable que, comme il y a quelque temps déjà, et je paraphrase grossièrement la conversation proprement dite, en réalité, j'ai fait preuve de beaucoup d'irritation face à l'intrusion dans mon train de pensées actuel. Il se trouve que je suis peut-être en train de réparer quelque chose dans la brasserie, ce qui a tendance à me placer dans un mode moins qu'idéal pour un dialogue réceptif. Il se peut également que j’envisageais un problème plus vaste lié à la bière qui nécessitait, semble-t-il, la rédaction d’un article de blog, un tweet, ou quelque chose du genre. Plusieurs jours, il arrive que les deux choses se produisent simultanément et mon esprit ne parvient souvent pas à terminer l'une ou l'autre tâche avec des niveaux de compétence satisfaisants. Le service des ventes qui me tient au courant des micro-détails de clients individuels semble être un gaspillage de toute la puissance cérébrale restante qui pourrait être excédentaire. Je pense que le déraillement d'un train est terriblement agaçant.
2Je travaille vraiment dur pour supprimer ce mot "besoin" … Je suis sûr que ce serait terriblement utile, mais personne ne mourra parce que cela ne se produit pas.
Les gens aiment froid et pétillant
Il est indéniable que les gens aiment la bière gazeuse froide. Nul ne saurait le nier, et il est important de noter que, contrairement au message que la CAMRA diffuse depuis des années, les personnes qui boivent de la bière en fût ne sont pas des imbéciles simplement influencées par les campagnes publicitaires de grands brasseurs multinationaux. Les buveurs préfèrent vraiment une bière froide et pétillante.
Quel est le problème avec le fût, c'est sûrement le meilleur?
N'ayez aucun doute, la bière en fût est techniquement plus facile à produire, nécessite moins d'investissements en capital et est moins chère à produire. C'est une méthode idéale à bien des égards en tant que méthode permettant à une brasserie de pénétrer sur le marché.
- · Servi à une température plus chaude et avec moins de "fizz" le rendant moins acceptable pour de nombreux consommateurs (c'est vrai, il faut s'y habituer)
- · Le récipient ouvert entraîne une détérioration notable de la bière en quelques jours (en fait, selon mon expérience, quelques heures)
- · Le manque de carbonatation empêche la démonstration d'arômes de houblon excellents
- · Variabilité dans la qualité de la distribution, de sorte que la bière de brasseur ne correspond pas toujours à ce à quoi elle était destinée
- · Beaucoup plus de compétences requises par le personnel pour garantir le maintien de la qualité
- · Un refroidissement et une propreté médiocres de la cave ont des conséquences sur le fût
- · En raison d'une offre excédentaire importante sur le marché, le prix de gros de la bière en fût est très déprimé.
- · Ce n’est tout simplement pas assez funky et tendance pour les jeunes, ce qui fait que la bière microbrassée cède la place à des spiritueux à la mode, des cidres de fruits et du jus de raisin pétillant rance de
Le marché de la bière est encore largement coupé en deux par le terrible dogme instillé dans la culture de la bière britannique. S'il est indéniable que certains changements ont été apportés et que le fût artisanal est devenu une chose, malgré le scepticisme de beaucoup de gens, il reste toutefois un créneau réservé aux bars à bières artisanaux et à quelques pubs progressifs très audacieux.
L'avenir est vraiment la bière en fût
Et pour Hardknott?
Il est presque certain que, quelle que soit la forme que nous retrouvons, nous nous concentrerons beaucoup plus sur le fût que sur le fût, très probablement en éliminant le fût dans son ensemble. Pour commencer, la solution la plus probable pour continuer serait de s’associer à un producteur de fûts existant, formant ainsi éventuellement un conflit.
1OK, alors je suppose que je vais avoir quelques défis ici. Oui, il y a des sociétés comme Fullers et Marstons qui mettent beaucoup de bière dans du fût, mais malgré tout, la grande majorité de la bière produite par les brasseries de plus de 200 000 hl / an est de la bière en fût.
Nous avons aussi de la bière en citerne et des stocks. Nous pensons qu'aux taux de vente actuels, et avec la production, nous aurons de la bière jusqu'en mai ou juin, et le vendre me rendrait un peu plus heureux.
Cette même semaine, nous avons les légendes de la micro-brasserie que Sue Hayward et Gazza Prescott visitent pour prendre part à une collaboration entre Waen / Hopcraft / Hardknott et se moquer de moi dans un unitard. Méfiez-vous de ce que pourrait être ce chant du cygne de nos efforts.
J'espère revenir ici le moment venu pour entamer une évaluation constructive de la vie de micro-brasseur. J'ai beaucoup de choses à dire sur le fonctionnement de l'industrie de la bière. La manière dont SIBA et la CAMRA omettent certaines questions très importantes qui pourraient être résolues pour rendre le secteur de la microbrasserie beaucoup plus durable pour les pauvres âmes brassicoles et qui, souvent, ne rêvent que de transformer une bonne bière en bon personnes.
1Il est probable que toutes les performances seront vendues. Au moment où je tape ceci, il n’ya que 21 billets pour la matinée du samedi. Le reste des performances est complètement vendu. (Je pense qu'un petit nombre de retours sont disponibles chaque nuit, selon le principe du premier arrivé, premier servi)
2Donner à l'entreprise le terme "amateur" ne rend vraiment pas justice au talent de cette société. Je ne suis qu'un petit rouage dans cette distribution de 51 personnes et le professionnalisme est incroyable. Ça va être un super spectacle.
There seems to be two motions being presented to the AGM. I discussed one on my previous post. The other motion is against what I believe to be the right course for SIBA and I shall try and explain why.
I only have one trade body. There is also the BBPA and the IFBB, but neither of those organisations are suitable for me.
SIBA wishes to have a vision statement that reads;
To deliver the future of British beer AS THE voice of British INDEPENDANT brewing.
The capitalisation is as written in the motion document.
I'd like to vote against this on the basis that I do not want my trade organisation to have this vision. Unfortunately the previous vision statement read;
To deliver the future of British beer and become the voice of British brewing.
It is this very vision that is used by the organisation to argue for much of the detail that it does, which is against the interests of the majority of members.
The reasoning behind this is that it is argued that SIBA should lobby universally as one voice to Government for the whole of the UK beer industry.
Having sat on the SIBA policy committee I can absolutely give the reader full assurance that SIBA will not look after the interests of brewers under 5,000hl. Indeed, they are planning on weakening SBR1 and will be making representations to Government to that effect, if they haven't already done so.
If representation to Government is needed that is universally for the good of the whole beer industry then SIBA can join with the other trade organisations and deal with them on a case-by-case basis.
It is inconceivable to me that us little artisanal producers can be represented by the same organisation that represents some quite large Public Limited Companies who are listed on the stock market. They already have their own trade organisations.
I'm now kicking myself that I didn't get around to my own motion to counter this sort of nonsense. However, minded to vote against just to frustrate the process.
SBR = Small Brewers Relief = PBD = Progressive Beer Duty. Currently every brewer below 5,000hl gets 50% discount off beer duty. Above 5,000hl brewers are capped at a cash relief per hl% and above 30,000hl up to 60,000hl this relief is slowly, and quite painlessly removed.
There is an argument that states that brewers find it hard to climb above 5,000hl because the shape of the relief inhibits growth. Actually, I have evidence that proves very much that although there is an elbow in the profitability curve that shows improvement in profitability slows as breweries go through the 5,000hl level, actually profitability still increases, all be it at a slower rate.
See output from a certain bit of work I've been doing in the chart below.
What is crucial is to note that profitability is rare below about 2,500hl, although the model data does show significant error bars and profitability is evident in a small number of cases; exploring this may be interesting.
This however, is the subject of a future blog post.
SIBA was set up to try and tackle a specific problem in the beer industry; the beer tie, and the barrier that creates to access to market for the very smallest of brewers. The organisation has now moved to a place that is trying to be "the voice of British brewing" It is inevitable that, perhaps with the exception of a few like myself, the strongest voices are those of big business.
DDS was invented and then it changed its name to BeerFlex, apparently to reflect the idea that brewers could set their own price. However, us brewers have never been able to set our own price, the Pub Companies do that, and have recently driven the price down significantly to the point it is completely bonkers for us to even consider. Larger brewers, above say 3,000hl, can afford to consider this route to market as economies of scale permit a lower delivered price for the beer.
This is just one example where SIBA has turned away, be it deliberately or not, from the needs of the micro-brewer; the true small brewing business. They are not progressing any actions with vigour that might improve my route to market, but are instead protecting and improving the interests of brewers significantly larger than us.
There are a number of like-minded brewers like myself that feel SIBA is failing to represent the little guy. There were several motions at last years AGM calling for the largest of brewers to be removed from the associate membership category as it was felt very strongly that a disproportionate amount of influence was being exerted by the big players in the business. Some of those motions succeeded, but the key one, to remove breweries from membership if they were above 200,000hl, was cancelled from the vote due to the success of a weaker motion put forward by myself.
It is my view, from the mood of the attendees at AGM, that the motion to remove completely the brewers above 200,000hl would have been successful had it been put to the vote.
This year there is a motion being tabled that rather than removing the breweries from membership who are over 200,000hl we permit any brewery in so long as it isn't a global brewery1.
Now, that is all very well, and of course any region can submit a motion. The thing that has really got to me is the fact that news of this motion has been placed under embargo; we are not supposed to publically talk about it. However, SIBA exec can email every single member with their attempts to get this motion passed.
Furthermore, and really crucially, SIBA exec have cynically tightened up the rules regarding the organisation of proxy voting2. This is especially important. It is important that for the sake of micro-brewing you do not let these barriers prevent you form voting just because you cannot get to the AGM.
There are around 1,000 SIBA members. The vast majority of them are very small businesses indeed, and yet direction is coming from a few brewers of much more significant size.
