Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Mother Kelly’s SE1

Apologies for how late July’s round-up is, but as with most of my readers, the 1st half of August was spent in a drunken haze thanks to the fantastic London Beer City, a full round-up of which will appear next month- and I promise that will be more punctual!

July’s best event was the Brasserie de la Senne dinner, organised by Matt Curtis, and held at The Prince. Small plates from that month’s resident pop-up, The Bear BQ, were matched with Taras Boulba, a bottle of Bruxellensis, the Schieven IPA, the dessert with Jambe de Bois, and, then, finally a third of Brusseleir to finish.

Yvan de Baets, the co-founder was very friendly and interesting. He was very generous about the historical importance and inspiration that Britain’s cask heritage had given him, particularly noting how much more skill was required to put flavour into the low ABV beers that they generally produce. He regards hops as analogous to grapes in wine-making, and hopes that, in the future, there will be more attention paid to this in labelling and crucially general (not beer geek) consumer behaviour- certainly in the UK, grape labelling and recognition was not widespread before the New World invasion of the 1980’s. Finally, my favourite quote was “I love my yeast, it does all the work and is always the employee of the month”.

King’s Arms is waiting for you

The following evening The King’s Arms had a Belgian showcase with those beers together with some from Siphon, notably the superb smoked Stinker and Damme Nation IPA.

I spent the first fortnight of the month in Ibiza. Their craft scene there is still in its infancy: so, thanks to Edd of Bottleshop, in almost his last act in that role, for shipping out a selection of their finest, which was very welcome. However, a beacon of hope remains the Ibosim Tap-room which I mentioned last year (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-11/). They are very friendly and passionate about beer. I particularly liked the new Blood Moon IPA, although I would have called it more of a red ale. I still strongly recommend lunch at Can Pujol and then an evening at their tap-room.

Unfortunately, this meant that I missed London Brewers’ Market, the Czech Beer Day at their Ambassador’s residence, and most galling of all, 50% off all week at Craft Beer Co. EC1 to celebrate their 6th birthday!

Czech Ambassador’s residence

Northern Monk organised a UK tour (they subsequently went to Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds) for Portland’s Bissell Brothers, flying over the beers and serving them with their Patron’s Project. The 2 London events were scheduled for Mother Kelly’s and then The Hop Locker. Unfortunately, Customs problems meant the freight were delayed, and the initial night had to be postponed, whilst there was a nerve-wracking wait until they finally arrived at around 19:45.

Given the rarity of the beers and the unfortunate cancellation, Hop Locker was absolutely rammed with the capital’s beer geeks- indeed, it recalled George Orwell, or possibly Philip Toynbee’s comment that a bomb under the West car park at Twickenham would end fascism in England for a generation- any explosion would have set beer back in a similar fashion! The crowding was no-one’s fault and the staff did a fantastic job serving the beers.

The Bissell beers were worth the wait: Industry vs Inferiority IPA, Baby Genius a session IPA, Lux Rye Ale, Substance IPA, and the magnificent Northern Gold DIPA. In a great tribute, the Patron’s Projects beers did not suffer in comparison: most notably 7.02, a peach vanilla farmhouse ale, 7.03, a blueberry wild ale, both collaborations with Alefarm, and 8.01, a DDH lager with Vague.

The Fox, Kingsland Road

Polish brewers Pracownia Piwa took over The Fox in Kingsland Road. Their Humcwot IPA was easily the best local beer I had in Warsaw last year (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-13/). The other beers, including a smoked lager, weren’t bad but it was bizarre to read that they are one of RateBeer’s Top 100 breweries…   However, this is clearly just an attempt to have geographic diversity, as ludicrous as when Pele was ridiculed in 2004 for naming El Hadji Diouf in his top 100 greatest living footballers!

After every craft beer takeover, we are used to the pathetic sight of Brewdog bars posting images on social media of them removing the brewer from their lists and presumably pouring the beer down the drain, most egregiously with Ballast Point. It was therefore amusing to read in a  scoop from Matt Curtis, who clearly had a good month, that Burning Sky were pulling their beers from Brewdog. Childish all round, but a classic case of The Biter Bit!

Mother Kelly’s new Vauxhall bar hosted the pre-party for London Beer City. This is a stunning venue, at least twice, probably 3 times, the size of the original with over 30 taps connected to a proper cool-room housing the kegs. The beer of the night was a juicy Brew By Numbers IPA ,specially created for Beer City. (I think it was 05/22 but am not sure).

Mother Kelly’s SE1

Magic Rock visited Craft Beer, WC1. Outside of their core range, there were 2 cocktail-themed beers, Pina Mojito Vice, a Stillwater collab which was OK, a salty Margarita gose, which I much preferred, Common Grounds, a coffee porter, and the rarer Kentucky version, which is barrel-aged in bourbon from that State.

July ended with the news of the demise of Craft Beer SW4, which explains why Craft Beer 100 didn’t take place this Easter. It will now be called The Clapham Tap, although I confess I don’t know to what extent the ownership has changed. Craft Beer Co. also announced that they would be opening a branch in Old Street. This makes some geographical sense in that WC1, EC1, N1 anf the new branch are all walking distance, but Silicon Roundabout already has The Old Fountain, Three Crowns and a branch of Draft House so this will be yet another challenge for the scale of craft beer demand, although as next month’s report on Beer City will show, those challenges keep getting passed with ease.

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Greg Koch, founder of Stone, at Three Johns

June’s highlight was Beavertown’s Sour Solstice festival. Whether it was because of the style, or the fact that it was a Sunday, the place was relatively empty, chilled and relaxed.

The beers were fantastic and included very limited quantities of the exceptionally rare Tommie Sjef Druif, a sour wild ale fermented with Kekfrankos (the Hungarian for Blaufränkisch, a dark-skinned grape) and which they poured rationed thirds out of 12 bottles. It was gorgeous and funky.

