Big games equal big money

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When England beat Holland 4-1 in 1996, when Doncaster Rovers gained promotion to the Championship in 2009, when David Beckham scored that last-minute equaliser against Greece to propel England to the 2002 World Cup, and when Manchester United dramatically won the Champions League in 1999 – those were all memorable occasions.

The Pavilion End

They were also some of my most enjoyable evenings in a pub because at the time those big games all required a trip to the boozer. One of my favoured venues during this period was The Pavilion End in Watling Street in the City of London because it genuinely catered for sporting events. Its offering continues to this day and it now has three Sky boxes that feed live sporting coverage to nine large televisions and a pull-down high-definition projector. The Pavilion still pitches itself as a high-quality sports pub when few others have followed it with any real conviction.

The typical pub scenario has been for more upmarket venues to ban televisions and focus on food instead, leaving sports to the domain of old-school boozers in which the only redeeming features have been televisions screening various sports – most notably the footie coverage by Sky.

Combining quality surroundings with a higher-end offer incorporating extensive sports coverage has been rare but things seem to be changing as a smattering of venues look to take sports coverage beyond the spit-and-sawdust environments it has largely been trapped in.

Among those to identify sports as a growth engine is ETM Group co-founder Ed Martin, who told a recent Propel conference that having focused on food-led pubs he required a strategy to expand the business and believes sports bars in the UK, particularly London, aren’t doing this well. He said the UK was failing abysmally in this department compared with the US, where the sports bar is a fixture throughout the country.

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Greenwood Sports Bar & Kitchen

To fill the gap, ETM has opened the 20-screen Greenwood Sports Bar & Kitchen in Victoria that operates with “200 guys watching sports on one level while people dine on another level, all in a premium bar”. Elsewhere in London, ETM has also created Westwood Sports Pub & Kitchen in Westfield and converted its Long Arm Brewery bar in the City into an upmarket sports-focused venue. It’s about to add Redwood Sports Bar & Kitchen at London Bridge Station to its growing portfolio.

Another top operator, JKS Restaurants, has also spotted the potential of sports and it operates various spaces at Brigadiers, its Indian restaurant in the City, which screen a rolling programme of sporting events. As a driver of after-work customers who are predominantly male in this location, sport is an obvious attraction and it is cleverly incorporated into Brigadiers’ restaurant space.

Undoubtedly people’s desire for more immersive experiences is one of the drivers of such moves. This has seen the rise of competitive socialising and led to concepts such as Flight Club, Swingers, Bounce and Puttshack as well as the various escape rooms that have cropped up around the country.

However, unlike those operations Martin says sport has the benefit of being “constantly marketable”. There’s always another tournament, match or bout on the horizon that can entice another group of customers – and potentially lucrative ones at that. On average, a sports fan spends more than three hours in a venue when watching a match and spends as much as £28.94 versus an average of £14.25 by non-sports fans, according to CGA Sports Analysis 2018.

Although I had no recollection the next day of how much money I’d spent on any of those memorable big-match nights, it would certainly have been in the order of £30. Forgetting such facts because of the euphoria of the evening neatly encapsulates how advantageous showing sports can be for pubs and bars.

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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Some journeys never end, which is why the other day I was like a wide-eyed child of the recent past transfixed in an old school sweetshop, surrounded by all manner of tooth-rotting, blood sugar-spiking delights: gobstoppers, sherbet dabs, liquorice all-sorts, and chocolate buttons.

However, I wasn’t in a sweetshop, but instead was in one of the Burton Union System rooms at Marston’s Brewery watching the slow, stately drip of yeast from taps stationed above a long stainless steel trough, beneath which sat 24 oak barrels filled with beer, all linked to make one set.

Truly, this is one of the most magnificent sights within the brewing world and despite having witnessed it once before it was still able to move me. As I stood there I remembered the time I used to drink Marston’s Pedigree in London during the late 1980s, recalling the distinctive note on the nose, which I thought reminiscent of Andrews Liver Salts, a can of which I always kept in my kitchen in the misguided belief it would help with hangovers.

Even though I didn’t know it then, this aroma was what is called the ‘Burton Snatch’, a by-product of the hard, calcium rich waters that reside beneath the town. Thirty years later this journey would take me to Burton and what Michael Jackson called the cathedral of brewing.

Last month I wrote about the early journeys I took in beer, but these journeys in beer, as my visit to Marston’s demonstrate, never really end. In 1996 I was in Brussels with a couple of friends for a weekend. Belgian beer had been discovered by then, but my mate Keith who actually lived in Brussels suggested visiting Cantillon Brewery.

