Magic Rock Brewing Company – magic beers and rock solid business

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Richard Burhouse, founder of Magic Rock Brewing Company

Established craft brewers moving into supermarkets is a reflection of an industry maturing and is also recognition that selling into myriad independent venues is now the domain of the many newer brewers joining the scene.

Having been brewing since 2011 Richard Burhouse, founder of Magic Rock Brewing Company, says the growth for his business is now more in the packaged goods area than continuing to being just about selling into pubs.

“The new battleground for us is big customers like Marks & Spencer where we have three cans nationwide. The growth is here for us and also in the restaurant chains rather than pubs. The long established brewers need to break into these areas. It’s the reality of growing up. We need penetration into the mainstream while the small guys go into independents,” he says.

This is part of a plan to grow sales of the core range – that presently number 10 although the big sellers are Inhaler, Cannonball, High Wire and High Wire Grapefruit. Although he will continue to service the independent market a key part of this involves the constant flow of specials.

At the moment the core is 60% of sales, specials are 30%, and cask is 10%, with the latter reducing as keg and can sales increase.

Although Burhouse acknowledges that you “cannot be the hot thing forever” he is managing to strike a balance between being an increasingly mainstream operator and still appealing to the beer cognoscenti through limited runs of Magic Rock specials like Mind Control and Hedonic Escalation that still find a receptive audience.

The strategy has helped total sales increase by 30% year-on-year over the past two years and has pushed output to 13,500 hectolitres. It could hit 16,500 hl this year from a site that has the potential to generate 20,000 hl per year “if we don’t mess around with imperial stouts and lagers” that sit around in the tanks.

Around 1,500 hl of this beer is sold through the Magic Rock Tap Room that seems to surprise Burhouse with how popular it has been. On a Friday and Saturday night it is one-in-one-out as it typically hits its 350 capacity.

This has resulted in Magic Rock looking at opening up more retail outlets as it not only helps control margins but also pushes up volumes and protects the business from the “vagaries of the market”.

“We’ve looked at retail in the town centre [of Huddersfield] and at the moment we’re looking at something in the valleys with a food producer as a joint-venture. We’re keen to put forward an offer for the locals and improve the area and also create jobs for people,” says Burhouse.

He’s also been investigating the opportunity of opening a small bar in Leeds or Manchester. But what he is not intending to do is follow the likes of Moor and Cloudwater in opening up so-called tap rooms in London.

“You go to where there is a heavy market and we prefer local first. It feels more obvious to us. London is a great way to make money quickly but we’re not from London and I think there is a market that is loyal to London breweries. It’s not a priority for us,” he explains.

Such moves indicate a confidence from Burhouse who says the Magic Rock business is now at a size whereby it can “weather the extra competition”. It is also clear that his beers remain massively popular.

Indicative of the thirst among drinkers is the brewery’s requirement to allocate beers out to preferred customers: “We do two specials/collaborations per month that have to be allocated out. They help pull-up the core beer sales as customers top-up their orders with other beers. It’s a reciprocal [arrangement] with long standing customers.”

Also the 600 tickets for the forthcoming Sesh Fest Invitational (on June 9) at the Magic Rock Tap Room sold out in 40 minutes. It not only highlights the appeal of session beers (all the beers from the 30 invited brewers invited to serve must be ABV of 4.5% or below) but more importantly the high regard that Magic Rock continues to be held by the industry and drinkers.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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February’s highlight was a tutored Fuller’s Vintage tasting at The Bottle Shop, led by John Keeling. The first beer was Past Masters XX, using a recipe from 1893, although the closest they could get to the barley, of that time, was from Prince Charles’s organic farm.

It was brewed in 2010, and is technically now three years out of date. It had the malt, rather than hops characteristic of aging, and some “sherriyificiation” but was perfectly drinkable. Next was an Oatmeal porter, from a 1926 recipe, before we went onto the Vintage Ales:

John talked about the sine wave of tasting for these beers with various vintages going up, down and up again: I have always been interested in the ageing of alcohol, from the freshness of West Coat IPA’s to the immortal Madeira

1997 was the 1st Vintage Ale, which now costs around £500 due to scarcity. Needless to say that wasn’t on our tasting menu! We went thru 2016 (rich, complex), 2015 (only British ingredients, fruit-driven aroma with a bitter finish), 2014 (my favourite, zestier), 2009 (caramelised orange and vanilla) and finally 2005, which was the only one to have lost life.

We then finished with Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve Number 5 Oak Aged Ale. The original beer is aged in Scottish whisky barrels for two years, along with wild bacteria, and then 60 casks are re-blended with regular ESB to tame it, and increase the precision of the flavours, and lower the ABV.

John Keeling (photo credit Brewers Journal)

John is a fantastic and passionate speaker: He distinguished between water, which is chemistry, and used to matter in brewing, but can now be replicated, and the other base ingredients, which are alive, hence biology and subject to evolution and variation.

