Growing into the overcoat

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New York-based Brooklyn Brewery is undoubtedly one of the most successful US craft brewers having built a global presence since its creation in 1988 helped by its flagship amber lager and iconic label.

By employing graphic designer Milton Glaser – best known for his I Love New York design – to create its logo, Brooklyn Brewery recognised the power of visuals and relevant communications would resonate with a hip audience jaded by clone-like big brewers.

When I met Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Steve Hindy a few years ago he suggested craft brewers from that early period were adept at engaging with their core demographic, which gave them a massive advantage over the large, incumbent brewers that had long lost a personal connection with their drinking communities.

He perceives this situation as also ringing true for today’s generation of craft brewers, which have been able to commandeer social media to great advantage in a way the big operators have been unable to. He likens social media to an overcoat – the large brewers can put it on but it doesn’t fit. In contrast, it fits snugly on the nimble limbs of craft brewers.

It’s clear to me that social media has had a massively positive impact on the UK’s craft brewers and beer scene – to such an extent I was genuinely surprised by the modest volumes many of them still produce annually even though they appear to have impressive reach and engagement across social media.

 

This is certainly true of Manchester-based Cloudwater Brew Co. It is ranked second-best brewery in the world by RateBeer, which dishes out annual awards for the world’s best-rated beers and brewers based on scores from drinkers around the world. Cloudwater’s accolade isn’t particularly surprising when you consider the incredibly high quality of beer it has produced since it was founded in 2014, with its first beers hitting the bars early the next year.

Such success and high-profile recognition undoubtedly creates masses of social media and Cloudwater has been proactive in engaging with its audience across various channels. Proof of this came when my enquiry about the brewery’s annual production was placed – and answered – on Twitter. The answer surprised me. In 2017, Cloudwater produced a modest 4,700 hectolitres, which rose to about 6,000 hectolitres in 2018.

London-based Brew By Numbers is another superb craft brewer and in my view is one of the best and most consistent breweries in the country. It has a presence in many of the best craft beer bars and uses social media effectively but, again, we have a brewery with a modest output of 6,000 hectolitres this past year – a figure I also received via Twitter.

 

These numbers may not mean a lot to most and I have to admit measurements in the brewing world are complicated so let me put this in context – Timothy Taylor’s brewery in Keighley, Yorkshire, produces more than 64,000 hectolitres a year of its flagship Landlord bitter.

This is one of the world’s greatest beers and has a reputation around the globe but to many younger, craft beer-focused drinkers it might be hidden from view and even unknown. However, it doesn’t have the engagement levels of the likes of Cloudwater and Brew By Numbers on social media – despite having a superb product. The overcoat doesn’t quite fit.

It will be interesting to see if many of the hundreds of craft brewers founded in recent years will successfully translate the engagement and level of noise they create on social media into actual sales.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail 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.

Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

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So there I am in Prague wanting a beer and the only problem is where do I go. Ever since I first visited this city of cities in 2005, I have always had an extraordinary thirst for its pubs and bars. On that debut trip I drank wall to wall Pilsner Urquell, partly because the press trip I was on was hosted by the then brewery’s owners (SAB-Miller) and partly because I loved (and still do) the. beer. Times change (and how they do). Ever since a visit in 2010 when the writer Evan Rail introduced me to Zlý časy (for want of a better phrase, the pioneering craft beer bar of Prague), my Czech beer cup runneth over with all kinds of miracle brews (a good book btw, buy it if you haven’t).

During my latest visit the other week when I arrived during the sort of light snow storm that would bring London to a grinding halt, I drank trad pale and amber lagers, IPAs (naturally) and the odd DIPA, a bretted barrel-aged porter and a Baltic porter whose taste was suggestive of a strudel, and all of them from Czech breweries. So this is the problem that one is faced with on arriving in Prague, where to go.

Do you head to somewhere like Hostomická Nalévárna (another great introduction from Rail, who lives around the corner), a two-roomed pub with battered, distressed wooden furniture and surroundings, dominated at the back by a tv screen showing metal videos (that’s music, not a physics lesson) and odd winter sports, with three fantastic beers from Pivovar Hostomice (its 14˚ is a dark garnet/brown tmavý ležák with a caramel/toasty nose, and hints of gently baked pumpernickel on the palate alongside a pleasing bittersweetness).