I had read about it but never tried any of their lambic or gueuze beers. The brewery was dark and dusty, musty even, and my mate didn’t actually endear himself to Jean-Pierre Van Roy (whose son Jean now runs the business) by asking if they got their water from the canal that ran outside the building — cue a momentary change in Jean-Pierre’s up-till-then genial features. That trip started off a fascination with gueuze that continues to this day, even though for a couple of years I would put a cube of sugar into my glass every time I owned a bottle.

My frequent visits to Belgium and France (whose supermarkets teemed with beers from its neighbour) was a good education, even if sometimes visits to the likes of the Beer Circus would see us starting our evening’s drinking on 7% beers, drunk with gusto as if we were downing pints in a pub back in the UK.

The other beer that springs to mind from then was Delirium Tremens, a beer I never drink these days, finding it insufferably sweet, but then it had a certain gravitas, the colourful branded bottles and the suggestion that it was a good accompaniment to certain dishes.

Another stopping point on my journey in the 1990s was my first visit to the USA in 1996, flying into Boston and staying in New England with my brother-in-law Chris. Back in the UK, even though I had drunk Sam Adams, Pete’s Wicked Ales and St Stan’s, I had resigned myself to drinking wine and putting up with Budweiser, but Chris (who was more of a wine-drinker) had done his research and he introduced me to the healthy local micro-brewing sector. I drank well on that holiday.

The highlight was lunch at the Cambridge Brewing Company, where I wrote in my journal, ‘three tastings in 5oz glasses then a pint of the pale ale, a style of beer which seems to be popular amongst the micro-brewing fraternity. Or else they are making chilli and pepper ales’. As I look at a can of a chilli and ginger gose I have under the stairs now, back then little did I know what was to come.

Half measures

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The chief reason for visiting a taproom or brewpub is to sample the range of beer a brewery produces. On such occasions, and if I have enough time, I’m more than likely to try all the beers on offer. For me this is the key reason for making such visits and typically these establishments encourage my quest by offering third pints or special deals on smaller pours.

Trying different beers was my objective when visiting the brewpub of Australian brewer Little Creatures in London’s King’s Cross recently. It’s a mightily impressive set-up with high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and a line of conditioning tanks taking pride of place behind the bar. The beer list was manageable too – with seven available on my visit – but the big shock was the pricing.

A number of beers were £5.90 a pint, which is par for the course in that part of London, but the surprise was seeing halves listed at £3.50 – no third-pint measures were listed. This places a particularly large premium on buying two halves compared with a pint. I was sensitive to this differential as only a few days earlier I visited north London-based Earth Ales’ taproom – it’s actually a double-decker bus, but that’s another story.

I had seen Earth Ales’ Verbena pale ale listed at £6 a pint and happened to have £3 in change in my pocket so confidently handed it over (I did ok at maths at school). I was then asked for another 40p. Using the aforementioned maths capabilities, that equates to a premium on two halves of 80p compared with a pint.

In my experience over many years a pint has always been pretty much double the cost of two halves – it clearly makes sense. Like most pub companies Fuller’s has such a policy and its halves cost half the price of a pint – give or take 5p when the division doesn’t work out exactly. In some of its pubs, including my local The Great Northern Railway Tavern, a tray of three third pints is offered at a discount to buying a pint. Clearly the objective is to encourage tasting and experimenting with new beers.

This was also Charlie McVeigh’s intention when he set up the Draft House chain. He admitted his offer of three third pints for only £5 was hardly good for group profitability but encouraged drinkers to try something new and enhance their experience at Draft House.

I fail to see the placing of a premium on half pints as anything other than an encouragement to customers to trade up to a better-value pint. This is the rationale behind coffee chains setting the price of their large pours at only a modest level above their medium serves, even though the amount of extra liquid is proportionally much greater.

The reality is that in the overall mix of costs involved in serving that drink to the customer (including rent, business rates, salaries) the cost of the actual liquid is arguably negligible. The extra 30p to 40p charged for a large serve is therefore a valuable bit of extra margin to the business. It could be argued the two drinks could be charged at the same price.

Clearly that isn’t going to happen but the coffee chains could do so if they chose. This would be much tougher with beer because of the undoubted implications of encouraging drinking. There is quite rightly much sensitivity around the topic and so it’s questionable whether certain operators are blatantly placing outsized premiums on halves.