This led to his main theme for all alcoholic drinks: variety around consistency. There should be minor batch to batch variations in the product as the base varies, but with excellent process ensuring a basic level of underlying consistency.

Early February saw the unwelcome news that Will Hawkes was closing the Craft Beer London app and website. This hasn’t been properly updated for a while, so it was not entirely unexpected.  In early 2013, when I first started becoming interested in beer, I religiously used this app to search out new places. It’s strange to think that this was before LCBF, let alone BeaverEx, Bottle Shop Arch, Mother Kelly’s, Cloudwater and many, many more even existed. We’ve come a long way, but I will always be grateful for the start his app gave me, so a deserved thanks to Will.

Busy day at Beavertown

To celebrate its 6th birthday, Beavertown  invited six other brewers who brought both a couple of their own beers and a collaboration with the party-hosts: Boundary (Zoltar Says Make Your Wish, a red wine BA export stout), Land & Labour (Be Excellent to Each Other, an IPA), Pilot (What Am I Going To Do With a Gun Rack, a gin martini saison), Deya (Fear Does Not Exist In This Dojo, a hazy IPA), Elusive ( Eat Flame Bozo, a mojito Hopfenweisse)  and Cloudwater (three collabs, the best of which was Do Not Open Until 1985, a DIPA) were the chosen six for me.

The beers were good, but logistically the event was not. The situation wasn’t as bad as the notorious, un-ticketed 4th birthday, but it still wasn’t pleasant. One of the main blocks of portable toilets failed, creating enormous queues elsewhere, even though people were going across to Pressure Drop, which wasn’t particularly fair on them, as it just moved some of the bottleneck there.

Beavertown beer list: you can’t read it, neither could I

Further disappointing news came from the William IV in Leyton that is to become a dreaded gastro-pub. This was always the house pub for Brodie’s, and was much more important at the turn of the decade than it is now as other venues and breweries have appeared. The biggest loss will be felt at Easter with the demise of Bunny Basher, which has been around for more years than I care to remember.

As recently as 2016 (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-9/), I could write that “Easter in London is now marked by two annual beer festivals”. To lose one (C100 at Clapham) may be regarded as a misfortune: to lose two looks like carelessness.

Whilst I must disclose a personal interest, it was great to see a Bohem TTO at GNRT, including a first appearance for Vasco, a wonderfully full-flavoured DIPL lagered for eight weeks and Raleigh, a Czech twist on the unique Bamberg smoked lagers, which is a true love-it-or-hate-it beer.

Craft Beer Rising is more of a trade show these days, and the prices charged for the pitches kept out many small players. It’s hard to complain about drinking Stone Berlin, but there wasn’t much new to report. Beer of the day was the Brew York Imperial Tonkoko Stout. This is a pumped up version of the normal Tonkoko and gave a wonderful coconut, Tonka, Cacao and vanilla hit. Absolutely fantastic, and the commonly heard “Bounty in a glass” doesn’t do it full justice.

Brew York at CBR including Tonkoko Imperial Stout

Northern Monk announced they would be crowd-funding, using the very much maligned Crowdcube site. They are a very good brewery, so it is worrying that they could not find a more legitimate way of raising capital. Chorlton raised the possibility on Twitter of issuing “beer bonds” which would cost £250 and entitle the holder to get a 5 litre keg every month, of the brewers’ choice, for the six month life of the bond. This is even more ridiculous, and thankfully, they appear to have dropped the idea.

Bottle Shop hosted Brooklyn’s KCBC, or King’s County Brewers Collective, to give them their full title! Marble of Doom II was a superb raspberry, key lime sour, alongside two DDH IPA’s, Dangerous Precedent, which was good, and Viking Disco, which was better.

There were also collaborations with BBNo and Hackney, whose childhood friendship with a KCBC brewer led to the project. I enjoyed all the beers so much that I went up to The Axe on Saturday to carry on drinking them! The Arch also welcomed De Molen with Amarillo DIPA, Tsarina Esra imperial porter, Mooi + Meedogenioos, an imperial stout, and People’s Republic of Juice, with IPA’ from across the UK and which shows all the hallmarks of the recently hired Chris Hall’s pun machine.

Chris Hall: pun machine (photo credit: Matthew Curtis)

Fourpure held a successful opening party to show off its new brewing capacity investments. They were all very impressive, but the size is now starting to move away from what we have thought of as craft in this country, if not the States, although this is not a debate I want to get into here. They also announced a collab project with brewers from six continents, including Belgium’s De La Senne, Australia’s Two Birds, the USA’s Melvin, and Japan’s Hitachino Nest.

Finally, in brief: Brewdog gave away one million pints of Punk IPA. Fuller’s took over Sussex’s Dark Star, which should prove a good fit, as it is predominantly cask. Duvel doubled its stake in Birrificio Del Ducato, which runs The Italian Job, to 70%, and Five Points will be taking over the Pembury Tavern, on the junction from which they take their name.