Or do you take the metro to somewhere like Beer Geek, where images of the icons of craft and European beer (BrewDog, Matuška, Gouden Carolus) dot the spare minimalist walls, and its mainly young clientele of expats and cool local kids take their time to pick beers from a list on a digital screen. Yes, this is a craft beer bar, but I rather like it. I certainly swooned over Bad Flash’s Barrel Aged Brett Porter, a deep and harmonious beer in whose depths I could have drowned, while Grove Beer’s Strudel Near the Baltic Porter had mint suggestions on the nose, alongside the dark malts, while the palate was vanilla and coconut and chocolate and coffee, striking sparks in the dark Baltic sea.

So that’s the dilemma, which is easily solved. Make time to enjoy both sides of the Prague beer experience — first of all head for a local joint with lashings of gorgeous svetly lezák or tmavý ležák such as Hostomická Nalévárna or, on the other side of the river, Klášterní pivnice. And when you feel like following the craft beer trail then mosey over to Beer Geek or the newly opened, post-industrial vibed Dva Kohouti, which is in the up-and-coming Karlin district (itself a treat) and features oodles of Matuška beers. Easy, really.

Adrian Tierney-Jones

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Writing November’s round-up it seemed that Cloudwater had a finger in every pie as they opened a London tap-room, announced a new festival and re-launched cask. The new bar is in Enid Street, Bermondsey between Moor and Brew By Numbers.

Cloudwater has upped the ante, clearly spending a great deal of money, so that it looks and feels much more like a ‘proper bar’ than many of the BBM venues. Regrettably that investment included speakers in the toilets, which were stolen on the first Friday night.

Each different beer is nicely grouped into core, seasonal and collaborations categories. Slightly strangely, though, it is the price, £4, that stays constant whilst the size of the measures varies, according to ABV and style.

Unsurprisingly, the quality has been fantastic on every visit. Cloudwater made its name with DIPA’s, but I have long felt that sours were their most underrated, and interesting, style, so it is particularly pleasing to have drunk so many different examples already.

For the consumer, this is a fantastic addition to London’s beer scene. However, there are caveats, including the effect on small London brewers, for whom tap-rooms and/or managed bars are a life-blood. Within 12 months, other UK (Moor initially, Verdant, all be it in partnership with Pressure Drop and now Cloudwater) and foreign craft (Mikkeller) have all launched in London.

Cloudwater London Tap Room. (credit: Beer Guide London)

In addition Siren has crowdfunded to do just this and I can guarantee Magic Rock or Northern Monk have thought about it. Obviously, this is going to be reducing sales at local brewers’ tap-rooms, and ultimately putting pressure on their finances.

As a brief aside, it is interesting to speculate if the response might include individuals, or more likely a partnership or collective, possibly linked to London Brewers’ Alliance launching a bar in Manchester and Bristol? Whether this occurs or not, the text-book answer is that small London brewers will have to upgrade their performances or go to the wall, and it is legitimate to argue that this competitive pressure is what drives improved consumer products.

However, as I wrote in July’s blog, regarding Wicked Weed, (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-34/), “in food and drink, variety is the spice of life.” There is an obvious danger that, much like the modern High Street, we end up with a standardised UK beer scene in which every major UK town or a city has a Brewdog, a Moor, a Cloudwater, possibly an LBA, and a Mikkeller. The beer quality will be far greater than 10 years ago but the variety and local flavour will not be lost.

Indeed, and far more heinously, November also saw New Zealand’s Pan Head announcing a Druid Street tap-room to be run by Four Pure. They are both owned by Kirin so we will now have a macro-beer bar in Bermondsey. This is Starbucks or McDonald’s, but more dishonestly: How many of the BBM tourist or stag/hen crowd will know which are local and which are macro?

Fantastic Omnipollo TTO at The King’s Arms. It was a school-night, but when I arrived at 16:30, the pub was already completely rammed, with a very well-fuelled party atmosphere, and most kegs kicked that evening. The double peach candy popcorn sour and, in collaboration with Tired Hands, a Pina Colada Milkshake IPA were both on the famous soft serve. Maz pale ale and zodiac IPA on tap.