But this isn’t my personal beef with the practice (I’ll leave that to the Portman Group). My issue is it penalises those who don’t want to consume high volumes and discourages people from trying different beers. At the Little Creatures brewpub I tried only a couple of its selection whereas under a different pricing structure I’d have stayed longer and tried others.

Perhaps it’s of no real concern because the place was packed on my visit so its pricing policy doesn’t seem to bother other people particularly. However, if such a policy were to be widely implemented across the industry I think it would sadly diminish the current wonderful environment we have for experimentation in trying different beers – and that would be massively disappointing.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider 

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

 

Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

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So there I am thinking about the beers and the corresponding moments that have been the staging posts on my journey that has brought me to now. I am thinking of the beers that transformed me, that changed me from believing that beer was something to get drunk on, the beers that made me stop, think and realise that I could fall in love with beer and find a whole universe of joy, contemplation, necessity and fun within one glass.

The beers I recall are not those to drink before you die, though some of them could be; they are not even beers that I drink much of these days, but they are beers and moments that still linger around in my thoughts, an echo of something just on the edge of auditory sensibility. I could do 20, probably more, but in the interests of brevity and keeping readers awake here are four.

Pilsner Urquell in green bottles in the early 1980s from the Oddbins in Cambridge, near Parkers Piece which is the only place I have ever played a proper cricket match (on a friend’s birthday and I was out for a duck, second ball). At the time, for some reason, I had a fondness for what was then Czechoslovakia (and I still love the Czech Republic). I found the country fascinating and cool, even though it was in the iron grip of communism. Somehow I found myself drinking the beer on Parker’s Piece, enjoying the taste, though there were no tasting notes and I can’t remember what I tasted, except that it was wonderful. This was one of those moments that turned me from a devourer of any old lager to a picky younger lager git.

In February 1987 (I know the date because I found the diary), I was walking up a road in Finsbury Park and noticed a new pub, which up until then had been a carpet showroom (not that I had even been in). [It is the White Lion of Mortimer – Ed].

My then girlfriend and I went in and I saw a pump clip for Tolly Cobbold Bitter, which I vaguely recalled enjoying when I lived in Cambridge. I was just starting to get into cask beer and this beer hit the spot that night. It was an affirmation that cask could be good. I drank six or was it eight pints and never saw it again. Oh and that was the first time I ever went into a Wetherspoons.

It’s March 1989 and a mate and I have gone to the London Drinker Festival near Kings Cross. I would like to say that this was my first CAMRA beer festival, but I’d briefly gone to one in Cambridge a few years earlier and thoroughly hated it. Things had changed and me and Keith spent the afternoon at the festival, mainly drinking Woodforde’s Wherry, six pints if I recall. ‘Deliciously malty’ I wrote, Alan Partridge-Style, in my diary. I had it again later in the year when in Norfolk. Again this was a cementing in of my relationship with cask.

Cask beer wasn’t the only fruit that I enjoyed. I was reading Michael Jackson in the Independent every Saturday and his columns opened the curtains onto a world of beer beyond what I still considered the stuff of CAMRA bores (I resisted joining for years because I thought it would be like student politics or the knee-jerk stuff I’d experience in housing coop meetings during my early days in London). So this is where Duvel in Eindhoven in 1987 came in. Again it involved my mate Keith, who was working there and when I went to see him, he rhapsodised about a strong Belgian beer served in a weird-looking glass. According to my diary entry from that night I had six Duvels and six glasses of draft lager. Next day, the-worst-hangover-ever. Never again, I wrote. That resolution didn’t last long.

So what was your journey and what were your stopping points?

Adrian Tierney-Jones

 

Pioneer craft brewer Sambrook’s looking backwards and forwards

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When Duncan Sambrook opened his eponymous brewery in London’s Battersea he was the first of the new wave of brewers to set up shop in the capital that would be collectively described as craft brewers.

Nobody was bandying that term around in August 2008 when he took on the site, nor in November when he released his first beer Wandle, with the key objective of focusing on locality – through sourcing and ingredients as well as supplying the local market of Wandsworth Borough. It was largely bereft of local beer following the closure of Young’s two years earlier.

To say a lot has happened in London – and UK brewing in general – since Sambrook set up would be an understatement of monumental proportions. “It has been a phenomenal rollercoaster ride. The industry is now unrecognisable. We saw an opportunity to target locality – not innovation – but this does not matter so much today. Provenance is no longer the key point. It is more about branding, style, and the reputation of the brewery,” says Sambrook when Beer Insider sat him down on the morning of the first day of GBBF when he traditionally holds a brunch for friends and business associates in brewing.

