Three Bullet Tuesday

successTuesday 6 December, 2016

  • Celebrating success: last week saw the British Guild of Beer Writers Awards in London – you can find the full list of winners here. Pete Brown was recognised with the top award taking home the Michael Jackson Gold Tankard for Beer Writer of the Year. Podcast guests Mark Dredge and Jonny Garrett were award winners and you can hear my interviews with them on the website. Both of a fascinating insight into what it takes to do what they do. Awards are a big way the industry celebrates success. It’s important to remember that every award ceremony usually has a nomination or entry process, criteria to assess the nominations and will likely will involve the subjective views of (hopefully well qualified) judges in determining the winners. Some will say there are too many awards in beer, others not enough, or that the process outlined above is not robust enough, judges are qualified or are too subjective or the people organising the awards have less than pure intentions. Nevertheless, given the success of the industry, the effort and energy people put into their craft, there is much to celebrate and we should and are right to celebrate the success of others, through awards or otherwise. Thanks to Matt Curtis for reminding me of this.
  • Odell IPA: I stumbled across Odell IPA on the taps at the Big Easy in Canary Wharf last week. For those unfamiliar, the Big Easy position themselves as an American-style BBQ eatery complete with an extensive drinks list and bar adorned with oversized tap handles, like the ones you find state-side. The beer poured a lovely orange / amber colour with a slightly hazy appearance and a nice thick 1-inch head. It smelt and tasted spectacular. I’ve drank more IPA this year than in any other year and the standard and availability IPAs being produced in the UK is on the up. This however was a reminder that the US still sets the benchmark for this style. For now.
  • Wylam Brewery: is this the most amazing brewery building in the UK? Pictures from The Beer O’Clock Show #CrimboCrawl re-enforced this view. It looks like the most incredible site although I can only comment based on second hand information as sadly I’ve not been there in person. In trying to find out more about the details of it I stumbled across their website, and little else. According to their website:

“Our new home at the Palace of Art in Exhibition Park is the last remaining building from the 1929 North East Exhibition. The Exhibition was an ambitious project built to celebrate and encourage Craft, Art and Industry at the start of the Great Depression. Having remained almost derelict for nearly a decade the building has now sprung back to life as a fully operational working Brewery.”

Surely there is a lot more to the story than this? If there are any stories, posts, podcasts or otherwise about the why, the how, the what and the when of Wylam and the Palace of Art I would love to hear it!

Introducing Three Bullet Tuesday

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Inspired by the GoodBeerHunting Read.Look.Drink and Tim Ferris’s 5-Bullet Friday, I wanted a forum to get across things I am pondering, enjoying or not enjoying that is shorter than a blog post and longer than a tweet. So here is my first Three Bullet Tuesday.

  • Podcasting: you will have noticed a hiatus in my podcasting. This is partly based on a busy time in my life including a job, a wife and two young boys. But, to be fair, it’s a deliberate pause. When I started podcasting, I did it because I felt there was a gap – there was no long form interview style beer podcasts in the UK – and I wanted to speak to people in the industry to hear their stories. Now there are plenty of others doing it, which is fantastic – more voices, more stories. I am currently re-thinking whether or not to continue and if so what changes should I make to the podcast to keep it relevant in a crowded market. Stay tuned.
  • Fullers – friend or foe?: West London is often the laughing stock of the craft beer scene in London. Why is that? As I continue my search for an answer, it often comes back to Fullers. Fullers are more than a brewery – they are a publicity listed PubCo with almost 400 pubs. Many of these are within a few miles of the Griffin Brewery in Chiswick West London. They all invariably stock vast amounts of Fullers beer and little else (with the odd exception). Are they to blame for the dearth of craft beer in West London? Are they even a craft brewery? Perhaps this needs more investigation…
Griffin Brewery, Chiswick West London
Griffin Brewery, Chiswick West London
  • Chris Hall: Chris spoke with Matthew Curtis on episode 83 of the Good Beer Hunting podcast and, ever the wordsmith, produced a great quote that I constantly reflect on. The thread starts at 1h25m into the podcast. He talks about the way craft breweries should leverage peoples other hobbies to grow into new areas. It’s summarised in this quote:

“There is so much overlap between our world and loads of other sub-cultures that we would be utterly, utterly stupid to waste these opportunities to involve others in what we do. We have got nothing to gain by only talking about beer to people interested in beer” 

I tried to imagine this graphically using the much-favoured Venn diagram and I am keen to explore this in a future post.

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“This is my friend Pete, he’s a Sagittarius” #BeerTwitterIRL

I had a marvellous time at the London Craft Beer Festival last Saturday. I had a spare ticket and I had no hesitation in reaching out to Pete McKerry (@PJMcKerry) to see if he was keen and luckily enough he was so I had a drinking buddy for the night.

Now I’ve only met Pete a few times and really enjoyed his company but haven’t really known him that long. How did I know to ask Pete?

In short, Beer Twitter.