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.

Don’t change Draft House

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Draft House: good enough for Rick Astley

For some people among the beer cognoscenti, the Draft House chain of craft beer bars would never be regarded as the coolest places in town because they would always be able to point to quirkier places with more esoteric beer selections. This does these bars a great disservice because when they opened in 2009 they became an early emporium for craft beer. However, founder Charlie McVeigh also wanted them to be accessible and not to become beer geek ghettos.

This ultimately led to a sometimes quite random mix of beers on the bar but in this combination there would invariably be sufficient to keep the knowledgeable beer drinker interested while also appealing to those new to the game tentatively dipping their toe in the craft beer pond for the first time.

I can recall meeting McVeigh for the first time – via a mutual friend – sitting outside the original venue in Northcote Road in south London not long after its opening. He had just thrown out the best-selling lager because he was selling too much of the stuff. He wanted to introduce people to something new so the only solution was to get rid of the recognisable mainstream lager. Instead McVeigh was incredibly enthusiastic that night for bottles of Yeti Imperial Stout from Great Divide brewery in the US that he was very keen to share.

To his credit he also initiated a three thirds paddle for a fixed £5 even though he knew it was extra work for the bar teams and for certain beers of a hefty ABV it meant the margin was not exactly great. The clear intention was to introduce people to new beers and encourage experimentation – damn the profits.

But he’s no mere philanthropist (well he might be now he has just sold Draft House to BrewDog for a reputed £15m) he’s a businessman and he wanted to build a profitable bar chain. It has never been a vanity project. If he hadn’t been just as focused on the P&L as the beer list then I doubt very much the respected leisure and hospitality specialist Luke Johnson would have come in as an investor in the Draft House operation.

Johnson’s involvement gave the business an injection of capital and the push/confidence to take the model to significantly larger (and more profitable sites). When you compare the Charlotte Street site in central London with the two units in the City of London then size-wise they are from different planets. With these chunky openings came tank beer from Pilsner Urquell, which again managed to appeal to more mainstream drinkers while also maintaining the respect and interest of the beer aficionados.

It is this balancing act of appealing to the various camps that I’d suggest has been the most successful aspect of the Draft House business and the legacy of McVeigh. This democratisation of craft beer has also been part of the manifesto of BrewDog. Whereas lots of its soap-box grandstanding has become a tad skewed, hypocritical even in some cases, and rather confused, there is no doubting its constant underlying objective of introducing better beer to as many people as possible is fully authentic.

No doubt this like-minded stance came into the thinking of BrewDog when it approached Draft House with its takeover offer. Now the deal is done my one big concern is the wide choice of beers McVeigh made a core part of the proposition of the Draft House business will be compromised because BrewDog is clearly in the game of selling its own beer.

Rebranding them all as BrewDog bars would also be a retrograde step as it would undoubtedly give the Scottish brewer a rather concentrated central London portfolio and take it a step closer to being an over-bearing presence, just like the monolithic brewers that it constantly rails against.

In the ideal world little would change and Draft House would continue to operate as the equivalent of the JD Wetherspoon of craft beer bars (without the sticky carpets) – accessible to all and always something different you want to drink. I personally cannot think of a greater compliment.

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.

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Apologies for the lateness of this column for which, like everything else that went wrong in the country recently, I will blame on the unseasonably adverse weather! It’s also a bit shorter than normal, but if anyone complains – and let’s face it they may well cheer – then the month was legitimately quiet!

The BottleShop Arch, which acquired a new celebrity, Amber the cat, started the year with an absolute bang: Melvin kegs and cans were air freighted over for a TTO. The beers, from Alpine, Wyoming, were truly sensational with Hubert MPA, Melvin IPA and 2×4 DIPA being my personal favourite.

This really showed the benefits of ColdChain, both in preserving the freshness, and, also, crucially, persuading the very top US brewers that quality control is paramount enough to risk their brand and personal pride by exporting.

A Cloudwater TTO included some rare cellared and barrel-aged delights: Red wine barrel-aged kettle sour raspberry and blueberry, bourbon BA Loral and Ardi, BA apricot Hopfenweisse, and Mont Saleve Pompettes, a wild ale with Brasserie du Mont Saleve.

The beers were as excellent as one would expect. Moreover, as a big fan of Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner, it was great to see Cloudwater produce a wonderful entry, in a Tweet, in which they self-indulgently spoke about how they knew that people drank their beer for their values. Which leads to a wonderful new euphemism “Sorry Officer, I just loved a company’s values so much, and had to show it”!

Unsurprisingly, January was a month of notable imperial stouts: I had Founders CBS, Canadian Breakfast Stout, the maple syrup barrel-aged imperial stout at Earl of Essex, Cinna Mo, Idjit and Coffee Vanilla Black, at the Dugges Winter Showcase at the Arch and the re-release of Buxton/Omnipollo Yellow Belly, 2014 Rainbow Project, and usually regarded as the best ever beer from that wonderful concept-event.

