Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Mikkeller announced that it would finally open a London bar. It will be in Shoreditch, close to The St. Leonard’s church, and somewhat bizarrely it is in collaboration with Rick Astley, who is also investing.

Unfortunately they are not ticketing the opening, which will also feature the singer performing, so adding his fans to the legions of beer-geeks. They have already warned people to expect queues. London is approximately 20 times the size of Copenhagen and this is staggeringly stupid.  It could prove to be a lowlight of the year.

In contrast, a highlight of August was unquestionably LCBF, which, at Tobacco Docks, for the first time, soared to new heights in 2018. From humble beginnings, in 2013, at the Oval, Bethnal Green, and a now defunct ticket-system whereby you each got three coupons, entitling you to pours of the three different beers of approximately 10-15 breweries  and, I would guess, no more than 1,500 punters, this festival has grown exponentially.

There have been some hiccups on the way, and last year’s move to Hoxton didn’t really work, as the venue had logistics problems, and the event was hurt by competition from BeaverEx, when foreign brewers would not make two trips to the UK in five weeks.

LCBF: ray of sunshine.

However, the organisers showed great ambition and bravery to raise the stakes, and move to the much larger Tobacco Dock. They then got lucky with the demise of Heineken-Ex, and, this year, 90 breweries served over 10 000 customers!

The trade event took place on an absolute scorcher of a day. I was initially disappointed that there was no advance beer-list. However, it actually helped disperse people around the venue as there weren’t the bottleneck queues for the special ticker-beers. There were too many great beers to list, but a special mention for Fuller’s-sponsored cask area, which was a cool oasis amongst the heat and had Past Masters and Vintage Ale on draught.

Tobacco Dock is a massive venue, and there was a lot of space that LCBF 2018 didn’t use. Given the stunning success of this year, and the fact that Heineken-Ex is now possibly dead and buried, there is a window of opportunity for the organisers to show even more ambition and possibly take the title of Europe’s best beer festival from MBCC. London dwarfs Copenhagen in population and is so much better connected, which is vital for the all-coveted foreign brewers, and increases the number of poetical visitors.

Fuller’s at LCBF.

Somewhat ironically, on the morning that LCBF kicked off, Heineken took a $3.1 billion stake in China Resources Beer, that country’s largest brewer. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-heineken-nl-m-a-china-res-beer/heineken-seals-31-billion-tie-up-with-china-resources-beer-shares-surge-idUSKBN1KO00A).

As I don’t speak any of the Chinese dialects, I was spared the claims that they were a family firm and that the investment was only to build ChinaResourcesWorld. It greatly amused me to hear from my father, who is a Spurs season ticket-holder, that Heineken had to resort to emailing them all, offering discounted tickets to Heineken-Ex, for a day of drinking. What a fall from grace. From the UK’s best beer festival to a piss-up for football fans!

August 2018 was scheduled to be the last ever Rainbow Project, which would have been a real shame as this has been a marvellous idea, improving the UK brewers as they learnt from more experienced Americans, and producing great parties as well as some superb beers.

Fortunately, as this blog was going to print, Left Hand Giant announced that they would be reviving the project with a new set of younger breweries (http://www.lefthandedgiant.com/rainbow-project/). For 2018 the colours changed but the beers were all brewed at the same time as last year’s, and had then been aged.

The gloriously technicolour Rainbow Project.

Jester King showed tremendous integrity by refusing to allow their name to be on the same label as Heineken/Beavertown. Obviously I did not drink that one, but of the other six my favourites were Hawkshead/Modern Times Yellow, an apricot saison and Magic Rock/ Casita Cerveceria Papillon, a blueberry sour. The last brewery is owned by Ryan Witter-Merithew who did so much at Siren to further the UK scene and set up the Rainbow Project.

This year also saw the sad demise of London Beer City, whose volunteer organisers – led by Will Hawes – deserve a big thank-you for all their work from 2014 to 2017. However, there were some excellent LCBF fringe events, including Civil Society at The Axe, Stillwater Insetto at The King’s Arms and Garage Beer Co. at Euston Tap.

It was also at LCBF that I had my first Brut IPA, from Cloudwater, a style that, in the time I have taken to write this blog, has become almost ubiquitous in London. In general, the UK is still finding its feet with the genre, but the best British example I have had so far is Siren’s Hop Fizz Brut IPA, which I had at The Old Fountain.

Magical LCBF.

Bank Holiday weekend saw a ScandinavianTTO at The GNRT, Hornsey, featuring Omnipollo, Mikkeller, Warpigs, Toøl, Dugges, Amundsen, Dry and Bitter and People Like Us. Another fantastic event from a pub that goes from strength to strength. So many great beers, but Omnipollo Peach Candy Popcorn sour was new to me and my better half loves the Mikkeler spontaneous double berry.

GBBF is usually reassuringly consistent, which is I imagine how most of the attendees like it. However, there did seem to be more sponsored brewery bars than normal. I did enjoy the raucous booing & catcalls that greeted Greene King’s XX Mild’s victory in the mild category! Siren’s Broken Dream Breakfast stout has been around awhile, but when it was awarded Champion Beer of Britain 2018 it is the first time the accolade has gone to a modern “craft” brewery.

Virgin and Delta Airlines opened a pop-up, The Joint Venture, at The Old Crown, Holborn, to publicise the 230 American airports they fly to together. There was a US beer from each destination. Apart from the menu being absurdly written by airport code, rather than brewery or style, the selection was pretty good.

Bear Republic: pick of the bunch at Joint Venture.

As always, Bottle Shop had some interesting events: Summer Sour Sessions , including Rodenbach Alexander,  Omnipollo/Crooked Stave Wild Wild Bianca Bretta, a bretted peach sour, Dry&Bitter/Jester King Shakas Sunshine, a Tiki Sour and Omnipollo’s Aniara Lemon Wheat sour.

Double Trouble, featured paired beers from breweries who they had imported for LCBF , including sours from Stillwater (Insetto, Italian plum & Action Bronson Muscat grape). IPA’s from Stigbergets (Amazing Haze & Panta Rei) and Namastatve Saison & Dim Sum Gose form To Ol.

