BushCraftBeer Podcast – Episode 3 Tom Hutchings

Welcome to the BushCraftBeer podcast Episode 3 with Tom Hutchings, Co-Founder of Brew By Numbers.

Over the next hour you’ll hear about how Tom and his Co-Founder Dave Seymour started Brew By Numbers including how they ended up in Bermondsey, arguably the centre of craft beer in London.

You’ll also hear how they decide what beers to brew, including their recent Double IPA 55|01, what their numbering system means and the story behind their branding.

We covered what makes a good beer festival, the BrewDog investment in Brew by Numbers via their development fund, the United Craft Brewers, the challenges of starting and running a brewery including hopes for the future.

Grab a beer and listen to my chat with Tom Hutchings.

BushCraftBeer Podcast Episode 2 – Phil Harding and Charlie Pountney

Welcome to the BushCraftBeer podcast.

This is episode 2, where I sit down and chat with Phil Harding and Charlie Poutney from Boutique Bar Brands.

We sat down with a few beers, at their new hot desking cum micro bar, out of office in Battersea, started doing a sound check and just kept chatting so it’s a real fly on the wall conversation and means we didn’t formally introduce ourselves. So allow me to that now before we roll the tape.

Phil Harding is the co-founder of Boutique Bar Brands and has worked in the trade for many years including a stint as manager of the famous White Horse in Parsons Green, south west London.

Charlie Pountney met Phil at a Beer Event and over a year later, left his career in banking to join him at Boutique Bar Brand after completing a Beer Sommelier course at the Beer Academy.

We covered a lot of ground: 21st century careers, their careers in beer, beer in restaurants, beer and food matching, beer branding including their work on the Island Records beer, a discussion on who’s doing well in terms of branding in the industry and spreading the word of good beer through education and training.

If you’re an interested in building a career in beer, or have an interest in branding or just fancy listening to a conversation about beer listen in. It starts slow but bear with it.

Hope you enjoy my chat with Phil and Charlie.

BushCraftBeer Podcast Episode 1 – Mark Dredge

Welcome to the BushCraftBeer podcast.

This is episode 1, where I sit down and chat with one of the hottest young beer writers in the country, Mark Dredge.

Before that I wanted to tell you a little more about me and what to expect from this podcast.

My name is Michael Lally, I’m 35 and I’m an Australian who has lived in London for the past 10 years. I’m also a craft beer enthusiast who has been following the scene for a while now and after much procrastination finally started blogging about beer in December 2015.

I’m also a podcast addict. The podcasts I enjoy the most are long form conversation. I find they give you a more intimate insight into the person and their story. Which in our soundbite, click-bait culture is something I find refreshingly different.

So why the name BushCraft?

BushCraft is about thriving in the natural environment, and the acquisition of the skills and knowledge to do so. It was a term popularised by the Bush Tucker Man himself, Les Hiddins who was a big deal when I was a kid growing up in Australia.

My blog, and this podcast is really about that, but with a beery twist. I am interested discovering the people behind the craft beer industry, one of the fastest growing and most exciting in the country, to sit down with them and understand their story, their perspective and what it is about their skills and experience that sees them survive and thrive in the craft beer world.

Enough about me.

Lets talk about my first conversation. Mark was very articulate – much more than me – and with good reason. As a writer, he’s classically trained. His undergrad was in media arts with a focus on screenwriting which he followed up with a masters in creative writing.

He started blogging way back in 2008 and fully committed to it. And since then he’s never looked back. He’s won awards from the British Guild of Beer Writers and written 4 books, including one set to launch in April of this year. And he’s also in training for upcoming the London Marathon. A man of many talents.

If you’re an aspiring beer blogger, like myself, or an aspiring writer this is a fascinating insight.

Hope you enjoy my chat with Mark Dredge.

Beer and the Dunning-Kruger effect

This post is a response to fellow beer blogger Mark Johnson’s post ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children?‘ from February 23rd. In summary his message was ‘with beer becoming more popular, you become more accepting and guiding to those discovering good beer for the first time’.