Bloomberg announced (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-11/bob-bob-ricard-restaurant-plans-to-revolutionize-the-way-you-pay-to-eat-out) that Bob Bob Ricard are introducing a new pricing model, based on the airline industry, with different menu prices, depending on the time and day on which a customer is dining.

Price differentiation, which IT advances have made very much easier as opposed to when I studied the subject in economics many moons ago, is now familiar to all from the travel industry. If successful in restaurants I can easily see it moving into pubs, and, I think, for most readers of this column it would really improve our experience with the Friday night, and even worse Xmas crowd, seeing prices go up and those of us enjoying the pub on a Monday in January enjoying reductions.

Seriously, it would really benefit pubs, which are sub-optimal both when they are too busy and when they are too quiet. Plus, the pricing and hence beer list would be electronic so could be displayed online, solving one of my favourite bugbears.

Brewdog Soho

Brewdog also had a couple of interesting events, but yet again suffered from the ridiculously stupid, “No pouring until 18:00”. This was particularly absurd at the Stillwater TTO in EC1, when the January date meant there was almost no one else in the bar. The SuperHop, a  Norwegian Wood, a tart, berry sour with Amundsen and Cellar Door, a saison, were all delicious.

Shepherd’s Bush hosted Marble, on a Friday, and by 19:15 it was so unpleasantly busy (15 minute plus queue for service) that we left. This was a real pity as the beers were fantastic: Damage Plan IPA, Uppe Hela Natten, a macchiato porter, Decadence, an imperial stout, the famous Barley Wine, The Castle of Udolpho, a BA Old Ale, two BA (bourbon and pinot noir) versions of Gale’s Old Ale, and A-Tomic, a sour red.

The timing issue meant pushing the beer nerds into the same time-slot as the after-office crowd and thereby both getting in each other’s way. The competition for stupidest decision by Brewdog head office is an incredibly competitive one, but the rigid 18:00 start must be up there.

They also announced a new branch, Seven Dials, on Shaftesbury Avenue, in the former Polpo Ape & Bird restaurant and very close to their Soho bar.

I did the ‘Arry Redknapp gag last year (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-16/) but January transfer action was hot in 2018 as well: James Kemp, head brewer at Marble, and possibly responsible for so much of their recent revival, since he went there in January (again!) 2016, joining Yeatise Boys, and being replaced by Joe Ince, who moves up internally.

John Keeling, chairman, London Brewers Alliance

In addition, Paul Spraget left Four Pure to take the reins at Orbit. Finally, some excellent news for the London Brewers Alliance, as John Keeling takes over as Chairman, and announced that Fuller’s is to host London Brewers’ Alliance Festival on June 23 with 40 London brewers.

 

Green Flash announced that they were pulling distribution from 32 US states and cutting 15% of their workforce to concentrate on core markets.  They had been in all 52 states, but had become over-stretched and were unable to compete properly with local alternatives.

Burns Night was celebrated at The Old Fountain.  Earlier in the month, they had Five Points Derailed Porter, on cask. This is a seasonal version of their basic Railway Porter, aged on Brettanomyces wild yeast for a minimum of nine months, which is a superb, earthy and roasty, and probably the best beer I have had from them.

Deviant & Dandy launch evening

Deviant and Dandy held their opening party in Hackney. The most noteworthy beer was CCCP, a Crazy Chocolate Chartreuse Porter that really tasted like the famous French liquor.

Finally, I was wondering if anyone knew what was happening with the Farringdon Tap and whether the project was still going ahead?

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.

 

Uniting the brewing generations

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Fuller’s move to purchase Dark Star brewery highlights the radically changing state of brewing. Traditional brewers have found it particularly tough in recent years to hold their ground against a massive number of small new craft breweries setting up shop. It feels like there is a new one opening up almost every day.

This scenario is also being played out in the fashion sector where the rise of new, often online-only brands, especially in the fickle fashion category has brought serious pressure on the established operators in the market. These are technically known as DNVBs, or digitally native vertical brands.

But whatever you want to call them they are the newer, cooler, kids on the block. What the incumbents have been faced with is the challenge of making themselves equally cool and relevant to the younger customers who not surprisingly want to be associated with the newer brands.

The answer to this major issue is to possibly acquire the new competition, as evidenced by the Fuller’s deal, or more frequently collaborate with them. Louis Vuitton recently collaborated with ultra cool New York-based skate-wear brand Supreme to develop a limited range of clothing and luggage items that were made available in a small number of pop-up stores in some of the world’s major fashion-conscious cities. LV enjoyed enormous demand and publicity that helped give it the glow of coolness by association.