Cloudwater brought their spicy MF Grisette El Dorado and Grapefruit Sour, which completes a truly outstanding trio of citrus sours along with Bergamot Lemon and Seville Orange. The hosts had on an excellent range, including Tempus Cowboy Lightning, a bretted sour, and Tempus Aquavitza, an aquavit barrel-aged wild ale, both new. Other notables were Geuze Tilquin, Burning Sky Saison and Wild Beer/Firestone Violet Underground.

Logan Plant, co-founder of Beavertown, was talking of making this an annual event, and I hope that proves the case as it was excellent.

Stone taps at Three Johns

Three John’s hosted Stone, who brought serious big-hitters over in the form of co-founder Greg Koch and CEO Dominic Engels, to promote their new production facility in Berlin. They also flew over two special beers from San Diego, which were therefore wonderfully fresh. The Tangerine Express IPA was bitter and adult, whilst the Enjoy By 7/4/17 DIPA was initially confusing as the absurd American date order meant it looked like it was two months past the sell-by date! It was truly magnificent, although a very dangerously deceptive 9.4%!

To Ol took over 20 taps at Brewdog, Shepherd’s Bush. I have been very critical of the behemoth at the corporate level, but must compliment excellent service at the branch: I had called them earlier and they had incorrectly told me that the beers would be ready at 16:00. Upon arrival, it turned out that it was 18:00. However, they remembered the call, acknowledged the mistake and served me anyway, which saved a wasted 40-minute journey

The beers were predictably superb: I enjoyed the Mochaccino Messiah Brown Ale, Shock Series IPA and its very (too?) boozy older brother TIPA, whilst it was great to re-taste the two MBCC poured Lemongrass Gose and DJuicy, a Vermont DIPA, a fine example of the style

Get your dates sorted!

Talking of annual events, Tau day (28/6 as the silly US dates system rears its ugly head for the second time in this column) was again marked by the re-release of the Hawkshead/ Crooked Stave Key Lime Tau (2 Pie, from both sides of the Atlantic, geddit?). This is the third version of a beer that was originally brewed for the 2015 Rainbow Project. It’s fair to say that it is the most successful child of all the projects and I loved it at the King’s Arms.

Honest Brew organised a superb pop-up in Old Street station. A good selection (250+) of bottles and cans, along with a couple of taps, which were taken over by the likes of BBNo, Siren, and the Kiwi Beer Collective. They closed with Wiper and True, with whom they collaborated on a Sicilian Lemon Sorbet Pale Ale. I am addicted to lemon sorbet so unsurprisingly found this delicious, crisp and refreshing.

As always, notable evenings at The BottleShop: Mikkeller led to MBCC-reminiscing with the Spontanyuzu and Spontandryhop Mosaic, a fantastic Lambic. Amsterdam’s Oedipius is a new brewery for me, but their concentration on saison and sours suited the weather- Swingers grapefruit Gose, Mannenliefde lemongrass Saison and Polyamorie, a Berliner Weisse/ Pale Ale blend that worked better than it sounds!

The last day of the month saw Brewski (Barbarian NEIPA and Pangol IPA) and Cloudwater, confusingly having renamed all their MBCC DIPA’s (London was sensational) share the taps. Unfortunately, it was also the evening where we found out that Edd would be leaving his role as general manager of the Druid Street shop/bar, which was a pity as he has been passionate and efficient, the perfect retailer’s combination.

Amateur Drinker yet to be fully charmed by Tom Oliver

King’s Arms hosted a cider evening with Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider from Hereford and Ryan Burke from Angry Orchard, owned by The Boston Beer Company. I’m not a huge cider fan, but those that are have told me that these are some of the best cider-makers (Is there an equivalent word to brewer? I couldn’t find one…) around. I wasn’t fully converted, but did enjoy Angry Orchard’s bittersweet Understood In Motion.

Finally, the month ended with the strange news that Carlsberg has bought London Fields, presumably just for the name. The press release stated, “London has one of the most thriving craft beer scenes outside North America”, which is true and “London Fields is certainly an established and popular part of that”, which is clearly nonsense. However, at least that meant that no-one was up in arms about it on Twitter!

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.

 

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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MBCC: first stop WarPigs

Apologies for a late report this month, but no prizes for guessing that May’s highlight was the Mikkeller Beer Celebration Copenhagen, MBCC.

After landing, it was straight to WarPigs for a Tired Hands TTO. Notable beers included Royal Double, a sushi rice DIPA, Individuation Sanguine sour red and Alien Church IPA. However, the real highlight was the atmosphere, drinking with brewers who had flown in for the event. Apparently we then finished at Fermentorem!

The festival itself was two sessions on Friday and two on Saturday, with most brewers bringing two beers per session, excepting a small section of up-and-coming that brought just one each. All free-pure, we were encouraged to try as many different small samples as possible, rather than concentrate on a few. Therefore, I apologise that this article might be a bit ‘listy’, as I remember so many wonderful drinks!

Prominent Friday Morning beers included 7venth Sun’s Anniversary Ale, a saison with chardonnay grapes and Everybody in the Pool, an exotic fruit Berliner weisse, Omnipollo’s Julie Triple Mango Crème Brule Lassi, Stillwater’s Gose Gone Wild Phuket, Jester King’s Atrial Rubicite raspberry sour, and Toolbox’s Cooper with Meyer lemon saison.

Superstition had two amazing meads, the Grand Cuvee and Coffee Marion. This style was to pop up a few times during MBCC. It is emphatically not the session-y UK honey beer that is too sweet to drink a lot of. It is much stronger, 12%+ ABV, and competes in the dessert wine category. Still very sweet, but to be sipped and savoured. The Coffee Marion was probably the best of the event as it combined the two classic after-dinner beverages. It felt like a new style that doubtless we’ll soon see British brewers imitating.

There were only a couple of beers that were so rare as to attracted large queues from the start and ran out early: The Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout and Bokkereyder Lambic. Both were stunning but it was nicer to begin four hours of drinking with the latter!