With around 130 breweries now operating in the capital it has become more competitive for sure, which has ultimately led to an increased difficulty in securing channels to market and a “lack of certainty of these outlets”. But he does not believe these small brewers are the issue. Instead he says it is more about the larger players buying-out the likes of Camden, Beavertown and Meantime as well as Guinness with its craft range that are tying up the lines and closing the doors to other brewers.

“Heineken will tie-up the lines with Beavertown etc…What does this do for the rest of the industry? We cannot compete with the big guys. It’s decreasing the marketplace. It’s the large multi-nationals that have stolen market share. My friends are not particularly sophisticated drinkers and go for Camden and Meantime because they see them as independent,” he explains.

This has impacted Sambrook’s and its sales team is now significantly larger than previously – just to secure the same volume of sales. Back in 2008 Sambrook says he would set up 30 visits to pubs in order to generate one new customer. The beer would then likely be trialled for six months before he received feedback. “It was a very high hit rate [of success] with very little competition. We’d train the bar staff, tell them our story.”

“It’s the complete opposite now. You get 20 pubs who you phone up to sell to and then after they’ve tried your beer you do not get a call for six months. It’s now about constant rotation. We have to therefore be constantly phoning everybody,” says Sambrook.

With many other breweries going through the same process he says it has led to some unbalanced ranges in many pubs: “I feel the retailers [pubs and beer shops] are not making the right decisions. They receive calls from breweries on a Monday morning and say ‘yes’ to the first 20, which is different to before. Previously the publican chose  the beers he wanted and then called the breweries. This enabled them to range the styles well but we don’t see this [range planning] anymore.”

Playing the rotation game is certainly not the strategy of Sambrook’s that had only three beers in its range during its first three years of production. Although more have since been added these three core beers – Wandle, Pumphouse and Junction – are still the best sellers, with Wandle alone representing 30% of total sales.

These three are also cask beers, unlike the keg-only output of many other brewers that followed in the wake of Sambrook’s. It took Sambrook until 2014 to produce his first keg beers – Battersea Rye and Battersea IPA – but the format has grown rapidly and now accounts for 50% of sales.

Across the range the output has been held at 15,000 hectolitres for the past three years – which is the maximum capacity at the Battersea site. This led Sambrook to look around for a larger unit and in August it was announced that the brewery would be relocating to the old Young’s Brewery (Ram Quarter) site in the heart of Wandsworth.

The company is working with the Brewery History Society to help it integrate its infrastructure into the remaining bits of Young’s on the site. It will also be retaining the services of John Hatch who has valiantly maintained (very low scale) brewing at the site since Young’s departed in 2011.

Duncan Sambrook on a roll

The new facility will open in 2020 and give Sambrook’s the potential to ultimately double its capacity with the brewhouse and conditioning taking place at the Ram Quarter while the logistics and storage will be handled at another – yet to be secured – location.

“We will look to grow at 5-6% per year including growing the tap room. I’m not being unambitious, it’s just that the market is very competitive. The prognosis is not necessarily good for the brewing industry. We are probably 10 years away from legalised cannabis. We’ll shape our business for a more competitive environment,” he explains.

Having been at the forefront of the rollercoaster craft brewing revolution in London, it might well be advisable for other brewers to at least consider these wise words from the experienced Sambrook.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

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As anyone who read about my visit to Munich in the previous Beer Insider might guess, I have been thinking a lot about beer pilgrimages; are they routes that take you from dissolution to dissipation, spiritual pub crawls, or is there a deeper meaning in the journey, a more metaphysical understanding of the nature of beer, a dagger-like thrust into the heart of beer that will unveil the real meaning of beer around the world?

Can a beer pilgrimage uncover, rediscover, move the soul and join in the joy of the great beverage that has forever (it seems) refreshed humankind? Can there be beer pilgrims, can there be a beer equivalent of the Camino Di Santiago, where weary feet tread, eager to discover a beer in its place, for let’s not forget the difference in drinking what is a rare beer at home as against imbibing it in its native location where it is commonplace and pleasing to the local palate.

We bill and coo when a local brewery produces a singular beer style such as a Leipziger Gose (usually with added blueberries or orange blossom, which the last time I checked was not a usual addition), but as I once discovered to really understand this kind of beer I had to make a pilgrimage to Leipzig and drink it neat or with a drop of kummel at the Bayerischer Bahnhof brewpub in a former station, where it is brewed. Here it is a commonplace beer, a daily beer, part of routine, a glass of, please.