Finback was cold-chain flown over from Glendale, New York . Combining Forms Mango IPA , Definitely Seriously DIPA & Echelon, a DIPA with yuzu & spruce tips are all beers whose freshness really benefited from that approach.

Against The Grain, from Louisville, Kentucky saw 70k, Angel’s Envy (a premium Kentucky bourbon) BA Imperial Milk Stout, The Brown Note, brown ale, Johann Paycheque, a wine BA wild beer & Citra Ass Down DIPA, on the taps at the Bottle Shop.

Unsurprisingly (as I’m a shareholder), I enjoyed Bohem’s TTO at The Rake, and I know the headbBrewer Petr was delighted to add his name to the illustrious ones already on the wall

The month ended with a manufactured summer news story about a £22 pint. I won’t mention the details as I don’t want to give further PR either to the tabloids involved or to a venue which can over-charge.  Let’s move on please…

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.

There’s no fun in Crowd-funding

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When Anspach & Hobday and Redemption announced crowd-funding programmes, the trickle that began a few years ago with Brewdog and Camden has turned into a tsunami and the Editor asked me to write this article. Apologies, as various work commitments have delayed its appearance but the underlying message that the situation is extremely unhealthy and a serious risk to a potential investor’s wealth has not changed.

In August, when the article was commissioned, there were five separate breweries raising funds on Crowdcube, including Utopian craft lager, who were seeking money before they have even brewed, which is reminiscent of the infamous prospectus from the South Sea bubble “for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is”.

In mid-September there were three companies including Brewdog, who have been doing it in-house for years, and Play Brew, who I have never heard of and are basing their beers on 1980’s arcade games, which sounds like an idea Alan Partridge would leave on his Dictaphone. And that doesn’t even include Anspach.

Clearly something is going on. However, I feel that there are serious problems with crowd-funding, and Crowdcube, and specific issues for the brewing industry, which means any potential investors should run a mile and keep their money firmly in their pocket.

The general issues:

  1. CrowdCube does not take funds from the US. This is because Securities Law is a lot stricter in the States, and crucially the penalties (jail), for breaking it, are a lot stiffer. If they took US funds then they would have to follow stricter laws which protect investors’ rights.

The clear analogy for beer is deliberately using cheaper, inferior ingredients from a regulatory regime that has lower food and drink standards. It is absolutely damning that these breweries are prepared to raise funds via an entity that is not able to operate in the richest country in the world, with the most developed and sophisticated equity markets, as their investor protection standards aren’t high enough.

2. It is also wrong that Crowdcube often market small-lot investments (typically £10 -£10,000) as “B Investment shares”, when they do not have crucial features such as pre-emption rights. A brewing example was provided by BrewDog  (https://www.brewdog.com/GM290317LTR_Chairman-BrewDog-PLC_13-MAR-17.2.pdf), in which they did not offer the B Ordinary Share holders the same opportunity to participate, that they gave to their new investor. Given that many of these “B Investment shares” are marketed by CrowdCube on the basis of product discounts, I would say that they are actually mutually beneficial customer loyalty schemes, rather than equity. I wrote about this in an earlier blog  (http://beerinsider.com/lack-of-equity-at-brewdog/) and specially raised the point with the FCA when they sought feedback on the sector.

3. I have particular issues with the low standard of due diligence that crowd-funding platforms undertake. This blog, http://fantasyequitycrowdfunding.blogspot.com/, provides many examples. A lot of crowd-funding raisers don’t have the financial knowledge for some of the pitches they are making, but it is up to the issuing platform to then provide it.

4. The regulators are a long way behind crowd-funding as it is relatively new. The FCA have released various Interim Statements, and engaged in consultations, but have yet to catch up with the technological innovation. These issues are magnified by the EIS/SEIS tax breaks, which do incentive small business creation, but are also relatively new. Ultimately here, losses will be borne by the Government.

5. “A recession reveals what an auditor cannot “. Crowd-funding has only existed in a period of economic growth in both the US and the UK. It has only been around in the UK during a time of extreme monetary stimulus. Asset markets, particularly shares in the US, and property in the UK have only been in a bull market during that time. It is prudent to be extremely wary of the concept until it has faced monetary tightening and has survived a completed economic and also asset price cycle.

6. Crowd-funding is therefore a volatile, risky investment, with few safe-guards. These are not for casual, inexperienced investors. Yet these are precisely the class targeted, with very low nominal amounts and ‘special offers’.

There are also beer-specific issues:

A. The sheer number of equity issues to fund expansion should lead to warning signals about future over-capacity. Each brewer is acting as if the marker was static and they were the only ones raising capital for expansion.  It may be correct to anticipate sales increases if only one brewer raises production but clearly if every brewer does it then the industry will experience over-supply.  On top of this, both Four Pure and Beavertown have been taken over by or received funds from macro brewers who will be increasing capacity dramatically.

B. The questionable quality of some of the companies that are crowd-funding! Redemption is a fantastic brewery. Others not so.

C. In January 2016, Redchurch raised £500k on Crowdcube, on a valuation of £2.2 million, based upon their sales and profit forecasts. However, they missed the sales figures by approximately 50%, so that the prediction of a £1k profit turned into a £170k loss. Fourteen months later they were back for another £400k, but ludicrously the valuation was now £5 million, or more than double.  It is absurd that a business can spectacularly miss its targets and yet double in value.  (http://beerinsider.com/lets-rake-over-the-take-overs/)

D. Wild Beer’s first set of results after their Crowdcube campaign, for the year ending July 2017, were released. This blog gives a summary: (http://fantasyequitycrowdfunding.blogspot.com/search?q=+wild+beer). A small predicted profit turned into a loss of £370k, with sales disappointing by £400k. The results were poor, but good businesses can disappoint and growing ones post losses. What is truly shocking is that they pitched on Crowdcube in March 2017, so had completed nine months of the year, and already knew 75% of the numbers, which makes the margin of error staggering.

Crowd-funding is a Wild West of investment with many questionable practices. It is most definitely not for the novice investor that it targets. The sheer volume of craft beer offerings almost assures over-capacity, even if the issuers were limited to quality brewers, which they are not.

