Three Bullet Tuesday – 21 March

Bude, where’s my beer? Gipsy Hill Brewing Company, and why don’t more craft breweries contract brew?

  • Bude, wheres my beer? A funny thing happened. Like anyone else who is into beer twitter you will have heard of the phenomena that is #CraftBeerHour. The premise is simple, get online between 9pm and 10pm on a Tuesday and share a drink and interact with fellow beer enthusiasts. It has built such an audience that it now features breweries, festival organisers and other beer folk who use the hour like an online Q&A. To further enhance the experience, Tom arranges with the feature brewery for free samples to be sent in advance of the tasting. Back to my story. An email popped into my inbox asking people to enter the draw for free samples for next week’s brewery, Bude Brewery from Cornwall. Rather than wait until later I entered straight away. I must have been the first as it triggered a response from Tom on twitter. To keep it democratic Tom pulls the names from a hat and broadcasts the draw live on twitter. This is how far down the craft rabbit hole I have gone – I, along with around 20 others, watched the draw live. And whose name was deftly plucked from the hat first? Yours truly! Phoa! I never win anything, I said. Now to wait for the beer to arrive. Sadly it didn’t turn up in time for last Tuesday’s #CraftBeerHour, however did arrive in time for the weekend. I have managed to have at least one of the beers, the Black Rock Porter, which came in a 500ml bottle. Beautiful dark colour, with relatively thick head. Nice dark chocolate and roasted malts with just enough sweetness. Stay tuned for the Pale Ale.

You too can sign up for #CraftBeerHour samples right here

  • Gipsy Hill Brewing Company: I attended a meet the brewer event with Gipsy Hill Brewing Company at the shiny new Micro Beers craft beer shop in East Sheen, South West London. Micro Beers is relatively new and follows the trend of drink in / take away with four rotating keg lines in addition to well stocked selection of beers. East Sheen is in a bit of a no man’s land between Putney and Richmond and while it’s on the train line, the regular express services don’t stop here and its serviced mainly by the less frequent ‘all stations’ services. Regardless, and to my surprise, this suburban enclave drew a rather large, interested and educated crowd curious about Gipsy Hill and craft beer more generally. I first encountered Gipsy Hill at the now defunct Winter Brew Festival in November 2014. Their signage stood out, three white guys in coloured shirts holding a Gipsy Hill sign. Given we were at a craft beer festival, my initial reaction was that the Gipsy in Gipsy Hill referenced the fact they were Gipsy brewers. It only highlighted my lack of knowledge about the suburbs of South London. MBA educated Sam McMeekin gave up a promising career in venture capital micro-finance after becoming disillusioned with a new job. Rather than handing over cash to driven entrepreneurs, he wanted a challenge of running his own business front to back; branding, marketing, financials, really making and building something of his own. He teamed up with Charlie Shaw, who was working at 5 Points Brewery and Gipsy Hill was born. Sam explained the brewery, his story, walked through 4 beers including core beers Hepcat (Session IPA) and Southpaw (Amber Ale) and new beers Day Tripper (American Pale Ale) and Nomad (Milk Stout). Their beers are named after groups of people, with previous beers including Bogan (NZ Pale Ale), Drifter (IPA) and newly released Walloon (Belgian IPA) which pays homage to the Belgium region known for its cycling and brewing heritage and released right in time for the Belgian cobble classics. Sam also reflected on the challenges of scaling up given their recent expansion as well as their plans for improving quality and output with investments in water treatment and a canning line. All in all it was an enjoyable experience and great, as always, to hear from passionate craft brewers.

  • Why don’t more craft breweries contract brew?: I watched this very funny video parodying things Australian craft beer drinker say. You can watch it here on vimeo.

One thing I got a chuckle out of is the ‘contract brewed’ gag. But openly talking about contract brewing seems rare in the UK, or is it that it’s just not that common? Five Points Brewing Co announced in their year-end blog that they were contract brewing some (only Kegs, cans are brewed and packaged at Five Points) of its Pils beer to a ‘family owned, independent brewery in Belgium’, in an arrangement reminiscent of Camden Town’s. I can understand their rationale too, which is outlined in the blog, but can be summarised as “At Hackney Downs we are hemmed in on all sides, and after several months of (currently unsuccessful) negotiation with our neighbours and with Network Rail, sadly it looks like we’ve run out of expansion options at our current site”. But surely 5 Points aren’t the only ones with this problem? That sounds like any typical craft brewer, in an industrial estate or in a railway arch – hemmed in – waiting for an opportunity for a close or woe-betide adjacent lot to become available. Often this leads to inefficiency, such as taking an hour to unpack assorted brewery paraphernalia only to spend the same amount of time repacking it that same evening. A quick google search of contract brewers in the UK reveals a number of options, namely traditional brewers with extra capacity to spare. But again, it’s unclear whether, when faced with barriers to expansion, craft breweries seriously consider contract brewing as another way to grow in the face of barriers to scaling up quickly to meet demand.