But the real stars were four imperial stouts:  Agamemnon, with  coconut and maple syrup, Yellow Belly with Buxton, which features in December’s round-up for vastly more boring reasons, Brush w/J Wakefield and I Wanna Be Your Dog with Brewdog, which was barrel-aged in whisky.

The only beer that didn’t really work was the Scelerisque, a valrhona bourbon chocolate sauce stout. This smelt, looked and tasted like chocolate sauce. Following the famous Duck Test, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck? Minor quibbling as the Scelerisque would be perfectly acceptable as a Festival Beer. Overall, this was a great evening.

King’s Arms, Bethnal Green

Later in the month, Against the Grain visited the same pub for a MTB with their co-owner Adam Watson. Kentucky Common, with Cloudwater and El Gingero, a bourbon BA oatmeal stout with ginger and orange in collaboration with Magic Rock, were stand-outs.

Cloudwater moved back into cask and held the London Launch, on Remembrance Sunday, at The Wenlock Arms, an appropriate choice as the pub is justifiably renowned for the quality and care of its cask. The Pale and DDH Pale were good, but the Brown Ale and India Porter were both absolutely superb.

The Bottle Shop Arch hosted a De Molen Borefts Festival after-party including  Said & Done, a Bowmore BA nutty caramel stout, Fair Fest, a Tonka Quad and Juicy Loesie , an apple barley wine. These were very strong beers! The Bruery TTO at The Arch had 11 Pipers Piping, a Scotch Ale, a Blackcurrant Tart of Darkness, their BA sour stout, and Mash and Coconut, a Barley Wine, although they bill it as an Imperial Brown Ale.

Cloudwater’s final influence was to announce a new Festival, “Family and Friends and Beer” for the first weekend in March. There is a clear gap in the market with the demise of Beaver-Ex, which they have stepped into. The line-up looks great and I have booked. Unfortunately, November also saw tickets go on sale for 2019’s LCBF & MBCC so there is a clear seasonal hit to beer-lovers’ liquidity!

Last, but not least, Thanksgiving saw a Siren TTO at The Sutton Arms in EC1. I know that their sudden ubiquity, and sometime low quality made them very unfashionable but I do like the Brut IPA’s from Siren.

In Memoriam George Nazer.

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.

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Mikkeller Bar, Shoreditch

October saw the much-anticipated Mikkeller Bar opening in London’s Shoreditch. Like any sentient being, I passed on the Friday opening, featuring impromptu concerts from co-investor Rick Astley and free give-aways. The stories of failed kegs and pictures of queues on social media rather justified that decision.

The Editor and I went the next day, which also saw an interview with founder Mikkel Borg Bjergso published in the Weekend FT. However, this was no puff-piece and ended by observing that actually an idiosyncratic gay pub had been replaced by a multi-national bar-chain, whose outposts spanned every major continent, especially pertinent as I read it in a bar which looked similar to every other Mikkeller bar I have been in.

Ridiculously they had two unisex toilets with no urinals, which meant that there were queues throughout a quiet, pleasant Saturday afternoon. What on earth would it be like on a Friday evening, especially with the refuelling pastime for which the area is renowned?

Card-only payments was similarly on-trend, but annoying. However, all of this paled into comparison compared to the eye-wateringly expensive prices for beers that, in late 2018, were neither particularly rare nor hard to get in the UK.

We did not stay long and I have not been back since. Later in the month they tweeted about an Arizona Wilderness TTO Board, in which an IPA was over £25 a pint. As regular readers will know, I am a great fan of Mikkeller’s MBCC in Copenhagen. However, this experience in an area of London that I have lived in for 15 years has actually made me question whether the festival’s prices that I attributed to a different city and the exchange rate are also not just a rip-off?

Brewdog Collabfest

Brewdog’s CollabFest 2018 was the sixth anniversary of this generally excellent project, in which small brewers collaborate with their nearest Brewdog bar, with the results served throughout the chain. This year 51 beers were produced around the world, which meant, for the first time not even Shepherds Bush branch could have them all on together! I visited the relatively new Tower Bridge bar on the Thursday, and it is as big as has been claimed, and then Clerkenwell, with the Editor, on the Saturday.

