Three Bullet Tuesday – 28 March

Something slightly different this week. I’m taking some time to respond to some other blogs. Enjoy.

1. Why do we drink beer where we drink beer? by Peter McKerry

A thought provoking post as always from Pete, which also led to some responses from Boak and Bailey and Mark Johnson amongst others. There was a lot I could relate to from Boak and Bailey, and while I couldn’t relate to “A pint of cask beer in my favourite pub ranges from £2.60 – £3.60, dependant on strength and purchase price.” from Mark’s post, he does have a point. I recently bought 7 beers from Borough Wines in Kensal Rise for £29, just over £4 a bottle. When I was at Mother Kelly’s a few week back, I was drinking halfs and two third for around £4 a serve.

I love the pub. I was a pub quiz champ and would often go to my local 2-3 times a week. Its where I met my wife. Then we had kids. Despite assertions between my wife and I that “things wouldn’t change”, they invariably do. Of course they do and its wonderful. One of the consequences is that I don’t get to the pub as often as I would like. An occasional lunchtime pint aside (Friday’s mostly), my pub visits are less spontaneous and less frequent. If my wife and I wanted to head out, we would need a babysitter at added cost.  I will get out for a session every now and then where I might drink 5-6 beers, but at home I would never drink that much. Maybe a beer here and there, a few on the weekend. And yes, I do post the occasional beer (not all of them – I don’t think people want to see every time I drink a Gamma Ray) online too. Not sure how many others that drink at home more than before are recent parents too?

2. Confession Time – Which Beers are you Embarrased to Like? by Boak and Bailey

A light, fun and mischievous post. In my conversion to full beer snob, there is a number of beers that I once cherished that I have left behind. It wasn’t that long ago I was quaffing pints of Becks Vier from the local and drinking bottles of Becks in a multipack from Sainsburys. Guinness also served me well and still does. Its usually my default when there is macro’s or mediocre cask on offer. In recent times, a multipack of Dead Pony Club or Camden Hells cans has become a staple in the fridge.

3. Supermarket Craft. Various.

One of the things I do ponder is whether or not there is a craft beer bubble. Many point to the fact that craft beer only has less that 10% of the market therefore there is huge upside. While factually that might be the case, there are significant limitations to the addressable market for craft brewers and the potential upside is that craft beers maximum addressable market share might only be 25%. I’ll try and explain why below.

On-Trade

Recent BBPA figures show ontrade sales of 12.4m barrels of beer in 2016 (Barrel = 163L). This includes pubs, clubs, hotels and restaurants. I was unable to find a detailed breakdown beyond this, but let’s assume most of the beer is sold in pubs. I have used some old stats here to show the breakdown (from 2009) but directionally I am sure the are still relatively close. PubCos dominate the industry with over 50% of all pubs. It is difficult for craft breweries to get distribution into these PubCos. SIBA tries to assist with their BeerFlex scheme, but the addressable market for PubCos is small. Small and regional breweries make up 16%. Again, they will likely prioritise their own beer, therefore the addressable market is again relatively small. Freehouses are a third of all pubs, and the biggest opportunity for craft breweries. Other opportunities of course are taprooms and own premises here as you can sell 100% of your own beer at such premises.

Off-trade

Recent BBPA figures show ontrade sales of 13.7 m barrels of beer in 2016 (Barrel = 163L). Off-trade now exceeds on trade as outlined in the graph below which used BBPA figures.

What’s striking is how much on-trade has declined, rather than a huge increase from off-trade. There are around 10,000 less pubs over this timeframe which is driving the big reduction in numbers.  I couldn’t find any breakdown for off-trade so have made a few assumptions: supermarkets account for 70%, corner stores 20% and speciality beer and wine shops 10%. What this crude analysis shows me is that the biggest opportunity for the craft brewer is in the supermarket. M&S you could reasonable argue have led the way with bringing craft beer to their shelves. Tesco, under Project Reset, have completely redesigned their range of craft beers, favouring US craft beer imports (Oskar Blues, Stone – albeit their german brewery, and Brooklyn), some UK brands (BrewDog, Vocation) with some regional variety) at the expense of brands such as Heineken and Carlsberg. And they are doing it in the way the know how –  offering beer and cheap, cheap prices. Morrisons and Waitrose have also amended their beer range and it can’t be long before we see others such as Sainsburys and smaller players delve into craft beer. This will create opportunities for some breweries, should they wish to take it. And it is a big decision with big implications on the business model and brand of a craft brewery as well as the other routes to market.