I read the post and responded on Twitter as follows: ‘@MarkNJohnson I guess would be classified as a Kid. Found this a fascinating perspective. Haven’t really done beer chat on Facebook though’

Mark replied with a kind comment, which I appreciated – he basically said I wasn’t a tw*t – (maybe he’ll change his mind after this post) but there was something about this post that has stuck with me and left me pondering ever since. Perhaps it was because I would be considered a ‘kid’ but my journey felt different to the ‘kids’ he’d described in his post. As a result I thought I would write a post in response. Mark gets really personal in his posts which inspired me to be a bit braver in my subject matter as a blogger.

As outlined in the title, allow me introduce the Dunning-Kruger effect. As described in Wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude and evaluate their own ability accurately. Their research also suggests corollaries: highly skilled individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.[1]

I think this is a fascinating study and outcome. It basically says that there is a spectrum of skilled to unskilled which has an inverse relation to that person’s recognition of their own aptitude.

For me this binary approach appears too basic given there is a huge array of factors that determine a person’s behaviour; personality (itself a huge three dimensional spectrum), intelligence, introversion / extraversion, parenting, education etc. However I think there is some application for the Dunning-Kruger effect in the beer debate at the moment.

For example, is the fact beers that are the strongest and most expensive rated the best on beer review sites because of Dunning-Kruger? That is people are rating this based on strength + cost = good, rather than appreciating the nuances of brewing all manner of beer styles and going it well?

(See @tabamatu blog www.graphedbeer.com for an interesting post on this – http://www.graphedbeer.com/2015/12/using-beer-ratings-as-market-research.html)

I can definitely say the Dunning-Kruger effect holds true for me in my beer journey. I felt I knew the basics to begin with; what the brewing process is, be able to name different styles and recognise different breweries. And based on this you think you understand it all.

But as I’ve become more interested I’ve wanted to know more. I’ve done this in a few ways; trying different styles of beers I’ve never heard of, reading beer books, attending beer festivals, visiting breweries and talking to the brewers, conversing on social media, listening to beer podcasts. This can be a humbling experience for there is an overwhelming amount to learn and understand.

But my view and reflection on Dunning-Kruger is slightly different to how’s it’s formally articulated above – the more I learn and discover the more I realised there is so much more to learn and discover. I’ve always been curious and a bit of a nerd when it comes to things I enjoy.

Some of the things Mark called out in his blog – everyday sexism in beer, rating beer and giving feedback, engaging in debate on Facebook about beer – are all part of understanding parts of the beer scene and debate in this country – one that I’m enjoying finding out more about.

Let me share a quick story. I was at a fascinating panel discussion last Wednesday night at the Bottle Shop in Bermondsey which followed a screening of Original Gravity – a 30 minute film about the London craft beer scene. Following the screening the panel assembled to discuss the future of brewing in London. The strength of views and emotion around the topic was insightful, especially around the question of money. Breweries will need money to fund the expansion required to meet demand for their beers. How important is the view of the drinkers in terms of where that money comes from? This is just one example of a question I don’t have the answer too, but I’m keen to explore.

This is a journey that is just commencing and I look forward to sharing more of it with you. I’ve started blogging and will soon be launching a podcast. And from there, who knows but more on that in future posts.

What makes a successful craft brewery?

This is a question I have been pondering for the last few years as I observed the rise and rise of craft beer in this country. Some breweries seem to have stepped forward and above others where as for some breweries, the fact they are making good beer doesn’t appear to be enough.

For the sake of argument, let’s draw a line in the sand and say the craft beer movement in the UK is ten years old. What’s not in question is that within that ten years there has been a huge increase in the number of breweries.

But why do some appear to flourish and others appear to flounder?

There is a thousand potential reasons but I have tried to summarise it into five key things. They aren’t all equal but those that are doing well appear to do all five of these things well.

Make Good Beer 

First and foremost you need to make good beer. Whether it’s a core range, a mix of seasonals, or collaborations – it needs to be good beer that engages people.  Doing this takes skill, attention to detail and commitment to quality.  Take Thornbridge: they have a lab on sight and deliver beer of very good and very consistent quality. Weird Beard run a regular Friday quality control process. Magic Rock, in their Tap Room are ensuring quality in how their product is dispensed as is the Urban Tap House in Cardiff, the bar of the Tiny Rebel Brew Company.