As I have written before, the way to enjoy this event is to treat it like a Festival, try as much as possible, and tolerate the duds that will appear. York & Turning Point Chip Hazard Mint Choc Chip Pale Ale, though at 7.4% I’d have called it an IPA, won on Untapped, closely followed by Newcastle Wylam Heaton Mess Eton Mess Kettle Sour w/ Lactose and which I much preferred.

Siren & Reading Brut Romance Strawberry & Rose Brut IPA took the next logical step for this controversial genre. Cardiff & Crafty Devil White Raspberry Stout was a good example of an under-brewed style. Overall this is a wonderful annual event, and leads to a genuine festival of small, independent brewers, so hats off to Brewdog.

Brewdog Collabfest stare

Unfortunately, October also highlighted  dreadful corporate-Brewdog, with a press release publicising “Europe’s first fully refrigerated beer warehouse after purchasing the 129,000 square foot Vertex building at Eurocentral, which is one of Scotland’s largest industrial estates, located near Motherwell.

Brewdog struck a deal with Muse Developments for the site, which it has dubbed the Hop Hub. It has fitted a full refrigeration unit into the Vertex distribution operation”. This was news to both Jolly Good Beer and The Bottle Shop who both already have Cold Chain, and the mistake was pointed out on many mediums. Brewdog then retracted, saying it was a mistake. The polite word for this is bullshit.

Regular readers will know I am an Oakland Raiders fan and I attended the game versus Seattle at Wembley. The Official Raiders pub was The Admiralty, a Fuller’s bar in Trafalgar Square. Great atmosphere, and Fuller’s cask is miles better than the beer at most official sports events, and certainly better than what will be served when the stadium, at which the game was originally scheduled at, finally opens.

Disappointing news as Liverpool’s Mad Hatter brewery went bust. Most controversially, they had announced a Crowdfunding campaign to grow the business on July 18 and went bust only three months later on October 28. Crowdfunding is presently either a rip-off or a fraud depending on this site’s legal department. Anyone who invests in a brewery through it, after all the evidence I have regularly referred to, desires to lose money.

The Kernel at The Bottle Shop event- unfortunately Evin was ill and couldn’t make it – showcased its latest Bierre de Saison (previously its sour), one of the best beers made in the UK. On keg were Chardonnay, Crab-apple, Apricot, Honey, a collab with Off Colour, a Galaxy and a Centennial, of which all were superb. My beloved Damson was in a bottle, as the keg was still too lively.

The same venue welcomed Jester King. Prices were high, around £8 per third for the real top stuff. Obviously, this included all three variants of Spon’s, their famous spontaneously fermented beer. Each variant, a Grapefruit, a Raspberry/Cherry blend and & Pitaya, a cactus fruit, were all gorgeous. Detrivitore, a farmhouse ale with spent cherries and Sin Frontera a  collab with  Crooked Stave & Brasserie Troise Dames, a wild ale BA in sherry and cognac barrels, were also excellent.

Bohem had a TTO at The Bottle Shop Arch to celebrate the launch of its new cans. I’m biased but the beers tasted fantastic. Mother Kelly’s American Wild Week featured Jester King, Oxbrow , Crooked Stave and The Bruery. It was very crowded, but excellent beers.

The King’s Arms hosted a Mikkeller Baghaven MTB with Ehren Schmidt. This is the barrel-ageing project that sits on the outskirts of Copenhagen. I enjoyed Rubus of Rose, a raspberry wild ale, Granadilla, a BA Danish wild ale and Nodrlund’s Field Blend aged on Danish wine & grapes.

Northern Monk Eternal at GNRT

 

Last, but most definitely not least was the Northern Monk TTO at GNRT. The highlights were Eternal on cask and the very boozy Dark City 2018 imperial stout on keg. It is a bit of a trek for me (it’s actually about two miles away! – ed) but this is the Editor’s Local, and it is a truly fantastic pub.

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.

 

Beware the craft beer hangover…

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The list of craft beers just keeps growing

In the beer world, craft brewers get all the attention – and for all the right reasons. They have shaken up the world of beer from one where seven large producers largely controlled the UK market leading to laziness and non-existent new product development as they focused solely on cost-cutting and increasing profit margins.