When you first get into beer and blogging its not too difficult to find interesting people to follow on twitter (all roads lead to @totalcurtis). I discovered Pete on twitter and met him for the first time over a few drinks organised by Steve (@beerolockshow) at the DraftHouse in Old Street. I’d interviewed Steve and Mark for my podcast after meeting them through beer twitter where I discovered their podcast.

During the podcast Steve said, “I now have a bigger group of friends than I’ve ever had as a result of doing the podcast”. I didn’t really know what he meant at the time, until the weekend.

It was great to have a few beers with Pete and have a chat and we also met up with loads of other people from Beer Twitter in London. One of things we did talk about that got me thinking was what happens when you meet people from Beer Twitter In Real Life?

Is there an etiquette to it? What are the different scenarios and how do you react? Have you ever noticed someone you interact with on Twitter and thought about introducing yourself? All questions we pondered.

When you recognised someone from Twitter IRL

At a beer event there is no doubt going to be someone from BeerTwitter there that you’ve never met before. Do you introduce yourself? How? Do you shake hands? Mention your twitter handle?

For me, this really depends on the situation and what type of mood I’m in. I first introduced myself to Matt (@totalcurtis) at a beer event a while ago referenced I followed him and that was the start of our IRL interaction.

Sometimes I’ll recongnised someone but not make the formal introduction, either because the stuation doesn’t allow or I simply get the fear.

I don’t think I’ve ever had someone come up to me, sadly.

When someone from BeerTwitter that you’ve never met IRL invites you to something

This can be a tricky one. You don’t know the person, you’ve never met then, they could be using an anonymous name. I met a Luke McGlynn (@mcglynn784) at BrewDog Shepherds Bush for a Cloudwater Tap Takeover after he’d gotten in touch via twitter as a fellow West London. Since then we’ve met a few times and I’d definitely consider him a beer buddy.

When you meet someone then start following them on twitter.

This is something I’ve done loads. You meet someone, introduce yourself and have a chat and then follow it up with a tweet later. This is nice way for the person to link the name to a face to a twitter handle.

I’m sure there’s plenty of other scenarios and other stories for people to share on their Beer Twitter IRL experiences. I’ve now met plenty of people from BeerTwitter IRL, some I would consider friends, and will hopefully meet loads more (looking at you @thabearded1).

Either way I think connecting through social media and in person is great and should be encouraged, especially over beer!

I’d love to know your BeerTwitterIRL stories.

Picture taken by @gingerdaniels13

SouthWestLondon BottleShare | #ShareTheRare

Beer is the most social drink in the world. Fact.

And a BottleShare is one of the best ways to bring this to life. The concept is simple, you all put in a tenner, which goes towards buying some great beers for you to all share.

I’ve been fascinated by this idea ever since I uncovered these events existed for a few reasons. One is that is defied modern beer drinking trends which is either pints at the pub or beer at home, which is increasingly shared online. The concept of sharing the good stuff in person sounded magical.

There was a catch, however, in that none of the great events were anywhere close to where I live. So I decided to start my own, with a little help from my friends. Charlie Pountney, Beer Sommelier and alround nice guy, who I met recording Episode 2 of my podcast, was also keen on the idea. So together we created the SouthWestLondon BottleShare and we want you to join us.

Its being held at Out of Office in Battersea on Wednesday 8th June.

You can find all the details here. 

Hope to see you there to #ShareTheRare

Cheers,
Michael

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?

Notes: Quality approach to coffee and beer

September 2006 was the bookend to one of the best summers in England many can remember. The good weather was noted, the World Cup in Germany another reason. The world was a different place anyway – pre Financial crisis, pre-Isis, Tony Blair was still Prime Minister. I was settling into a new life and the first impressions were good.

But not all was well. Every morning, before work I had a handful of places to chose from that I could order a flat white from and in return, receive just that, a flat white. Made with love and care, as it should be. That was Sydney. In London, the flat white was a myth – did it even exist?

I underestimated the cultural difference between Australia and England, especially when it came to coffee and beer. The best coffee in those early days was Monmouth Coffee at Borough Markets. A trip there became a very regular thing indeed. But slowly and surely the tide turned – thanks in many ways to my fellow antipodeans who brought the coffee culture. But there were others too.

Around this same time, a young Brazilian couple arrived in London. Having spent time travelling here in 2004, they decided they would pack up their life in Brazil and move to London, primarily to learn English; but perhaps the draw of the international city and the opportunity that comes with it excited them.

Fabio Ferriera worked in pharmaceuticals in Brazil, but he knew that without speaking the language it would be difficult to find a job in the same industry. So he turned to his other skill. Coffee.

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Since Notes first opened in Canary Wharf toward the beginning of last year, I’ve become a regular; first at their hole in the wall in the Canary Wharf underground station, then at the state of the art site at Crossrail. Sometimes I visit twice a day. In doing the calculation I have probably had over 200 coffees from Notes and never had a bad one.

I was curious to know why, so I reached out to Notes and they put me in touch with Fabio, the co-founder and Director of Product at Notes. In this role Fabio is responsible ‘for pretty much everything that is for sale in the store’. I wanted to know how they ensure every coffee is so good.