Fashion chain H&M cottoned onto this activity some years ago and has teamed up with the likes of Stella McCartney and Erdem. Likewise Reebock teamed up with Victoria Beckham and Off-white collaborated with Jimmy Choo. Levi’s has also been collaborating with myriad third-parties from vintage jean tailoring specialists to rappers and sports stars like Michael Jordan for a denim sneaker range as well as even technology companies like Google to develop connected biker jackets.

It’s not surprising that these arrangements work because while the larger player is looking for some edginess to rub off on it, the smaller brand can take advantage of the superior supply chain capabilities of the bigger partner and access a whole new potential future customer base who have not been exposed to the brand before – either through its high price points or it’s seriously limited output. It’s definitely a win-win as the consultants would say.

In the brewing world there has been an explosion in collaborations – that have even included many international examples of brewers working together to create a co-produced beer that is then made available in both markets. But this has typically involved the cool breweries working with equally hip and happening contemporaries and even though it has often produced some great beers it has also been a little self-congratulatory in many cases to date.

A particularly exciting phenomenon though is the broadening out of collaborations. We are seeing some of the newer craft brewers working with more established traditional operators. A recent example is Brew By Numbers, from craft beer’s ground zero Bermondsey, which has worked with Hobsons Brewery from the Midlands to create a cask ale (new territory for BBNo) Mosaic and Citra.

This follows Fuller’s brewing a collaborative beer with Bristol’s Moor Brewery a couple of years back that re-interpreted the former’s iconic ESB. This beer has returned as part of a very successful box set that included collaborative beers Fuller’s brewed with some of the leading UK craft brewers including Cloudwater, Marble, Fourpure and Thornbridge. The box was made available exclusively for Waitrose stores and was snapped up by beer fans with an appetite to try unique products that mixed the heritage of Fuller’s with the newer thinking of the young craft brewers.

Mixing heritage with contemporary offers up a world of new possibilities and just as with the fashion collaborations this was a way for Fuller’s to be associated with the youngsters and to also learn some new tricks along the way while the newer players accessed a different – much broader – customer base and got to play on some seriously big brewing kit at Fuller’s Chiswick base.

With such clear upsides for all parties involved in collaborative initiatives it is hoped that we will see more of these tie-ups that extend across generations of brewers. And we might see some more acquisition en route too.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer 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.

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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RIP 

December, with its Xmas jumpers, office parties and the once-a-year crowd, is the worst month for regular pub-goers, and quite understandably there are far less special events to report on, which is reflected in this column.

The devastating shock of the month was the news that Duke’s Brew & Que was closing immediately.  As I’m sure every reader knows, it was Beavertown’s birth-place, and, on that basis alone, deserved a Blue Plaque for its contribution to the London scene. It remained an excellent bar, a perfectly passable BBQ restaurant, and an excellent place to avoid the tap-room queues for special launches. It will be sorely missed.

There are a lot of unanswered questions, which Beavertown ducked on social media, with all the evasiveness of a professional politician. It always seemed very full when I was there, but clearly I haven’t seen the accounts. They may have fallen victim to an unexpected rent review, but that doesn’t explain the main issue, which is timing: Firstly, why close at the beginning of December, the aforementioned month of festive spenders? Secondly, why not announce the decision in advance, and finish with a closing party? I am sure many drinkers would have deliberately visited before it shut down: I would have done.

I can’t think of a business failure as stunning as this since the craft beer boom began. Is it possible that this is the canary in the coalmine? I very much doubt it, but then again very few people saw any problems when a few small subprimes went bust in February 2007. The fact that the rest of this column is mostly about openings shows, that, in Charles ‘Chuck’ Prince’s unfortunate turn of phrase, the music is still player and the industry is still dancing (if you don’t know about finance then it is worth looking up –Ed).

I suspect this is a one-off, but I do worry the growing fashion to Crowdfund tap-rooms with advance sales discounts, which is very bubbly.

The Bottle Shop in Bermondsey attracts less of the December crowd, and, so put on the most interesting events: Haze Night featured Verdant (I Played Bass On That Tune IPA), Fuerst Wiacek, a brewery of which I am not nearly as big a fan as others and Stigbergets (Api Lairepmi DIPA, Muddle IPA, beer of the night), who were the winners hands down.

Northern Monk TTO featured three collaborations, Malt (imperial porter, with De Molen), Hops (DIPA, Deya) and Yeast (DDH saison with 18th Street). Brewski: I’ve enjoyed their fruit-based offerings in the past but strangely found them a little disappointing, although I enjoyed 50 States of Freedom, a  Berliner Weisse with Cycle.

WarPigs brought the old favourites, Wheezin’ The Juice IPA, Lazurite IPA and Cry For Help, Rick, a porter. They also had a, most definitely not the, Mikkeller week, although I had a stinking cold, so it would be silly to pass judgment on the specific beers. It was also great of Amex to include the Arch in their Small Business Fortnight, which led to a welcome £5 off the bill!