So, if I think about it, what have been my pilgrimages?

I have been offered a massive tin mug of strong amber-hued lager half-way through the morning in a buttercup-coloured castle-like brewery six kilometres from the border with Bavaria and suddenly decided that the two former principalities have much more to say to each other over a beer than their querulous history would suggest.

This revelation came after the brewer waved his arm in the general direction of the border and said that over in Bavaria they called the beer we were drinking Märzen, and that here in the Czech Republic its name was Speciál. The beer was creamy, fresh and perky, fulsome in the mouth feel; it had a bittersweet buzz followed by a notable bite of bitterness, it felt both smooth and rough in the mouth, a heady combination that made it one of those dreamy beer experiences. A pilgrimage performed?

At Cantillon, I have watched as then proprietor Jean-Pierre van Roy emptied boxes of sharp-tasting cherries to a lambic that had already spent a year in maturation in order to encourage the beer to breathe and live again. I still remember my first visit in 1996 when my friend asked Jean-Pierre van Roy whether the water came from the canal outside — he testily shook his head and answered ‘no’ before going onto to answer someone else’s probably more intriguing query.

I have wandered through the noise, the lights, the fights, the people and the heat of the Oktoberfest in Theresienwiese, a destination incidentally that I had arrived by train from a trip to the Bohemian hop lands. The latter was a place where the mood was bucolic and calm and considered and the sun to the festival’s night.

I have sat in the cloister-like quiet of a Saturday afternoon pub in Sheffield, a glass of beer in front of me, idling the hours away, being visited by a dog called Rocky, exchanging pleasantries with a man who had just clocked-out from his night’s work and feeling snug, safe, kept from the storm and possibly a little indulgent.

This is not a pilgrimage for those soldiers or agents of the state who are in search of those who have done wrong (apparently), but it is about those who follow a path, sometimes obediently, and at other times hot with the lust of glory and discovery. Jesus said that he was the light and that led us to read stories about being led astray as we followed the light, usually into a mire or a bog of our own making, but the pilgrimage when beer speaks is a different journey, a restless quest, a celebration of ritual, a holiday of simplicity, a voyage into the unknown (who visited the Senne Valley before gueuze and lambic became a ritual and a reason to come?) and an illumination of questions that have been held too close to the chest for too long.

I’m off. Who’s coming?

Adrian Tierney-Jones

 

Beer Hawk (B2B) created on foundations of The Bottle Shop

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From the remnants of the sadly failed The Bottle Shop business has emerged a new ABI-owned operation, Beer Hawk (B2B), which has the objective of bringing some professionalism to the craft beer industry in the UK.

This is the aim of The Bottle Shop founder Andrew Morgan who is now head of Beer Hawk (B2B) and suggests the “juvenile” nature of the industry contributed to the failure of his business when it abruptly lost some big contracts. It went on to leave a batch of breweries with unpaid bills and piles of their kegs and bottles locked, and legally inaccessible, in the company’s Canning Town warehouse earlier this year.

Morgan says: “There are simply no contracts in the industry. Very few breweries were legally equipped to get their beer back from us when we failed and this is also why Beavertown and Mikkeller could simply take their trade away from us with little notice. It’s representative of the juvenile nature of the industry.”

He says this sort of thing should not happen again and at Beer Hawk (B2B) he intends to ensure both breweries and the Beer Hawk business itself have legal safeguards in place. “We had less than five contracts across all The Bottle Shop dealings. There are simply no contracts in craft beer. This is not the case in other industries or in the US craft industry,” he explains.

This lack of ‘retention of title’ the vast majority of creditor breweries had over the stock locked up in the Canning Town warehouse means that this beer has passed into the hands of ABI as part of The Bottle Shop assets that the company acquired during the sale process that was handled by the administrators. In reality, much of this beer will now be spoiled – or near its sell by date – due to the length of the administration process and therefore has questionable value.

At the point of collapse The Bottle Shop was understood to have had around £400,000 of stock in the business. [Disclosure: Bohem Brewery, of which I am co-owner, had £10,000 of unpaid stock sitting in The Bottle Shop warehouse]

Happy days at The Bottle Shop

Morgan defends the collapse of The Bottle Shop and says the breweries he bought from was all done with good intent and not done “dishonestly”. “The credit extended to us was decided by the breweries supplying us. It was not a massive corporate swindle. It was the way business was done,” he says, adding that the situation was made difficult by the “shoestring” funds that the Bottle Shop had at its disposal.