Hence, a basket of investments in all these issues is guaranteed to lose money. It’s possible that a single company might be so good that it produces decent returns, but if that were the case, why are they using such a fringe platform to raise funds when there are so many other ways to bring in money? I would advise beer-lovers to follow their head, and not their heart, and avoid all brewery crowd-funding.

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences. He also wants to protect your interests.

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Another month, and another one bites the dust – this time south of the river, as Kirin bought FourPure. Unlike June’s debacle with Beavertown, this was far more honest, as founder and CEO Dan Lowe told Good Beer Hunting: “We’re not going to say nothing will change. What would be the point of doing it if nothing was changing?”

The brewery was always clearly backed by investment money, looking for a return, and did not rely on charismatic deception about their true opinion of Big Beer to promote the brand. They had always concentrated on doing the core beers, such as ShapeShifter, well, rather than the more adventurous festival stuff, which is again a better fit for a big company. If you don’t like it then there is no need to drink the beer, with so many quality independent alternatives available.

Drinking highlight was a wonderful, Vintage Fullers tasting, at GNRT, kindly organised by the Editor, and beer sommelier, John Porter. However, you can read more here, http://beerinsider.com/fullers-vintage-ale-tasting/ so I will be brief.

For the Vintage Ales, we were lucky with 1997, given its storage, and it had morphed into a fine dessert sherry. Good, but you would only pay the £500 price now for completeness, rather than value.

Fascinating divergence between 1999, which had gone, and 2000, which was superb, and recognisably a well-conditioned beer, with appropriate head. Of the others, I agreed with the consensus, that the best was the Brewer’s Reserve No.4.

Perfect weather for “I’d Rather Have A Lager” week at The Bottle Shop (The Arch), in which all 17 taps featured high quality examples of the style, including  Bamberg’s smoked Schlenkerla Rauchbier, Kout na Sumave 12 Pils, Left Hand’s Pilot Brew No. 83 Vienna Lager, Cloudwater’s Helles Tettnanger and Lost & Grounded Keller Pils.

Throughout the celebration The Arch had asked its customers to vote for their favourite, in order to “separate the very best from the best”.  It is personally enormously gratifying to report that the overall winner was Bohem’s Czech Pilsner Amos! I am obviously biased (as I’m a director), so it was very pleasing to see the beer awarded this independent accolade, especially as the field was of such high standard.

Regarding The Arch, I missed the Independence Day American special as I was away, and enjoyed air-freighted KCBC, but disagreed with owner Andrew Morgan regarding ABI’s Wicked Weed https://bottle.shop/blogs/news/bottleshop-view-on-wicked-weed?mc_cid=977e5d8160&mc_eid=9b45d1a491).

His examples of other industries ignores two fundamental difference with food and drink : Firstly a substantial degree of standardisation is to be welcomed with white goods, TV’s or smart-phones, as this means that consumers don’t have to learn entirely new operating systems, and methods, when they change brands, which also improves competition as it makes switching easier.

In food and drink, variety is the spice of life. Secondly, standardised production is cheaper and more plentiful, so the consumer benefits from having more goods. However, obesity rather than hunger is the modern world’s problem, and there are obvious limits to how much alcohols should be consumed, so this is irrelevant. Drinking ABI’s Wicked Weed now ultimately means less variety in the future, and for that reason, I’m out.

Thanks to Bottle Shop’s Charlotte, who air-freighted beers over for my annual July trip to Ibiza. Local brewer Ibosim’s quality has definitely improved, and the new strawberry IPA, was subtle and drinkable. I’ll include my yearly plug for their Tap-room in Port des Torrent, preferably after a leisurely late lunch at Can Pujol, just round the corner.

Wonderful sours from American Solera at King’s Arms: Ryemera, a Kvass, Grisetta Stone, Foeder Cerise, a sour, cherry-aged, golden ale, Ground is Shaking, a Vin Santo-aged Flanders Oud Bruin, Biere de Picpoul, oak-aged re-fermented with Picpoul grapes and Foederville, again oak-aged, but this time dry-hooped with Hallertau Blanc.

I regularly drink in Graceland pubs, almost always mention one of them positively in every blog, and awarded King’s Arms Pub of the Year for both 2016 (http://beerinsider.com/amateur-drinker-awards-for-2016/) & 2017 (http://beerinsider.com/amateur-drinker-2017-review/). However, the recent takeovers led to a potentially serious problem.

On a recent visit, half the taps were FourPure, Beavertown or Camden, all of whom are now Big Beer. Admittedly, old orders have to work the way thru the pipe-line, but this needs to be watched.

The Old Fountain wins the award for Most Imaginative Guest at an Event award, as a celebration of Virginia beers was graced by the presence of Governor Ralph Northam Virginia, who was on a trade mission to the UK.

Good fun to spot which of the trade delegation were actually members of the Secret Service, although it wasn’t exactly difficult! Both the Governor and First Lady were friendly, and engaged with the punters.  After the obligatory “politician pulls pint behind the bar photo-op”  was placed on Twitter, someone claimed, with a level of political ignorance, appropriate to the Social Medium , that it showed the level of corruption endemic in the state as the Governor did not have his liquor-serving licence!  For the beers, I enjoyed Port City Essential Pale and Monumental IPA and Lickinghole Creek 9 mile IPA and Farm Blond.

Paul Kruzycki, founder of Ales by Mail

Ales by Mail unfortunately announced that they would be closing down. They were early entrants and very supportive of the then nascent scene. I do not know if the issues are company-specific or a reflection of the pressure on specialist retailers as supermarkets enter the fray. They were the organiser of the February 2015 Naparbier TTO at Beavertown, at which it was first agreed that I write this blog, so they can either be thanked or blamed for that. (I also fell off my bike on the way home after that tasting – Ed).

A welcome new addition is Old Street Brewery, founded by two ex-Mother Kelly’s staff. The brewing is still in its infancy, but they have set up a fantastic on-site taproom, across the Bethnal Green Road from their mother-bar.  We will forgive them their estate agents’ aversion to geographical truth as one of the founders was originally living, and home-brewing in Old Street.

Redemption was the latest brewer to announce crowd funding, but I will cover that in greater detail in a special article which, I promise, will be out in a few days…

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.

