Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

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So is this the best city in the UK in which to drink beer? I’m talking about Sheffield, naturally, which several years ago was declared the top of the ringing, singing tree of UK beer (much to the wry smiles of those who live in, say, Norwich, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Edinburgh, London and Liverpool no doubt).

There is certainly a swarm of good pubs in Sheffield, an eternal fountain of great beer and, even though the architecture is a bit of a mixture of postwar all-sorts, it is also a comfortable and friendly city in which to drink beer. So that’s one question over and done with, even if the answer is a bit black-and-white.

It is also a city of ghosts that drift through its streets. There are closed pubs with the names of long gone breweries such as Stone’s picked out on the facades; across the road from the Wellington (owned by Neepsend), there is a memorial to the Don Brewery, which once stood on this spot and sent its beers across the road.

At the White Lion, on London Road, a surviving multi-coloured window has the name of Windsor Ales picked out in white, lounging above a green-tiled lower wall. Time has passed, the brewery has gone, but let us not dwell on the past, this is the now.

Beer exhilarates the city of Sheffield, the breweries in and around the city inject new life into its bloodstream, all of which I was reminded of on a recent visit last month, as a guest of the Indie Beer Feast, an event organised by the indomitable Jules Gray of the Hop Hideout bottle shop.

This is a bounteous event, which for the second year running was held in the historic surroundings of the Abbeydale Picture House, the kind of classic cinema that our parents and grandparents used to attend, perhaps courted in or just watched the latest James Bond or Carry On.

As for the Beer Feast, beers from the likes of Abbeydale, Neptune, Turning Point, Orbit, Cloudwater, Affinity, St Mars of the Desert and Wild Card could be sampled and a small team of us judged a selection of beer.

I also walked along a canal for a quick visit to St Mars of the Desert and look forward to seeing how they grow (they used to be Pretty Things in the USA if you didn’t know). There was also plenty of time to visit some of the pubs that make a sure claim for Sheffield’s call for greatness.

Old favourites such as the Bath Hotel and the Fat Cat still attract and intrigue me, but this time I also asked for recommendations, which is how I found myself in the Broadfield Ale House, around about 6pm on a Saturday evening. As soon as I entered, I was embraced by the life of a busy pub, amid a hubbub of voices, the warm aroma of food in the air and the firm stand of a golden glass of Pilsner from pub owners True North Brewery.

Here was a pub as I imagined it to be at the weekend, lively and lusty, families, friends, football fans (Bramall Lane isn’t that far away), dogs, Saturday night before the reward of Sunday morning, the vitality of our public houses.

And in that moment, as the coolness of the Pilsner passed my lips, Sheffield was Britain’s best beer city, though as I write, the memory still fresh, I tell myself that part of the joy of beer and pubs is that I look forward to continuing that search for the best.

Adrian Tierney-Jones

Cask Beer Co. celebrates 10 years since finding the craft formula

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Martin Hayes: content with 10 years of CBC

He’d rather drink Foster’s in a pub that has heart and soul than sup the latest supposed craft brews in a specialist beer bar with 20 taps but where the bar staff talk down to him and make him feel small.

It’s this lack of basic hospitality that Martin Hayes, founder of The Craft Beer Co. (CBC), believes is the failing of so many operators of craft bars. In contrast his focus on looking after people is the key element behind the success of his business that now straddles nine bars and in June he celebrates 10 glorious years since the opening of Cask Pub & Kitchen in London’s Pimlico.

“The money people are looking for the magic potion of craft beer pubs and at the moment it is beer in keg that drinkers have never heard of. These people are looking at a bad pub and putting a craft name on it. Gastropubs were the same – nice plates and cutlery but it was microwave food. When you eat it you know it’s not quality but people think you can fool customers with presentation,” explains Hayes.

He reckons the majority of business people dabbling in the pub market do not understand the craft beer pub model and that many of them are accountants: “From small independent operators right up to those who run massive pub companies there is a lack of understanding.”

His own model for the craft beer bar – although he would prefer to simply call them pubs – has pretty much remained constant since June 2009 when Hayes took on the very unattractive Pimlico Tram. “It was a closed Greene King pub that had lots of serious anti-social behaviour,”he says.