The craft beer revolution was the antithesis of this money-oriented focus, with effort going into sourcing high-quality ingredients and creating rich flavour profiles. Why be Scrooge-like and use one hop when you can put six into the mix and end up with a multi-faceted beer that smashes the insipid brands of the big beer companies out of the park?

Beer-drinkers were thirsty for something different and a new group of brewers – over-indexing on young males with beards – were more than happy to learn the art of brewing and set themselves up in a railway arch or industrial estate unit to slake this growing demand for tasty beer. There is no doubt about it, brewing combines a heady mix of romanticism, coolness and satisfaction in being able to produce something that induces people to state their undying love for each other following its consumption.

The only downside to this combination of a lack of focus on the money side and appeal of being a brewery owner has been the deluge of new businesses. In London alone there were only four breweries at the start of 2010, now there are more than 120.

Crowdfunding has given many of these brewers a helping hand, allowing them to appeal to the growing army of craft beer drinkers and asking them to stick money into a good cause. This has been massively helpful in getting these businesses off the ground.

The crowd has certainly been a much better proposition than paying interest on bank loans – if the banks were willing to lend, of course. The problem is this has been “cheap money” raised with little due diligence and scant expectations from “investors”. This ability to tap into such a great resource has also been a component in driving overcapacity in the market. All but the very best of the brewers have found it increasingly tough to get repeat purchases from pubs, never mind permanent lines.

The obvious solution has been to reduce the price of the beer but for this to work financially it requires economies of scale. Brewers need to bump up capacity through adding employees, installing more kit and cranking up production. To fund this they return to their old friend – crowdfunding.

In doing so these businesses have opened their books to potential investors to reveal the majority of them are unprofitable. Many have their own bars and taprooms in which they can sell a decent amount of their output and keep a chunky amount of margin, but even with this guaranteed channel to market it has seemingly failed to improve the financial situation many small craft brewers face.

This is worrying because if these businesses were having trouble selling their beer before then, what is going to happen following the industry’s widespread cranking up of production as it seeks the necessary economies of scale?

We might be heading for some serious financial woes and failures in the ranks. While the increased competition on pricing might be great for bar owners and drinkers, it doesn’t look too clever for the growing army of small brewers. The craft beer revolution has been tremendous for beer drinkers. I hope the brewers that have produced these great beers for our pleasure also manage to get something positive out of it too – and not just a hangover.

Glynn Davis, Editor of Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Apologies for how late this September column is, and those late summer days seem a long time ago, as I write this….(Ed – never start a column with an apology).

2018’s Zwanze Day was at The Beer Merchants Tap, leading to my first visit to the venue.  It’s clearly an impressive space, with a great selection of bottles, especially Belgian. They had been much more aggressive in promoting the event than the Kernel had in the past, which I have no issue with, but this caused the tickets to sell out in less than 10 minutes!

Unfortunately there were a lot of problems with logistics. There were 15-20 minute queues all night, which then doubled when the staff had to go and serve the Zwanze at 8pm, so much so, that many people, including myself, then left.

They weren’t helped by West Ham having arguably their best result yet at their new Olympic stadium, beating Man United 3-1, as many fans celebrated afterwards, although it was the lunch-time kick-off. Fundamentally, there was not enough staff and they weren’t prepared for the crowds.

Which was a pity as the beer selection was excellent: The keg list mixed Lambics and Imperial Stouts, which worked fantastically, as the bitterness of the former cut thru the richness of the latter. I mainly drank Cantillon Mamouche, the 2-year old Lambic in which elderberry flowers have been soaked, whilst my partner was on Tilquin Oude Mûre à l’Ancienne.

The Finback imperial stout was sensational, especially as I had always associated that brewery with IPA’s. On the same day, Burning Sky Coolship Release No.1 came out, their first beer using their new Coolship and brewed to a traditional Belgian method. It was lovely, but a little too young, so those who got bottles will be in for a treat, after storing.

Finally, the Zwanze itself, Manneken Pise, was a blend of three separate Lambics that were aged in Italian Amarone, Chianti and Sangiovese red wine barrels respectively. It was excellent as always.

Network Rail sold its commercial property business to Telereal & Blackstone for £1.5 billion. The majority of the units are the converted railway arches, which have exploded this decade. These conversions of inner-city real estate are one of those ideas that work so well that it is shocking that nobody ever thought of it before.  Arches becoming bars, numerous breweries, and fuelling the infamous BBM, have played a key role in the beer scene.