Breweries of my size find it very difficult to get to AGM. The costs, once you factor in travel and accommodation, run in to a significant amount of money. Even supposing your little micro-brewer is flush with cash, which he isn't, finding the time to get away from the business is extremely difficult. He or she is already doing 80 hours a week, as head brewer, van driver, accountant, HACCAP author, cask washer, copper scrubber and general all-round dogs body, finding time to get away is often impossible.
With urgency I am calling upon all brewers who are members of SIBA to reject the motion asking for the membership to be enlarged to take in the biggest3 PLC brewing businesses. If this motion succeeds we can be sure that SIBA will move even further way from the interests of the current membership.
Proxy voting has been made particularly difficult it seems. Couple that with a gagging order on us talking about the issue shows clear intent to subvert the course of this particular democratic process. It is your duty to ensure you get your proxy vote set-up up with urgency.
For this reason I have decided to break ranks and ignore the embargo, hence this blog.
Please do not let a few 10s of people dictate over 1,000.
Protect the future of YOUR trade organisation.
PUT IN YOUR PROXY NOW!!
Proxy voting nominations need to be in by 5pm Monday 12th March. IT CAN BE AN EMAIL ATTACHMENT.
Hardknott is happy to act as proxy, please get in touch.
1I fully expect that the detail of the motion will be pointed out to me: i.e. that only those under 1% of the total UK beer market will not be allowed.
Except there is a clause stating the the board can override that. Considering I have little faith in the board it'll not be long before we see even bigger breweries permitted membership.
2Apparently a simple email is not sufficient to register a proxy vote. It must be a signed letter on company headed paper. I mean, I don't know about the reader, but I haven't got company headed paper. OK, I've got a Word template.. but really, company headed paper?
For clarification, it can be an email attachment, apparently. But then why not just an email? For goodness sake this is what we do most of our business by, very rarely needing an actual wet signature.
3I believe it to be important to point out that SIBA is my only trade organisation. Larger brewers have BBPA and IFBB. One has to question why the largest of brewers want access to our trade organisation, the very trade organisation that is suposed to be protecting us against the largest of businesses. They claim we'll get benefits. Well, I have a lot to say on the supposed benefits of working with large PLCs. It isn't as good as you might think.
In the wake of Fullers buying Darkstar does the reader think that our collaboration with Fullers has been good or bad for the image of Hardknott?
I would like frank and honest answers here. A good debate would be fantastic. I honestly want to know the answer because from my standpoint there are some huge positives and some huge negatives. I know which way the economics balance at the moment… but in business kudos often far outstrips short-term considerations and I simply cannot afford to be wrong on this one.
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It went off, then came back again, so it seemed he had re-ordered, or taken more than one cask. I guess it had been a week or so since my first expression of concern regarding such an intrusion into my appreciation of what is otherwise a splendid pub.
"Really?" I exclaimed in a rather more serious tone "You feel comfortable putting Dizzy Blonde on the bar?"
"People have asked for it and it sells really well" came the apparently sincere reply. Further explanation regarding what sells well and what doesn't could very much depress me. Needless to say it was a bit of a readjustment to my world view on the subject.
He runs a good pub. I respect his business skills tremendously and he's much better at running a pub than I ever was. He sells stuff I wouldn't, because he wants to cover his overheads; if it were me I'd probably dig my heals in and suffer commercially as a result.
|The imagery is all over the roads in the NW of England….|
I am reminded about this exchange as a result of recent media interest in sexism in beer the beer world. I am fairly sure that I have never bought Dizzy Blonde and when I have found myself unfortunately faced with only Robinsons beers I opt for something else. Although my boycott possibly isn't going to make a jot of difference, the only way to stop this sort of nonsense is by it becoming commercially unattractive for it to continue. I cannot bring myself to support such a thing.
Robinson's are not going to stop making Dizzy Blonde any time soon, not so long as it clearly makes them money. Likewise, other companies will carry on with varying degrees of sexist imagery and beer names so long as the general public has a panache for such things. So, is it really the fault of the businesses for propagating sexism in the beer industry? Or is it more the end consumer?
I recently commissioned artwork for a project to help promote Azimuth. We started from the premise that generally folk don't get the name. Far too obscure. It relates to navigation using heavily bodies and hooks into the by now well established folklore surrounding the story of IPA1.
I wanted to create a mythical scene of ancient mariners and imaginary sea creatures. A mermaid crept into the scene and refused to leave. She was initially far too sexy. My artist was cajoled into making her more powerful and less demeaningly sexy.
Did we get it right? I am still unsure, but hope that it is mysterious enough, and we've empowered the female character in the scene sufficiently to not raise the hackles of any potential critics. The dragon we could imagine to be male, indeed the mermaid is quite clearly in charge and is fighting to help against a relentless macho wind, which for me is symbolic of the masculinity which sadly is all too prevailing in the world of beer.
1With apologies to all beer historians. I am not a beer historian. I am not sure if I understand where beer history truth ends and myth begins. I do care, but just haven't got the time to keep myself properly informed on such matters.
This is the back-story to our new beer, Urban Underground. I feel I'm almost in my own little underground world on occasions. Part of an alternative to the mainstream and a happier place for me to be. This beer is something of an outward expression of that feeling of misfit, and an empathy with anyone else who feels the same.
One cannot help one's height. As adults we have grown to a certain vertical dimension and stopped. We then start to shrink as we head inevitably to old age1. I suppose some people like to wear high heels when they feel challenged vertically, although that isn't one of my particular kinks. The colour of our skin, our numerical age, and our genetic sex are rooted in our conception. More variable characteristics such as where we may feel we sit in a gender spectrum, sexuality, social status, how young we actual feel or where generally we fit in any sort of spectrum of personality2 add together to make each and every one of us completely individual.
Moreover, we are really quite plastic in the way our personalities develop. I know that I have changed in many ways over the years. Part of that is due to me bucking the preconceived ideas of what is normal and deciding to reject the straight jacket of societal pressure. The life journey I am on only really hit overdrive when I cast away the rigours of academia. If you'll pardon further powered travel metaphors, that journey only became turbo-charged when I ceased PAYE status. School eh? How many people just don't get along with school and later in life find out what they are really all about?3
We want Hardknott to be all-inclusive. We try hard to avoid alienating anyone based on age, race, sex or sexuality, background or any other defining feature. More than that we hope to positively appeal to anyone who doesn't fit normal, mainly because I'm needy for new friends.
We've tried hard to make this beer more accessible and therefore more inclusive. We've put just as many hops in as we do in Azimuth or Intergalactic Space Hopper, but less has gone in copper and much more have gone in post fermentation. This has reduced bitterness whilst maximising aroma making a very drinkable beer.
This is a big, fruity, laid-back IPA, with notes of orange, mango and a hint of pepper. At 5.9% it is certainly not run-of-the-mill, certainly not part of the average mainstream and hopefully will be in the niche sweet-spot helping you to find your true self.
1Indeed, fear of my own mortality, although perhaps tangental to my points here, is non-the-less something that concerns me. I'm unsure quite how far I've worked through my own mid-life crisis, but it is most certainly there. It is a fact that life is a terminal disease, it is therefore important to live it to the full and with gay, straight, bi or any other type of abandon, depending on how you feel.
2I'm hoping I've avoided any specific technical psychological term here. It is quite possible this whole post skates on thin ice in order for me to get across my point. Mental health is a subject that deserves sensitivity. For me, I've never been formally diagnosed with any issues, but there have been dark times. I suspect a huge number of people feel the same. There are many diagnosable personality "disorders" – but then when does someone who is a bit different actually have a personality "disorder". I have on many occasions considered if I might exhibit some characteristics that indicate I may be both dyslexic and on the autistic spectrum. I've come to the conclusion that I am just me, and that I work and feel a certain way and the world should just live with the way I am.
3And I could rant on about how I feel the education systems fails many who do not fit the standard academia model. There is way too much emphasis on league tables in my view. Totally insufficient focus on skills and knowledge that might actually be useful to students in a vocational setting. A general lack of understand that some people just don't get on well if all they are forced to to do is sit at a desk all day. Some people don't work well with words and numbers, would rather spend time doing something much more practical and might even thrive if they were allowed that stimulation.
Recent scientific health research pours terrible doubt on the future of foods that are naturally browned through baking, grilling or frying, which I feel is something of a terrible shame. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the results of the scientific research is inconclusive regarding the actual health hazards associated with naturally browning food at elevated temperatures. In being overzealous with caution regarding the health of the population I fear the Food Standards Agency are propagating what I believe to be a food risk myth and in so doing turning science into pseudoscience. There is no proof that eating burnt toast or crispy roast potatoes increases your risk of cancer.
I enjoy eating these things. I enjoy cooking these things. I always enjoy these food stuffs most when I make them myself. You see, there seems to be an ever increasing trend these days to make stuff anaemic rather than the colour they should be, a nice deep brown.
Browning of food during cooking, and incidentally the colouration of malted barley that goes to make your beer, occurs due to the Maillard reaction. This reaction changes the colour, flavour and brittleness of food. It becomes darker, tastier and more crunchy. The reaction is between reducing sugars and amino acids. The reactions, and therefore the resultant compounds can be complex and are dependant on the particular types of amino acid present, as well as the time, temperature and chemical conditions (PH for example) of the cooking process.
From a culinary point of view this is often referred to as caramelisation. Chemically, caramelisation is different to the Maillard reaction and therefore does not produce acrylamide. But in starchy foods both reactions tend to occur together and contribute to the overall deliciousness of properly cooked items such as chips.
|Roast potatoes, made by me. Probably quite high in acrylamide, but they were delicious.|
The problem it seems is that there has been scientific research that links a substance called acrylamide to cancer in laboratory animals. It is thought that acrylamide is formed as one of the products of the Maillard reaction, in any case it is present in starchy foods that have been heated over 120ºC. Such foods include chips, bread, biscuits and crisps.