 

He took on a free-of-tie lease, called it the Cask Pub & Kitchen, and brought in some of the early great craft beers from the likes of BrewDog, Otley, Thornbridge and Dark Star. For a number of months he operated it single-handedly with no bar staff. Word spread and he says people would travel from far afield: “Ten years ago we had great beer while the other pubs had rubbish beer. The difference is not as extreme now.”

It was two years until he moved onto opening his second pub – the first to be branded as Craft Beer Co. – in Clerkenwell. This very much fitted the mould he’d created: “We’ve grown the business in the shadows and on the side streets.” This has partly been dictated by his decision to run a financially lean business with zero borrowing.

“We’ve never raised any funds, we’ve no bank support, no credit cards and no overdraft in place,” says Hayes, who adds that this has enabled the business to stay independent and operate prudently while avoiding the temptation to take on large sites in prime locations that require A-grade fit-outs.

This did not necessarily deter Hayes from looking centrally because in 2014 he opened a unit in Covent Garden. Although it rigidly stuck to his model of only taking on questionable sites: “It was completely unwanted and a real lost cause. All my pubs have been like that. They’ve all been closed or dead.”

As with all CBC pubs its core formula was the “curation of the beers and real hospitality”. Because of this he says people will search out his pubs in their secondary locations – it just so happened that the Covent Garden site required very little searching and is easy to reach. More so than the others that are located in Brighton, Brixton, Islington, St. Mary Axe in the City of London, Old Street, Limehouse and shortly Hammersmith.

Hayes says the 10 years have flown by – “it seems like only yesterday” – since he took on the Cask Pub & Kitchen site. There will be anniversary celebrations across the weekend of June 8/9 when special cask beers are being produced by 10 brewers including Thornbridge, Magic Rock, Northern Monk, Siren, Burning Sky and Wild Beer Company.

But the big personal celebration has already taken place and was rather more low-key. It was in early 2018 when he purchased the freehold of the Cask pub. “It was the best moment of the whole thing. It was almost 10 years and we’d done some cool things. It was a real celebration for me,” he says. And it was an act that fully validated his model for the craft beer bar – whatever one of those is.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Waiting for a drink at Christmas.

Pubs are rammed with the Office Xmas Party crowd in December, so don’t need events, while January sees alcohol consumption drop so I’ve decided to combine both months for the purposes of this blog. The combination is also hideously late, for which I apologise.

The biggest news of the period was obviously Fuller’s. The Editor has covered it fully here (http://beerinsider.com/fullers-sale-sad-yes-but-not-the-end-of-their-story/). Clearly, it is very disappointing. Low sterling/yen may have helped the deal, but Asahi did not pay such a hefty price for Vintage Ales.

At best, they did it to push London Pride in Japan’s growing beer culture; at worst, they will develop the Thames-side site that Tokyo executives would have driven past many times from Heathrow.

Events have moved swiftly on with Head Brewer Georgina Young moving to Bath Ales in March, which clearly is not a good look for those hoping that standards will be maintained. At a recent (mid March) Brewers’ Journal lecture, Sam from Gypsy Hill noted that in 2015, 100% of beer made within the M25 was independent. After Fuller’s, Four Pure, Camden et al, it will be just 17% next year once BeaverWorld is on-stream, and that is if no one else succumbs to the lucre.

A fantastic list for The King’s Arms 5th Birthday Party. Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, Verdant Maybe 1 More Psi NEDIPA, Bruery’s The Wanderer, Alesmith Vietnamese Speedway Stout, Stiegbergets Nuddle IPA and many more classics on keg. Fuller’s Vintage Ale on cask and 100ml shots of 3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze and Orval 2016.

King’s Arms

Work commitments meant I couldn’t make the actual event, but luckily was able to enjoy them all the next day. The Fuller’s Vintage Ale was also on at The Earl of Essex, and, unbelievably, lasted for most of the Xmas period at both venues, even with all that I was drinking

Brew By Numbers hosted a MTB for the Danish Ale Farm in December. This event had been scheduled for Mikkeller Bar, London but was transferred at the last minute. Crisp, modern IPA’s and DIPA’s.   The Bermondsey stalwart also announced major changes: Co-founder Dave Seymour, remains a significant share-holder, but is stepping away from day-to-day operations at BBNo to pursue other interests.  And with absolutely no idea if they are connected or not, but the brewery also revealed that they would be opening a new Taproom and barrel-aging store in Peckham.