Its wholesale arm cold-chained Modern Times Critical Band IPA, an absolutely fantastic tropical NEIPA, which received rave reviews wherever it popped up further down the retail chain. It does leave me pining for City Of The Sun though.

Heineken finally made their much anticipated entry into the craft beer scene. However, it was a lot less dramatic than many, including myself, had predicted/feared. Rather than an outright takeover of one of the bigger fish, they invested a minority stake in the smaller Brixton, who will use the cash to expand capacity by five-times.  The move is less than half a mile away, so they will retain their local character. It is very early days, but this news could have been a lot worse.

The King’s Arms produced a stunning list for NYE: Kernel Damson Sour, Mikkeller Spontanblackberry,  the wonderful Moor Old Freddie Walker, on cask, Rodenbach 2017 Vintage, Stigbergets Api Lairepmi DIPA and Cloudwater/Pilcrow The Missing Piece IPA .The only slight criticism was three imperial stouts   (Cloudwater/To Ol Xmas cake , To Ol Yolomaelk and Omnipollo Noa Pecan) but no barley wines.

Moor opened a London tap-room very close to BBNo, so clearly targeting the B******** B*** M*** crowd.There has been some criticism from brewers that this is slightly cynical, as they are not actually brewing there, and already have a very efficient London distribution network.

(photo BeerGuideLondon)

Would they welcome a FourPure tap-only space in Bristol? As a customer, though, it is clearly great, as Moor brew terrific beers, and show a devotion to cask that is unsurpassed in the modern craft scene. At the launch, I enjoyed Rey of Light, a DIPA whose name reflects Justin’s fanaticism for a well known space opera, although I found it a bit overly alcoholic when I subsequently had it in a pub

Between Xmas & the New Year I managed the Triple Crown of walking, on successive days, to each of the King’s Arms, Earl of Essex and then finally The Axe. It was good to experience Mauritz’s knowledge and enthusiasm again, with his recommendation of Garage’s About Thyme Berliner Weisse, predictably spot-on.

For those of you haven’t already read it, I would recommend an excellent article by Mark Dredge (click here) on the phenomenon that is NEIPA.

A brief round-up of the flurry of openings: Siren re-opened a new, expanded tap-room at their Berkshire brewery, although I have yet to re-visit. Thornbridge announced a joint-venture with Pivovar (wholesaler, and bar operator, including Euston Tap) to open 10 new sites across the country, with the first in Birmingham.

Former Beavertown head brewer Jen Merrick will open Earth Project, in Royal Docks, with production hopefully coming on stream in mid 2018. Two pubs launched from stables with impeccable credentials: Brave Sir Robin in Crouch Hill, from the Rose & Crown owners, and Small Beer in Crouch End, from The Prince & Duke’s Head.

Unfortunately, I missed BBNo’s 5th birthday party at the tap-room, which was apparently great. I did try the 5th Anniversary DDH Pale Ale, their first can offering, and a superb juice-bomb.

Finally, a truly bizarre story that should act as a warning against taking any on-line customer review sites too seriously, in which Oobah Butler used fake reviews to push his South London garden shed into being rated the capital’s top restaurant (click here).

Here’s looking at you, RateBeer & Untapped….

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.

 

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? – No Fun in beer-land

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Beer is fun. Yes, of course it is.  Chief among the reasons for consuming the liquid are for its pleasurable, fun, attributes.

But let’s be clear, we’re all fooling ourselves if we take the view that beer is just about fun because running much more deeply in the beer world is business. Beer is money. It’s an industry fundamentally no different to oil, pharmaceuticals.

A product is produced by people who have committed funds to the enterprise and it is sold for money – with a view of at least breaking-even and ideally hitting profitability. Beer is a commodity. It might be more fun to drink than oil or an Alka Seltzer but it is all about business and money. Without this it does not exist.

Personally I’m involved in a brewery as co-owner of Bohem Brewery and I’ll admit it is great fun. But it’s clear: between me, the other shareholders, and the co-founders we are all fully aware that this is business and there is money involved.

Brewdog has banged on about its little-man credentials, how it is fighting it out with money-obsessed big brewers, and how it is vehemently against cashing in. Well that’s the story peddled to the thousands of Equity for Punks (of which I am one).

Meanwhile they will cut deals with Tesco and sell stakes in the business to private equity investors and crow about the £1 billion valuation of the business. The early shareholders and two co-founders have taken £100 million off the table through such actions, which absolutely shows that fundamentally Brewdog has always been about the money.

With money there undoubtedly come some unsavoury aspects. Greed, lies, deceit, theft etc…As adults we know this is the case. So why try to paint things as being hunky dory in beer land. This is surely naive.

It’s even worse if you make an effort to push things under the carpet, kick the can down the road and ignore important but painful issues.