Recently the FSA have issued advice that is designed to decrease the consumption of acrylamide. This advice includes cooking chips until they are "golden" rather than brown. It also includes the advice that cooking times should be reduced and preferably that cooking temperatures be lower. Advising that production of acrylamide is reduced by reducing the surface area to volume ratio, for instance by making chips chunky rather than skinny1.
Now, if dietary acrylamide was proven to be a significant risk to human health then perhaps we should consider these recommendations. If reduction of cancer rates could be guaranteed by simply ensuring the population was eating pale food then there would be some point to the FSA scaremongering.
However, no epidemiological study has yet found a link between dietary acrylamide and cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund has carried out their own research and "this study didn’t find any strong evidence for a link between eating overcooked starchy foods that contain acrylamide and cancer risk in humans". Moreover, although they are falling short of calling out the FSA for overzealous caution, they do list the issue amongst 5 diet and cancer myths debunked. Indeed, there is no report anywhere that I can find that shows a link and even in the FSA reports there is yet to be a proven link.2
There is new legislation3 coming into force in April that is designed to manage the levels of acrylamide in food that are produced by food business operators. This bothers me hugely. Legislation brought in to address a problem that has yet to even be proven to exist seems over the top in the extreme. Legislation which will inevitably cause food producers to worry more about meeting the demands of the rules rather than making tasty food, and goes some way to explaining in my mind why most chips these days have virtually no colour about them at all.
A good while ago I wrote a whole post on the subject of chips4, and how I like to make them. Double frying ensures fully cooked fluffy interior and and a nice crisp brown exterior. And yes, the brown colour on the outside of chips does improve the flavour somewhat. I love bread with a thick brown crust, and pastry nicely coloured on the outside. Sadly, with the monstrosity that is Greggs bakery, the UK seems to be losing the idea of what a proper pie should be like, but make no doubt about it, no pastry item should be pale and limp.
The only remaining glimmer of hope is optimistic application of the ALARA principle, detailed at the end of this post. Standing for "As Low As Reasonably Achievable" the principle does permit some justified wriggling. If you are a restaurant, for instance, and you consciously and deliberately make the choice to create menu items designed to have a high level of browning of starch products then it is perfectly legitimate to argue that it is impossible to make such items properly without increased levels of acrylamide. However, in my experience environmental health officers lack the ability to understand the intricacies of such arguments and would rather dogmatically apply their own interpretation of the the rules.
1However, it was interesting that in a certain study a supermarket's own brand crispy roast potatoes with goose fat seemed to come out with a greater level of acrylamide than the skinny chips from most well known fast food chains. We all know that crispy roast potatoes with goose fat are food things to die for. It may well be that there is a reaction with certain amino acids in the goose fat and the carbohydrates in the potatoes that ensure such deliciousness, but equally cause increased levels of acrylamide. Indeed, looking down the list of things in the results of the above mentioned study and it becomes apparent to me that there is a strong link between deliciousness and levels of acrylamide.
2I want to expand a little on my thoughts regarding the effect of acrylamide on the body. The substance is potentially carcinogenic, this is true. When exposure by inhalation is at substantially elevated levels there is some proof that there is some cancer risk, for example in smokers. In laboratory animals cancer risk is shown to be present from exposure.
"The National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens considers acrylamide to be reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, based on studies in laboratory animals given acrylamide in drinking water. However, toxicology studies have shown that humans and rodents not only absorb acrylamide at different rates, they metabolize it differently as well." – National Cancer Institute (USA)
Acrylamide can be metabolised in different ways. It is possible that ingested acrylamide does find it's way to DNA in the body and so cause the mutations, it is also entirely possible that humans metabolise ingested acrylamide in a way that prevents it being damaging to DNA.
Homo Sapiens have also ways cooked food, and we evolved out of earlier species that also cooked food. Cooking by our ancestors has probably been a thing for about a million years. Cooking is possibly one of the reasons our species has become so successful, and therefore it is also highly likely we have developed an evolutionary tolerance to acrylamide in our food. It is certain that humans and rats metabolise acrylamide differently. Rats have never evolved to use fire for cooking.
3This legislation is actually coming from the EU. More evidence, I guess, to backup the Brexiteers case. However, drilling down through the information it seems it is the UK that is driving this, and besides, I'm not convinced that we won't just copy and paste EU legislation once we are out.
4I'm intregued that actually the picture of my chips in that by now rather ancient post shows them to be quite pale. Some varieties of potatoes, especially early season are notoriously difficult to brown owing to low concentrations of sugars. I assume this was the case in this sample.
Some background information
Acrylamide in malted barley
Pale malts 630-660µg kg-1
Coloured malts 2200µg kg-1
Calculation of acrylamide in beer
Safe levels of consumption
I was not wrong. This year has panned out very interestingly, and it's not over yet. The communications I refer to were from John Keeling, Director of Brewing and Global Ambassador at Fuller, Smith and Turner, the Chiswick based family brewing business. He claimed to have an idea for a great collaboration project and suggested he had some good news for me.
Ever since I met John at Sheffield station back in October 2009 I have found him to be a most generous, witty and friendly brewer. In contrast to some other beer industry leaders2 he has embraced the nurturing of a two-way street between the very smallest of breweries and Fullers. This does mean that although we may still have some differences of opinion on some things, I still have a huge respect for him and everyone at Fullers.
So, what was the great plan of John's? You probably all know by now, a mixed six pack of beers each a collaboration with the best craft breweries in the UK. John hand-picked the breweries and we were delighted to be invited to be part of the project.
The whole process was great fun, from recipe formulation, brewing the pilot beer, through to the label design it was a true collaborative effort. We learnt a lot too, which is one of the most significant advantages for us of taking part in collaborations. Even down to learning how to deal with the brand managers in larger organisations who simply don't get the difference is style between them and us. That's a whole story by itself3, but we eventually found a compromise that worked for everyone.
We are having a launch event in Birmingham next Wednesday (8th November 2017) at The Old Stock Joint, which is a Fullers pub. All six beers will be presented along with some special Hardknott beers.
If you have signed up to our Hardknott Crowd Rewards site then attending the event and making yourself known to us will get you 300 #HKBeerCoins. Further #HKBeerCoins are available for anyone helping us to promote the event.
If you've read this far well done, you deserve 50 HKBeerCoins just for that. Enter the token
P34tS0uper into the correct place on the HardkottCrowd.com site and they are yours!!
Oh, and of course there is a video of the brewday.
1Contrary to what some people like to claim, the beer industry is incredibly competitive. I am often encouraged to work together for common aims within the beer industry, and then get heavily shafted by the very people who I am asked to work with. We are not all friends, and make no mistake, big businesses worth many millions of pounds, with directors on healthy salaries are regularly pissing on my bonfire.
2In many quarters there are continual attacks on the sucesses of micro-brewers up and down the industry. Unfortunately I'm afraid there are moves to damage the very smallest of brewers, and the attacks are coming from some surprising areas, which is worrying me intensely.
3Our beer wasn't named until we actually had the beer in the FV. I wanted to call it The Big Smoke, but apparently that name had already been taken. We came up with various alternatives, all of which got kicked out by the trademark experts. All the names that the Fullers people came up with as safe names we thought sucked and were incredibly un-crafty and certainly not Hardknotty.
To be fair, Mr Keeling told us to dig our heals in and fight for what we wanted. So I very gently suggested that if they wanted it to be a truly collaborative beer the name had to be similar to the sort of name I would use for our own beers. I liked Peat Soup, because it was play on words regarding London smog and a reference to the fact the beer used peat smoked malt. Some of the Fullers people thought it too obtuse for most people to understand. I think people that understand us also understand the name reference. You, dear reader, are not stupid.
I think there was a fear that people may react badly to the word "soup" which might subliminally make folk thing the beer was gloopy or something.
Eventually we came up with Peat Souper. A super beer!! Well, hopefully we've got away with it, and it doesn't flop when out in the wild.
I've known Ben McFarland for a while, I mean, he is a thrice Beer Writer of the Year and writes a fair bit about beer. He's even included us in one of his books1. Tom Sandham it seems is also a renowned drinks writer, although his specialism seems somewhat broader than Ben's. I suppose cocktails might be a thing for some people, even if this particular imbiber prefers not to be so pretentious.2
This duo was created some time ago, as best I can work out around 2011 when they debuted at The Edinburgh Fringe with "The Thinking Drinker’s Guide to Alcohol" – This seems to coincide with my own conscious recognition of their existence as a duo.
I guess I was confused about what exactly they did. Did they do drinks tastings? Are they a comedy act? Was it perhaps more serious a message they wanted to put across. I have remained healthily intrigued about their act, but had never been in the right place at the right time and available enough to be bothered to drag my sorry arse along to see them live.
"There is something on at the Begger's I think we should go and see" said Ann "Oh?" I said dismissively, as at times our agreement on what makes a good show may differ.3 Still, The Beggar's Theatre in Millom does bring some good shows from time-to-time, so I guess I was ready to be open minded.
"Yeah, a comedy act, something to do with drinkers or something" she declared, thinking she had knowledge I didn't. "Yeah, know about them" I replied nonchalantly. "Fairly sure this is a brand new show" Ann was determined to maintain that air of superior knowledge. I shattered her illusions "The Thinking Drinkers, Ben and Tom, I think you'll find"
Ann must think I walk around eyes wide shut. I mean, there'd been publicity and stuff, of course I knew about it. Anyway, with a bit of various juggling of other important activities we managed to get to see the show last Friday, and so glad we did.
It was billed as comedy, but with serious faces of apparent drinks connoisseurs on the publicity posters and promise of free drinks, as well as their by now well known mantra we were unsure exactly what to expect. Would it be a drinks tasting event with a few gags? Would it be a lecture on responsible drinking? Oh, wait, the title of the show is "Thinking Drinkers' History of Alcohol" – so, it's a history lesson, perhaps? Indeed, I had heard various comments from idle armchair critiques amongst beer writing circles declare that they "….did not really understand what those two were up to…."