In Bermondsey, in particular, the early-adopters have themselves also been partly responsible for the area becoming more desirable for visitors. However, that footfall increase will now lead to higher market rents. That is very unfortunate for those early businesses which did so much for the area. It is harder to feel sympathy for the latter ones who moved in to exploit that footfall at a below-market rent.

“Barley Wine is Life” celebrated that style and was presented by Chris Hall, esteemed beer blogger turned BBNo , and now Communications Manager  at The Bottleshop,  with a Shakespearian ability to invent new vocabulary for the beer world!

I must confess that I rarely end up drinking barley wine as it always seems too gung-ho to order in a normal pub/bar environment and in halves, so I was looking forward to this event. It didn’t disappoint, show-casing a fantastic range of the genre, with Chris proving an excellent host.

Shakespeare (photo credit: Matt Curtis probably)

We opened with Great Divide Hibernation Ale, pedantically an Old Ale. Despite their European location, To Ol Beastly Biscuit and De Molen Bommen and Granaten were US interpretations.  Marble’s barley wine was Xmas pudding-like. My favourite was Jackie O/Creature Comforts, Athens to Athens Grist to Grist, a smoked version, aged in bourbon barrels.

Finally, we finished with The Bruery’s Saule, served with Peruvian chocolate. Overall, this was a brilliant evening, which really educated about the style, and I will definitely be drinking more barely wine in the future, and certainly this Christmas!

A disappointing turn of events to report at the previously excellent Duke’s Head/Small Beer/Prince chain, of which I had written so highly of in the past. Firstly, House brewery, which had been brewing in-house at The Prince shut down, and Tom Harrison, who had played such a key role in the chain’s success before becoming Head Brewer, left the organisation.

Secondly, well-respected beer writer Matt Curtis stopped doing events with the group. From Darker Days  (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-26/) to De La Senne (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-22/), these had been superbly organised and very enjoyable and I have lauded them accordingly. Finally, the quality of the beer lists has declined dramatically at all venues, with much cheap faux-craft.

The Prince: crown slips (photo credit: Matt Curtis probably)

Brew By Numbers organised an alternative Bermondsey afternoon to Beaver-Ex on the first Friday, opening at lunchtime and offering a free beer to those who had cancelled tickets. Moor, The Bottleshop and others joined in, producing a fantastic atmosphere although a cynic would say that was because we were drinking when we should have been at work! Modern Times took over The Bottleshop Arch. Alongside the normal fantastic IPA’S, were two sours, The Fruitening 1 and 2, Transit of Venus, a rye grisette, and the red wine BA Asteroid Cowboy, an American wild ale.

One of the earliest times that the Editor and I met was at an evening in February 2015, at The Three Johns, N1, when Four Pure launched a collab Transatlantic Overdrive, with Bear Republic, by flying over a keg of Racer 5. (Ed – I remember nothing!).

It was the first ever London beer event where crowd control was necessary (still a year before Beavertown’s infamous 4th birthday party) as the pub was rammed by what seemed like every member of the nascent scene, so much so that a bemused regular asked me what was going on, and couldn’t believe that we had all turned up just for a specific beer!

It was the freshest American-style I had ever had (and this was when no-one had heard of East Coast IPA) and the keg kicked in under 45 minutes.  Three and half years later and I came across Racer 5 in the small M&S at Liverpool St. station.  It wasn’t refrigerated, which is criminal, but is an indication of the staggering speed of change we have experienced.

Right beer, wrong glass (photo credit: not Matt Curtis probably)

Mason & Co shut, blaming upcoming winter footfall in the area. Five Points have their new pub The Pembury Tavern to focus on anyway, so that may have played a role.

Bottleshop hosted Omnipollo, including the infamous soft serve machine, of which I particularly enjoyed the lemon wheat. The cherry candy popcorn sour was as good as I remembered it from GNRT last month.

New bottles released from Mills Brothers, Picture Pot, a blend of 3 beers from 2017, and Today, their 1st spontaneously fermented beer.

Once again, apologies for the tardiness of the column and I promise October’s will be released much sharper….(Ed – when?)

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.

 

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