How much impact will cheap, accessible and decent beer at supermarkets impact both other off-trade and on-trade beer sales?

Is really good beer, made and marketed well going to be enough to increase the addressable market for craft beer?

Or should craft breweries be looking at other ways to get to market?

Other opportunities of course are taprooms and own premises here as you can sell 100% of your own beer at such premises. As mentioned in a previous post, Wild Beer Cos crowdfunding campaign showed the revenue potential from their own premises. Magic Rock taproom has become such a destination, there is often lines out the door, much to Mark Johnson’s bemusement.

Time will tell.

Three Bullet Tuesday – 21 February

The 20* most important British craft beers ever, Beavertown and sexism in beer

  • 20* Most important UK craft beers: there was article being shared in twitter called ‘The 25 most important American craft beers ever’. It was written by Chicago Tribune writer Josh Noel, which itself was inspired by another post by Food and Wine. While the American craft beer scene is more mature and the legacy of the beers on these lists are clearly more time-honoured, it got me thinking about what a list such as this would look like for the British Craft Beer scene. A key challenge is defining the parameters. Nevertheless, I think we can define ‘craft’ relatively loosely and ‘important’ in a similar way to our US colleagues: It’s one that either changed consumer tastes or how breweries approach making beer. There are a few obvious ones: Punk IPA by Brewdog, Jaipur by Thornbridge, ESB by Fullers. I reached out on twitter and sourced a list of 20 to begin with. Click here to access the draft list and get involved. Please, I invite you to review the list and vote, provide a comment or make a suggestion of your own. I intend to keep this open for a week and will share the results here in a future post (any maybe even a podcast)

*the final list may end up being a different number

  • Five go to Beavertown: Beavertown Brewery held their 5th birthday celebration on Saturday with a party at their brewery. They invited 5 other breweries to collaborate naming each beer after the Famous Five; Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy. Each brewery brought three other beers, plus there was the core range from Beavertown and a few specials thrown in (including Stockholm’s Bretted Saison they were pouring from large bottles). It was everything you could expect from a craft beer festival and I really enjoyed it; a great atmosphere, yet wasn’t too busy; you never waited too long for a drink; all the beers were great (expect for one that I was a little disappointed with) and it was great to see some old friends and meet new ones. I can’t really fault the event. One thing that really hit me was how much they have grown in such a short space of time. I was last at the brewery just under two years ago and since then a room that was previously empty is now stacked with brewery kit. Towers of kegs lined the estate and a new lot filled with barrels was hidden away from the paying public. Happy Birthday to Beavertown and congratulations. Looking forward to seeing what the next five years brings.
  • Sexism in beer: I’ve read some really good posts on this subject over the past few weeks. Kudos to Mark Johnson for calling out his experiences at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. His post basically broke the comments section of his website. The counter argument from one of the organisers was a bit weak, which basically said ‘I’ve chaired lots of these panels and he didn’t ask his question properly’. Canadian Ben Johnson (not that one), explores sexist beer marketing, given breweries that use sexist images to market beers the right of reply. You can see that one here. And finally, this one really nails it for me – entitled LOL Sexism in Beer, from Emma, a senior Biomedical Scientist, home brewer and beer blogger. Hopefully these posts challenge peoples thinking on the subject.

My Golden Pints 2016

I know it’s peculiar that I am only now, on the 27th of January, getting around to publishing my Golden Pints for 2016, even more peculiar that it’s after I have already posted my predictions for 2017. Nevertheless here they are.