Other than that, there were not too many queues as the event. Logistics worked very well, including an excellent, easy-to-use MBCC App which listed all the beers that were pouring.

Friday afternoon saw a plethora of outstanding beers: 7venth Sun again shone with a kumquat oak fermented tart grislette and Score with Cheerleaders, another Berliner weisse. Alefarm’s Nordic grape barrel fermented saison with sour cherries. Alpha State’s Galaxy DIPA, American Solera’s sour cherry ale.  Brekeriet/local king/ jester king BA sour ale with raspberries, Cigar City’s Doublenut brown ale. Gigantic Pipewrench gin BA IPA. J Wakefield bourbon BA imperial stout with dulche de leche and Napabier’s Pumpkin Tzar

Overall, on the ‘Promising’ brewers stand, Stigbergets and Kees were the stand-outs, doubtless to be promoted into the main event next year! From a UK perspective, it was gratifying to see Cloudwater receiving such positive attention from a largely international crowd. Their DIPA’s were in deservedly strong demand

We were given an excellent goodie bag, including a free can of Mikkeller Celebration 2017, a glorious oak-aged sour ale with yuzu. There are a few cans still floating around London, and I advise anyone who hasn’t yet tried it, to do so.

In homage to the famous Likely Lads episode in which they tried to avoid the England result, Saturday morning was spent unsuccessfully trying to avoid discovering who had won MasterChef the night before.

Mikkel taking it easy on day one of MBCC

The beers that successfully took away the hangover included Angry Chair Rainbow Sherbet Berliner weisse, Flora Flora Fuyu, a saison, Half Acre’s Battle of Trenton, a wild Kentucky Common, an old-fashioned style that was very new to me, B Necktar’s graham encrusted version of their Apple Pi Mead and San Adairius’s Lucy Belle saison.

BRUS in all its glory

During lunch, the Editor and I visited BRUS Brewery, opened by To Øl in a disused iron factory in Nørrebro. The space was designed by Fleet Architects who also did Mason & Co. I confess that we had such a good time and bumped into so many notable faces from the London scene that we ended up making an afternoon of it, and criminally missed the final session.

However, that becomes a bit more forgivable when you see the pictured list!

Finally, Saturday night drunkenly ended at Mikkeller’s main bar. Overall the festival was unbelievably good and easily the best beer event I have attended. There was no music and the food was not intrusive which meant that everyone concentrated on the beer. LCBF and Beavertown Extravaganza should remember the former whilst GBBF should heed the latter.

Sunday was spent at Mikkeller Baghaven, their new barrel-aging venue on the outskirts of town, although your correspondent certainly did not participate in the Mikkeller Beer Mile Danish Championship Open

Arizona Wilderness and Monkish shared a TTO, but the undoubted highlight was a small truck with eight lines, selling halves of the leftovers from the festival’s kegs, properly random in that even they did not even know which each was, at just 10 Krone per half. This was brilliant fun, as everyone tried to guess what they were drinking! Terrific value too.

Back in Blighty, Good Beer Hunting broke the news that AB Inv had bought a stake in Ratebeer back in Oct last year (Read story here).

This led a few brewers absurdly asking to be removed from the site, completely forgetting the 1st Amendment. As this article went to press, the magazine did point out some worrying irregularities (Read story here) so it’s a story that’s worth watching.

Yeastie Boys poured the 2016 versions of two of their annual specials at The King’s Arms: His Majesty, a hoppy golden ale blended with 2-year wine-BA Cherry Ghost, a pale ale, and Her Majesty, fresh dark ale blended with the Cherry Ghost and a 3-year old wild PKB, a black IPA. Confusingly they were named the wrong way around at the pub, but I’m reliably told that’s right! Both were stunning.

At full production capacity in Tottenham, Beavertown announced that Redchurch would be contract brewing for them. As I’ve praised Mikkeller and Yeastie Boys, I clearly have no problem with such activities. However, they disclose a lot more detail (the Dane’s cans say Product of Belgium) and so Beavertown need to specifically tell us the exact provenance of every beer.

A Scandinavian theme this month at The Bottle shop as they separately hosted Dugges (Orange Haze IPA), To’Ol (Campale Grapefruit Blonde and Grätze Mille, a citrusy take on the Polish smoked wheat ale Grodziskie) and Omnipollo (Fatamorgana IPA). Controversially, The Bottle Shop now devotes two of its 12 taps to Prosecco and gin & tonic. Sacrilege!

Bagby went on a European Grand Tour after MBCC, with the London leg at The Cask, Pimlico. Unchartered Cherritory, a fruit beer, and two DIPA’s, Dinkus and Totally Coned stood out.

The last weekend of the month saw new DIPA’s launched from both sides of the river. Beavertown’s Humuloid was billed as the “natural extension” of the Lupuloid. In fact, it was just a New England DIPA trying way too hard to be fashionable, rather than naturally stylish. I much preferred Four Pure’s Hop Tripper, brewed with New Realm. (Beavertown’s other newbie, Psychotropic was excellent, containing a lot of favour for just 3.1% ABV)

I enjoyed Oude Beersel Oude Geuze and Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus at Mother Kelly’s Sour Power 4 weekend, held every year since their launch in 2014

If my 2017 round-up doesn’t have MBCC scooping awards, then we are truly in for a magnificent next seven months.

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.

 

AROUND TOWN WITH AMATEUR DRINKER

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Such is the pace of change in the beer industry at present that my first draft of this diary piece felt like I was writing for The Economist so I have written about that elsewhere (Let’s Rake over the Take-overs…) and concentrated on the drinking in this entry!

Although Craft Beer 100 was cancelled this Easter, the perennial Brodie’s Bunny Basher took place at King William IV in Leyton. Usually I love the atmosphere at this event, as the pub is always a great mixture of locals, Sky Sports fans, and beer geeks. Whilst this was as good as ever, it didn’t really feel like an actual festival this year: The tap-list (on Good Friday) felt normal with no festival specials and criminally no sours, which I think is their best style. Still a great boozer, but not the festival it normally is.