Three Bullet Tuesday – 7 March

What Toast Ale and Brewgooder can learn from Kickstarter, Brewing Business Models and Left Hand Brewing Co

  • Kickstarter: this week saw Kickstarter, the creativity focused crowdfunding platform, release its first Benefit Statement since becoming a Public Benefit Corporation. In 2015 Kickstarter changed its corporate entity from a for-profits, incorporated company to a public benefit corporation. According to their statement at the time, this means “positive impact on society becomes part of a Benefit Corporation’s legally defined goals.”. You can read their charter here and their first benefit statement here. While they remain a for-profit organisation, they have some very specific goals, including their approach to diversity, executive pay and taxation. In addition, Kickstarter will annually donate 5% of its after-tax profit towards arts and music education, and to organizations fighting to end systemic inequality and in their statement have outlined the projects that have received the funding. This got me thinking about both Toast Ale and Brewgooder, both breweries founded on a similar mission to benefit the public. Both Toast Ale and Brewgooder are focused on totally admirable causes and both are garnering no shortage of publicity and that should be applauded and appreciated. Toast Ale is focused on the problem of food waste, to help turn food, and more specifically bread waste into a product that can be used and sold. Brewgooder focused on bringing fresh water to people that need it most. Both have a stated goal to donate 100% of profits. This is where I have questions. Firstly, how profitable are a start up brewery? If Cloudwater’s results after 2 years of trading are anything to go by, it’s a challenge. Stella Artois have this week announced a similar water campaign, with a donation based on units sold, rather than profits. Kew Brewery also provides a charitable donation on units sold. This is more guaranteed, and punters who support the beer know their contribution is based on the fact they have bought the beer, rather than the breweries ability to turn a profit. But even if they are turning a profit and donating that to their admirable causes, why haven’t they announced it? I know there is a huge difference between Kickstarter, a company with an 8 year track record and a multi-million dollar revenue line, and start ups like Toast Ale and Brewgooder, however when marketing is based solely on this messaging, a little more transparency regarding their philanthropic pursuits, would be appreciated.
  • Business models: unless you didn’t read last week’s post, by now you will have noticed that Wild Beer Co is crowdfunding in a bid to raise £1m (which at the time of writing they had raised £993,080). They are on track to smash their target and rightly so as they appear to have done their homework, with a very well prepared campaign and business case. You would expect no less however when one of your non-executive directors is the COO/CFO of Crowdcube. What stood out for me in the financials was how much having two pubs, Jessop House in Cheltenham and Wapping Wharf in Bristol, strengthened their financial position. It got me thinking about the different business models of craft breweries. There is the opposite of the Wild Beer Co approach where pubs have started breweries, such as Long Arm Brewing started by the ETM Group, or the plans for the new brewery on the site of The Prince, N22, sister pub of the Dukes Head. Both Camden and Beavertown started in the basement of pubs. Or the traditional craft brewery in a railway arch / industrial lot with a makeshift taproom, or even Yeastie Boys, who design recipes, packaging, undertake the marketing and sales and partner with a brewery to brew the beers to their exacting standards. I’m sure there is advantages and disadvantages to every business model, but its up to the founders to really decide where they want to begin and what they want from their brewery. Do the drinkers really care?
  • Left Hand Brewing Company: I attended a fantastic event at Brew by Numbers last week, who hosted Left Hand Brewing Company, from Longmont Colorado for a special event of big beers. Chris Hall was delighted to start the night with their 55|04, an 8.5%ABV Double IPA. Chris Lennert, the effervescent COO of Left Hand was also there, the final stop of a whirlwind visit to Britain and Ireland, championing independence and appreciating good beer. I had met Chris at an event Left Hand did with Camden and Beavertown around 2 years ago. What really stood out for me that night was how Chris was the only one from the three breweries there who made the effort to go and speak with everyone in the room – It certainly made an impression. What I remembered this time was their beer – St Vrain, a 3 year old Belgian Tripel, Widdershins, a 3 year old oak aged Barley Wine, and Wake Up Dead, a 2 year old oak aged Imperial Stout. (You can find some picture of the event on my instagram @bushcraftbeer) All were exquisitely made and aged, especially when compared with some of the younger, but no less accomplished beers Brew by Numbers were serving. While you may know Left Hand Brewing from their Nitro Stout, and having a flagship beer certainly helps (think Brooklyn Lager, Goose IPA), there is always more to a good American Craft Brewery, especially one that is 24 years old, than a flagship beer. And usually some really great people too.