This does of course include the £400,000 that The Bottle Shop raised from a crowdfunding campaign – much of which went into building of a cold chain infrastructure. [Disclosure: My family lost £1,500 in the crowdfunding campaign].

“No one likes to lose, least of all me and investing in beer or running a beer business can be a risky affair, but at The Bottle Shop we did our best and gave it the best chance possible of being successful. We went into the crowdfunding as a profitable business, but things got out of control when we lost the two key distribution agreements,” he explains.

At this point Beavertown’s Neck Oil and Gamma Ray kegs and cans represented four of the top-10 sellers for the business and it never recovered from their loss. “When a wholesaler loses business like this then the small brewers and retailers ultimately take a hit,” says Morgan.

Gamma Ray zapping distributors

ABI’s purchase includes the warehouse and its cold chain platform that Morgan says can now be implemented fully with “proper funding” from ABI. A new 65,000 sq ft Beer Hawk warehouse is also being built that will be used to hose stock for the current consumer-facing website and the new B2B trade operation.

ABI is in the process of acquired the former Bottle Shop Arch bar/shop on Druid Street. This unit will join the existing two Beer Hawk bars, which are not the direct responsibility of Morgan. The opening date would be around Autumn. ABI brands Camden Town and Goose Island will sit alongside other smaller independent breweries. These will include some former Bottle Shop clients in the US such as Green Flash, Great Divide and Bear Republic.

Which small independent UK brewers will want to deal with the ABI-owned Beer Hawk (B2B) business remains to be seen but Morgan is hoping the big business approach will have some appeal.

“The Bottle Shop folding has created some ripples. I want to ensure that these things are not repeated in the new business. For this we need simple contracts. ABI has the power to enable small businesses more,” he suggests. This is undoubtedly also up for debate in these testing times for craft beer.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Beware the Ides of March.  March 2019 was the most momentous month in London’s recent beer scene, and almost all the news was bad. The biggest was undoubtedly the demise of The Bottleshop.

It is no secret to anyone who has been reading this blog, that I regarded this as the best venue in London, and I must make full disclosure that both myself, and the Editor, as Bohem Brewery shareholders, lost money due to its collapse.

There were good people at TBS who knew a lot about, and loved beer. So how could it go so wrong?

There are doubts about the beer distribution model in the modern digital age, which has ruthlessly removed middle-men such as high street travel agents. Brewers can directly supply venues much more cheaply.  Moreover, when breweries become successful, they take distribution in-house. This leaves distributors with small young brewers or foreign imports.  The latter have a structural problem, in that UK beer has improved so much over the last few years, reducing the premium that foreign can command and the present issue of very weak sterling since the Referendum.

However, overriding it all is the Crowdcube problem.  They are not fit for purpose. Any form of funding , be it bank loan or equity investor should, at times, be a pain, as the capital-providers act as a necessary constraint on, and source of advice and experience, for the business,  just as a good parent must discipline and guide their children. Crowdcube impose no discipline and accept ridiculous forecasts, fraudulent accounts and ludicrous valuations.

As written, (http://beerinsider.com/theres-no-fun-in-crowd-funding/) last September.

“Hence, a basket of investments in all these issues is guaranteed to lose money. It’s possible that a single company might be so good that it produces decent returns, but if that were the case, why are they using such a fringe platform to raise funds when there are so many other ways to bring in money? I would advise beer-lovers to follow their head, and not their heart, and avoid all brewery crowd-funding.”

It was very sad to see these words prove so prescient at a venue I loved.

The next piece of news was almost as bad: Magic Rock sold to Lion Nathan Ltd, purveyors of dubiousness such as Toohey’s and Castlemaine XXXX, and themselves a mere subsidiary of Kirin, the giant Japanese macro-brewer. Kirin, who jointly own San Miguel and have a quarter share of Brooklyn Brewery, is themselves a member of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), which includes the world’s 5th largest bank by assets.

When Lion acquired Four Pure in July 2018, they said that it would be its “primary focus here in the UK and as their sole production brewing facility” (https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2018/07/australias-lion-acquires-londons-fourpure-brewing/). So, that promise lasted nine months, which tells you all you need to know.