The mistake, I guess, is to think that serious drinks writers can't do comedy. Ben is three times Beer Writer of the Year, he shouldn't be lowering the tone by making people laugh, that's disrespectful.
Well laugh we did. Without doubt the prime genre is that of comedy, up front and in your face.4 Yes, there is some historical stuff in there, but much more by way of creating a vague storyline. There are some drinks tastings to be had, which was kinda good, as we were promised that. But predominantly it was a broad appeal, slightly adult, clever and fast-paced comedy piece. One of those great bits of comedy where you groan at the obvious puns, guffaw at the innuendoes, bravo the clever more subtle jokes and still feel there was more you didn't quite understand, but didn't mind because you were still recovering from the last gag.
We enjoyed the evening, and sharing a few beers after the show. We even gave in and bought their latest book, Thinking Drinkers: The Enlightened Imbiber's Guide to Alcohol.
So, if you get a chance, go and see the show, we had a great time.
1We are fairly sure it is Boutique Beer: 500 Quality Craft Beers, but as we haven't actually got a copy we can't check. Jeez, we can't be going and buying every book that we happen to get mentioned in.
2It's relative I guess. Most regular beer drinkers probably think I'm pretentious in my outlook towards beer. However, most cocktails seem to have left me feeling like I just wasted a whole lot more money than I needed to and sent me right back to enjoying some good beer.
3Ann still thinks The Sound of Music is a great show. I mean…..
4And some of the risqué costumes did leave a little bit too much in your face. My mind is still tainted by the sight of way too much … Although it appears the girls didn't mind too much, they told me afterwards, so perhaps drinks writers can be sex symbols after all.
This post is about our new rewards engagement scheme, Hardknott Crowd Rewards. No, it's not another crowd funding scheme, indeed it is the exact opposite. You can skip the post below and just hit the link to find out what it's all about.
"Find somewhere with lots of chimney pots" he said. Because smoke makes people want to drink more beer? I have to admit I found the connection between chimneys and a demand for beer somewhat confusing when I initially heard the adage. The confusion only lasted a few seconds as my decaying grey matter caught up with the metaphor. It is the case that for some decades that heavily populated areas no longer rely on open fires to heat houses and chimney pots are indeed artefacts of a bygone age, what with central heating and such like.
It is true, it is much easier to sell beer in areas that have a reasonable population density, like big towns, cities and large conurbations. Hardknott certainly is not located in an area that could be classed as highly populated. Indeed, if we measured the total population we could reach in 30 minutes from our town of Millom and compared to all the other towns in Cumbria we would rank very low indeed, beaten perhaps only by Kirby Stephen1
Our success at Hardknott has undeniably been as a result of our activities online. Selling outside of Cumbria by reaching out through this blog, Twitter, Facebook and developing a reputation via these means. Selling into city centres via various distribution modes has helped us get where we are.
As the Craft Beer scene matures, as it certainly is doing, and more and more breweries become savvy to the power of social media it becomes more difficult to be heard. Equally, more and more breweries are setting up closer to, or even in the middle of cities. Right there, right where they need to be and very visible to the local populations, especially if they stand on their chimney pots.
On top of that maintaining social media accounts is something of a time-consuming activity. Lately I've been trying to claw-back parts of my life that have been missing over that last 12 years, mainly because my knees will fail me before long and I want to use them whilst they still work. I have rekindled two of my favourite passions lately, mountaineering2 and musical theatre3. Doing all of this means that I do not spend all my waking hours tweeting, blogging and makes it more difficult to attend beer events and the like.
So, how to engage with people? How to reach more people and get Hardknott more noticed?
I had an idea a few months back, and I've spent most of my time since developing it. Today I decided it was good enough to launch.
Hardknott Crowd Rewards
Go on, click on the link. I'm hopeful it'll be self explanatory, but it is brand new and we'll be developing it over the next few weeks. Either way, help us out by sharing the love and you might end up with some really great goodies. We've even had some t-shirts made as you can see from the pictures here.
1I did consider Kirby Lonsdale and Grange-over-sands in that list, but they are both less than 30 minutes from Kendal. Yes, these places do seem to be listed as towns. I do look at these things as part of my research into development of my business.
2I spent two very glorious weeks in Chamonix this summer. I climbed a mountain called Mont Blanc du Tacul (4248m, my first and hopefully not last 4,000m peak). Next year I hope to summit Mont Blanc itself. The reader is highly unlikely to know just how important this is to me.
3This year I took part in a fantastic musical in Abbey Musical Society production of Barnum. I enjoyed it hugely and was a brilliant diversion from some of the nonsense I have to deal with in the beer world.
Next spring I'm in a production of Cats with the same group. If you have ever seen the show you will understand why I need my knees. I'm playing Alonzo, in case you are interested.
Yates has a place in my heart. In 1986 when it was first established there was very little in the way of microbreweries in Cumbria, if any at all. As a young man it awakened my interest in the brewing industry and was probably an important, if subliminal influence when I considered my own brewing career.
I was saddened to hear a few weeks ago that the current owners, after trying to sell the brewery as a going concern, have decided to simply close the brewery. Having heard on the local grapevine I was waiting until I saw an official word before comment. This brewery closure does sadden me somewhat for a number of reasons.
Quite apart from the fact it is a shame the oldest and most established independent Cumbrian brewery is closing, for me it is something of a weather-check on the state of the industry and the market for independent beer. Moreover, it is an indication perhaps of the likely value of such breweries should any owner wish to find an exit strategy. I feel this is a significant issue for anyone looking to invest in any brewery operation.
Profits for most breweries in receipt of full duty discount is tiny. Indeed, I have some data2 that shows the average brewery below 5,000hl annual production will be lucky to break even. Some will make a profit and some will make a loss. If it is not possible to sell a brewery upon retirement then it is highly likely an overall loss will be made on exit from the industry in most cases. It seems to me that if Yates cannot sell, as a well established business and known brand, then what hope is there?
|Caroline and Graham Baxter, who wish to retire
and cannot find a buyer for their brewery.
Of course growth to a bigger and more healthy business might be an answer, but if a significant number of the estimated 1,4002 breweries under 5,000hl were to grow to an average of say 10,000hl annual production, which is where I believe we'd need to be to see significant value in the brewing business, then this would represent an increase of their combined share of the beer market from around 3%2 to over 30% of the total beer brewed.
I cannot see how this is even remotely achievable without a much greater revolution in the beer industry. Total volume brewed currently by breweries under 200,000hl is about 9%3 of the total beer brewed and of that about 7%4 is brewed by SIBA full brewing members. To move a significant number of current sub 5,000hl breweries into a strong position we'd need to take significant volume away from the global giants, and although I'd love to see that happen, I doubt it actually ever will.
It remains for me to wonder what the future is. Personally some rationalisation and combined business collaborations would be a sensible move. I did approach Yates when I heard they were up for sale to explore how we could work out a deal. We couldn't afford the freehold, but might have been able to work out how to find value in the brand and the equipment and work out a deal. Apparently our approach wasn't welcome.
I think more innovative business solutions need to be explored if the current micro-brewing sector is to thrive. I've looked at a few options, and with only a few exceptions owners of micro-breweries don't seem to get it and seem determined to plough a lonely and pointless furrow.
1Indeed, it was a very long time ago.
2Data has been confidentially supplied to me by SIBA.
3Combined SIBA data and BBPA data
4Estimates by SIBA
The smaller a brewery the more manpower is needed to brew each pint of beer. For example, it takes around 6 hours minimum to brew a batch of beer1. There isn't much can be done to make this a lot faster, and in some cases it might take a lot longer with inefficient brew kit. To a large extent, irrespective of brew-length2, it takes perhaps one person to do a brew with little other help3.
For this reason production costs are generally higher per unit of volume the smaller the brewery. In fact one study I am looking at4 indicates an exponential fall of costs as the brewery gets bigger. PBD is there to help small breweries with the diseconomies of scale suffered by small craft brewers.
As beer duty has risen over the years, and so many more new breweries have sprung up, bigger breweries have started to complain about the increasing perceived cash "discount". It is certainly true that as beer duty becomes a bigger part of the overall costs of brewing beer so we see PBD working better for us smaller breweries. Perhaps we shouldn't object quite so much when beer duty increases? It hurts, but it hurts the bigger breweries more.
It is also seen as unfair that the maximum amount of PBD in cash terms is limited to about £200,0005 Once a brewery hits production of 5,000 there is no benefit to produce more in terms of beer duty savings. Arguably every drop of beer produced above 5,000hl is charged at full duty rate. However, economies of scale do really make a difference.
There are moves to change the structure of PBD. The thing that scares me is that SIBA is looking to engage with various organisation in a bid to create unity in the beer industry. It is likely that there will be increasing moves to change the shape of PBD so much larger breweries gain some significant benefits. The reasons for wanting to engage with the wider beer industry, it is argued, is that we should have a common lobbying voice to put to Government to reduce beer duty.
|Number of breweries by size in the UK|
Personally I would much rather SIBA fight to keep PBD as it is. There might be a little bit of a painful step at the 5,000hl level, but frankly there are a small number of breweries that will get close to this.
Looking at the chart above, there are a huge number of breweries below the 1,000hl level. Many of them cannot, or do not want to grow towards 5,000hl, and if they do, their barriers are generally the stiff competition that exists.
Although SIBA are saying that the 5,000hl limit is sacrosanct and the 50% discount below that cannot be touched, and frankly there are scary noises around to fiddle even with that, there will be unintended consequences of giving breweries in the 5,000 – 200,000hl range added benefits. Any duty benefit given to breweries larger than 5,000hl will inevitably give them a competitive edge that will directly impact on those breweries less than 5000hl, who will receive no added help.
Looking at the spread of brewery size it is quite clear that there are very few breweries above 5000hl. Indeed, more than 50% of the breweries in the UK are in fact under 1,000hl and stand no chance of ever achieving 5,000hl.
|Total share of volume by brewery size|
The reasons for considering a dialogue that might change PBD is to help have a unified voice to lobby for an overall reduction in beer duty. I fail to see how that might help me, and hundreds of other breweries like ours. Indeed, I am of the view that lobbying for major changes to the now fairly established policy of increasing all alcohol duties in line with RPI is a somewhat futile activity.