 

Radical rightsizing repositions Charles Wells

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Ian Jones, operations director, Charles Wells

Charles Wells’ brewery in Bedford dates back to 1876 but a long history was no deterrent to the family selling it last year to Marston’s in what could well be the first of a number of drastic manoeuvres taken by regional brewers.

It reflects the tough environment in which they now trade, according to Ian Jones, operations director at Charles Wells, who says the challenge coming from an army of new smaller brewers paying reduced tax and selling “cheaply made beer” was making it a difficult marketplace.

Like other long standing brewers Charles Wells was operating on old kit – 40 years old in its case – that needed further investment and greater volumes being pushed through it. “It was becoming unprofitable. We tried to get the volume by buying legacy brands. But it was clear we needed to do something drastic,” says Jones.

He joined the business in 2016 on the premise that a sale of the brewery would take place by 2019 but it came much quicker following an approach from Marston’s. “It needed a lager brewery and the Charles Well’s brands fitted well into certain regions [in which it operated] and so it bought out all the contracts on beers like Estrella, McEwan’s, Courage and Bombardier,” explains Jones.

Although the sale raised around £55 million this largely went on paying down debts. With a clean brewing slate the plan has been for Charles Wells to instead focus on its tenanted pubs and managed houses. But Jones says the family has always insisted that they would also have a brewery in the mix. “You get a better return from pubs but a brewery is at the heart of the company.”

What will change is that the new £13 million brewery will be a 30th of the size of the old Charles Wells operation – at around 30,000 hl. It will have a 30 hl brew length compared with a much bigger 250 hl at the former brewery. The plan is to brew five-times per day although it will be possible to crank this up to nine-times.

What Jones will be brewing is undecided – apart from the two Charlie brands it has retained, and two John Bull beers that are sold through the company’s pubs in France: “I’ve no idea what I’ll be brewing. There will be three core cask, two core keg, and two core lagers. Quite how big any of them will get I’m not sure.”

With 175 tenanted pubs (and only 12 managed) he says many pubs do not have to take Charles Wells beers and so ahead of the new brewery opening Jones has been on a ‘Wandering Brewer’ initiative involving him brewing a wide variety of cask beers with different brewers including Hop Stuff, Titanic, Black Sheep and Woodeforde’s. This mission also encapsulates keg and a series of four beers are being produced with London’s Fourpure over the next 12 months.

“It’s a mission to educate tenants and customers as well as ourselves. We want to highlight to them the change that is coming. We’ve got 90 pubs signed up to receive the Wandering Brewer cask beers. Providing our pubs with more contemporary cask is the biggest opportunity for us. We want them to have good refreshing beer with a bit of hop [character] rather than just being brown ale in a glass. We need to make more flavoursome, contemporary beers,” he explains.

As for keg he says the two Charlie brands have done well but he admits that for the Charles Wells pub estate craft keg is “a bit more out there”. So far 49 pubs are taking the Wandering Brewer kegs on a rotational line that has been installed. The most recent brew is Rucksack Pale Ale (4%), which will be followed in October by an Appalachian IPA (4.7%), then in March an unfiltered German Rhine Pilsner (4.7%) and finally in the series a Bavarian Helles.

This will take Jones beyond the point when the new brewery should be open (April 2019). “We’re all set to go. We’ve got all the plans submitted and agreed. We just need to get the land purchased. We’re all lined up,” he says with much anticipation.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Whilst it was very far from a surprise to anyone who wasn’t doing PR for Beavertown, (who were still denying it, even as I wrote this,http://beerinsider.com/amateur-drinker-loses-taste-for-beavertown-and-its-extravaganza/), June saw by far the biggest upheaval in London’s nascent scene.

You will surely already know about the Heineken/Beavertown nuptials and most of this blog is devoted to it.

Owner Logan Plant had been vocally against “Big Beer”, most notably in his commencement speech at last year’s BeaverEx, but the press release announcing the deal was hypocritical: it wittered on, without actually mentioning the deal, before ludicrously calling Heineken an “independent family firm”, with a “passion for quality”. Just be honest, you did it for the money, which is a perfectly human thing to do.

The capital injection is to build BeaverWorld, which is either just a massive brewery, in which case, just call it that or it is a White Elephant.

Most importantly, in a world of loose monetary policy globally, and buoyant asset, most notably equity, prices there are many other sources of funding.

Why reject private equity? The press release claims that PE firms just want to maximize return on investment. Heineken are a listed company, so its Board has a legal obligation to do exactly the same! There will be a whole set of legal covenants as to how exactly the £40 million can be spent.

Beavertown could have floated a portion of the company properly, with Stock Exchange rules, rather than silly crowd-funding schemes, which obviously can’t raise the money.

If BeaverWorld is more than a brewery, why not look to a hotel company?

There was no need to go to big beer.

BeaverWorld

This, http://protzonbeer.co.uk/comments/2018/06/23/big-beer-moves-in-on-beavertown, from Roger Protz, who knows far more about beer than I do, is an excellent summary of the way in which macro beer companies sacrifice quality for consistency and lower costs.

However, the most important problem is that Big Beer is desperate to kill small, independent producers and will engage in all legal behavior to achieve that aim.

They buy up small brands, and package them so the average punter doesn’t know that they are no longer independent. They use their financial might to systematically out-spend on promotions/advertising and loss-lead, which each small independent can’t match, and they try to block taps through bundled packages.

Logan is free to sell to whomever he wishes and I am free to not drink Heineken/Beavertown.

Onto the reactions later, but in order to have some flow to the article, I will discuss June’s best event:

Fuller’s, a Stock Market-listed company who do care about quality and don’t set out to kill craft, were fantastic hosts of the superb London Brewers Alliance (LBA) free-pour  festival, putting on a  full range of their cask, including Past Master 1981 ESB, and a couple of Vintage Ales, all stocked in surprisingly generous quantities.

LBA event at Fuller’s

As an investor in Bohem Brewery it was gratifying to see that beer writer James Beeson picked Bohem’s Amos as one of his top five (https://www.beesononbeer.co.uk/the-blog/2018/6/24/london-brewers-alliance-beer-festival-five-of-the-best).

