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.

Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

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

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

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

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

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

Adrian Tierney-Jones

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King’s Arms, Bethnal Green

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

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

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

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

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

In Memoriam George Nazer.

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

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Mikkeller Bar, Shoreditch

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

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

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

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

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

Brewdog Collabfest

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

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

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

Brewdog Collabfest stare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Monk Eternal at GNRT

 

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

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

 

Beware the craft beer hangover…

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The list of craft beers just keeps growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glynn Davis, Editor of Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shakespeare (photo credit: Matt Curtis probably)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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

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

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

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

LCBF: ray of sunshine.

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

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

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

Fuller’s at LCBF.

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

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

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

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

The gloriously technicolour Rainbow Project.

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

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

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

Magical LCBF.

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

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

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

Bear Republic: pick of the bunch at Joint Venture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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