A slightly bizarre beer story on Bloomberg TV during the US government shutdown: Damian Brown, head of Bronx Brewery, was interviewed, as the Federal Government has to approve each new beer labels that cross the State-line. There was already a five week backlog by mid January.

Three thoughts:  the USA has far more red tape than the world’s largest ever single market, on our door-step, a large part of what governments do is just bureaucratic nonsense and finally it nicely links to this Blog Post (https://theburntoutbeerguy.wordpress.com/2019/01/13/is-craft-beer-burning-out/?fbclid=IwAR1ZKwALwn5G7S7gUA0WLh165B9TI30l8BCevravNmp-NmhI3uBX9vd0oR0) regarding Beer Burn Out as punters demand new styles, which leads to a constant drive for new recipes, when, by definition, there are more ways of screwing something up than making it work.

 

Burning Sky had two events at The Bottle Shop. In December, they launched the annual Burning Sky Cuvee 2018 and the Saison de Fete.  In 2019, the new Saison de Peche , a brilliant blend of white and yellow peaches, which was a gorgeous beer with a delicate sharpness, introduced by Head Brewer Mark Tranter.

Birrificio Del Ducato was previously distributing through, and running The Italian Job bar. Regrettably that is now a normal pub, rather than the Italian specialists outlet it began life as. The beer is now distributed by The Bottle Shop, who celebrated by hosting a TTO.

Highlights included Settembre, with a sharp white grape and tannin quality from the Malvasia grapes, Frambozschella, Beersel Morning with its blend of 3 Fontenien Lambic and their in-house Saison, and Kiss Me Lipsia a fantastically tart Himalayan salt Gose.

A brewery trademark dispute actually made the main BBC web-site (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-46390587). They even managed to successfully attribute it to and, then, correctly describe Rainbow Project 2014! Both breweries put out PR statements, which can be viewed here for those who are interested: https://twitter.com/BuxtonBrewery/status/1070685730203205633 and https://www.bateman.co.uk/yella-belly-gold-facts/.

The Foxglove soft-opened in 2018, and then properly in the New Year, which meant that it assisted this combination column. On Liverpool Road, Islington, this converted restaurant is friendly with a keenly priced beer selection, whilst Red Hat opened in Dalston, from Graceland, known for King’s Arms, The Axe, et al.

Moor launched Batallas Double Stout, a collab with La Quince, Madrid. There were three variations, all from a single brew, normal and both rum and whisky barrel-aged versions, the 1st projects from their SE1 Vaults.

Other Half TTO at The Experiment imported the queues from their New York tap-room, and judging from the horror-stories from those that did go, I was glad that I gave it a miss.

Bohem MTB at Union Tavern whilst Cloudwater, Enid St. hosted Magic Rock. The advertised highlights were the collabs but I kept going back to their own West Coast IPA, which was fantastic, back to the Old Skool, and heralded early 2019’s welcome trend of returning to the US IPA’s roots.

As always, Xmas Day marked by the traditional pre-lunch visit to the Wenlock Arms.

January closed with a packed Cloudwater TTO at the GNRT, and I promise February’s review will be more punctual!

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.

 

Calling time on The Bottle Shop

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As someone who has been writing about beer for 25 years I’m stating the blindingly obvious when I say there has been a revolution in the industry. Anybody who has been interested in drinking beer will have enjoyed riding the wave. Lots of businesses have jumped in to satisfy demand – maybe too many businesses.

There will sadly be some fall-out. Unfortunately one of the pioneers of the craft beer industry has today called in the administrators.

Backtracking – I can recall standing outside a bar at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Leeds in 2012 with Andrew Morgan, founder of The Bottle Shop, who was (yet again) outlining his plans to me for his business in the burgeoning craft beer industry, having opened a tiny shop/bar in Canterbury in 2010.

He became a good friend, I invested in his business when he crowdfunded, and when I became co-owner of Bohem Brewery The Bottle Shop was the natural choice to become the exclusive distributor and Bohem lagers were regularly on the lines in his bars.