Crowdcube: expiring investment

Four Pure was always run as an investment proposition, and did not give the normal bullshit that “nothing will change” when they sold out. They did good beers well, but there was nothing particularly special or different.  Magic Rock, however, have been true innovators in the scene: Unhuman Cannonball, with its annual launch becoming one of the first to produce US-style queues. Salty Kiss was a very early example of a core gose and the various different BA versions of Bearded Lady imperial stout were exceptional.

Will they now all be brewed to the same quality aspirations and excitement of Castlemaine XXXX? If anyone really doubts this, then, after I have sold them a bridge over the Thames, they can look at Beavertown’s Bloody ‘Eel, another great beer whose annual launch was a true event.

It has been downgraded from an IPA to a Pale, with the ABV cut from mid 7% to just over 5%. Bloody ‘Eel was as seasonal as blood oranges are seasonal. Now it is a core beer, being produced in industrial quantities with industrial ingredients and sits forlornly and unloved in my local Waitrose, wasting away at room temperature.

In the latest round of Fuller’s and friends, brewed late 2018, one of the collaborations was Fuller’s with Magic Rock. At that time, they were two great breweries.  By March 2019, they are part of the macro-giants Asahi and Kirin.

Earlier in the month, Tesco had announced that it would be stocking Magic Rock, Overworks, Wild Card and Four Pure. The last of those, along with Beavertown, went into Waitrose, last year, just before they both sold out. It isn’t a definitive sign but it should set alarm bells off, for three reasons: Supermarkets and their suppliers rely on wafer-thin margins offset by vastly bigger volumes, which often require investment in capacity. It means that the brewers no longer care about independent bottle-shops who supported and showcased them in the early days. Finally, until a major retailer invests in cold-chain, the quality of the beer drops dramatically.

To complete the trifecta, Beer Boutique failed. Again, it was a Crowdcube alumni. It raised £375k just 10 months ago, at a valuation of £2m! This is a complete nonsense: companies do not go from £2m to bust in 10 months unless there is fraud or exceptional external circumstances. As there is no evidence of either, the valuation was fantasy.

March also saw Eebria re-file corrected accounts showing £350k losses as opposed to £400k profits! That would be a £750k difference they just missed or forgot about!  Again, they are a Crowdcube client. Anyone who invests in such schemes clearly wants to lose their money.

No transfer windows in the world of brewing and March saw a big move as Georgina Young went from Fuller’s to Bath Ales, now part of St. Austell, where Roger Ryman oversees all brews. He is a friend of this blog and helped Bohem brew the excellent Brut lager Otaker, (http://beerinsider.com/bohem-teams-up-with-brewing-legend-roger-ryman-for-lager-collab/), which launched in March.

Anspach & Hobday celebrated its 5th birthday with casks of their five favourite beers at The Old Fountain: Three Threads, Patersbier, Eeepa, Dry Hopped Blond and Baltic Porter.

Siren TTO at The Sutton Arms. Broken Dream stout on cask, with Caribbean Chocolate Cake and the launch of 2018’s Maiden, their Solera-method Barley Wine.

We Brought Beer Clapham shut down although they claimed that this was a local incident, connected to increase rents, rather than a group-wide problem.

Mother Kelly’s launched To Ol’s 2019 Mr. Series: Blondee, a cucumber and lime gose, Blue, an imperial blackcurrant stout, Brown, a double coffee and cookie dough brown, Orange, an orange DIPA, Pink, a watermelon DIPA and White, a DDH Jasmin Tea Pale.

Finally, to end with some light relief, Gregg Wallace visited Carling’s brewery in Burton for Inside The Factory whilst in Midsummer Murders, The Ghost of Causton Abbey, the church is now a craft brewery, but “excitement turns to fear when a man is found boiled to death in one of the vats shortly after a party to launch a new ale”!

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.

Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

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Where is this? You emerge out of the Hauptbahnhof, the central nervous system of the city, and are immediately floored by its noisy, car-laden, babel of voices as people flurry about as if in a snowstorm. It is a place where you have your mid-morning brunch of a long, slim glass of Weizen alongside either a pale ghostly sausage or a deeply sun-tanned brown pretzel; around you in the tree-shaded beer garden, the chatty, garrulous, gossipy and contemplative soul of the people who live in the city is revealed as the conversation all around ebbs and flows like the sea in a cove on a day when the wind can’t quite make up its mind what to do.