Brewdog in Shepherd’s Bush hosted Rheingeist from Cincinnati but delivery issues meant that this was postponed at lunchtime and then re-instated a couple of hours later but with only three beers unfortunately available. However, it was a new brewery for me and the Mosaic Pale, Truth IPA and Knowledge DIPA meant the journey was worthwhile. I also visited for a Northern Monk TTO. 822 DIPA was very good but the 4 Degrees of Separation with Siren, Abbeydale, and Magic Rock was a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Hop Burns & Black: where the chilli sauce stains floors

Incidentally, that evening of Thursday 27 April also saw the following events on simultaneously: Matt Curtis’ focusing on hops at Hops, Burns and Black, fresh Tanto & Money IPA from Barrier at Mother Kelly’s, Marble at London Beer Dispensary in SE4, Tiny Rebel at the Tate Modern, and  Coventry’s Twist Barrel Ale @ Fox E8. While friends popped into Clapham’s The King & Co and reported back that they had both had both Gigantic Wrench Gin IPA and Siren Maiden on tap!!

CAMRA tweeted that Waitrose will be stocking Wild Beer Ninkasi at 209 branches, from May 1st for just £7.50 per 750ml. This is an apple saison, secondary fermented with champagne yeast in a big bottle, and would have been ridiculously exotic for their shelves even a year ago. It’s a wonderful beer and great for consumers, but it was easy to understand the many complaints from independent bottle shops, commenting on how much time and effort they had spent building the brand and educating consumers, and then now they can’t compete with those prices.

They were especially indignant that it isn’t a core range in a can. Moreover, there is the very good point that supermarkets are unlikely to be storing the beer correctly. Burning Sky then tweeted that they had turned Waitrose down, both on core and special releases, as they “favour independent bottle shops” A worthy goal, but then aren’t they at capacity and would find it tough to produce enough to satisfy Waitrose demands.

(pic: Cave Direct)

Lost and Grounded launched ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ DIPA, a reference to Paul Jones, Cloudwater’s founder, at Brewdog, EC1. Unfortunately, ultimately it didn’t. And what is it with that style of beer and puns, with Elusive giving us ‘How DIPA’s Your Love?’ However, I loved their Hunky Dory, an IPA in collaboration with Thornbridge. Bakewell’s finest separately promoted their Mango Halcyon, which hasn’t received a great press, but which I enjoyed at the Hop Locker.

The Bear in Camberwell, SE5 organised a Sour Showcase. There was a new Raspberry Sour from Four pure, an excellent Buxton/Lervig Gooseberry Sour IPA, but, to no surprise, the highlight was a new London Sour from the Kernel – Raspberry & Victoria Plum – one of only three kegs so far produced.

BottleShop held an Omnipollo Imperial Stout Madness evening with five of that style alongside a selection of their other beers. The stouts needed a little time to warm and open up, as their taps are so cold, which is clearly better than being too warm in the clear majority of cases. Magnus Opus was a barrel aged version of their imperial pecan mud cake, whilst there was a ‘normal’ Hypnopompa, an imperial marshmallow and a bourbon BA.  Very interesting from a one-off tasting perspective, a bit too dangerous for after-work Friday drinking!

40ft Brewery hosted the Dalston Beer Day with heavyweights such Kernel and Beavertown pouring alongside newer brewers such as Affinity and Pig and Porter of Tunbridge Wells. Unfortunately, I thought the latter’s Mango Daiquiri IPA was a case of running before they could walk.

Magic Rock Tap Room

This year’s release of Magic Rock’s Human Cannonball DIPA and Un-human Cannonball TIPA was initially exclusive to their tap-room, which led to queues on a workday Friday at 13:00 on an industrial estate in Huddersfield! A few days later, as per tradition, London saw it on keg at Craft Beer Company, Islington. Excellent, as always.

After Kernel Evin’s comments regarding collaborations in last month’s blog, it was interesting to see Jester King announce their joint-venture with Kernel, to produce Colonel Toby, a ‘hoppy little farmhouse ale’ although to be fair Jester King are special.

The Kernel Evin

Finally, I’ll end with some openings news: Jacob Kennedy (ex Bocca Di Luppo) has opened Plaquemine Lock, a New Orleans style gastro-pub, on the site of what was the Prince of Wales, less than 50 yards from The Earl of Essex, and which has been empty since 2014.

I haven’t eaten the food but it’s a very pleasant surprise that it has not been converted into flats, and Neck Oil and Juice Box were amongst others on tap when I popped in. Another positive is that Michel Roux Jr. is to oversee The Wigmore, in Regent Street’s Langham Hotel, which will serve ‘dishes inspired by the English pub and tavern’. Brew by Numbers are developing their house brew with other craft on cask and keg, according to their PR team…

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.

 

Let’s rake over the take-overs…

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Whilst writing my normal monthly diary, (March’s ventures are here) there was so much corporate finance news that we felt it appropriate to put into this separate piece.

Wicked Weed: Wicked? Hardly.

The most stunning announcement was that Wicked Weed had agreed to be taken over by Anheuser-Busch InBev. This is a mere 15 months after the latter’s Super Bowl ad mocked craft beer for amongst other things, producing “fruit cup” beer. It took less than 2 minutes on Ratebeer to find the following listing for Wicked Weed: Black Angel cherry sour, Cali Orange pale ale, Cherry Go Lightly, Currant Raspberry IPA, and Elderberry Saison, and there are many more.

The backlash was not just consumer led: Collaborations (for instance, with Jester King) were cancelled, the brand was pulled from stores and bars (including by Brewdog, which reeks of hypocrisy given their recent news), and more than half of the 70 brewers who had been invited to the annual Funkatorium International event pulled out.