The news today will clearly have a material impact on me and on many other people – both financially and personally. The Bottle Shop won’t be the only business to find the going tough as the industry matures but it is very sad to see one of the pioneers, with its uncompromising stance on beer selection and high standards, having to leave the scene.

Statement from Andrew Morgan, founder of The Bottle Shop:

As of today, Monday the 25th of March, all employees of The BottleShop have been made redundant and David Rubin and Partners have been appointed to assist the director in placing the Company into liquidation. The Company does not go into liquidation until April 12.

We came incredibly close to agreeing an offer that would have not only saved the business but given us a very bright future but it didn’t happen. As the Director, I had a legal obligation to discuss our finances with an insolvency firm once the deal fell-through and today’s news is the result.

Having succeeded on Crowdcube in 2017, we saw a major supplier drop us shortly afterwards and took 23% of our wholesale business with them. This was a torpedo blow to our forecasts and though the team valiantly and brilliantly battled to overcome this, when another top-three brewery dropped us with no notice last year, it didn’t help our situation.

However, we had our highest ever turnover reported in November 2018 and it looked like things were improving but December and January were well under forecast and I knew we had to find a partner or new finance. We brought on a consultant to help with this and quickly realised the extent of the financial legacy we were carrying from the breweries we’d lost. I set about finding a partner and came incredibly close to announcing something very positive but it wasn’t to be.

This is small consolidation for those who are left with debts outstanding from the business. I know it’s going to have a knock-on effect within the industry and it’s a very tough environment for everyone out there. Having devoted over eight years of my life to this, being the biggest shareholder and lent the business money, I’m not immune to the reality of this situation but we all make choices and sometimes they don’t work out. However, as one BottleShop ex-employee said as they left the building ‘at least nobody’s died’ which has stuck with me as something that I have to remember.

We made a lot of people very happy since 2010 and hope that whoever ends up buying the business carries on our desire to burn brightly and never settle for anything other than the best. Huge thanks to everyone who helped on our journey – staff, customers and breweries. We had some great times and it’s incredibly sad for us to end like this.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

 

 

Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

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I once stayed in a palace in Venice with original bits of art in my bedroom, the kind of place where buying a drink at the bar needed a mortgage; and last year I spent a night in a room in Budapest where the lock didn’t work and all kinds of characters were wandering around the courtyard.

And years ago while living in Paris I locked myself outside my room and spent the night slumped against the corridor wall next to a hole-in-the-floor toilet, but I have never stayed in a brewery before. Until now…

Last month I was on the inaugural BrewDog Airlines flight to Columbus, you know the one where the loos were closed 90 minutes before landing. The very same one with over 200 equity punks on board and a handful of journalists. It was no big deal, this taming of the toilet (last mention of toilets, promise), despite what people who weren’t even onboard grumbled about on social media. On the way back, the co-pilot made a joke about blocked toilets before we set off. We didn’t have the same issue this time.

During my visit I spent one night in the BrewDog hotel at the brewing facility just outside Columbus. I enjoyed it and got a joy that I didn’t get from my chain hotel room in Columbus where I’d spent the three previous nights. The design assumed the style of a comic book with its loud colours, a flurry of BIFF! SPLAT! KAPOW! aesthetics coming to rest alongside a more intensive style of psychedelia with a walk on the childlike side.

Luminosity was also the style perhaps — pop art, rock ’n’ roll, the extravagance of a punk Oscar Wilde and a compliment to the hazy, murky, juicy, fruit lollipops of modern craft beer. Inside the room, the squares of the furniture contrasted with the less disciplined shapes of Chesterfield wanna-be sofas, alongside the messages and slogans about trusting in hops and being aboard the Good Ship BrewDog.

Ok the concrete floor gave a sense of coldness, while the wire mesh around the radiator and plated onto the front of wardrobe was a bit Terminator, and I couldn’t switch off the neon sign above my bed, but it was fascinating way for a brewery to branch out.

There were beer books and magazines scattered about like knowledgeable cushions; the brewing process etched on one wall and, of course, the thing every travelling beer geek would need the most – a personal beer tap and a mini bar with classic craft beers. It was modern, hip, quirky and comical with a perceived edginess, but it was fun, normally a word I would not usually associate with BrewDog.

Or should I?