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The quality of the beer being made here is increasingly recognised with breweries in the UK winning awards regularly, both here and abroad. Oakham Ales won the Champion Cask Conditioned Ale for their Green Devil IPA at the International Brewing Awards. Beavertown Brewery were named the been named brewer of the year and Supreme Champion Brewer by the International Beer Challenge.

However some breweries appear happy to put out beer they are not 100% happy with and while there is a culture of discretion on providing feedback in these instances, the people that understand the industry and more pertinently have to try and sell this beer to the public know these breweries are.

Have a Good Spokesperson 

Every band has a lead singer, every movie a leading actor or actress, every sporting team has a captain.  For me, a craft brewery is kind of the same. You need someone at the front that embodies what the brewery is about and can clearly articulate that in an engaging way.

This is critical as when it comes to events such as meet the brewers, tap takeovers or craft beer festivals. These events give breweries the best possible opportunity to engage personally and intimately with their drinkers.

The spokesperson may be the founder or co-founder, or head Brewer or a combination of the two. In the USA, this is pretty commonplace. I’m sure most craft beer enthusiasts know of Steve Hindy and Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery, or Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head or Eric Salazar from New Belgium (who runs their sour beer program) or Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø from Eviltwin Brewing. While culturally the ‘rock star’ front man may be less relevant in the UK it’s still important.

There are a number of craft brewers that have a strong spokesperson: Logan Plant at Beavertown, James Watt from BrewDog, Justin Hawke from Moor Beer, Colin Stronge from Buxton. Others a little quieter.

Clear Mission and Values

You need to understand who you are and what you stand for, and what type of company you want to be. This is critical to attract customers (and also staff and potentially investors) and to keep them coming back time after time. Most beer drinkers are happy to try a new beer, but what keeps them coming back? Price? Product? Or a deeper connection to the brewery?

Lost and Grounded are a new brewery that is planning to open in Bristol in mid-2016. Run by former Little Creatures and Camden Town Brewer Alex Troncoso and his partner Annie they have been blogging about the process of starting up their brewery. One of their posts talks, in very articulate and sincere terms, about their values and purpose, which they summarise in four words; humble, inclusive, clever, raw.

Somerset’s Wild Beer Co are another brewery that is very clear on what they want to be as summarised here:

At The Wild Beer Co we want to produce Wild Beers that are different! We must re-write the rules, excite your taste buds and wildly challenge your perceptions of beer. We believe beer can be better and want to inspire people to drink beer differently.

Another that is crystal clear in this area is Cloudwater from Manchester. If you haven’t already read it, this great story about Cloudwater, written by London beer writer Matt Curtis for the Good Beer Hunting website is a fascinating insight into all things Cloudwater.

Others lack clarity on this. They are unsure of themselves, who they are and what they want to be. Might be worthwhile taking some time out of the brewhouse, talk to your drinkers about what they think of you, talk to your staff, and look deep within before writing this down.

Branding 

Once you know who are and what you stand for you need to project that in how you present your products. That’s is where branding comes into it. Business dictionary.com defines branding as:

The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.

In an increasingly crowded market, having a product that stands out is essential whether its bottles, cans, pump climps, packaging, merchandising, website – all a branding opportunity.

There are a few that really stand out for me. The cans from Beavertown, Moor and Vocation are incredible. For me a real standout is Cloudwater. They have a great logo, their bottles contain artwork from a specially commissioned artist for each season and contain lots of information about the beer and its ingredients.

I’m sure you agree there are a handful of breweries out there that are doing the first one well, but fall down here.

Social Media

Craft brewers don’t have huge marketing budgets. But they invest in the time to leverage social media. In the digital age more and more people are interacting online with each other and with businesses. The short form, instant and transparent channel that is social media is a very powerful tool to promote and converse with potential customers. It also gives you a platform to add a voice to some of the things we’ve covered above: what you stand for and your branding.

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For me personally there are a few things I don’t like to see; mixing beer and politics, slagging off suppliers or worse, other breweries, being flippant in responding to feedback.

 

Not all of these are equal – if you don’t make good beer you’ll probably struggle. For me the breweries who are doing well, appear to be doing well across these five things.

What do you think makes a successful craft brewery?