A few caveats from me. Firstly I don’t get out as much as I used to. I have two young kids under the age of 4, which any parent will know is a handful. It has a way limited your spare time. Not that I would have it any other way mind you. The other is that I don’t really drink cask beer, as noted in a previous point of mine, which again limits my exposure to certain beers and breweries (but I am working on that). As a result, my list of Golden Pints might look a tad shorter than others you may have read.

Regardless, I think it’s a perfect opportunity to shine a light on the good things people are doing to make my experience as a beer drinker more enjoyable and as a result this post is unapologetically positive.

Best New Brewery: Elusive Brewing & Lost and Grounded

Like any craft beer enthusiast, trying new beers from new breweries is par for the course. Keeping up with all the new breweries is always difficult given the explosion of new breweries in the UK. This competition makes it a challenge for those opening a brewery to cut through that noise and make an impression.

In launching a brewery there is lots of decisions to be made; business model, branding and visual identify, beers, premises etc. and lots of red tape to cut through; licensing, tax, regulations etc. Increasingly breweries are looking to share insights about their decisions and experiences of their launching brewery before they have even brewed a beer. I can see the merit; engaging your audience, setting the tone for your brand, vision and identity. My joint winners for the award – Elusive Brewing and Lost and Grounded – both shared a lot about this before they even brewed a beer. Not that they were first time brewers by any stretch.

Elusive Brewing has made a running start to their first year. Founder and one-man-brewery, Andy Parker, collected a swag of homebrewing awards before ‘going pro’ and he has continued that winning streak, picking up six best of festival awards in his first year. Andy has a number of collaborations under his belt including Aztec Challenge, a smoked chilli porter with Hop Burns and Black. Andy produces beers in cask, keg and bottle. Keep an eye out for his unique retro, 8-bit computer game inspired visual identity in your bottle shop. And to top it off Andy is an all-round top bloke, sometimes referred to as ‘the nicest man in beer’. I’m sure reading this will make Andy wince.

In contrast to Elusive, Lost and Grounded started with a scale probably unseen in recent times, they are similar in size to Magic Rock, with plenty of room for expansion. Lost and Grounded was founded by former Little Creatures and Camden Town brewer Alex Troncoso and his partner Annie Clements. In one of their very open posts, Alex and Annie explain they have put all their life savings into the venture plus are backed by Made by HAND, the four original founders of Little Creatures, an Australian craft brewery sold to Kirin in 2012.

With a narrow but focused core range, this soon expanded on the back of a number of collaborations with other breweries including Cloudwater and Burning Sky. I’ve written a little about their beers on a previous post but to summarise they are characterised by smoothness of mouthfeel, subtle but distinct flavours and above all else an approachable drinkability. But it’s their open and humble approach and willingness to engage that has won me over.

Most Improved Brewery: Redchurch Brewery

I must admit I have a soft spot for Redchurch as it was the first craft brewery I really took an interest in (see a previous post of mine on this). Consistently producing quality beers is the benchmark that every craft brewery strives for. Unfortunately every Redchurch beer I had wasn’t reaching that consistent quality benchmark. However, 2016 was a breakthrough year. They picked up some talent and experience in James Rylance; successfully smashed their £200k crowdfunding target raising just under £500k; established a new brewery in Harlow, Essex; set about improving their brewing recipes and practice; after experimenting with a few different beers they formalised their Urban Farmhouse brewery at their existing site in Bethnal Green and to top this off launched a new branding and visual identity to wrap all of these changes around to set a fresh, new direction.

Their core range of beers are all dialled in and true to style. At their party on Saturday 10th of September 2016, I sat in their taproom and sampled each and every one of them alongside a large number of other enthusiastic London drinkers. The standouts were the Shoreditch Blonde, now brewed with saison yeast, the Great Eastern IPA, as good a West Coast style IPA you’ll find in a core range, and the Old Ford Export Stout. The taproom itself is small and cosy sitting in a mezzanine above the brewery and worth a visit if you’re in Bethnal Green area.

Best Brewery: Beavertown

Like many Londoners, I drink a lot of Beavertown beers. They are readily available, there’s great variety in their core range and importantly, quality and consistency. Add to that the seasonals such as Bloody ‘El and Quelle, the frequent collaborations and the Tempus Project and they are brewing a variety of beer that would suit anyone’s tastes.