There’s a museum of sorts close to the brewery tap (not a bad place and do you know what, the Elvis Juice brewed here is rather delicious, juicy and grapefruity, fresher tasting than the stuff I buy my son in the UK, someone reckoned the pulp used in the process was better, but I digress), and once again I had to laugh at the sight of a pirate ship made from cans, a Blue Peter style pirate ship. Given that James Watt had said to me on the plane journey over that his favourite cartoon superhero as a child was Captain Planet, this ecological friendly use of finished cans has a certain virtuosity to it.

One last thought on BrewDog, which basically involves the Beatles. On my visit I thought about how Elvis appropriated black music for rock ’n’ roll, while the Beatles then pick-pocketed rock ’n’ roll and eventually brought it back to the US. BrewDog was influenced by American craft beer and now it’s bringing it back home. James Watt as John Lennon? Well, they both got MBEs.

Adrian Tierney-Jones

 

Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

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There it sits in the glass, a gleam of gold suggestive of the end of the rainbow, a snowy, alpine-like collar of foam on the top, inviting and enticing. In the slow tick-tock, lunchtime-shadowed confines of the pub, the Live and Let Live in Cambridge, where I once used to go when I lived in the city, the pint glass of Oakham Ales’ Citra is like a beacon of afternoon sunlight, a reflection of my upbeat mood, an anticipation of the glory to come.

The nose has a fruit salad of lychee and grapefruit, sensuous and joyful, while the first gulp (this is a beer you gulp rather than sip) is more fruit, alongside a bracing dryness and a gracious bitterness.

This is a beer I forgot and have now re-discovered; a beer that I have re-tuned into after several years of white noise (a lot of it enjoyable I hasten to add) permeating the wavelength of contemporary beer.

Citra was the first British beer to use this gracious hop, back in late-2009 when the head brewer John Bryan had encountered it on his annual visit to the hop-fields of the Yakima Valley. Now it’s the brewery’s bestseller, having overtaken JHB, and I’m sitting rediscovering it with John (now Brewing Director) in the Live and Let Live.

John Bryan in the house.

‘The story really goes back to 2002,’ he says in between sips of Green Devil, a 6% beer that has twice the hopping rate of Citra but is also rather inviting in its blossom of fruity hop and golden sheen, ‘which was the first year I convinced Paul Corbett at Charles Faram to organise a trip to go and look at hops in the US.

In 2009 Paul and I went out there and flew into Seattle before heading towards the Yakima Valley to see John I Haas, of the Barth-Haas Group, who are a major hop supplier. ‘We were told that there were some spare and I really rubbed it in my hands and it was the most exciting thing I had ever enjoyed in brewing up until then. I knew instantly that I wanted to brew with it and also wanted to be the first, so I had my hops flown back, while the others were shipped. I brewed it on November 20, 2009 and it was out on release the following month.

‘When it was delivered to the brewery it smelt even better than it had in the US. I was rubbing my face in it and taking bits of hessian hop sack off to wear. There were only 1,500kg in the UK and I got the whole whack. Throughout 2010 the hop supply was eked out and Citra brewed every other month and also always sold out quickly. So it became a regular in 2011.’

The advent of Citra 10 years ago happened during what seems these days such an innocent time. BrewDog were a small but noisy outfit; Jaipur was crushing all before it and black IPAs divided beer lovers. Citra’s emergence probably paved the way for what became called C-hops (Columbus, Centennial, Chinook and the retrospective addition of Cascade), taking a road, that for good or ill, would usher in today’s fruit juice beers and all manner of Sunny Delights.

On the other hand, beer should never stand still and brewers should continue to inculcate a sense of movement as frenetic as John Bryan in that November brewhouse a decade ago.

Adrian Tierney-Jones

 

 

Fuller’s sale: Sad? Yes. But not the end of their story.

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Chiswick: site of Fuller’s brewery since 1845

Charles Dickens stated “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” in his novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ he could have been describing the present state of brewing in the UK from a consumer perspective. In the same week we had the announcement that Fuller’s was selling its brewing business to Japan-based Asahi for £250 million and the news that 430 new breweries opened during the past year.

On the one hand we are in the glorious position of having the best of times in terms of beer choice. We have most diverse range of beers available at any point in my lifetime as craft brewers open up in every town and village across the land. But on the other hand it could be seen as the worst of times as the likes of Fuller’s are finding it tough to compete against the competition.