I’ve been accused of this myself recently with a piece on Good Beer Hunting that painted a story about the launch of Deviant & Dandy Brewery as apparently peddling some sort of conspiracy theory. There’s no need to call out tough stories as lies just because they do not adhere to the beer-is-fun narrative.

Much of the craft beer world is growing up in the UK right now and the harsh reality is that with maturity come a few things that aren’t fun. That’s not to say beer cannot be light-hearted but it is not all about that.

Glynn Davis, editor or Beer Insider

 

Little and local is future of brewing

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There is plenty of room in the market for many more breweries but only if they focus purely on supplying their local markets, with the majority of sales derived from their on-site tap rooms.

This was the view of Steve Hindy, Brooklyn Brewery co-founder, when Beer Insider made a visit to New York City to check out some of the borough’s newer brewers as well as the person that started it all in that part of town with his co-founders Tom Potter and Garrett Oliver.

Although he says there are been an explosion in brewery openings there are still significantly less per head of the population in the US. In the 1870s there were 4,000 breweries compared with 6,100 today but the population is now 325 million versus 45 million back then. “There could be a lot more breweries. Even though in 2003 when we had 1,485 I can recall people saying there were too many,” he says.

What he does foresee with the myriad newcomers in the market will be the fact most of them will remain small.  As it stands today 95% of breweries in the US produce less than 1,200 hectolitres per year. The route they will increasingly take is just being a local supplier.

“Many of the newer ones will just sell at their own locations and will never get very big. It’s very much a back to the future with [lots of] local brands. The new breweries will only be single generational. There will be some brands that break out but they will have to accept that they’ll have to give up some things to the distributors in order that they can grow,” explains Hindy.

The situation will be very much the same in the UK where he suggests growth for those that want it will be around the building of a brand that he says invariably “takes on a life of its own” and becomes the platform for moving into other markets and exporting.

Hindy believes the newer brewers that do not build a core beer brand – Brooklyn Lager accounts for 50% of the 350,000 hectolitres brewed by Brooklyn Brewery per year – will face more difficulties if they intend to grow beyond their local markets.

On top of this key (big selling) beer you can overlay the innovation, which is an area that Hindy says Oliver “has been very good at”. Testament to this is a constant stream of new beers coming out of the Brooklyn site. Most of the Lager production is contracted out to Matt Brewery in Upstate New York – just as it has been from the start before Brooklyn had its own brew kit.

Contract brewing and having the bulk of your sales derive from one beer sounds almost old school but Hindy says this has enabled growth and he says he “always wanted to grow big”. What it has not deterred though is respect from the new kids on the Brooklyn block as he says “they are very respectful as they appreciate we did a lot of the ploughing of the earth” before they planted themselves down. How high they grow is very much up for debate.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

Deviant & Dandy at Beavertown

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Byron Knight founded Beavertown Brewery in Duke’s Brew & Que (RIP) having previously done a bit of home brewing and now after a hiatus running restaurants he is back with Deviant & Dandy brewery.

His plan for Beavertown was to have a number of US-inspired barbecue restaurants – in the template of Dukes – that sold home-brewed beers and for this he had a plan. But he needed some money and a bit of publicity for it to take off.

“I’d put word around among my friends that I needed money and a B-list celebrity. Logan had quit his band and they found him. He joined me and we both had passion to grow the business. I’d home brewed but I was not a good brewer, I was just okay. We made lots of mistakes and so we got James Rylance via Evin [O’Riordain, founder of Kernel],” recalls Knight.

A five-barrel brewhouse was constructed at a cost of £30,000 and six fermenting vessels were housed at the cramped Dukes. The move was then made to a lock-up and then onto a site in Hackney Wick via the founders of Truman’s Brewery where 12 vessels were used. But Knight says it was “very labour intensive because it was cobbled together”.

This meant it was operating unsustainably, according to Knight, who says brewing is a volume game but if you’ve not invested in the equipment then your labour costs are out of kilter. This makes the enterprise potentially unviable.

Once the site in Tottenham Hale was found Knight says there was a “parting of the ways” with Plant because of their divergent strategies: “The brewery was subsidised by Duke’s, which was at the top of the barbecue phase in the UK. We were putting all the cash into a loss leader like Beavertown rather than into a chain of [potentially successful] restaurants.”

After the transition to the new site Rylance also departed and Jenn Merrick moved into the head brewers’ role along with many other positions she took on whereby she was arguably wearing “all the hats” while Plant was out successfully spreading the word about Beavertown and building a very strong brand around the world – aided by Nick Dwyer (who is one of the very few early employees to remain in the business).

Still work to do in the tap room yard

Knight is also extremely keen on powerful branding – and this will be fully reflected in Deviant & Dandy – but he does not believe it should be placed above any company’s number one asset: its people.