Carrying on with Bohem, it hosted an opening party at its new Tottenham brewery. As a veteran of many events (see past blogs!), I had been asked my advice, which largely centered on my pathological hatred of queues so, although I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I am not exactly an impartial witness! The full range of lagers were available, and tasting excellent, and you can read more here: (http://beerinsider.com/bohem-brewery-launches-new-brewery-site-in-tottenham/)

My Bohem connections led to an invite to the Czech Beer Day, hosted by the Ambassador in the Embassy’s gardens, at which they were pouring. An enjoyable afternoon, which could only have been improved by butlers serving Ferrero Rocher!

Bohem Brewery launch event

The Bottle Shop’s June events included Barcelona’s Nomada (Khanda Wipa IPA & La Manchurita gose), Dugges (Mango Mango Mango!) and Omnipollo Week, with the infamous slushy machine that actually suited the Mediterranean weather! They also had in Running Beer bottles, from Mills Brewing, a rural Gloucestershire brewer that specialises in mixed fermentation beers with wild yeast.

By coincidence, the day of the Heineken announcement, saw a New York special at Hoplocker. From Interboro, Yo! Play, a peach-smoothie DIPA with Burnt Mill, The Vapors a DIPA and The Bridge is Over, a IPA. Finback brought Zero Point, a coconut Gose, Replenish an IPA and Social Fabric, a DIPA.

These are rare, but have been in the UK before. However, I think Equilibrium was pouring here for the first time: There And Back Again, a wild ale, Photon, a pale ale and dHop4, a DIPA, were all excellent.

Equilibrium is one of those American brewers that have hours-long queues round the block for their releases in the US, so it was no surprise to have to wait a little here. However, hats off to Hoplocker, who had a clear and sensible maximum order policy, which they communicated everywhere in advance, and were abundantly and professionally staffed. Fantastic logistics.

Back to the reactions to the Heineken news, which were negative, but sad and disappointed rather than angry.

Extreme credit to Cloudwater (who did criticise Boak & Bailey originally, but more than made up for it),  Hops Burns & Black and The Veil for being the leaders in cancelling attendance at BeaverEx or pulling the beers from their shelves.

Ticket Tannoy initially tried to refuse my refund, but once I had contacted Amex, and reminded the brokers of their legal responsibilities, they accepted the obvious point that if you sell tickets for an event and change the headline acts, then you must reimburse the customer.

Some pathetic fan-boys and –girls began whining on social media that they had paid for their ticket, and therefore brewers shouldn’t pull out. Firstly, as above, it was trivially easy to get a refund, second, blame the brewer without integrity, not those who kept it, remembering that Beavertown were in negotiations and lied about it for months when the truth would have seen the honourable brewers refusing to even get involved in the first place, and most importantly, you will have no events to go to in three years if Heineken gets its way, as there will be no independent craft brewers left to exhibit!

Whilst I was at The Bottle Shop Omnipollo event above, the news came through that Modern Times, and others had pulled out of BeaverEx. There was genuine relief, bordering on elation, as people realised that the event was over, and Beavertown were forced to send a humiliating email a few days later admitting just that.

The next causality was Sour Solstice. This was brilliant last year, and, indeed was my highlight of June 2017 (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-21/ ), and I got to try the excellent, but rare Tommie Sief, for the first time. Beavertown were forced to scrap tickets, and make it free entry

Beavertown’s PR Army, now ludicrously tried to claim that selling to Heineken was the same as to Private Equity. All productive organisations must ultimately be owned by private individuals, in the form of equity, or you end up with Venezuela, but other than that triviality, this is nonsense. Private Equity does not have the same over-rising incentive to crush small, independent breweries.

The Kernel TTO at GNRT

The Kernel at GNRT in North London was on Tau Day, 28/6, which meant the wonderful, annual Hawkshead/Crooked Stave Key Lime Tau was back.  Very busy, as the England/Belgium Armistice game was on, but the excellent staff coped superbly.

Anspach & Hobday were the latest to announce a crowd-funding venture. I will be covering that whole topic in a separate article, which will be posted in a couple of days.

Burning Sky, thoroughly deserved winners of best drinks producer at the BBC Food Awards, and Connecticut’s Two Roads on tap together at The King’s Arms

The Fox, in Haggerston, announced it was closing for 12-18 months, as the landlord was renovating and converting the upstairs into flats. This was an early pioneer, and had a good selection with decent events, whilst still remaining a proper pub.

BritHop was a fun event, organised by Drinks Maven, at Mother Kelly’s, in which Kernel (CF90, a pale), Burning Sky (Typically English Day, a pale) and others brewed with new British hops.

Finally, as this piece was going to press, Lagunitas announced it was cutting the strength of its UK IPA from 6.2% to 5.5%. Could it be Heineken in action?

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.

Rethinking beer in Scotland

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Having spent a career working in senior roles at various large brewers the founder of Edinburgh Beer Factory (EBF) decided to do things a little differently when setting up his own operation.

Sitting on the edge of Edinburgh on an industrial estate EBF is the creation of John Dunsmore – who formerly ran Scottish & Newcastle as well as holding other senior roles including CEO of C&C Group – and it is straight out of the craft beer mould.

What gives it some differentiation though is its initial focus on lager. The objective of the company has been to rethink lager – away from its bad reputation and male focus. Dunsmore also wanted to rethink the stereotypes of Scotland and to highlight that it is a world leader in brewing and distilling.

Ellis Johnson of EBF says: “He wanted to remake lager and restyle it. To do it differently than Foster’s, Kronenbourg and Tennent’s.” Part of this thinking has involved leaning heavily on the godfather of Pop Art the Leith born Eduardo Paolozzi whose imagery runs across all EBF’s beers.

The brewery was founded on Paolozzi Hells lager (ABV 5.2%), which is a Munich-style lager that is hopped with Saaz and Hallertau. It accounts for a hefty 95% of the brewery’s output, which has built up to 5,000hl since production started in 2015. The kit was shipped in from Turin in Italy with the brewhouse consisting of a dual mash tun/kettle, whirlpool, and sparging vessel.

These feed into six fermenting vessels that each contains 150hl. In addition there is a batch of conditioning tanks that ensure the lager has around six weeks in tank. At the moment Johnson says EBF is at maximum capacity but there is plenty of room to bring in some additional vessels and conditioning tanks.