The vast majority of beer brewed in the UK is made by huge companies. Over 90% is brewed by only 25 massive breweries. An increase in beer duty hurts them much more than it hurts me. A decrease benefits them much, much more than it benefits me. The vast majority of the electorate is now convinced that these big companies are evil and deserve to be punished.
A change in PBD will give me no benefits, and likely make a very small number of larger breweries more competitive, so hurting my sales. Indeed, this is the reason there is a driver for change anyway.
It is this, more than anything else, that has made me fairly convinced that we need to look more carefully at how SIBA view it's members. If you are a SIBA member and have yet to vote in the membership ballot, I would urge you to do so as soon as possible.
I do hope the reader is impressed with my pie charts. This is a beer blog after all, and we all know that beer and pies are an ideal combination.
1The brewing process from point of mash in to having the fermentable liquid, called wort, in a tank ready to pitch the yeast.
2The brew-length is the volume of wort produced in a single brew-day.
3I am of course generalising here. However, the bigger a brewery installation the more likely labour saving features have been introduced. For us we still have small mash tuns which necessitate digging out the grain from the top. A brewery with a brew length of say 25hl will almost certainly have side access door enabling spent gains to be raked out with comparative ease. A 100hl brewery might well have a self-digging mash tun and be operating a whirlpool type copper which generally only uses pellets. Cleaning such brew-houses
There are variations on this with smaller brew-houses where automation allows more brewing per shift by use of parallel vessels and mash-in possible for a second brew while the first is still in the copper.
4Unfortunately, because of the nature of the data it is unlikely that I'll be able to publish the exact details of this study.
5This assumes an average beer strength of 4.2%. The current full duty rate is £19.08 per hectolitre percent (HL%). Full PBD discount gives a reduction of £9.54/HL%. So for a brewery producing 5,000hl of 4.2% beer their total savings on beer duty is 4.2 x 5,000 x £9.54 = £200,340.
Before the duty rate increase in March it was £192,990. So a brewery between 5,000hl and 30,000hl annual production saw an increase in this benefit over the very biggest breweries of £7,350.
It doesn't seem unreasonable to me to think that changes to the industry should be led by my trade body, SIBA.
There are various discussion within SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) regarding a number of issues. I have engaged in an attempt to get the best out of the organisation for my business, and currently I am of the view that my efforts have largely cost me time and money with very little to show.
I presented a couple of motions at SIBA AGM this year. One was asking for a ballot of members to ascertain if the membership criteria was in accord with the membership's views. The motion was passed with a healthy majority.
SIBA will carry out a ballot of all members to ensure that the membership is happy with the current membership criteria.
Should the results of the membership show that the majority of the membership is unhappy with the current criteria SIBA must fully, demonstrably and transparently consult the membership to determine a new membership criteria.
The ballot is now being conducted, and after an initial technical hitch, the vote is now live for all SIBA members.
I spent yesterday trying to write further words to support my reasons for a "no" vote. I have to be honest and say that I fail to add anything that I haven't already written, and again, or that I have said in my speeches.
The speeches were recorded by the SIBA photographer. I've lifted my bits out of the official video that languishes behind a password. This may not meet with total approval of the officialdom, but I'm only showing me, so hopefully I'll get away with it.
There are further points made by other brewers at the AGM. Some of them rather splendid. I'd strongly recommend logging onto the SIBA toolbox and looking for the membership ballot link and finding the video. The motions start 45 minutes into the video.
BeerX 2017 SIBA AGM – Dave's speeches from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.
I would really like a "no" vote. Not because I really think that it'll make a lot of difference tightening up the membership, but because I would like SIBA to realise that they do not do enough for small brewers like me.
If the vote goes to a "yes" then it might just be the end of my time trying to engage with SIBA as it will then be proof that SIBA will fail to adequately align with my view of what the beer-world should look like.
Some extra information;
It is estimated that;
over 60% of breweries in the UK produce less than 1,000hl per year
over 80% of breweries in the UK produce less than 2,500hl per year
over 90% of breweries in the UK produce less than 5,000hl per year
And yet the focus from SIBA is on providing for breweries who produce over 5,000hl per year.
Meanwhile, during 2009 I started to discover some very interesting beers. Jaipur of course, and Punk IPA. Big imperial stouts and barley wines also hit me big-time that year. My view of beer, it turns out, was going through a humongous shift of perspective, initially started by a visit to Oregon late 2008. Massive hop-hits of American style IPAs. Beers with more body and interest due to higher ABVs.. and all manner of preconception-busting styles that shook my own perspective to the very core in a very good and exciting way.
Of course there was then, and still are some great brewers doing some fantastic things in the UK. Fullers remains a solid favourite of mine, and there might even be some more I'll have to say on that soon. But that seminal year, with the discovery or Thornbridge and BrewDog made me want to look further at how I could develop my own brewing passions. I wanted to be a craft brewer, because I believed that meant more than just being a "real ale micro-brewery" even though it seemed many commentators treated that concept of craft beer with a huge level of contempt.
When I set up my stand alone production brewery I wanted to follow the more contemporary style that was emerging and I believe I have a rightful claim to be Cumbria's first and best independent craft brewery.
Whatever your view of craft beer, one thing is certain, we remain very independent. There have been various take-overs of bigger entities. Meantime, Camden Town and now Hawkshead to name just three that are high above my event horizon.
Just this week we hear of BrewDog bullying tactics over brand names, applying similar corporate style pressure that they have previously fought against. Indeed, admittedly with some amusement to me, Martin and James changed their names to Elvis by deed poll after a law suit was filled by the late Mr Presley's estate.
Meanwhile we remain frustratingly small. We have produced about 1000hl every year for the past 4 years. We have also, due to the combination of the inefficiencies of our size, increasing costs and downward market pressures on brewery gate prices seen increasing losses that cannot be sustained. We cannot continue to do what we are doing the way we are doing it.
So, big choices to make. Huge choices to make. We have a buyer for our house, which will realise a chunk of hard cash. In a few weeks, hopefully, we will complete on the sale our house and pay down some scary loans that are partly to blame for our losses1. We will then be in a position to decide exactly what we are going to do next. We will have some hard cash left with which to consider investment in the business, but it will not be enough by itself to make it work, so we will have to take out some more scary loans, but a lot more carefully this time.
In reality, the most obvious thing to do would be just to wind up our operation. Ditch the dream of making a successful competitive, exciting and unique craft brewery as just a ridiculous idea that cannot work commercially from where we are. The market information does not make it look great; with the increasing competition, dropping wholesale pricing and increasing costs like no tomorrow. Stopping production that actually costs us money to keep doing, selling all our equipment and binning Hardknott often seems the only logical thing to do.
Is this what we will do? Not if I have my fucking way it isn't.
We have lived, breathed, dreamed and sweated Hardknott for 11 years. I'm damned if I'm giving up now. But we need to be bigger and better and different to how we have been.
So, how do we make it work? Well, I could tell you all my ideas, and my plans, show you all my blue-prints for success, but you'd have to get me very drunk before I did. They are all fairly exciting and progressive, and if I can find a way to fund them I'll make damn sure at least some of them happen.
Let's just say we have a bold plan. It's a plan that will be risky and will put everything we have on the line. We are quite probably mad. But what choice do we have? Lose Hardknott? Lose everything we have worked so hard to achieve over the last 11 years? Lose all that talent we have in the team, lose the inspiration that got us this far? Come on, that is worth fighting for surely?
We firmly believe we have a huge amount of potential. Our core beliefs, dreams and aspirations have not changed.
Besides, can we allow a few major craft pioneers to simply leave us for dust? With BrewDog becoming ever more corporate like, Meantime, Camden Town and Hawkshead selling out we feel there is a danger of the idea of craft beer becoming ever more threatened. With the likes of Marston's claiming part of the craft arena and many smaller traditional brewers taking up the cudgel, with some admirably good results, we have a battle on our hands and make no mistake about it.
As this all unfolds over the next few months I hope to start sharing a bit more detail. I hope you will all watch and support us and our tiny team. We may well be asking for particular practical support, much is as yet uncertain, but we hope you will trust us to do the right thing when we do call for that help.
1Many people have said to me… "don't!… DON'T sell your house to save your business!". I have a fairly simple reply; when the majority of the debt is either secured on the house anyway, or on personal credit cards, there are not many choices left. We simply do not have the financial headroom to close down the business neatly and safely without risking much more personally, losing our house and our business anyway and becoming personally bankrupt.
I am hopeful that suppliers, HMRC and our loyal fans will all see this as the right thing to do by everyone. Equally, a tidy solution to this will hopefully leave our credit rating in some sort of reasonable health.
Some time ago I turned from being a vocal critic of SIBA, shouting from the sidelines, to working inside to make democratic change. In many ways I have been enjoying the efforts I put in. However, being a small business owner it can be quite time consuming and spending time away from the brewery to attend regional meetings and the policy committee meetings that I am involved with is difficult.
This is a key point really in my considerations. A point that I will labour in my total of 10 minutes at the podium. The fact that the average SIBA member produces around 1000hl of beer a year. Representing perhaps £200,000 turnover. If you understand the margins on beer you will easily see that it is very difficult to make a decent living at this level.
Half of the SIBA membership is smaller than this.
It seems, at least when it comes to the brewery, I am about average in size. We brew perhaps slightly over 1000hl per year.
I find it difficult to engage with SIBA in a meaningful way, predominantly time and distance being the barrier, and I am possibly not as time constrained as brewing businesses smaller than me. It is my belief that SIBA fails to accurately represent the majority of it's membership, but changing that is not likely to be easy if the majority of the membership does not engage.
To that end, if you are a SIBA member and cannot attend the AGM please invoke your right to send a vote by proxy.