A couple of days later, Heineken took full control of the rest of Lagunitas, which was far less of a surprise or controversy as they already owned 50% from September 2015.

Redchurch promoted their latest Crowdcube funding round. In January 2016 (so just after the boost from Camden’s successful sale) they raised £500k on the site, on a valuation of £2.2m, based upon their own sales and profit forecasts. However, they missed the sales figures by approximately 50%, so that the prediction of a £1k profit turned into a £170k loss. Fourteen months later they are back for another £400k, but ludicrously the valuation is now £5m, or more than double.

It is inconceivable that a business can spectacularly miss its targets and yet double in value.

At worst, Crowdcube are just picking numbers out of thin air. At best, as the FT (https://www.ft.com/content/5f7ce680-038c-11e5-b55e-00144feabdc0) reported, Beauhurst, a data firm, found that crowdfunding valuations were too high and therefore investors were paying too much. As I’ve written, at present, I would regard crowd-funding as glorified Clubcard schemes giving juicy product discounts, rather than serious equity investment vehicles.

It was gratifying to read that the FT (https://www.ft.com/content/1161a174-2b68-11e7-bc4b-5528796fe35c) agreed  (http://beerinsider.com/lack-of-equity-at-brewdog/0) about the confusion at Brewdog between debt and equity, and the unsatisfactory nature of the founders cashing in whilst the investors were not allowed to.

Finally, The Morning Advertiser excitedly announced (http://mobile.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Drinks/Beer/Carlsberg-plans-to-buy-UK-craft-brewery) that Carlsberg were planning to buy a UK craft brewery, via an exclusive podcast from their CEO Julian Momen. Specifically, they were looking “to bolster…growing portfolio with an artisan British beer”. They added that they had recently “acquired the UK rights to sell Brooklyn Lager in the UK” as a start to the process.

This is hardly surprising and suggests to me that they not very far down the path. If they had actually chosen a specific target, and certainly if they were in meaningful talks, then they would be keeping their cards as close to their chest as possible, to avoid flushing out a rival bid and consequent auction.

However, this didn’t stop a great deal of uninformed speculation online as to which brewery they might be interested in. If I were to be asked to add my guess, a couple of names popped out: Beavertown are now dominant in London, and will need financial capital for the expansion they are rumoured to be planning, although they may be able to raise it themselves. FourPure have come on leaps and bounds, receiving my coveted title of Most Improved Brewer for 2016 (http://beerinsider.com/amateur-drinker-awards-for-2016/). In Neck Oil, Gamma Ray, Shapeshifter and JuiceBox, they also both produce superb accessible beers.

I have absolutely no inside knowledge on this and it should be read purely as speculation. Indeed, they are two fantastic breweries, and all I hope is that they carry on being so for as long as possible.

However, it is very likely that it won’t be long before I am writing a piece about a “stunning announcement” of a takeover of a beloved UK brewer…..]

Amateur drinker, serious investor

M&S developing unique craft beer list

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Marks & Spencer has always been uniquely positioned as a seller of mainly own label products as opposed to its rivals that predominantly flog the goods of the big brand owners. This approach has been carried through to its beer range that includes an array of approaching 90 own label craft beers, which are produced exclusively for the company.

Some of this range has been developed through working with specialist beer retailer Real Ale – operator of a shop in South West London – that acts as an agent between numerous smaller UK brewers and M&S whereby it lends its connections and expertise to the large retailer.This arrangement has led M&S to build up a range of genuinely interesting beers that sets it apart from all the other big retailers that largely sell the same products as each other and offer scant excitement for adventurous beer drinkers.

You therefore won’t find Harbour Brewing Co.’s Laid Back Lager, Double Hopped Citra from Oakham or Meantime Brewing Company’s Maritime Salted Caramel Porter on the shelves of any other retailer apart from M&S.

Zeph King, managing director of Real Ale, says the relationship began in 2007 when M&S approached Real Ale to develop four beers under the supermarket’s own brand, which resulted in beers from Hepworth Brewery and Woodforde’s Brewery being listed.

The beer offer grew dramatically in 2015 when M&S decided to go all-in on its ale range, according to King: “They said craft is not going to go away so we want to develop a regional branded range with brewers like Camden Town, BrewDog and Sambrook’s producing under the M&S own label.”

It created 12 different regions – recently expanded through a range developed specially for M&S in Ireland – and decided to have brewers supply locally. The work undertaken by Real Ale has grown markedly as the number of own label beers has since expanded along with the branded bottles and cans that M&S also stocks.

“We look for brewers to develop beers that we can pitch into M&S. We’ve built a business to mirror their team so we’ve a commercial side and technical side because to put the M&S name alongside a brewery name it has to go through various technical specialists. We’ve the people who can do this. This can mean very good volumes for the brewers and also great kudos. You get your name on a beer with M&S,” explains King.

Because of the demand for exclusive and unique beers the opportunity for smaller brewers is obvious. “The brilliant thing is that the smaller brewers are the most flexible with briefs and can produce test brews of new and unique stuff through a number of iterations,” suggests King, who adds that the objective is to always push the boundaries a little.

This has led to the likes of Sambrook’s, Harbour, Arbor, St Austell and Oakham enjoying serious pushes to their businesses. These arrangements have come about through the relationships Real Ale has built up since setting up shop back in 2005 and it’s ongoing strategy of sourcing beer from younger brewers.

Real Ale store, London

“It’s all about partnerships. We’ve got direct links to brewers through our craft beer shop and this is instrumental in us finding new products. We can take batches from up and coming brewers and if they get to a certain level then we could [potentially] see them as the right fit for M&S,” says King.

Part of the reason he reckons the arrangement with smaller brewers has worked so well is because of the focus on buying locally (within the defined regions) whereby the likes of London’s Redchurch Brewery will be supplying 80 stores rather than finding itself too stretched in having to supply nationally – which for branded lines could hit 450 stores in total. “This definitely helps us to get smaller brewers involved,” says King, who adds that it’s a similar story with Wylam Brewery that went into specific regional stores two weeks ago.