As well as branching out into an unfiltered version of Paolozzi, which has reduced the bitterness and added the requisite luscious mouth-feel, EBF has also recently launched its Bunk! range. The name comes from the Paolozzi lecture in 1952 at the ICA in London when he first introduced his pop art creations and called it BUNK!

Johnson says the idea has been to release an experimental series of under-appreciated beer styles. First up was Edinburgh Brown (6%), which is an American brown ale-style brew with Cascade hops, and Smoky Wheat (5%) that has the heft and banana notes of a traditional German wheat beer but with a decent whiff of smoke coursing through it.

These have more recently been joined by Cherry Saison (6.5%) that has the undercurrent of Belgian yeast that is complemented with the addition of fresh cherries into the mix that sit comfortably in the background.

Such brews are initially created on a pilot plant that can limit production runs to as little as 500l and the most recent brew to come from this kit was being tested at the brewery’s Tap Room on my visit – Mediterranean Pale Ale (7.4%), which has been aged in Chardonnay casks.

These beers are all available in bottle (being bottled on-site with EBF’s own line) while Paolozzi is also available in 330ml cans.

During my visit on a Saturday afternoon the tours of the brewery and tastings in the Tap Room are clearly proving very popular and EBF has found itself on the tourist attraction trail – especially among the passengers of cruise ships mooring up in nearby Leith. Paolozzi would no doubt approve.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Fuller’s Vintage Ale Tasting

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London brewer Fuller’s has been producing its bottled conditioned Vintage Ale since 1997 when the brewer’s name on the bottle was Reg Drury and not John Keeling whose signature found itself on the bottle the year after.

Keeling’s name has been on all the Vintage ales since 1998 through to 2016 after which current head brewer Georgina Young became the third name to adorn this ongoing series.

Having accumulated various bottles over the years, including a rare 1997 (in a white box), it seemed about time to crack open a few vintages to see how they had aged and how their developments in the bottle could be compared against other vintages.

With a few friends, and the Great Northern Railway Tavern in North London as the host venue, nine bottles were opened (including two that had been contributed by fellow beer writer John Porter).

 

Vintage Ale 1997

With 20 years in the bottle and variable storage conditions (straddling three house moves) it would have been no surprise to find this beer a disappointment. But it was anything but and its original robust formula had clearly helped keep it in good nick.

There was a modest aroma on first exposure, with a bit of sherry-like qualities, which came through in the tasting. But it was very much at the creamier end of the sherry spectrum as sweetness came very much at the fore. Christmas pudding ale is the most obvious description to assign this beer.

Vintage Ale 1999

There were clear signs that this beer had gone over the edge. It had very little conditioning and was certainly lacking in body. Beyond the sweetness there were few discernible characteristics to appeal to the drinker.

Who’s got the ’98?

Vintage Ale 2000

In contrast to the 1999 this beer had superb conditioning with its pert head that was retained throughout the tasting. The mouthfeel added greatly to its appeal as did the full fruity flavours that contributed to what remains a great beer after 18 years in the bottle.

Vintage Ale 2004

This vintage poured rather thin with little head retention but what it did have in its favour was some of the cherry notes that were picked up in the original tasting in 2004. Also pleasant in the mix and rounding out its character was some mild bitterness in the finish.

Vintage Ale 2011

This more recent vintage poured like a distinctly younger beer with a fresher look to the head. It also had a full bodied feel with some alcohol heat noticeable but these were well balanced with some hop characteristics from the Goldings, Organic First Gold and Soverign hops.

Vintage Ale 2012

The most recent vintage in the vertical tasting had a zesty freshness and its hops contributed to giving it an almost refreshing aspect. There are clearly many potential years ahead for this vintage as the beer has far from rounded out whereby the fruitier notes will mature and come to the fore.

To mix things up some other Fuller’s special limited editions were added to the tasting:

Brewer’s Reserve No.4 (365 days aged in oak Armagnac casks)

The Armagnac provided this beer with its over-riding characteristic that ran right through from the aroma to the finish. Rum and raisin notes were evident in the character in what is a very drinkable beer. The consensus at the tasting was that this one is worth seeking out.

Past Masters ‘XX Strong Ale’

The first beer brewed by Fuller’s in what remains on ongoing series where recipes from its archives are reprised. The conditioning was pretty good although the beer was rather thin to the taste. It did, surprisingly, retain some alcohol heat, which was very much the over-riding characteristic when this beer was first bottled.

Past Masters ‘Old Burton Extra’

The tasting finished on a highlight with this excellently condition beer that displayed great complexity. The malt showed through and set a solid backbone from where a perfectly balanced combination of sweet notes and moderate hop character was able to shine through in the taste and finish.

 

With many other bottles (from various breweries) ageing in the Beer Insider cellar there is the high likelihood that another tasting along similar lines will be held in the near future.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

 

 

Stools are cool

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Great Northern Railway Tavern: Bar stools back on the menu

I had the privilege of being asked my views last year on what elements I’d like to incorporate into my local pub. London brewer Fuller’s had recently acquired a lovely Victorian boozer, The Great Northern Railway Tavern, which it intended to restore to its former glory.

Rather than rushing into anything, Fuller’s sensibly canvassed some local opinion before committing any investment. The two key essential items I suggested were a great beer list and bar stools – not necessarily in that order. My children recommended I also propose free ice cream at all times, which I also put forward.

My bar stool suggestion not only highlighted my love affair with this humble piece of furniture but was also a fight-back against previous managers of the pub, who removed all stools from the bar for a time. Their reasoning was to dissuade people from crowding around the bar. This mirrored the strategy town centre bars brought into force to avoid so-called “vertical drinking”. I can understand it in circuit pubs in city centres but it seemed a rather bizarre decision in a local boozer in a north London “suburb”.

Thankfully, Fuller’s reintroduced bar stools – along with a super, rotating selection of beer – although my children were disappointed by the lack of free ice cream. My view is that the beating heart of a pub is found at the bar and, space permitting, where I invariably gravitate – perched on a stool. It’s where the action is and it’s the buzz around the bar which gives any pub the energy that permeates throughout the premises. I suspect we take this for granted in the UK because it’s one of the things tourists comment on when visiting this country.