Let's be heard.
My motion that is listed as motion 3 has raised one or two questions…. yes, I believe PBD should be defended as is, and will state so in my speech. However, in reality motion 3 is presented as a defence in case motion 4 is passed. If there is an independent review then changes to PBD must be considered alongside the fact that meaningful access to tied markets is still not improving, despite MRO.
I make no bones about it, motion 4 would be much better rejected and a clear message sent from the membership that PBD should stay unchanged.
I'm sure you will be thinking "Dave, just bugger off to Facebook if you are going to post pictures of your pets, we thought this was a beer blog!"
Well, yes, but we named Jester after the fairly recently developed British hop variety.
"Dave, you make beers with New World hops… using British hops will just make the beer taste of twigs and moss!"
You lot are so lacking in inspiration and experimentation ain't you? I mean, historically British hops have developed for boring major regional brewers and their twig tasting beers……. but things are changing.
Make no bones about it, there are efforts being made to develop new hop varieties and it is important for us brewers to explore what they can do for beers.
We've started a new series of beers; the neutron series. The first one was Neutron Centennial. We use quite a lot of Centennial hops in our beers so getting the chance to isolate the single hop was handy.
Jester hop variety has got some English characteristics, but we thought it to be one of the more suitable hops to play with. We're not apologetic for trying and we think we brought out the best in it.
Jester the Azimutt is doing fine…As you can see he's grown up into a fine proud dog…all growed up and that.
Have English hop varieties grown up yet? Well, it's improving, but there is still work to do.. We'll keep trying new varieties until we find the top-notch ones that can replace those properly funky American varieties.
SIBA originally started out life as the Small Independent Brewers' Association. It was decided some time ago to change the name to Society of Independent Brewers, but for the sake of simplicity retain the original acronym. One can have a view on the appropriateness of the change, and the subsequent closer working relationship with the likes of BBPA, regional brewers and even major multinationals.
Things are coming a little bit to a head. There is the recent formation of a coalition of brewers named "Small Brewers Duty Reform Coalition" (SBDRC) who are now looking to change the duty scheme to favour what is called "The Squeezed Middle". See the details here. I believe this to be a threatening and aggressive move, especially as many of the protagonists are SIBA members. It does not help us to work sensibly to produce a fair and cohesive strategy for the future of PBD.
If you have been following this blog so far this year you will note that I am greatly concerned about overall saturation of the beer market; great for beer drinkers, but not so for brewers large and small. The whole market is being squeezed significantly. Indeed, we feel like we are the squeezed bottom4.
SIBA have nicely and robustly countered the SBDRC announcement with its own press release.
I want to voice here my own Hardknott centric view on all of this. Micro-breweries are going out of business. I hear of one gone into receivership just this week. Other micro-brewers are either activating or considering significant retraction of activities. Much of the reason for this is because the "squeezed middle" are driving down prices, and significant to all of this is recent huge mandated price drop for SIBA members into Enterprise Inns.
If we change the nature of PBD significantly we will see the "squeezed middle" using any duty benefit to further drive down the price in the market increasing damage to an already struggling micro-brewery industry. The only true benefactors will be PubCos and brewers with significant pub estates. There is already significant evidence to suggest that the vast majority of duty decreases of any sort are simply demanded by retail chains to improve their bottom line.
The work done behind the scenes to deal with these issues is complex, sensitive and contains significant alternative perspectives. I simply put my point of view across here, but it is one that I would expect most brewers of our size (1200hl/yr) to agree with. It is also worth noting that I represent around the average size for SIBA members, and therefore would expect SIBA to take as much notice of me as they would of any brewer bigger than me.
Further more, very few SIBA members are above 5000hl, over 90% of SIBA members are below 5000hl and benefit from full duty relief, essential for their very existence. The remaining 10% or so appear to be significantly more powerful in shaping SIBA policies and certainly carry more weight and have more resources to help influence policy.
One would expect SIBA to defend PBD completely and utterly. Up until recently this is exactly what has been happening, and I am hopeful that this will continue to be the case. I am significantly scared that this may change if we do not fight very strongly against SBDRC and some of the noises being made by larger organisations.
Part of the problem is that SIBA has grown now to include some fairly big brewers. Brewers can now be a member of SIBA even if they brew a colossal 200,000hl per year. This represents businesses that turn over tens of millions of pounds per year. They are huge. It is inconceivable that they can relate to the difficulties faced by 90% of SIBA members.
Now, SIBA is a democratic organisation, which in itself begs the question as to why we have allowed ourselves a position where we have such giants in our camp. I believe there is a core reason behind this, and my main reason for writing this post. Change is made via regional meetings, representation is sent via trusties to the board. Additionally, there is a route for major changes to be made via motions to the AGM. If I understand correctly, these motions have to first be approved at regional level for onward consideration by the board before finally being presented at national AGM (BeerX) for a vote.
I see there being some significant flaws in this process. Firstly, many of the brewers below 5000hl are working their butts off just to stay afloat and cannot afford the time or fuel to travel and engage with this process. I believe the direction SIBA would take would be significantly different if many more members engaged.
This is the key message behind this post. I am considering two motions to the AGM. One that ties any change to PBD to a significant, meaningful and proactive change to access to market for brewers below 5000hl. The second motion would question the rationale behind having membership over 60,000hl and the associate membership category, perhaps demanding a referendum on the policy to determine if the membership is happy with the status quo. My reason for this second motion is that I believe members over 60,000hl significantly compromise SIBAs ability to act for the majority of the membership.
For these, and other motions from other breweries to be successful we require as many sub 5000hl brewery representatives to attend both regional AGMs and the National AGM at BeerX in March.
If any micro-brewery cannot attend then there is an option for proxi-voting, which I would strongly urge members to activate.
2Progressive beer duty is the scheme whereby small brewer's diseconomies of scale are partly helped by a reduction on the amount of tax we pay. Without this duty us small brewers would have an incredibly difficult time competing in the market and there would certainly be much less choice in the beer world. If we lose this relief many brewers will find it difficult to continue and we would see significant shrinkage in the micro-brewery market.
3A significant proportion of the pub market is tied to particular brewers. This might be through ownership of the freehold of the pub, or it might be through less obvious barriers through ownership of dispense equipment.
So, with the bit between my teeth, and the potential risk associated with a runaway creature, I feel it is time for me to explore writing about a deep angst I now experience and has possibly taken me close to mental illness. Yes, 2016 was that tough, I hope this post will turn into therapy.
I've built a lot of my business through the internet. Back in 2008 I had been exploring various ways of making my business do better. I was advised, amongst other things, to write a blog. Engaging Facebook was also seen by various business mentors to be a thing, although I continue to have my doubts about how useful that is. Applying SEO1 to tempt Google to rank higher is a thing I studied courses on.
I started to write a blog about my business, and searched for other blogs to see what people were saying about pubs and beer. That was over 8 years ago. I became engrossed into the whole discussion about beer and pubs, cask and keg, sparklers and CAMRA and numerous subjects. I even won an award with the Guild of Beer Writers, which gave me immense pleasure and even briefly made me think that I could do it for a living.
In 2009 a thing called Twitter started to gather momentum and I joined in. It can be great fun and I've met a lot of people via that medium and reached customers I'd have never achieved to with any other form of communications. We pushed out our message and continued to work to promote Hardknott beers through our move away from a brewpub to stand alone brewery.
Broadly it has worked. I have very little doubt in my mind that I would not have progressed Hardknott anywhere near as far as we have without interactions on social media. I haven't always got it right, and certainly have made some mistakes. There have been good natured discussion on many occasions, and equally some flame-wars at other times. When it goes well the feeling of success, of acceptance by the wider community as a person of knowledge and wise words, it is an incredibly useful motivator by way of emotionally uplifting feelings. Money almost doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things2 when it goes right.
When it doesn't go right, things can go very wrong indeed. After the euphoria of success of the early days there comes the realisation that staying on top becomes more difficult as more and more people enter the game. I am now realising the huge buzz of success can be replaced with a downer so large as to create withdrawal cravings similar to what I imagine a drug addict may experience. It does make me ponder the damage that might be done to emotions as a result of attempting to promote a business on the internet.
I do like a good discussion. I like to think I can consider a point of view that might differ to mine and put across an analysis of the situation in a calm and collected way, providing the other person is trying to do the same and not just being antagonistic. However, when I am arguing for my very existence, when I know that for several years I've been making fairly substantial losses and I am fighting through my blog, or twitter, or whatever to keep alive the passion in my heart it becomes very difficult to not see some commentators as just being deliberately disruptive. I like a sensible discussion, but not an all out argument, and definitely not anything that resembles being flamed, or where I feel the need to flame someone else because they appear to me to just poking a pointy stick for the sake of being nasty. I feel it is especially difficult when it seems to me to be for the sole purpose of undermining my own convictions.
I truly believe in what I am doing. I do have a passion to brew great beer, to make a difference in the beer world and try to realign the drinkers view of beer. I think to some extent over the last 11 years of brewing I have done that. But the passion can sometimes manifest itself as great hurt when I feel I care more than those that I interact with and when those people I feel ought to be my friends. Indeed moreover, when to me they would actually benefit by my attempts to improve the lot of the general micro-brewing scene should they allow me my point. It is difficult not to just see it as being malicious.
I don't know if it is me, struggling to make my own business work. Perhaps it is the desperation of others who feel the need to attack anything I do that is aiming to big up my own beers, or justify something I'm doing. Of course on some occasions it could be my own paranoia creating an imaginary enemy, which is an explanation I oft considered3. It is highly likely that it is a combination of all of these. However I have felt lately that in most forms of on-line interaction an incredible increase of tension and uncomfortable situations.
My main form of promotion for my brewery has been, and probably still is via the internet. I have felt an increasing sense of discomfort recently to the extent that I feel I have developed a level of depression, a form of adversity and reluctance to engage. Perhaps I am too needy, perhaps I am not as cut out for on-line engagement as I thought I was, perhaps I am just too sensitive and if that is so then perhaps this is another reason to consider more carefully my future.