They put on great events too – whether it’s their birthday events (notwithstanding the issues around overcrowding this year), Rainbow Project or special one off events, they always entertain, engage and educate.

In Logan Plant, they have a front man than any brewery would kill for – driven, articulate, and passionate. He sets the tone from the top and is creating a great team of people and importantly a great culture. I’ve often said that Beavertown are more punk than Brewdog. Not that being punk is an aspirational position or benchmark to aspire too, but there is a relatable authenticity to Beavertown. They are my brewery of the year for all of these reasons.

Best Beer: Barrel Aged Caribbean Chocolate Cake, Siren Craft Brew x Cigar City

This was both the easiest decision and the hardest decision. As you go through the year you mentally catalogue which beers really stand out and this was the first beer my reflexes naturally responded to when thinking about my beer of the year. But when challenged I questioned the criteria upon which I was making my assessment.

Five Points Pale Ale is a great beer across keg, bottle, can and cask (albeit I only had one pint of Five Points Pale on cask), fragrant and flavoursome. Beavertown’s Gamma Ray continues to delight as does their seasonal farmhouse pale, Quelle. Cloudwater DIPA v3 was a stand out as was their Citra IPA. Brew by Numbers range of saisons including their 01|06 Motueka and Lime and BrewDog’s Albino Squid Assassin also made a strong impression.

Regardless the Barrel Aged Caribbean Chocolate Cake stood above all of these. Labelled as a Topical Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels and brewed in collaboration with Cigar City Brewing, it weighs in at a big 8.4% ABV. Lucky for me there appears to be a never ending supply at Oddbins West Hampstead where for £6 you can get your hands on this rare beast. It’s got big dark chocolate and coffee flavours, a fruity sweetness and hints of oak, vanilla and tobacco. It must be said I am also a fan of any beer with cacao nibs on the ingredients list. So many flavours blended and balanced so well together. I can only imagine the faces of the brewers at Siren when they cracked open the barrels after 12 months to find this treat of a beer. Thanks for making such a cracking beer, cheers.

Best Pub: Dukes Head, Highgate

On my first visit to the Duke’s Head I mistakenly turned up at Duke’s Brew and Que. Having agreed to catch up with Matt Curtis at the Dukes, I got my wires crossed and headed to Dalston rather than Highgate. Eventually I arrived late and we settled down to a few beers.

The Dukes Head is smaller than I imagined. One long, relatively narrow rectangular room with a bar covering half of one side. It has character and importantly great beer. Whether its keg or cask, cans or bottles they have a rotating beer list that would satisfy even the most discerning of beer drinkers. They do have food but run a rotating roster of street food vendors who take up a short term residency inside the pubs kitchen. They have great, knowledgeable attentive staff and put on some memorable events, hosted by passionate beer writer Matt Curtis. The relationship the Dukes Head have with Matt has me convinced that every pub worth its salt needs a resident beer writer / blogger / beer evangelist to do what Matt does for the Dukes Head.

But the credit is not Matt’s alone. Mars is the curator of the beer list and build the menu based on her own likes – it’s clear that she has impeccable taste – and Tom is the manager overseeing all this. It’s a little off the beaten track (take the Northern Line to Archway and then the 143, 210, or 271 bus or take the short but steep walk up the hill to Highgate) but well worth a visit.

Best Online Retailer: BeerBods

It’s difficult to describe BeerBods as an online retailer as they are more of an inclusive beer club for the advancement of the appreciation of beer. That is their value proposition, their differentiator and it’s difficult for competitors to copy because they will lack the passion and drive of Matt, Gordon and team. I’m heading into my third year of being a BeerBodder and it’s great to see them go from strength to strength.

In addition to their weekly beers, I look out for their ‘Ones to Watch’ box which includes a curated selection of beers from new breweries (due out in coming weeks) and other selected boxes throughout the year. I’ve got my hands of one of their BeerBodsPlus box, a concept they are playing around with, which delivers a slightly more exotic selection of beers at a higher price point. It will be interesting to see where they take that proposition as in my view, there is a market for a more exclusive type of beer club. They also do a range of BeerBods for Business services if you are interested too.