Three Bullet Tuesday – 28 February

Fullers goes keg, Wild Beer Co to crowdfund and an update on the 20* most important beers

  • Fullers goes keg: there is lot’s of news coming out of the Chiswick brewery this year and it’s still only February. The first big piece of news was that Georgina Young has been appointed Head Brewer, replacing John Keeling, who is staying on in an ambassadorial role. Georgina has been with Fullers since 1999 and becomes the first woman in Fuller’s 172 history to hold the role. They also recently announced their seasonal calendar for the year which included a number of keg beers; a Black IPA in the spring, Unfiltered Lager for Summer, a Table Beer for Autumn and an Espresso Stout for Winter. They also unveiled a new take on an old classic, announcing London Pride Unfiltered at Craft Beer Rising. This beer is an unfiltered, unpasteurised, dry hopped (although unsure if this is different to Cask Pride) version of London Pride, served in 30L kegs at 4-6°. If you listened to my Beer O’Clock Show Hopinions appearance where Fullers was discussed, I shared my views that Fullers have a disappointing keg line up in their pubs, including their own relatively recently developed ‘craft brands’. While this new announcement shows they are committed to experimenting with more modern styles of beer, they are still locking out other independent brewers from their pubs, which is a little disappointing. Nevertheless I look forward to trying the new beers.

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  • Wild Beer Co to crowdfund: the exciting news coming out of Somerset is that the Wild Beer Co will be crowdfunding to help fund their expansions plans. Wild Beer Co, who specialise in making beer using wild ingredients, aren’t the first brewery to turn to crowdfunding for investment. I’m sure they can ask their brewing brethren at Camden, BrewDog, Redchurch, Signature Brew and UBREW (to name but a few) for tips. While I am sure they could have sourced private investment, one of the advantages of crowdfunding is that you build an advocate base around your brewery who have a vested interested in supporting the business they have invested in as well as creating an opportunity for media exposure. BrewDog have done this very well with their 34,000 Equity Punks gained over four funding rounds. With no guarantee of returns for investors, good incentives for investment, even for smaller investors, are a must. Camden did this very well in their Hells Raiser campaign. One of consequences is that you are putting a lot of information about your business in the public domain; your current financials and your future business plan and strategy and I’d be advising the team at Wild Beer Co to be prepared for the barrage of tough questions and meetings requests from potential investors. This is something I look out for when breweries crowdfund as it gives you a real insight into the business side of things. Keep an eye on the Wild Beer website, twitter feed and Crowdcube for more information from tomorrow.

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  • An update on the 20* most important British craft beers: in reaction to my post last week, I’ve 65 responses to the online survey. Its already led to debate and it’s spawned a few posts; this one from Boak and Bailey, and another from Myles Lambert. A number of additional beers have been mentioned in the comments section including; Summer Lightning by Hop Back, Roosters Yankee (rather than Baby Faced Assason, that was on the initial list), Moor Revival and Meantime Pale Ale. I will be keeping it open until Friday so if you haven’t had your say yet, there is is still time to get involved. Here is the link

Three Bullet Tuesday – 24 January

SIBAs craft mark, Lost and Grounded and what glassware tells us about the state of beer

  • SIBAs craft mark: it’s been just under 6 months since the Society for Independent Brewers (SIBA) announced a definition for a craft brewer and a stamp to accompany the title. The ‘Assured Independent British Craft Breweries’ (AIBCB) initiative was designed to provide greater clarity to consumers looking to purchase beer from genuinely independent1 breweries. While SIBA has over 850 members, all of which are eligible for the stamp2, only 150 pledged their support for the scheme and committed to use the logo at the time of launch. Today that number has increased to 350 which, given that it is still early days for the initiative, is a result I am sure SIBA considers a success. The next steps for the initiative will be unveiled further at the BeerX in March (SIBAs annual conference-cum festival), but will likely include engaging both on and off trade points of sale. Personally I have yet to see any of the craft beer I drink with the AIBCB mark although if it goes some way to achieving its goal of provide clarity to consumers on what they are drinking that surely is a good thing. However, there remain consenting views – without consensus on a definition and without complete take up, will it achieve this goal? Time will be the judge.

 

siba-aibcb-logo_black1: SIBA defines independent as ‘independent of any larger controlling interests

2: to be eligible, breweries should be independent and above by SIBAs Manual of Good Brewing Practice

Have you seen any beer with the AIBCB mark? Tag me in your picture

  • Lost and Grounded: Lost and Grounded was arguably the biggest brewery launch of 2016. They came with brewing pedigree, financial backing and an open and humble approach and then they got around to brewing some beer. Like most, I waited with anticipation to try their beer to see if my sky-high expectations would be met. While I had perhaps a pint or two at the Dukes Head Highgate one evening, it wasn’t until they released their bottled range I really got to sit down, enjoy and assess their creations. Having purchased two of each of their available range from Beer Merchants, I was both surprised and delighted when they arrived just two days later (kudos to Beer Merchants for their impeccable service). Beer is best shared and I bought these beers to share with my father-in-law over the weekend. They were characterised by smoothness of mouth feel, subtle but distinct flavours and above all else an approachable drinkability. You can find a more detailed review of the beers on my Instagram feed, although what I would say is that they were all very good (my highlight was their No Rest for Dancers, a hoppy red ale). If you haven’t seen them in a pub or bar near you, get on to Beer Merchants and make an order.