For customers of Charles Wells’ chain of 12 “British” pubs that are expanding across France, one of the appealing aspects of the venues has been the requirement for customers to visit the bar when they want to buy a drink. This is in contrast to the French tradition of orders being taken at the tables. This British system sucks people to the bar and enables much more interaction among the customers, who invariably find they congregate around this central point. This has found particular appeal among young French drinkers.

As a bar stool advocate it has been interesting to see the move by restaurateurs to incorporate counter seating into their dining rooms. I’d say pretty much any new opening now includes some such seats – more often than not positioned around an open kitchen. This move has been driven by a number of factors including the need to squeeze more covers into venues to counter the increased cost of running restaurants.

Such seating also suits solo dining much better because the customer can focus on the action behind the counter and from an economic point of view because they don’t take up a whole table. It also chimes well with the move towards more casual dining because even in the smartest restaurants, it feels rather louche to be perched on a bar stool.

I’ve had some of my more enjoyable meals out this year dining at the counter. Stools in Spanish restaurant Rambla in Soho puts you right at the heart of the action as chefs work away creating magical dishes. The stools also put you over the top of everybody else in the compact room, giving great visibility.

Irvin Bar Grill: A restaurant with bar stools

It’s the same story at another of my local restaurants, Irvin Bar Grill, which successfully mixes Italian and Scottish cuisine and drinks – but I only visit if I can grab a couple of stools at the pewter-topped counter. The more relaxed nature of its bar-counter seating means an evening intended as “drinks only” can seamlessly morph into a procession of small plates for dinner in a way that wouldn’t be possible at the tables in this tiny venue.

Being a bar fly in Irwin also affords an opportunity to chat with the owner, who works behind the bar, and to people-watch as the restaurant entrance is alongside the bar. These things combine to make you feel you are in the thick of things. It’s safe to say my love affair with the bar stool continues but it now has some competition from the newcomer in town – the restaurant stool.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.

Bath Ales fresh from installation of state-of-the-art brewing facility

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Roger Ryman is renowned for his brewing capabilities – having created blockbusters like Tribute – but he is less known for his engineering prowess, which is on full show at Bath Ales brewery on the outskirts of the Georgian city.

On a tour of the site it is clear that the brewing director of St Austell (parent of Bath Ales) is very proud of the shiny new operation that incorporates some of the latest developments in brewing kit. It is certainly a world away from what existed when St Austell bought the brewery two years ago in a deal worth around £6.5 million.

Ryman says it was a deal that needed doing for Bath Ales as it was an operation with good brands but like other brewers of its size and vintage it needed some investment in order for It to move on. With around £6 million invested in the business Ryman has been able to build a state-of-the-art facility.

He selected British operation Musk Engineering as the supplier of the kit over German manufacturers Krones and GEA because although they have “fantastic” product he suggests dealing with them can be rather like buying goods from a catalogue. Instead, he wanted to build a bespoke brewhouse that had the flexibility to brew a variety of beer styles including cask.

What he has ended up with at the heart of the operation is a mash conversion vessel, lauter tun and whirlpool with a 85hl brew length. “This does not increase the batch size from the old brewery but that was all manual. With the new kit we can make small lengths and it’s a rapid production,” says Ryman.

Whereas previously it could handle nine brews in a 24-hour period it’s now possible to do 10-12 brews per week. “The capabilities we now have are significant,” he says.

At present this kit feeds into 12 fermenting vessels with a total capacity of 170hl and there is room for a further six FVs to be added when required. At present the annual output from Bath Ales is 34,000hl but there is the capacity to crank out double this amount.

There is also the prospect of a canning line being added although he says this will not be a replacement for the bottling line (that also bottles St Austell beers).

Wandering around the facility Ryman seems to almost constantly highlight the interesting bits of kit such as the filtering system, the yeast flow control system, and the valves on the bottling line as examples of equipment that would typically have only been found within much larger brewing facilities.

He says access to such cutting edge equipment is down to the big suppliers like Krones scaling down their technology in order for it to be available for craft brewers: “They’ve recognised that they now need to sell to these smaller companies.”

Although he has plans to produce a variety of styles on the kit including some German style Pilsners and wheat beer – that will complement the recently launched English lager Sulis – Ryman says Gem represents 60% of Bath Ales’ production. This sits slightly above the 50% of output that Tribute accounts for at the St Austell brewery. This figure has been gradually reducing as other beers grow and it is probably going to be the same story with Gem over time.

The acquisition of Bath Ales has not just enabled Ryman to get his engineering teeth into building a new brewery but it has given St Austell a beachhead from which to broaden its reach in the South West of England. This also includes building its pub estate, which was boosted by the eight properties that came with the Bath Ales deal.

The most notable is the Graze bar adjacent to Bath Spa train station that also includes a two-barrel brewery. Another two pubs are in the process of being acquired that will add to the 180-plus properties that St Austell operates across the business.

This is one of a number of deals that have taken place in the sector and we can be absolutely sure that there will be more as the craft beer category grows and consolidation accelerates.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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The highlight of May, and almost certainly 2018, was obviously MBCC in Copenhagen. This year my visit extended to six days, so I was able to experience more of the accompanying Beer Week events around the city.

As in 2017, I bumped into another regular Bottle Shop couple at Gatwick, early Tuesday morning! A gorgeous, sunny day greeted us in Denmark, so much so, that we decided to immediately break the “no drinking straight off plane” rule. The obvious and nearest choice was WarPigs.

The excellent MBCC App listed a Bottle Logic event. I must confess that I had never heard of them and so didn’t imagine it would be busy, which reveals my ignorance and incompetence, as we were greeted by a 45 minute queue at midday!

Bottle Logic are apparently famous for imperial stouts, but I sensibly stayed off them, and enjoyed the sun outside, where we shared a table, and chatted with, Keith Shore, the Philadelphia-based designer of the iconic Mikkeller label.

We then took a taxi to Koelschip, the small cellar bar dedicated to Belgium, and particularly Lambic and spontaneous fermented beer. As befitting English abroad, we couldn’t stay out of the sun, and so went next door to Mikkeler & Friends. The next day was Ascension Day bank holiday, so the evening back at WarPigs was full of civilian as well as MBCC attendees.

