Opposite Ends of the Scale

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One of the UK’s most non-PC comedians, the late Bernard Manning, used to have a running gag at his shows in which he would pick an overweight member of the audience and a slimmer one and suggest the thin one looked like he had been in a famine his larger mate had caused.
This oddly reminds me of the brief time I spent working in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, when I discovered the Californian city had an extremely polarised population. Half seemed crazed, teetotal health fanatics on a weight-loss regime, while the other 50% were obese individuals on the path to early death from massive overconsumption of food and alcohol.
The health-conscious members of my office were firmly in the former camp and found it hard to accept I’d pop to a bar for a few beers after work. Apart from Fridays, which was the only acceptable drinking evening for my colleagues, my bar visits were invariably solo missions. To the majority in the office my behaviour suggested a raging alcoholic – just like the stereotypical English blokes they’d read about.
I wonder whether we’re falling into a similar polarised situation in the UK when it comes to drinking alcohol? Of most interest is the younger grouping of Generation Z – the 18 to 24-year-olds. It’s clear total alcohol sales are falling in the UK, and this is particularly prevalent among Generation Z.

Gen Z: More likely to drink mocktails than cocktails?

Research by KAM Media found that in 2018 almost two-fifths (39%) of the group claimed to be teetotal, which is more than twice the average level in the UK across the whole population. Proof of this move to a healthier lifestyle can be seen in almost half (49%) of respondents heading to the gym at the end of the day compared with a modestly higher 51% who go to the pub. This represents a serious 20% uplift in gym-goers since 2015.
However, countering these numbers is evidence from the Stonegate wet-led pubs business, which last year enjoyed a record-breaking fresher’s week. Chairman Ian Payne thinks part of the fall in consumption is simply down to the higher strength of beer today. Whereas a few years ago 3.8% ABV was the normal level for a beer and 5% Stella something akin to “loopy juice”, craft beer today is so packed with flavour and alcohol Payne says it’s impossible for most people to drink more than three pints in a session.
KAM Media founder Katy Moses suggests government statistics show levels of obesity, diabetes and alcohol problems are the same as before. There has been no noticeable decline in-line with the healthier trends we are seeing among Generation Z. “There seems to be two extremes of healthy and indulgent,” she says.
While this is undoubtedly the case, Moses suggests the middle ground is the dangerous (uncertain) part of the market for leisure and hospitality operators. But is it? We are seeing massive potential in what is undoubtedly the bridge between these two polarised camps – low and no-alcohol beer and spirits.

The ever-increasing range of low- and non-alcohol beers on offer

Drinks businesses around the world have recognised new product development in this area could provide the double-whammy of tempting non-drinkers into the category while appealing to regular drinkers who want to consume less and perhaps alternate between low-alcohol beer and their 10% triple IPA.
Certainly sales for low and no-alcohol beer in Western Europe have risen 18% in the past five years, according to Euromonitor, which predicts a further 12% climb by the end of 2022. I suspect low-strength beers might not have particularly appealed to Bernard Manning but, thankfully in many respects, the world has moved on and the market needs to adapt to the desires, demand and sensitivities of the younger generation.

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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Bellwoods Jelly King Tangerine

As the trip started, on the train from Euston, in the month of February, I will detail the Manchester visit, for Cloudwater’s Family & Friends, in this month’s blog.

After checking in, The Editor and I started at The Crown & Kettle, which had a superb Buxton IPA on cask. A wonderful Burning Sky Arise, again on cask, at The Smithfield  Tavern, was followed by The Marble Arch with their famous Pint beer being dispensed in the same fashion.

Superb beers in great condition in wonderful local pubs. Finally, we ended in Cafe Beermoth, which was hosting a Bellwoods TTO. This Toronto brewery produces excellent beers, and, spoiler alert, one of them was ultimately to prove Beer of the Festival. However, although it is a great bar, Cafe Beermoth could have been a craft-bar in London, or, indeed, anywhere in the developed world and so lacked the charming difference of earlier in the evening.