There seems to be significant information suggesting that social media is creating mental illness in young people. I can't find a really great link that is not just sensationalist news items that say we should be watching out for our kids. Why just young people? Can old people like me not suffer too?
It has drawn me to consider the risks of promoting a business via social media. I notice one eminent brewery owner reduce his on-line activity stating it is due to feeling uncomfortable with some of the interactions. It also makes me consider that perhaps all writers who take themselves seriously find themselves needing to gain sufficient praise and acceptance and that perhaps only a small dose of cruel critique may send them into a spiral of unhappiness.
It is important for me to try and get the balance right. The purpose behind this blog has changed, to some extent. Moving from being a brewing pub-owner to being a brewer has certainly changed my perspective. It is essential for me to work at promoting my beers and the best way in my mind to do that is via my blog. It is obviously not helpful to my own state of mind or for the promotion of my beers if I continue to try to manage, with carefully constructed arguments, comments that appear to be trolling.
I know I haven't always engaged appropriately when dealing with comments on here, or discussions on twitter. Indeed, sometimes I have felt huge stress and even anger, which is incredibly unhelpful to everyone, and may in fact make me look a little like an internet troll myself. So, time to fully engage comment moderation and be selective about the comments I permit to be posted. I can normally tell when a thread is likely to drag me into a difficult situation. I also think it is important to try to avoid starting to respond, or even look at the comments elsewhere that are likely to create a situation.
Besides, I want to feel happy, and want to be able to write and engage. I can't do that if I'm scared to be here.
There might be a wider issue here; I know many brewers are struggling at the moment. Since our New Year post I've been contacted by several brewers saying their lot this last 12 months has gotten worse. This is in addition to the already strong indication that all is not well in the industry. Perhaps we are all feeling the pinch and taking it out on each other, I can't imagine that is a good thing. Let us focus on fighting those outside our own impassioned group of dedicated brewers, rather than appearing to tear each other apart.
Over 90% of the total beer brewed in the UK is made by less than 2% of the breweries. They are the true enemy.
Less than 1% of the total beer is made by over 90% of the breweries (those under under 5000hl), which includes me and many very great breweries. Will simply must stop pissing each other off.
1SEO = Search Engine Optimisation
2If I were honest I don't care about money as such. I do like new toys, I like to live in a nice house and it would be nice to get way on holiday, but to me money is a way of measuring success, but only one of them.
3Although, when casual observers say to me "I thought
What do we have in store for us in 2017? Where am I going and where is Hardknott going? I have to say at this point I'm very unclear, other than knowing things really have to change drastically. 2016 might have seen a few bad things happen, like Brexit2 and Donald Trump, and what does seem to be an inordinate number of celebrities dying3. It has been a little bit of a contraction for Hardknott, if I be truthful. Our bar on Millom station just wasn't working, for so many reasons and it simply had to close after two years of operation, rather regrettably. We have shed several members of staff, for various reasons and to date have not replaced them4 Turnover has shrunk slightly, although what is nice is not in proportion to the shrinkage of staff.5 Early indications are that with reduced staff, reduced production and careful choice of sales we are perhaps not in loss so far this financial year.
It is highly possible that this represents a re-group. A chance for us to reconsider and contemplate where we are and where we should go. It gave me great pleasure this week to see that Cloudwater have posted about their future. It is impossible to ignore this mighty force in the craft beer scene and there is a lot to learn from their forward-looking vision. There has already been various questions raised about their plans to cease cask production and Boak and Bailey as ever thoughtfully consider this.
These things inevitably feed into my own considerations. We've been brewing at Millom now for just over 6 years. We have yet to make any significant profit. Indeed, although somehow we make ends meet, just, we have seen our wealth actually decrease as we fund this mad-capped idea, and lose out to various bad choices we've made.6 We've effectively been stuck since about 2013 due mainly to lack of funding to invest and the difficulty in up-scalling any further. We are plateaued and are somewhere between a rock and a fucking very, very hard place indeed.
This effectively means we've been paying to keep Hardknott alive. For the past 6 years Ann and I7 have been managing to keep it afloat. We had a dream, we believed we could make it work and we still believe that, but it has cost us dearly. This is set against the knowledge that many other brewers feel that there simply isn't the money in the job and several have either stopped brewing or even gone into administration.
The thing that really gets to me is that the one format our beer goes out in that loses me most is cask. I am majorly pleased to see Cloudwater effectively make the same point. We are literally paying for the privilege of putting our beer into cask, the price point in the market being so damn low. It costs us more to make, sell, distribute, get back the empties and fund the cash flow lag created. Then we have the fact that there is office staff time spent chasing all the bad payers out there I have no idea why we still do it.
I have continually made the point that we sell our beer way too cheap, and we are way too small to be viable as a craft brewery making really great beer. Beer that has more care, more time in tank, better ingredients and more wastage due to dry hopping etc. However it seems that in Cumbria there is a continual downward pressure on prices created by there being an oversupply of beer and far too many breweries.
Cloudwater rightly manage to command a premium. Good, they deserve it. Even so they have not yet made a profit even though they now turnover more than £1m. We manage around £230k on a really great year. We cannot achieve higher than that without upgrading the brew-house and potentially relocating8.
To make the next move we require around £100k investment, and probably more, just to get our brewery efficient enough to be competitive. Raising money when the accounts look so poor is no mean feat. Even if we secured funding from banks or other financial institutions I expect the interest rates alone would negate the cost-benefits of any investment right now. It seems to us the only thing that might help us to make a go of it would be to sell our home, downsize and in so doing release some capital. I'm going to be honest, this scares the living shit out of me, not least of which because although we will release capital our house is really efficient and low-cost, our bills are low, should we move into a draughty house we might see bigger bills, which we cannot afford on our none-existent earnings.
Our house is on the market, and I'm hopeful that we will find a buyer this year. Our plan requires that we move and so I can no longer hide the fact that a move out of Millom is essential. I understand it is possible to find some quite nice caravans and this sacrifice will be worth it to save Hardknott. What if even that doesn't get us on an even footing? We will have risked everything to secure a future for what we believe is Cumbria's very best craft brewery.
Apart from downward price pressures and upward costs9 there are some very scary noises being made by the big boys in the beer industry. This week I find out about an FT article where it is claimed that there is a squeezed middle represented by brewers above the small brewers relief threshold. I have known about this for some time due to involvement with SIBA's policy committee. The bigger breweries are claiming, the ones that say they are in the "squeezed middle", that they get no benefit of economies of scale. Clearly this cannot be true, but are in any case pissed off with us little guys for getting a duty discount.
It's a pity they are rocking the boat as I quite liked breweries similar to Moorhouses. I think it is time for a gloves off approach to these breweries myself, and to the larger breweries that no doubt are using these small pawns in their master plan to prevent great micro-brewed craft beer from becoming more the norm. The trouble for me is I know quite a lot about the threat created by the combination of oversupply and these big boy muscle flexing activities and worry about continuing viability and the sense in investment. They are threatening the small brewer's duty relief. If they take that we are doomed.
Of course it's not small brewer's duty relief that is the cause of their problem. It is the over supply and a decrease of value of beer in general. A crowded market where the product is largely seen as a commodity, when there is over supply, the price is bound to see downward pressure. If there are also upward pressures on costs eventually something has to give. From my perspective I have to look very carefully indeed at the situation.
"Looking forward" said the title. Indeed, and this is what I should do, but this post isn't doing that very well. So, let us formulate a plan. I think the options look a bit like this;
1. Look very carefully at our pricing and consider a significant increase.
2. Look very carefully at cask and either put up the price or stop producing it10.
3. Look very carefully at our operation and consider if we should just wind up what we are doing.
4. Do something very, very different.
What is very, very different? Is that not the same as giving up? No, definitely not.
I do not believe what we are doing here at Millom, the way we are doing it, has a long-term future. It might be possible to make it work in Millom, but only by achieving both significant inward investment and a significant increase of locally based sales. I do not believe either are possible in the short term11.
Investment is needed, and this cannot come from traditional sources. What I can promise is that if we do manage to sell our house and do manage a relocation plan we'll be approaching The Crowd, i.e. you, to help match what Ann and I are planning on risking.
More importantly any move will have to see a brewery that looks a lot different to not only what we are doing now, but different to anything anyone has ever seen in the UK before. It has to truly be audacious. It has to not only has to look different, and be different, it has to sell in a different way and provide our drinkers with a different experience. Everything about it has to radically change the perception of brewing and make a change to the beer landscape of the UK.
Well, that's the plan anyway. I have many great ideas, some of them very exciting indeed. They will need to be honed, massaged, and beaten into shape. They need to be realistic and achievable, but only with blood sweat and probably a lot of tears. They will take a huge amount of effort, some conviction, support from many people and an understanding from some of my critics in the industry that we have big fish to fry. There will be some big personal risks to be taken and we will not be able to afford to take prisoners, big or small.
There are some big brewers out there after my skin, and yours. It doesn't matter if you are a local brewer, or a brewer further afield. Perhaps you are just a drinker, and don't see the danger. Perhaps you are a naive brewer who thinks that you are not part of the big beer market. Perhaps you are happy with us moving back to a beer industry with fewer players, which is what the FT article is really saying. Which ever way your motivation is, get on board, be part of what we want to achieve, and see a real change to the way micro-breweries can operate. Come along with us, if nothing else just for the giggles. But remember we represent the little guy fighting against those old established doctrines put out by many bigger and more powerful entities than us in the industry.
I think we represent the future. It might be a difficult one for sure, but if you want diversity in the beer industry and want a future that isn't the same old homogenous line of predictable beers lining every bar then come on board, support us and be part of it.
1It's not specifically my mother's abdomen I miss, of course, but just the person in general. Conversely, there are an increasing number of days I feel a return to 1964 might well be a great idea. A reboot if you will. But this post is supposed to be about looking forward, so let us try that shall we?