Thursday´s plan was to walk to Brus. However, it now doesn’t open until 3pm, which is later than last year. The main Mikkeller Bar hosted Other Half.  Very good, but expensive and I have had them in London many times, so we went to Baghaven, the barrel aging facility in the rural outskirts of, the, not very big, city.

WarPigs

They did have some queuing logistical issues but the beers were excellent. There was a separate pop-up with Alchemist who brought their IPA, which they recommend to drink straight out of the can, as it protects the aroma, although I’m not convinced!

Finally, back to Fermentoren, which I had visited last year, with the Editor, on our first evening, but which was completely different to my vague, drunken memories. Upon sharing this story, Evin O’Riordain from The Kernel, (apologies for the name-dropping), remarked that he had also been present in 2017, which I also blacked out. (Likewise, so thanks for letting me know – Ed).

MBCC´s format is free-pour, which works best for festivals. I had a Gold ticket so got in 20 minutes early before the hordes of single-session ticket-holders. During every session there are a few beers which have queues, and then run out early: Bokkereyder, always, Omnipollo soft serve, and then the top two or three on RateBeer for that particular session.

I don’t see the point of queuing for the notorious, usually RateBeer influenced beers, as however remarkable they might be, there is quality everywhere: At MBCC, grazing is the key!

There were so many amazing beers, so this is far from a defintive list. However, I jotted down the following: Angry Chair Rainbow Sherbert Berlinner Weisee with pineapple, raspberry and citrus juice. Various flavours of Fonta Flora Apalachian Wild Ale.

The Veil Never Never double range: Satisfied, a sweet cheery Gose and Scared, with Guava. Tamp´s Cigar City always seems to make great festival beers, and 2018 MBCC was no exception, but I won’t single one out.

Fantastic sours from Black Project every session, including Cygnus, with cherries, and others aged with wine grapes. Proper modern, high ABV meads from Superstition: I covered these last year, as it’s a style we do not see in the UK, and we’re still waiting for distributors to work with Superstitution!

Juice from Other Half

Other Half´s Go With The Flow Mosaic  Dream, saisons from Threes Brewing, Modern Times’ Monster Tones, a 50/50 blend of Modem Tones and Monsters´Park, two Bourbon BA imperial stouts, a dessert special with coconut and vanilla, which was a RateBeer special on session three.

Finally, amazing spontaneous wild ales from de Garde, blended with so many different fruits from cider apples to Oregon peaches. I could truly go on listing more beers for page after page.

Friday night at Brus, seemed to contain almost every MBCC visitor I recognised, and its always a fun place. Saturday had dawned with a predictable hangover, and I made the mistake of finally going for a Bokkereyder: this meant I lost almost 10 minutes of the special 20 minutes Gold Ticket time, but also, it was a hair of the dog, so I downed it, which was a complete waste!

There was a fifth session on the Sunday, for Gold ticket-holders, with the event left-overs, which was extremely controversial as it was announced after many had booked flights home. It was a very mellow affair, with few crowds, and we even poured most beers ourselves!

Obviously most of the superstars didn’t slip through, but New Bissell IPA and Kane and Sunday Brunch somehow did! The late announcement was the only mistake the organisers made and I would have been annoyed if I had missed it: We also lost the “Lucky Dip” of last year at Baghaven, which was so enjoyable!

A couple of notable restaurants, very conveniently located next to the Festival  venue: Danish tapas at Skank, and the superb Sanchez, a modern Mexican, named after its head chef Rosio, who is ex-Noma, although we were probably too drunk to do it justice! Its street-food Tacos offshoot, Hija de Sanchez, is two minutes from MBCC, so refuelled many a guest, ourselves included.

I was pleased we had stayed until Monday afternoon as it gave a chance to look round the city before a final drink in the main spots, which were very much after The Lord Mayor´s show.

Overall, this was a wonderful few days, Europe´s best beer event, in a charming city, blessed by unseasonably glorious weather. I would recommend MBCC to any beer lover, and will be back in 2019.

There were less events to report on in the UK: Mother Kelly’s hosted the annual Sour Power 4 (Pendant’s Alert: I attended the first in 2014, so am convinced it should be #5 this year). A good, rather than exceptional range, it will surprise no-one that my favourite beer was a Damson-flavoured entry from Kernel, as it always is.

The beer has changed name though, and is now a “Bierre de Saison”, rather than a “Sour”. Apparently, it is exactly the same recipe, but the barrels it matures in, now have the “experience” of containing previous iterations, which means it qualifies. I have no idea if this is true!

Magic Rock Cannonball special. This annual event has declined in importance since the raging queues of 2014 or 2015, but that is due to other breweries catching up, rather than Magic Rock, the innovators of UK TIPA’s, declining. In 2018, the London release was no longer exclusively at Craft Beer Co, N1.

I had the Cannonball Run, Human DIPA, Unhuman TIPA, and, this year, Neo-Human, a NEDIPA, at Mother Kelly’s. Twitter was treated to the unedifying spectacle of distributor Kicking Horse proudly recording their journey down from Huddersfield to bring it to their customers. Unfortunately it was a standard Transit van, on a day, at the start of the summer, which as I write in late June, is shaping up to be the hottest since 2003. Warm-chain! No wonder the beer scene in London restaurants is so far behind, when their suppliers are well-meaning, but so amateur.

Bottle Shop hosted Californication, a celebration of Cold Chained beers from the Golden State. Pride of place went to Modern Times City of The Sun IPA, which had been one of beers of the year for 2016.

Given what was to happen in June, it is good to write that this month was relatively free of news:  Boston private equity fund Castanea Partners, who specialise in $15-$150 million investments in consumer products brands, bought a majority stake in The Bruery.

Chorlton announced plans to Crowdcube funding for a branch in Belgium, although the level of financial innumeracy that will be reached between a UK brewery that once tweeted that a sterling devaluation hurts their exports, and Crowdcube, is truly frightening.

And finally, Beavertown announced they would be contract brewing at Belgium’s Brouwerij de Brabandere. I have covered the beginning of the Spurs/Heineken saga elsewhere (http://beerinsider.com/amateur-drinker-loses-taste-for-beavertown-and-its-extravaganza/), and rest assured, it plays a significant role in June´s write-up!

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.