When talking to such brewers with the idea of pushing the boundaries in order to produce something unique and interesting the issue of price is clearly important but King says it is the quality of the beer that really drives the range.

Hence 330ml bottles and cans will predominantly retail at between £2.20 and £2.40 (depending on ABV) – although some own label beers come in below £2. This is in contrast to the other major supermarkets that are invariably trying to hit lower price points, and they build their ranges accordingly.

The M&S range will continue to develop, says King, as shown by the expansion into Ireland, and the launch of cans, which further push its craft credentials. There will inevitably be more 330ml cans launched – which are particularly well suited to the M&S Simply Food outlets located in train stations.

The one thing M&S also needs to do is to shout a little bit more about its unique range, which remains arguably one of beer retailing’s best kept secrets.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

Latest Venture for Hall & Woodhouse

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When bottles of ‘An American Venture’ roll into the major supermarkets next month it will mark a potentially significant move for the traditional Dorset-based brewer Hall & Woodhouse as it arguably nudges it for the first time into craft beer territory.

Although it is not making such an extravagant move as Fuller’s, with its recent launch of unfiltered keg London Pride, the creation of this new beer does represent a recognition that the market is changing nationally.

Toby Heasman, head brewer at Hall & Woodhouse, says: “Fuller’s is closer to the craft beer scene, being in London, and they see keg as a threat to them – especially with their free trade business [involving selling beer into other people’s pubs]. For us, with no free trade business, craft is having some impact on our bottle sales in supermarkets. It’s about finding where to sit – to compete against craft brewers or to join them?”

Toby Heasman, head brewer at Hall & Woodhouse

The reality on the shelves of the major supermarkets is that craft beers are taking over ever more of the space previously assigned to what is classed as ‘Premium Bottled Ales’, which is where Hall & Woodhouse has placed a great focus since it sold its free trade business to Marston’s in 2008.

And it has done very nicely from this retail business, which sits alongside its pubs division – spanning 50 managed and 140 tenanted pubs – predominantly in the south of the country including a smattering in London.

But times are changing and H&W’s initial foray into craft land – led by An American Venture – is a series of four limited edition beers to be launched over the next two years that aim to mix things up a little and show that Heasman and his brewing team are up to the task of a bit of experimentation.

The US-inspired brew combines American classic hops Amarillo, Cascade and Mosaic into a 6% brew that wears its bitterness lightly and has an appealing soft carbonation. It is noticeably sold in brown glass bottles in contrast to much of H&W’s output in clear glass. This is a sensible recognition that the hop subtleties in this particular brew deserve fuller preservation.

It will be followed by Belgium Flair, which Heasman says involves some experiment with yeast strains, German Precision and finally English Reserve. Each of these beers will retain the Badger representation on the label but it will be faded into the background on the artwork.

“It’s an endorsement by Badger because we want it to be recognised as part of the Badger family. We feel the need for keeping this connection for when people are buying the beer [in the supermarkets],” he explains.

Original brewhouse

An American Venture is one of seven new beers to be launched this year which will also involve the introduction of 330ml bottles into the range. It was considered for An American Venture but is being held back until a stout is made available later in the year. This will be a double change for the firm because the bottle size aside, H&W has rarely brewed a stout – its limited edition Sturminster Beast from last year being an exception.

Other craft-type developments include the likely keg release of a beer named ‘Owlers’ – that refers to a smugglers term – which marks something of a departure for the brewery, which has done very little keg. Large volumes of keg beer would need some changes at the brewery where 65% goes into bottles, 20% into can and the remaining 15% is cask – that is distributed exclusively to its pub estate.

Such experimentation is also evident in the tiny 120 litre pilot brew kit that sits within the enormous H&W main brewing facility (from where 14-18 million bottles emerge annually – of which 50% are top-selling Fursty Ferret).

Pilot brewing kit

“It’s nothing flash but we can trial and play around. We do 15 brews per year and recent beers have included a wheat beer, rye beer and gorse flower beer,” says Heasman, who adds that five of these small run brews will be available at the forthcoming Hall & Woodhouse Dorset Beer festival, held in the grounds of the brewery on June 24. It will also feature beers from other, lesser known, brewers in the county.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Great Northern Railway Tavern

I could have made this point at almost any time but after collating my notes for this month the growth in the beer scene appears to have moved up to whatever level is above staggering,

Brewers are increasing their on-site sales, so March saw Hammerton announce that they had taken over the Wig & Gown on Holloway Road, Bohem opened on Myddleton Road, whilst Fuller’s has renovated the Great Northern Railway Tavern in Hornsey, which now has many guest keg-lines (Siren, BBNo, Magic Rock, Weird Beard amongst others on my visit).

If it’s a success, and it will be, they are planning to roll this concept out across London. Successful independents continue to add new sites: The King’s Arms/Earl of Essex only recently added the Mermaid in Clapton, and are now opening the Axe in Stoke Newington.

Taps at Great Northern Railway Tavern

The Three Crowns has re-appeared in Old Street (briefly it was re-named Hill & Szrok, under the same owners), and this time it has a decent tap-list (15+, including Kernel pale ale on my last visit), which means that within a cricket ball throw of the Old Fountain, and including the Draft House, there is now a total of 50-60 separate taps!

The veterans among them are getting ever more exotic so that the Old Fountain had both original and the grapefruit Mike Hess Solis Occasus on tap this month.

Big retail is muscling in too: Social media was awash with Tesco discounting Stone Berlin IPA to £1.32 a can. The brewer later claimed this was a mistake, but the pressure is only one way. And this when I have lost count of the number of independent outlets (for instance Kill the Cat in Brick Lane is walking distance from the already excellent King’s Arms & Mother Kelly’s).