Friday morning, we were late and yet surprisingly close to the front of the queue.  Once in, there seemed vastly more glasses than people outside and punters are almost never late for a pre-paid, unlimited pour festival. It soon became apparent that less than half the tickets had been sold.

Room to stretch out

Whilst this is not sustainable for the organiser, it meant for a fantastic experience for the festival-goer, with no crowds, waiting nor queues. For the most sought after brewers, Hill Farmstead, Monkfish, Other Half, Trillium and The Veil, there was a token system so that everybody would get some.

This seemed a very good idea, but wasn’t really tested, given the limited tickets sold. Modern Times bourbon BA imperial stout Modem Tones, De Garde spontaneous wild ales, J Wakefield Space Oddity, a Denali dry-hopped Berliner Weisse, Mikkeller Spontan, Trillium IPA, Other Half DIPA, but the undoubted beer of the festival was the aforementioned Bellwood’s Jelly King Tangerine, a dry-hopped sour that absolutely screamed of fruit.

Afterwards, we spent the afternoon in the Briton’s Protection, a lovely old-fashioned pub 5 minutes walk from the venue. Buxton, again, and a superb Cloudwater Burning Sky collab Reassuring Trial IPA, both on cask. The evening was spent in Refectory, Northern Monk’s bar and Cafe Beermoth again (not sure why).

Oasis

Saturday will go down as a day of infamy, in the beer scene. I hadn’t checked any media, mainstream nor social, before meeting the Editor, for breakfast, at around 07:45. His expression was one of complete shock, and, when he asked, “Have you heard the news?” I assumed that there had been a natural disaster, terror attack or North Korea had launched a missile!

In fact, he told me that the Festival has been cancelled! Social Media said that the Council had turned up at the evening session, presumably after noise complaints from local residents, and realised that there was no alcohol licence. Authorities rarely stop an event, correctly understanding that evicting angry, drunk punters is a recipe for trouble.

However, the Council had made it abundantly clear that the event was not to continue on Saturday, with the organisers facing a large fine, and possibly jail time, if they did.  The agents renting the venue had apparently told Cloudwater that it had a full licence, but it is inexcusable not to get that in writing.

Rumours and counter rumours swirled as people decided whether to travel or take refunds. As we were pot-committed, with pre-paid hotels and train tickets, we weren’t going anywhere.  After walking down to the venue, and seeing some unfortunate punters turn up unaware of any problems, we popped over to Albert’s Schoss, for a couple of Czech lagers and to re-group.

The organisers maintained that the present venue was definitely out, and had therefore packed up and loaded the Lorries, but they were looking at alternatives, and the plan seemed to be one massive session with both morning and afternoon combined. It seemed absurd that any venue with a licence would still be free at the last minute on Saturday, far and away the most popular day for weddings, etc.

Moreover, there would have been no pre-planning at a new venue and logistics mistakes would be made. We both thought the one-session idea particularly stupid, full of queues which they would “justify” by saying that we were there for eight or nine hours. It was agreed that we would only go back to the original venue or take a refund.

We went back to Upper Campfield at about 13:00 and after a few minutes chatting to brewers, it was announced that they had got permission to carry on and were to start unloading the Lorries. We decamped to the nearby Briton’s Protection to await imminent confirmation. After 45 minutes the official announcement came that the evening session would be largely unaffected whilst the morning would be reduced to just three hours, but with a pro rata refund on our tickets.

One can gripe that the decision to unpack cost us a full-length session but I suspect that it was necessary to convince the Council that Cloudwater were taking it seriously and accepting responsibility.

Having been so close, we were near the front of the queue to get in and were OK, but, because Saturday had sold out, it took almost 15 minutes to get everyone in, which is bad at the best of times, but dreadful when the session had already been cut to three hours. Inside, it was much busier but not disastrously so: however the truncated time meant that the Guaranteed Pour system didn’t work, which is as a shame as it is a good idea.