Even though he brand-focused and is employing a designer who produces rock posters (Adam Pobiak) to create the D&D artwork, Knight is intent on running an inclusive brewery: “I’d not care about the branding if creating it meant the people here hated my guts for it. You’ve got to be fair with people. I’ve brought in people here who bring something to the table. If there is no one on a par with you [in your business] then you’re working with blinkers on.”

Knight has co-founded D&D with Ben Taub who will handle all the marketing while Knight gets to grips with brewing at the site in Hackney Central (next door to the original Pressure Drop brewery site that will soon re-open as its tap room).

Until now D&D beers have been produced by Knight at the Enefeld Brewery in North London whose new £2.5 million kit will be available for contract brewing. From now on the focus will be on building up sales of beers produced on Knight’s new equipment – with the output deemed to be either Deviant or Dandy beers.

The former will be what Knight calls Punk Rock beers such as one of the first he has in tanks – a Chartreuse Chocolate Porter – while the latter will be seen as Psychedelic beers with more of a heritage aspect that he says do not push the envelope so much. These will include the existing Strange Brew, which is a Cream Ale.

With new brewing kit to experiment with and some clever branding to play with Knight is very happy to now be doing what he enjoys most: “I love brewing. Food and beverage is what I do. I like creating stuff and I like getting people drunk.”

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

There’s A Beer For That’s new strategy is missing the target

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There’s a Beer for That describes itself as a cross-industry group of brewers, pub companies and beer organisations working together for the good of beer in Britain. It sounds a good idea but I’ve always had my reservations about the effectiveness of these coming-together groupings.

There is never likely to be a universal consensus when you have disparate members of a group. And this one is certainly diverse with its membership. At one end you have some of the world’s largest brewers – including AB InBev, Heineken and Carlsberg – and at the other extremity you have some of the smallest operators in the UK, which are so tiny I’ve never heard of them.

I’ve no idea what the financial contributions are to the initiative but clearly the big guns will be putting a lot more cash into the coffers than the small fry. As such they should have more of a say about how the body positions itself and where it targets its funds and pitches its activities.

It does not take a brain surgeon to work out that the objectives of the member organisations will be very different. If you caught a senior director at AB InBev off guard after a few too many beers then they would probably admit to preferring that craft brewers did not exist. These upstarts have rocked the boat far too much for the established players.

Yes, there will always be the argument that such a body’s efforts – in this case to raise the tide of beer drinking – will lift all boats if successful. This is certainly laudable and undoubtedly is the key aim of the group. However, I suspect things have changed somewhat judging by the shift in the stance of There’s a Beer For That.

The original focus was on targeting the 18-55-year-old age grouping and enticing them into drinking beer rather than other forms of alcohol. This wide spread of ages would certainly encompass the target audience of every brewer and pub operator in the land – big or small. But this objective has changed and the body has repositioned itself to now go for just the 35-50-year-olds. It has effectively abandoned the 18-34-year old grouping.

Apparently they are simply too difficult to get any messages out to. They instead prefer to drink coffee because it is cheap. They also don’t really have much disposable income. So says a senior party from There’s a Beer For That. I don’t really know where to begin with dismantling these arguments.

For starters, I find coffee pretty expensive – with its gloriously juicy margins for operators – and I don’t think we can really argue that the younger demographic does not have sufficient money to have a good time. This is absolutely not the case in my experience.

And as for the body’s message not hitting home with younger people? I suspect this is because it is probably not the right one. This younger group is not interested in the big brands. We all know that 18-34-year olds find the craft beer brands the most attractive. But to only promote the craftier end of the market would not be a great one for There’s a Beer For That’s key funders.

This is why the body has taken the sensible option to be brand agnostic. It therefore doesn’t promote either camp – neither the big brewers nor the small ones. This all-encompassing approach sounds good in practice but it simply doesn’t work – as proven by the fact the youngsters don’t get it!

Has anybody thought of introducing some segmentation into the process? That way all camps would surely be happy. The cool craft brands could be promoted to the millennials while the big brands could be pushed out to the older consumers. Something tells me that this would not go down very well at all with the big brewers.

Having therefore ditched the 18-34-year-old drinkers (let’s call them the future) There’s a Beer For That has chosen to instead focus on the discerning drinkers in the 35-50 age group who might well have progressed to drinking wine after their earlier beer drinking days. The objective is to get them to switch from drinking their wine and spirits when eating and instead match beers with their food.

The problem here is that most of this grouping will be stuck in their ways and moving back to consuming beer with their meals will be a retrograde step now that they are more into their Merlot and Prosecco. And also, to my knowledge it continues to be a tough challenge to achieve mainstream acceptance of consuming beer with food at the expense of wine.

The real hope for this approach is with the younger age group as they fully understand the concept of matching beers with foods. Unfortunately, they are no longer the target group for There’s a Beer For That. Although I disagree with the organisation’s current strategy I think we both agree that the 18-34-year-olds are the future and so There’s A Beer For That must work out exactly what is the point of the exercise.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer 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.