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  • Glassware: ‘You don’t seem to have any beer glasses’ I observed recently at my Dad’s house. He seemed to take some offence to the suggestion as he pulled a tumbler from the glass cupboard. While he had a variety of glasses for different styles of wine, he failed to have anything I would consider suitable for by Pilsner. So I helped myself to a wine glass, which was subject to much eyebrow raising on his behalf. It got me thinking of my own glassware collection. When I got married, glassware took its pride of place alongside crockery on our wedding registry. At the time this was what I viewed as a suitable if not slightly flashy beer glass.

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Over time, and almost by osmosis I have started to gather a range of more specialist beer glasses – visits to festivals and breweries largely to blame. I have my favourites; my 1/3 pint tulip from Hop Burns and Black, my Teku from BeerBods and my Craft Master from Weird Beard. I understand that drinking beer and appreciating beer are two different things, but until I can walk into my Dads house and he has more suitable beer glasses there is still more to do to educate people about appreciating good beer.

My beer glassware
My small, growing specialist beer glassware collection

Share a picture of your glassware collection – tag me in a photo

Brew Talent Time

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Towards the end of last year I noticed that two of London’s best craft breweries were on the hunt for new brewers; Hackney’s Five Points Brewing Company (I’ll call them Five Points in the rest of this post) and Bermondsey’s Brew By Numbers.

I thought it was odd two craft breweries would be looking for brewers at the same time as they would likely end up competing for the same talent. I reached out to the breweries to get their views on this to help determine whether or not my views were unfounded.

Doreen Joy Barber from the Five Points gave me an insight into their recent hiring activity. ‘Last year, we hired two new brewers into the Five Points fold. One came from another brewery in England, whereas the other had previous brewing experience in the UK’, explains Doreen.

Looking at their existing pool of brewers it’s clear they have appointed talented people with relevant brewing experience. ‘Our former Lead Assistant Brewer who worked with us for two years previously worked at Nogne O (the Norwegian brewery) and BrewFist (the Italian brewery)’ says Doreen.

They have also hired people without brewing experience that are willing to learn. This could be in the form of attending training at the Institute of Brewing and Distilling or through an apprenticeship. Doreen expanded on this, ‘Our new Lead Assistant Brewer went through our apprenticeship that we started with Hackney Community College’. Not only is this a very sensible and structured approach to developing talent, it is a great example of how a brewery connects with it local community and Five Points deserve top marks for an initiative like this.

Chris Hall’s insights on Brew By Numbers indicated a slightly different approach. In their search for brewers, relevant experience with the beer styles they brew is important, as is someone who could bring ‘a fresh perspective, unique insight or otherwise bring a new set of ideas and creativity to the team’.

This is important as it links to Brew By Numbers brewing philosophy. As Chris says ‘It’s a team after all and you want people to think differently, so we can express as best we can the full range of flavours that beer than achieve’.

With so many craft breweries in London, either starting up or facing rapid expansion, it would seem London is as an attractive location for any aspiring craft brewer. Chris again provides further insight on this; ‘We now have employees from England, Canada, United States, Finland, Norway and Italy. People with a brewing background seem to be moving to the UK almost every week’.

And it looks like there continues to be plenty of opportunity for people interested in forging a career in the burgeoning craft beer industry. Since I reached out to Doreen and Chris both Redchurch and Beavertown have also advertised for new brewers, with Beavertown also looking for a host of other roles. Being able to draw not only from talent within the UK scene today but from, as Chris calls it, ‘a diverse melting pot of backgrounds, experience and ideas’ should ensure continuing innovation and creativity in the UK craft beer scene.

One of the big challenges for craft breweries when they do scale up is when the founders or co-founders, who are often used to being very hands on in the brewing side of the business, hire a brewer to help free up their time to enable them to work on the business side. Handing over control for recipes they have designed, and responsibility for producing the beers they have been making for some time can be very tough – in reality it’s a real test their leadership capabilities. Building the right culture in a brewery is almost as important as brewing the beers and crucially is linked to the breweries ability to attract and retain the right talent in the first place.

As it turns out, my initials fears were completely unfounded. London is attracting an array of diverse talent that is helping to drive the innovation, creativity and growth of the UK craft beer scene. Getting some clear, timely and accessible statistics on craft brewery employment to help tell this story would be even better.

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.

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  • 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!