The main complaint, rather than the licensing fiasco was that, as Friday hadn’t sold out, they kept beers on and didn’t rotate. This is completely unacceptable penny-pinching as the tickets had been sold on that basis, which meant people like ourselves who had bought more than one session ended up drinking many of the same beers again.

Overall it was a fantastic trip and I loved the Manchester pubs, and cask most of all. The Festival itself was a Curate’s Egg: fantastic beers and Friday morning, as half-full, was unbelievable, but the licensing was a rookie mistake and the beers should have been rotated.

Albert’s Schloss

A very good article from Will Hawkes on the much-missed London Beer City https://www.willhawkes.net/blog/2019/2/7/how-i-ended-up-running-a-beer-week-by-mistake. He pitched the idea at LBA in June 2014, two months before the inaugural event. Thanks again for all his hard work, and it was very sad to see it finish in 2017, after four great years.

A few events at Mikkeller Bar, which appears to have cut its prices, so that they are now merely expensive, rather than ludicrous, especially as the location is as central as it gets.  Angry Chair TTO with  3 Little Birds Berliner Weissse,  Mango Gose, El Cicuy, a Bourbon BA Russian Imperial Stout with cinnamon and vanilla, Popinski, another Russian imperial, this time with peanut butter and marshmallow and Simple Math, an imp stout with cinnamon, coconut and coffee.  Tired Hands TTO, which was obviously good, as I have managed to lose all my notes!

Craft Beer Rising was, as normal, a strange Trade Show, in which some, excellent independent beer, was interspersed with dreadful faux-craft brands from the macros. Timmy Taylor’s landlord on cask, opposite the American import stand, including Foolproof’s The Grotto IPA, Fifty Fifty West Coast Haze IPA and New Holland Dragon’s Milk imperial stout, provided a great contrast and attracted the crowds.  The Siren CBR after-party at The Old Fountain saw Soundwave, a Suspended and the Tropical Chocolate Cake, all on cask. No biggie (geddit?) on keg continued the West Coast IPA theme.

In brief news, Brouwerih de Molen is now part of Swinkels Family Brewers and RateBeer fully acquired by AB InBev, which immediately renders it useless.

And onto March, which will all be about some shocking news…

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.

Bohem and Adnams team up for hoppy wheat beer collab

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Fergus Fitzgerald flanked by team Bohem

Adnams’ respected head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald recently joined Bohem Brewery for the day to create a hoppy wheat beer collaboration packed with mandarins and US hop Sabro.

Although original discussions were around a creation along the lines of Schneider Weisse renowned Tap 5 Hopfen-Weisse beer the commitment to lager production by Bohem dictated that a lager yeast be used thereby reducing the clove and banana characteristic in the beer.

To overcome this missing aspect the brew was given a unique character through the use of Sabro hops – that have a Sorachi Ace dill-like flavour along with mango fruit character. This was complemented by the addition of 50kg of fresh mandarins into the kettle.

Fitzgerald says the appeal of brewing a collab with Bohem was the use of its Czech Republic-built decoction kit: “It’s an unusual way of production and until I’d actually brewed on it then I didn’t know it’s impact on a beer. It will give some spiciness and body to this wheat beer even though we are using lager yeast [on a mix of two-thirds wheat and one-third barley in the grist].”

It represents the first time Bohem has used wheat or fruit in any of its beers so the ultimate outcome will certainly interest Bohem head brewer Petr Skocek. For Fitzgerald fruit has played a part in a number of Adnams beers including one brew with juice from the peel of oranges that took two weeks to extract the required level of zest. “We did not do it again!” he says.

The collab beer – named Mandarinka – will spend a total of five weeks in tank at the Bohem Brewery and be released as a quaffable 4-4.4% zesty brew that will be available in keg at select bars.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

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.