Finally, there was a question about Jaipur on a mid-afternoon network TV game-show! It’s wonderful for the consumer, and the demand is clearly there. However, it is very unlikely that demand, supply and distribution all manages to grow perfectly in synch so it’s hard not to fear gluts or shortages and queues or shutdowns (especially if supermarkets use craft beer as the loss-leader that they have done with wine).

Siren had a big push with TTO’s at Euston Tap, The King & Co., and CBC Clerkenwell, which I attended, and which showcased Maiden, their barley wine. They had barrel-aged versions in tequila (odd, it didn’t really work), red wine (good, but felt a bit like someone had just poured red wine into the beer) and rum (superb), as well as launching the normal 2017 version. Strictly speaking it’s probably a bit young, but this was my favourite, and I’ll be interested in how it develops over time.

Tempus at Beavertown

The much-vaunted Bourbon Milkshake, an 11% Imperial bourbon barrel aged milk porter with vanilla, muscovado and honey was way too sweet for my taste. My favourite amongst a stellar line-up was Acid Jam, an imperial kettle sour aged in bourbon and red wine barrels, which was glorious. The same night they also had on the Firestone Walker Luponic 005, a textbook American IPA.

Beavertown held the 4th Tempus event with matching food from Filipino-inspired pop-up BBQ Dreamz. Kneadless Violence, a Kvass (Slavic and Baltic style, from rye bread) with E5 Bakehouse, was light and refreshing and just 1.9% ABV. Uptown Monk, a rye Tripel collaboration with Brouwerij Alvinne, aged in Juracon barrels, was warming and peppery, with a touch of fig.

The stand-out was Brosé, a sour ale brewed using the Pomace (the remains of the grapes after they have been pressed) from Forty Hall and Davenport English vineyards. It produced an exceptional hybrid beer/rosé, hence the name, which was crisp, tart and fruity. Overall although the event was more of a food-and-beer matching evening, rather than just a beer tasting, it was as enjoyable as all the previous Tempus events.

More Tempus at Beavertown

 

Four days later, Beavertown launched 2017’s Bloody ‘Ell blood orange IPA. This year’s was wonderful – probably the best so far of this much-loved seasonal. However, given the quantity they have produced (a few days later Twitter was full of pubs and shops announcing they had it, including 15 cases at Oddbins in London Bridge) with launch-parties at pretty much all major cities, it seemed rather silly not to also simultaneously launch at other trusted London venues.

They couldn’t have foreseen the glorious weather, which would have added to the crowds at the sun-trap of the brewery, but after barely an hour it was one in/one out and the venue was packed. They should have opened earlier to spread out demand, ticketed it or done a simultaneous release. Great beer though.

 Siren launched its new Yu Lu, at Sutton Arms, in EC1, which, as per the above, I wouldn’t have written a year ago. It is an Earl Grey and lemon zest, loose leaf pale ale, and very refreshing at 3.6%.

 On the same day, The Bottle Shop had a spectacular West Coast IPA party: The Belching Beaver Blood Orange Vanilla IPA divided opinion as the vanilla characteristic was too dominant, whilst the Allpine Windows Up IPA was clean, tropical, and citrusy. However, the hoppy and fruity Green Flash Palette Wrecker DIPA was gorgeous and the undoubted star of the show.

Fun at The Bottle Shop

V13, the final release in Cloudwater’s DIPA series, was a revision of their birthday special, which hadn’t been included in the countdown. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of the best of the series, and suffered from being up against the Palette Wrecker. I was far more impressed with a can of their wonderful Bergamot Sour, which was refreshing, packed with lemon flavour, and, at just 3.5% ABV, perfect for summer drinking. The bells of St. Clement’s would happily drink this and their Seville orange sour, also back in can for the summer.

Evin hosted an intimate Kernel tasting at The Bottle Shop. He was honest both about the first beer, a pale ale wasn’t up to their normal high standards and in his criticism of most collaborations, as when they are one-off, there is no ‘learning by doing’, as a recipe is tweaked and improved.

I think this is relevant for normal pub beers, when consistently good is the aim. At events, I am looking for different and unusual, and accept volatility in pursuit of the excellent. Collaborations are often over-hyped, as both breweries market them, thereby doubling the advertising. I dread to think how many tweets will be sent about the forthcoming Abbeydale/Magic Rock/Siren/Northern Monk 4 Degrees of separation IPA!

It was fascinating to hear how the Kernel is run as a co-operative, with everyone sharing job and taking it in turns to brew whatever they choose. Clearly this is not scalable but I’m delighted with the present results. As always, their London Sour (this time raspberry) was super, band the Imperial Brown Stout also delicious.

Mason and Company advertised a 10th Birthday special Moor TTO, with owner Justin Hawke. However, I was tad disappointed to find that that were on only 7 of the 20 lines: surely a ‘takeover’ must at the very least have a majority! Old Freddie Walker is a glorious Old Ale which has been difficult to find in London, and the vibe was very friendly.

Mother Kelly’s showcased Het Uiltje from Haarlem, in the Netherlands. I enjoyed M’n Opa M’n Opa a hoppy APA, Big Fat 5, a well-balanced and clean DIPA, but their best was In Between Agendas, an imperial black lager, in collaboration with Pohjala, with hints of passion fruit.

Marble returned to The Bottle Shop. I was a big fan when I first became interested in beer 4-5 years ago, but haven’t seen them nearly as much in London recently. My memory, which, admittedly, may be as hazy as a New England IPA, was of excellent, traditional, cask ales. This list was modern keg, with the Damage Plan IPA not suffering one iota in comparison to it the illustrious Jai Alai from Cigar City, which was also on tap, and thankfully not as extortionately priced as the imported cans normally are.

Finally, whilst I blog about beer, with occasional NFL references, I was lucky enough to see Peter King, the doyen of NFL writers, speak at The Mermaid Theatre in Blackfriars. Anyone who is interested in the NFL should read his weekly MMQB column, which also features his regular beernerdness column, and I hope he enjoyed our vibrant scene as much as I do his journalism…

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.