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The answer is both very simple and very detailed. The simple answer is through traceable quality from bean to cup. This is the critical difference between a ‘third wave’ coffee house and a high street café.

When Fabio first started Notes, back in 2010, they would buy beans direct from growers in Brazil. Fabio’s family were farmers and he knew the coffee growers and was certain of the quality. Eventually, as they grew they would source through reputable distributors. The current blend used in store is from Burundi, the Central East African country bordering Rwanda and Tanzania.

After finding the right coffee beans, the next step is the roast. As they grew, Notes began to roast their own beans, which is critical to achieving quality, consistency and uniqueness. Fabio explains that roasting is a very scientific process with many variables, such as temperature and time, that impact the favour. The process begins with a test roast and that can be repeated up to five times. The flavour is then reviewed. When I asked how he describes flavours of coffee his face lights up. Just like beer and wine, there are countless adjectives and dimensions to describe coffee. The sweetness, the aroma, the mouth feel, the aftertaste all have a multitude of ways to be described and defined.

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Once roasted it needs to get to from cup to customer. ‘Coffee is like baking a cake, you have to follow the recipe’, quips Fabio. He writes up coffee recipes for the baristas in store that outline how to brew, to treat the beans as they age (the coffee should be used between 4 and 10 days after roasting); adjusting grind size and amount, how long to brew for and at what temperature all with tasting notes. I asked Dwayne Lloyd-Smith, the assistant manager about this. He shows me the recipe he receives via email. Its very prescriptive, but it ensures quality. You can tell Dwayne absolutely buys into the ethos.

From bean to cup, every step is controlled and traceable and outlined with vivid detail and instruction. Can you imagine this from a high street chain? When I talk ask about competition, Fabio tells me its competitive but there is comraderie between the independent coffee houses. He mentions Taylor Street Baristas, another Canary Wharf resident, who he sees more as friends than competitors. The real competition is the big high street chains; Costa, Nero, Starbucks, he insists.

Dwayne agrees. ‘You almost have to re-educate high street coffee drinkers about what coffee can be. Often people will be surprised that a flat white comes in 6oz cups and there is no large, or a that a latte comes in 8oz, not 16oz’. But it’s working. They have built a steady trade of loyal drinkers who are shunning the nearby Costa, Pret and Starbucks in favour of the quality of Notes.

I can see similarities with craft beer in this sentiment, the camaraderie between the smaller independent producers against the might of the large corporates. Which leads me to ask about their beer offering, which includes some of the best craft beers in the country. ‘I love beer’, Fabio beams. I asked him about the beer and wine list? Why not just be a café? Why were Notes interested in being a bar too? Do people really want to drink at a café?

When they first opened, their lease allowed them to operate to 11pm. With most people not drinking coffee late in evening due to the effects of caffeine they spent, time effort and money building a wine list. The beer was an afterthought. His fellows directors though a few bottles of Peroni would do the trick. Fabio resisted. He wanted to build a beer list with some of the up and coming craft breweries in London.

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They needed a lager and Camden Hells was a perfect place to start. They also built a relationship with The Kernel Brewery, who were among the first beers served at Notes, and retain four beers from their range on the menu. Fabio tells me they still maintain a direct relationship with Kernel today. He’d love to have more. While they change their wine list quarterly the beer list changes less frequently. His favourite is Camden, at its close to where he lives and Beavertown Gamma Ray. And they’ve recently added Cloudwater Motueka Lager.

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Its mainly women who drink at Notes in the evening, quaffing a nice glass of wine in a comfortable, relaxed environment. ‘I think they want somewhere other than the pub’, Fabio tells me. They can get a seat in a relaxed environment. Dwyane tells me they do get men too, many unfamiliar with the beer on offer and ask for recommendations. ‘You can’t go wrong with the Kernel, but I’m a fan of the Gamma Ray’. They are changing their evening menu to include small plates with a view to attracting more evening drinkers. Time will tell if it’s a success.

The quality control that goes into the coffee is so evident in the delivery and taste. Craft brewers and bars can learn from Notes approach to quality. The attention to detail in ensuring the product delivered is to the highest possible standard is aspirational. Knowingly delivering sub-standard product in an increasingly competitive market where others strive for excellence is a dangerous approach.

Invariably there is an overlap between people that enjoy great coffee and great beer. Notes is a great place to enjoy both, in a relaxed friendly setting.

 

Thank you to Fabio and to Dwayne for their time in allowing me to ask them about Notes and for their gracious responses. In addition to sites at Canary Wharf, Notes can be found in Trafalgar Square, Moorgate and Kings Cross.

I was inspired to write this post after listening to the Good Beer Hunting Podcast episode 65 with Stephen Morris

Useful Links

http://notes-uk.co.uk/

http://goodbeerhunting.com/gbh-podcast/2016/1/1/ep-065-stephen-morrissey-of-uppers-downers-part-1