At one end the small brewers are nibbling away at Fuller’s lunch – helped by Small Brewers Relief they receive on beer duty – while at the other end the rest of the meal is being eaten by the massive macro brewers such as AB In-Bev, Heineken and Carlsberg who are benefiting from their economies of scale.

This situation has been hurting an array of mid-sized brewers in the UK including Shepherd Neame, Charles Wells, Moorhouses and Batemans to name just a few. The upshot is that some have scaled back their output to ease their duty burden while others have sold off their brewing elements and instead chosen to concentrate on running a pub estate.

So while the Fuller’s sale absolutely came out of the blue it should not be seen as a wholly surprising bit of news. The reality is that it has been in a tough spot for some years. It has been justifying the retention of the brewery to its investors for some time. The question of why keep the capital, and labour, intensive brewing business when the pubs (and increasingly hotels) are what drives the group’s profitability has been increasingly hard to answer. In the most recent results the pubs division accounted for 87% of operating profit.

The pubs and hotels also have the advantage of typically being appreciating assets while breweries are depreciating assets. The one (big) bit of value is the land that they stand on of course but let’s not go near that right now. The thought of Asahi building luxury flats on the prime bit of Thames-side real estate in Chiswick where Fuller’s brewery sits (and has done so since 1845) is beyond comprehension at this stage. We’ll get too sentimental if we go down that road.

The family’s undoubted attachment to the brewery has kept the investors at bay for some time and ensured Fuller’s has kept on churning out its prize winning cask ales. Unfortunately, this brings us onto another niggling issue at the company that has been troubling management – the continued decline in sales of cask beer. It cannot have been easy to keep up the argument about retaining the brewery when the core product it produces is on a downward trend. In the recent results the beer and cider volumes in totality remained level but the cask beer portion of this continues to fall.

Admittedly it is at the extremity of the Fuller’s pub estate but my local, The Great Northern Railway Tavern in North London, has 20-plus taps of which only four are cask and generally only two of these are Fuller’s beers. The company has a number of these more craft-led outlets within which it is experimenting with the mix of beers on offer.

Fuller’s Great Northern Railway Tavern: Craft beer Mecca

What unites them is that the Fuller’s beer range does clearly play a role but each brew has to justify its place on the bar and it sits alongside a sizeable variety of other beers from all and sundry – including a growing number from the small craft brewers. Such a move is simply satisfying the ever changing demand from today’s consumers.

Yes, it is sad to see the sale of the brewery – and with it a bit of London’s rich brewing history – but against what is a very difficult backdrop Fuller’s has ultimately taken a tough rationale business decision. Now with its investors onside and approximately £120 million from the sale burning a hole in its pocket it can go on the hunt for further pubs that hopefully are just as classy as my local. “Death may beget life, but oppression can beget nothing other than itself,” noted Dickens.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider

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

Bohem teams up with brewing legend Roger Ryman for lager collab

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Let’s get started

Collaborations are commonplace among craft brewers but much less so among more established brewers who are maybe more focused on the day job and have possibly also been overlooked to some extent.

Since setting up in 2016 it was only a question of time before Bohem Brewery in North London would undertake its first collaboration, but rather than team up with another small scale operator they took the view that it would be more interesting to collaborate with one of the more successful larger brewers in the UK.

It was therefore a great privilege for them to welcome a legend in the industry – Roger Ryman, brewing director of St Austell Brewery, to the Bohem Brewery to spend a day producing a beer that definitively combined the expertise of both parties.

Yeast from St Austell

From Bohem’s point of view it was obvious that having Ryman in the house would be massively educational and informative to the small team. And from his point of view it was an opportunity to fill in a rare gap in his brewing experience by brewing on the decoction kit that Bohem uniquely uses to produce its authentic Czech lagers in the UK.

“I’d never made a decoction mash and I wanted to understand it. It gives a depth, body and a texture to the beer,” he says, adding that the question then was what to brew for the collab?

“For my own curiosity I wanted to know what a decoction mash does so I could have taken St Austell’s Korev Cornish Lager and put it into the [Bohem’s] decoction system. This would have answered my technical question but the collaboration needs to have an interesting aspect so we decided to do a Brut version,” explains Ryman.