 

Never Gonna Give you Hop

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Pop legend from the 1980s Rick Astley (of ‘Never Gonna Give you Up’ fame) and beer legend of today Mikkel Borg Bjergso (of Mikkeller brewery fame) came together in West London last week to launch a collaborative beer.

Or they would have done if one of them had not been the regular rock star and pulled out at the last minute. Due to an illness suffered by Bjergso it was left to Astley to manage things solo with a down-to-earth affable approach that many musicians – and brewers for that matter – could learn from.

The location chosen was the Draft House bar in Hammersmith because Astley was due to attend a sound check at the relatively nearby Royal Albert Hall that afternoon ahead of a big performance in the evening as part of a world tour that has brought him back into the pop star firmament.

Not that you’d know it though because he seemed to be the least flustered person among those in his (modest sized) entourage doing things that those people do. No apparent pop star ego was in evidence as he completely dismissed having contributed any real input into the collaborative beer – Northern Hop (a 4.7% lager) – he’d helped produce.

“A year ago Mikkel came to me about brewing beer and I stressed that he shouldn’t expect me to offer anything up. I took it just as a fun thing,” says Astley. Hold on, how come there was even an approach in the first place because Astley and Bjergso do look a rather odd pair to hook up.

Apparently the Mikkeller founder is a massive fan of the musician dating back to his early years listening to those big Astley hits of the 1980s. A link had occurred because Astley’s wife is Danish and their daughter is studying in Copenhagen and enjoys drinking in the Mikkeller bars. She gave it the thumbs up to dad and with a little investigation he “liked the way they do things [at Mikkeller]”.

Even though he is a busy man Astley says it was difficult to turn down the approach because he knew it would be something good to experience: “I don’t see it as a business venture. It’s not about the money. My wife and I look back and things are all about the memories. The easy option is to say ‘no’ to everything. But if you say ‘yes’ then you’ll get the rewards.”

The first time the pair ‘met’ to talk about the beer was in Los Angeles when Astley says they had a “fun night out”. He adds: “He’s an interesting guy. When we initially did Facetime I said ‘wow!’ He’s not the type to gush until he trusts you. He’s very much into the beer and there is a mad scientist about him. But then if you’ve spent your life brewing beers and you’ve made however many then what stops you doing more? It’s like writing a song. We’ve heard all the songs so how do you make it interesting? What is everyone else doing?”

Astley found out what it takes to keep pushing the boundaries when he undertook various tastings with Bjergso and visited the famed Belgium-based brewery De Proef, which makes the majority of the Mikkeller beers.

He found beers such as one brewed with pears for a Danish chef that he could not drink: “In Belgium I tasted some odd drinks and some did not make sense to me.” Whereas others opened his eyes to the possibilities that he had not considered were even options as far as beer styles were concerned.

Rather un-pop star like he is more than willing to admit his limited knowledge when it comes to beers – which had mainly involved drinking Doom Bar in his local The Bell in Hampton Court. But this has been gradually changing.

“I drink there with a friend and we’d get uppity if the Doom Bar was not on. Usually I’d have one and a half pints and then leave because I’d also like a couple of glasses of wine at home. But now if there is nothing on but the regular beers then I’ll have a gin and tonic,” he says. Astley’s beer drinking on tour has also broadened out as he says the tour manager will “scope out the beers [beforehand] that are on the bar”.

Despite the myriad potential styles for his collaborative beer Astley chose not to deviate too far from the norm: “I wanted a beer that I could down, out of the fridge, and drink it with friends.” This sounds rather sensible to me because it fits absolutely perfectly with the character that was to be found launching Northern Hop in Hammersmith.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

 

Beauty of brewing with independence at Box Steam

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The brewery was born out of a passion for making beer, not money. My family was in the pub business, so we were close to our customers and we knew what they liked in a pint glass. We were buying casks of great local beer from down the road and when the opportunity came up to own the company that was supplying us we jumped at the chance to control the whole journey from maltings to pump and bottle, if you like.

We’ve been crafting real ales for over 10 years and remain staunchly independent and when someone asks me why Box Steam Brewery is so proud to be independent, I suppose there are four main reasons – we can still innovate, we can be agile, we can commit to quality, and we’re still rewarded with personal pride.

We don’t have to restrict our product development. We can explore the possibilities of brewing and try new recipes on a smaller scale than the big boys. We have a loyal following and a range of core brews we’d never change, but we also produce an experimental monthly special edition. This give us the chance to have some fun, try new varieties and combinations and test new beers with real drinkers in real pub settings. It also means we can indulge our passion and avoid the monotony of churning out the same old beer every month.

We don’t have a huge budget for market research or marketing. You don’t set out as an independent brewer to make a fortune! But being independent, provided your beer is any good, attracts a warm reception and makes creating a community on social media and in your local area a lot easier than a big brand, I think. We put a lot of effort into engaging with beer drinkers and on getting involved in community events in and around Wiltshire, Bristol and Bath. It’s fun, it’s great value brand promotion and it means we’re always listening to our customers.

Because we produce in relatively small quantities we might now be able to enjoy the ‘economies of scale’, but we enjoy the ability to be close to suppliers, close to the ingredients, right on top of the process and close to the final product. We can take our time and make sure we get it right. Our beers aren’t mass produced and blended for consistency. They turn out the same level of great because the same people are dedicated to making it so every day. Cask or bottle, the liquid inside gets our undivided attention every batch. I’d hate to think of anyone buying a bottle of our beer, taking it home and being disappointed.

Everyone at our brewery has a personal relationship with the beers we send through the gates. That means we can all be personally proud of the contribution we make. Being independent means being able to own the success that comes with being committed to a tradition and a craft. What we make makes people happy every day. It doesn’t get much more rewarding than that and we would swap that for anything.

Andy Roberts, MD of Box Steam Brewery