Back to what they do best; each week for just £3 there is a beer, the story behind it and an interaction on social media about it with your fellow BeerBodders. One caveat – you might not like all the beers – but you will learn something and might pick up a few pointers from what others think of it. It has spawned its own customer created content: Steve and Rolands Beer Podcast reviews the beer each week, and Si Bullock creates a Spotify playlist for each beer each week, a Strava Running and Cycling club and I’m sure there is others I have missed.

It’s helped me on my beer journey to discover new beers and breweries. I have also got family and friends to sign up too and recommended it to countless people. If you are interested be sure to use my referral code YRHXQS for a little discount!

And that’s all the Golden Pints I have to award for 2016. I am looking forward to being dazzled and amazed by what 2017 brings.

Note: thanks to Clayton Chisholm (@clayfiish)  for permission to the use the artwork

Three Bullet Tuesday

Tuesday 13 December 2016

  • The power of positive marketing: I’ve been thinking a bit lately about my choices. Having a choice is a brilliant thing but sometimes, when it comes to beer there are restrictions on how accessible the beers you want to enjoy are.  Social media however, does not restrict the access to information about and interaction with a brewery; which also influences your choices, both in a positive or negative way. I’ve made an attempt to map this out in terms of a perception versus frequency of consumption matrix using 8 breweries as an example. There are some breweries that I rarely drink but maintain a positive view on driven by their social media, communications approach and the opinions of people that I respect. I would put Cloudwater, Marble and Wild Beer in that category. Magic Rock was in this category until their canning line meant Salty Kiss, High Wire and Cannonball flooded the streets. Beavertown and Five Points are the two breweries whose beer I am most likely to have in hand. I remain a ‘reluctant customer’ of most of Fullers range given their stranglehold on West London and their lack of choice in their pubs (unless you like Fullers). Chorlton is an interesting one. Yes, their beer is fantastic, but their social media presence is at times, puzzling. Listening to the Beernomicon interview with Mike, Founder of Chorlton, he acknowledges this, but frankly doesn’t care. Each to their own, which is why having choice is a great thing.

3bt-13-december

  • Aussie, Aussie, Aussie: this week sees the conclusion of the Pirate Life launch tour of the UK. Based in South Australia, Pirate Life is a relatively new brewery (est 2014) with a big reputation for great beer as illustrated by their performance in the annual Hottest 100 Craft Beers (where they featured 3 beers in the top 11) and winning Ratebeer’s ‘best new brewery in Australia’ in 2014. We’ve seen a few Australian craft breweries start to import to the UK, albeit it without the reputation of Pirate Life including Vale Brewing and Prancing Pony. I for one have a few questions. Where does the narrative of the start-up Aussie craft beer scene fit with the craft boom in the UK and the wave of imports from US brewers with a relatively well understood craft legacy? How will their highly regarded hop-forward beers fare on the long journey from Australia? Time will tell. I for one will refuse to comment until I at least try the beer!
  • Festival fever: how ambitious should craft beer festivals be in 2018 and beyond? With news that Beavertown’s birthday beer festival scheduled for 18th February sold out, London Craft Beer festival moving to a bigger venue in 2017 and IndyMan consistently sold out – is it time for craft beer festivals to think big? GBBF big?

 

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.

venn-master

Episode 10 – Tom Palmer

Welcome to Episode 10, with Tom Palmer from Mondo Brewing Company.

One of things I love about doing this podcast is hearing the story of how people got into beer. I am lucky to sit down and talk, usually over a few beers, about how people began their beer journey. For some it’s a pub idea that they just run with. For others its more considered. They make a conscious, deliberate decision to do it differently, exactly the way they want to do it.

Tom and Todd at Mondo Brewing Company took the considered approach. Two Americans, they ended up in London for personal reasons, started working together in a brewery and began talking about how they would it differently.

This is the story of Mondo Brewing Company as told by Tom.