2Yes, I am a remoaner. I feel strangely proud to be so, considering there was a time I was mildly Eurosceptic. I know, if you are a Brexiteer you'll be shouting "It was democracy" and all that. We should just shut up and accept the will of the people. However, if it had been 2% in the other direction I'm damn sure Nigel wouldn't have just fecked off and he would probably be shouting about how damn close it was. Hey ho.
3My kids don't seem to know who half of them are, and I remember my mother often saying things like "Gracie Fields has died" and me having no idea of who the hell she was talking about. There is an idea that as you get old you notice more people dying who you used to know, or know about. Cool, there is so much to look forward to in life.
4As a part of our New Year review I am pleased to say we are tentatively considering increasing our staff numbers, but will only do so if we feel we can afford to hire exactly the right people.
5For which I have huge thanks to extend to Scott who has worked incredibly hard to make sure the beer continues to get brewed and ensuring that actually this train didn't get derailed in that incredibly difficult year.
6The bad choice there was to agree to let a rogue have any credit what-so-ever. That man effectively stole £2000 from me. Actually, not just from me but from Hardknott, which I think is bigger than just me. It has left a huge dent in my enthusiasm and trust of people. It has left a huge dent in the motivation of the team here. He has effectively stolen from what I believe is the heart of what should be a strong driving force of great craft beer in Cumbria. He still owes it to us, just in case anyone is wondering. And no it is incredibly unlikely that I will let the subject drop until he pays me back plus interest.
At this point I am also going to mention the builder who's negligence wrote off our van. I'd also like to mention his insurer for failing to make appropriate payments. This is another event that has been rather crippling to me in more ways than one. Apart from it being perhaps the scariest moment of the year. Apart from the fact that every time I go out delivering myself in the van, which I have to do more often now due to staff shrinkage, I think about that big builders van apparently reversing towards me at great speed, and the subsequent impact into my side of our van. I fret about the insurance claim that is still not properly sorted, because the insurance company (NFU) refuses to acknowledge that there were significant issues brought about regarding our ability to deliver whilst the van was sorted, and that fact that my shoulder is still not really right, and hurts terribly at the end of a delivery run. The fact that they didn't offer me enough money to be able to replace the van so we fixed and made do (thanks Ryan for the door, you are a star in many ways) The fact that to replace the van, with its sign writing, would cost a lot more than the figure offered. The fact that every time I go out in the van now I hate it and strongly suspect I have some form of PTSD. This collision was in no way my fault and was the obvious negligence of the other driver failing to put the handbrake on in a fully laden 3.5 tonnes transit complete with driver's door buckling extra industrial tow hitch. I often think about the poor biker lady who's frantic arm waving attempts to warn me of impeding doom were to no avail. Added to this one troll on twitter questioned my sharing of the difficulties of delivering beer to sometimes extremely financially unviable locations. That particular idiot added significantly to my stress.
7I cannot understate Ann's incredibly hard work at keeping the ship together. Fighting off suppliers who almost never extend as much credit as some of our customers expect. The phone calls incessant from suppliers who want paid, rightly so, but who inevitably distract us from making beer. Or finding enough cash to pay suppliers because they rightly have us on stop. And yet if we dare to phone up some places for them to pay the bill they conveniently don't have the right people to talk to, or more often think we are being unreasonable despite the extent of the monies owed or time it has taken to pay. Oh, and the lies, them lies, why? Because they are making money out of the credit we extend to them, that's why.
Ann has absolutely been a bedrock of support to me. Even when I've had my worst days of wondering why the hell I'm trying to fight for this dream, she's been there through my foulest of moods. Knowing that there are days when she absolutely has to insulate me from some of the difficulties she has keeping the finances right. I do love her more than ever.
8We have identified that we rarely travel for the business without going through junction 36 on the M6, irrespective of the trip. Be it for deliveries, be it for sales calls, be it for meet the brewer events or for some trade event or other it is just about 95% of all our trade goes that way. Being in the south west corner of Cumbria puts 270 degrees of our immediate radius in the sea. The other 90 degrees consists mainly of mountains and the beautiful, but obstinate Black Combe standing defiantly in our path leaving only two narrow corridors from which to escape.
Of course there are ways of making a name for oneself from a far flung corner of the Universe and in doing so getting sufficient sales into more lucrative markets. Breweries have done it in the past, but generally it involves some sort of awesome, outspoken, audacious and game-changing noise making on the Internet. It can even help to bring along those friends who decide to ride with it. Unfortunately my own appetite for such things has been very severely dented by Internet trolls who I used to think of as my friends. This is a bigger problem for me than I expect they appreciate. 2017 will be different, it has to be. It is important whatever I do to get our message out and to ignore and perhaps even censor childish, irresponsible, distracting and mischievous noises off. They are the biggest reason I refrain more and more form blogging, and in turn sees my business suffer.
9Again, I have argued in the past that our costs are going up and as a result we need to put our prices up. This year in particular most of our suppliers are trying to put up prices, which of course we are resisting. It has been disappointing to me that some Internet trolls, that appear to me to be the sort of people that should be finding ways to help us all to increase the value of beer, have shot me down in a most un-useful and self-defeating way. Why are there people in the brewing industry that want to depress success and want to argue for a below cost supply of beer? These are people that are not doing very well themselves, so why drag everything down?
10I personally think that this amounts to the same thing. Cask has a price point. We can't make it for the price point demanded by the market. If we put up the price it won't sell in sufficient quantity to justify making it.
11We should note the phrase "I do not believe" – it might be possible should we invest significant amounts in both brewing equipment to increase efficiency and a major promotional push into the local environs. Perhaps some sort of crowd funded investment program could see the local fans we have both invest in the brewery and help us to push stubborn local licensees to stop buying shit, knock down priced beer. I have my doubts, but there is a little bit of me lives in hope, and I do know there are a significant number of fans out there who would like to see us stay.
The secret to making good beer, as with great culinary creativity, is balancing flavours to meld into an overall experience that meets with approval. I was curious to know what might happen if I combined the hop flavours of a good beer with the sweetness of a classic dessert. I knew it might not have worked, but as it happens I am very pleased with the results.
I decided to trial making choux pastry buns filled with creme patisserie and all with as much of the liquid replaced with Azimuth as I dare. In the end I managed to make sufficient for a dinner party of 4 and incorporated a full bottle of Azimuth in doing so.
Mindful of the need to avoid overheating of the beer, the recipe choice required the liquids to be boiled at some point in the process. This is breaking rule1 number 1 of making food with hoppy beers. I felt I had to try, and really, nasty industrial beer is pasteurised by heating it to silly temperatures, so I figured if I was careful it would work out OK.
For the choux pastry; I'm not here to replicate the plethora of recipes out there for general cooking well established classics. I'm trying help incorporate beer into these things. Good choux pastry recipes are all over the place on the internet, but they vary quite a bit. If in doubt I fall back on a book first published in 1950 with the edition we2 have reprinted in 1976 to include metric measures, if you please.
Despite the plethora of internet based information, you still can't beat a papery thing. Sadly this particular culinary bible seems to be out of print.
In this case I used 125ml out of a bottle of Azimuth to replace the water. The trick, as always with beer, is to only just take the beer to the temperature that is needed, and if at all possible avoid boiling. For choux the boil immediately prior to dumping in the flour is to distribute the melted butter. I got the mixture just under the boil and stirred it a little. Same thing really. After that I followed the recipe as if I had simply used water.
Once cool you can make the paste into whatever shape you wish to, using a piping bag if you are that way inclined. We aren't posh enough to have a piping bag, or arsed enough to make one from greaseproof paper, I simply dollop on a baking tray. Make sure you cook them well enough otherwise you get a soggy centre and they collapse when cooling.
There are a huge number of creme patisserie recipes, with great variations. I could not find a definitive one either to link to or to post a copy-write infringing photo on here. Anyway, I did dick with this a little, so here goes.
Dave's IPA Creme Patisserie
200ml Azimuth (The rest of the bottle)
100ml double cream
4 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
20g plain flour
10g corn flour
noix de beurre3
Mix the Azimuth and cream in a pan, split the vanilla pod down it's length and remove seeds, put seeds and pod in the beer cream mix. Gently bring to just under the boil, set aside and rest for a minute.
Mix the egg yolks and sugar together well and then stir in the flour, both types.
Pour the hot liquid onto the egg yolk mixture and whisk. Return to the pan and heat until just and so boiling stirring all the time.
Remove from heat, beat until smooth, add knob of butter and continue to mix.
For best results, to ensure a smooth mix and to get out that vanilla pod, pass through a sieve whilst still hot and beat again4 before covering with cling film and cooling.
Then, take your choux buns, or whatever shape they are, and fill them with the confectioners custard.
Decorate if you want to impress, or just shove them in your mouth and eat them. Either way, I'm truly impressed with the resultant flavours.
1My rules, I'm not sure if anyone else has made up a set of beer cooking rules, but I'm making my own up as I go along.
2I was going to say "I have" and I remember that there is an inscription in the inside cover clearly stating that it is Ann's, by rights. I'm sure my Grandmother had a copy too, which I believed I had inherited. Despite it's claim to be a "Northern Counties Cookery Book" I still find it to be a bedrock of general culinary information. Note use of salt, a pinch is great. Choux is generally considered used for dessert, and some call for sugar, but normally only if it's a Home Counties recipe. **rolls eyes** bloody southerners.
3Not margarine, or any sort of "I can't believe", butter tastes like butter, everything else is 5h1t3. However if you are concerned the butter is optional and just helps to add a nice sheen to the creme.
4On both occasions that I tried this there was evidence of the creme splitting after passing. I simply beat a little to recombine whilst it cools a little more. I guess it's the fact that I use double cream AND a knob of butter. Well creamy.
5It seems chefs use the word "pass" by itself to mean strain or pass through a sieve. Which is handy, and counters the word superfluation that irritates some pendants, as in the phrase "fry de the onions"