This much…

This follows a one-off beer, Korev Brut, which he produced in a limited run for Champagne bottling that was super attenuated and dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin.

The key elements to the Bohem/St Austell collaboration include the use of a liquid malt enzyme AMG. As Ryman explains: there will be unfermentable carbohydrate bonds in the beer and the AMG digests this with the result that there are no residual sugars in the beer that would potentially give it too much sweetness when producing a higher ABV beer.

In addition, Ryman recommended the addition of flaked maize, which is used in his Korev lager as a way of “freshening up the palate”. He recognises the bad rap that such adjuncts receive but defends them by saying that they are also used for pragmatic reasons.

“People sometimes also think they are neutral but the choice of them will influence the final flavour. They could be invert sugars for instance. Timothy Taylor’s Landlord contains some of this and it is certainly not done because sugar is cheap,” argues Ryman.

When the beer emerges from the Bohem conditioning tanks it will weigh in at between 5.6% and 6%. It will be available predominantly in keg but there will also likely to be a short run of cans released.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider and minority investor in Bohem Brewery

 

 

It’s about more than just the beer

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Interior of McSorley’s

My annual January pilgrimage to New York City for a business conference has typically involved visits to renowned craft beer bars to seek out the latest brews from the city’s quality craft brewers and discover beer from new brewers that weren’t around the previous year.

This year I tried to retreat from the never-ending chase of the new and take things a little easier. This decision was substantiated after I began reading Drink Beer, Think Beer, which I took on the trip as I had been asked to review it and I thought down time in New York would be a great opportunity to read it.

One of the arguments author John Holl presents is people have become far too wrapped up in seeking the latest beers, eccentric styles and cutting-edge breweries to the point it’s taking away some of the enjoyment beer should bring. Beer drinking is not all about scooping double dry-hopped beer from the latest cool brewery to emerge in Brooklyn and then bragging about it on Twitter and Instagram. There is more to it than that. The fact is, the beer you are drinking is only one aspect of the overall experience.

With this thought in mind, I ventured into McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village, which has been there since about 1850. I hadn’t been through its doors since my first visit to New York about 20 years ago and from what I can remember, nothing has changed. There was definitely one member of the bar team who was around then and he was extremely entertaining – a true character of the type who gives you myriad reasons to go to a bar rather than buying beer at the supermarket and drinking it at home.

Kung Fu fighting in McSorley’s

He contributed massively to my experience and took it beyond being simply about the beer. Talking of the beer, they only had two options – light and dark. Naturally, I had one of each. They weren’t potential winners of a global beer award but although not particularly memorable by taste, they were served with great theatre. Every ordered beer was dispensed into two separate half-pint glasses at great speed and with an attractive foaming head.

The character barman assured me this was because the place gets so rammed at times they have to dispense it at great speed – apparently two glasses is faster than one. While it sounds plausible, I think it’s more about it looking cool and a point of differentiation from the thousands of other bars in town. The venue also has history to further its appeal and give it some stand-out from the industrial chic of many craft beer bars.

McSorley’s reminds me of U Fleku in Prague, which is the city’s original brewpub and has incredible history dating to 1499. However, this Czech gem has a paucity of options compared with its US counterpart. It has half the amount of choice because it only serves one beer – its dark lager. These are served in great volumes around U Fleku’s multiple dining halls by its team of bartenders, who hold trays of many small glasses of this renowned brew aloft.

One of U Fleku’s numerous dining/drinking halls

I say it’s renowned because that’s the feeling you get when a bar only gives you one beer option. I guess it’s the same with house wine – what foolish operator would offer poor wine? In reality, the beer might actually be rather ordinary but it’s about the overall experience you get from spending time in U Fleku. It provides you with something much richer than simply downing a beer in any old bar.

Clearly what such bars have is the attraction of history. In these craft beer days they have the luxury of not having to draw people in through the offer of a great beer selection. But what all other bars and pubs need to understand is they must give a better overall proposition than simply creating a great beer menu. I’m coming to the conclusion – and my New York trip proved the point – that it’s the combination of service and experience combined with decent beer that will determine success. One without the other is simply not going to cut it in these increasingly tough markets. Easy!

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.

 

 

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.