Where is this? Another beer garden, this time plonked in the midst of one of the city’s broad green spaces, a place of waterfalls, temples and yoga classes, upon which dogs run and people lounge. On a sunny day it is a vital escape from the city. Even though the hum of traffic can be heard in the background, the green space is restful with the sound of birdsong. There’s no escaping beer though: this beer garden is overlooked by an 18th-century Chinese pagoda, whose weathered frame is enlivened by the golden bells that hang off it. I try a glass of Urbock, a copper-coloured, robust creature, with a crystalline sweetness, a rich caramelisation, a lingering bitterness, and a weight of flavour from its 7.2% ABV.

Where is this? Inside the bar it’s all wooden panels, old black-and-white photos on the wall and a quiet and restrained mood. The food is traditional for the city, sausages, chunks of meat as if hewn from the rocks of an ancient cliff and a glass of Dunkel, deep chestnut brown, with a chocolate, rye, and biscuit nose; on the palate toasted, pumpernickel bread, floral hop notes, followed by a dry and crisp finish, appetising and refreshing and my glass is empty all too soon. I order another.

I think you might have guessed by now. This is in Bavaria, in Munich of course, one of the great beer cities of Europe, a place that I love but also occasionally roll my eyes at and wish I was in Berlin or Bamberg instead. This is a city that it pays to take a beer pilgrimage to, and if you can stand the crowds and the extraordinary sights of public drunkenness also make your way to the Oktoberfest. If you really want to immerse yourself in the culture of beer then Munich is one of those stations of the cross, where you go on a beer pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage is such a basic word, a word that slides into everyday speech with the ease of a towel thrown at an exhausted athlete after a race well run. It is an easily used word, promiscuous perhaps in the way it makes friends with everyone, its use thrown about like a stool or a series of punches in a pub fight; it is a word that suggests everything and nothing.

A shopping centre is a place of pilgrimage; others might say that they went to see their football team on a pilgrimage; there are favourite bands whose day has long gone but still the pilgrims come, grey of hair, slightly stooped of gait, remembering what was once and what could have been; there are historical pilgrimages and family plots in a graveyard that mean nothing to anyone but you. These all merit pilgrimages.

As does beer, which is why as the summer comes and thoughts turn to travel, I would suggest that if you really want to get into the soul of beer, whether it’s a Leipziger Gose, a West Coast IPA, or even a Best Bitter brewed in the middle of the English countryside, it’s time to make that pilgrimage. Munich was one of mine.

Adrian Tierney-Jones

 

Roll out the barrel…

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The famous red barrel

Watneys Red Barrel was the beer that prompted the formation of real ale movement the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in 1971 because this fizzy liquid, held in pressured keg containers, was deemed tasteless and a threat to traditional real ale. In the first CAMRA Good Beer Guide, drinkers were infamously advised to “avoid it like the plague”.

The beer became the poster child for all that was bad about keg beer – compared with cask-conditioned real ale whose condition (let’s call it sparkle) was due to natural carbonation and not injected gas.

It has taken almost 50 years before we have now reached a stage where Watneys is making a return via a £400,000 crowdfunding plan, albeit with the company stating it will produce decent beer this time! Since it is questionable what residual value is left in the brand and with the beer likely to be vastly different, I’m left to ponder the value of such a resurrection?

Anyway, the potential return of “Grotneys” is merely an aside to the main event on CAMRA’s near half-century anniversary – the movement’s revolutionary action to allow keg products at its major event, the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), for the first time.

Having shunned those beers for all those years it has finally succumbed to recognising things aren’t as simple as keg beer bad, cask beer good. Life is so much more nuanced today. We have a situation where the majority of the output from the newer craft brewers is keg. This is mainly because keg is easier to look after through the supply chain – ensuring it has consistency at the point of dispense isn’t difficult – and the brewers can charge a lot more for it than cask beer.

Keg is the liquid younger consumers are downing, leading to the sad decline in cask beer sales, which had fallen 6.8% in volume terms in the year to July 2018, according to the British Beer & Pub Association, with few signs of a turnaround since. In fact, if you look at Fuller’s sale of its brewery to Asahi, it’s the opposite of a turnaround. If cask beer had been flying out the door that deal probably wouldn’t have materialised.

What appears to be a major change of heart by CAMRA isn’t strictly the case. The reality is keg beer has been served at GBBF for a number of years at the international bars, where drinkers have been able to enjoy keg lager imported from the Czech Republic and Germany. Such beers are supposed to be held in pressured containers. Cask versions of these beers would be ridiculous and, in most cases, impossible to produce because of the methods and ingredients involved.

It is therefore rather strange that the US Brewers Association has sent over a consignment of cask versions of American breweries’ keg beer to GBBF for some years. They have been well received by many but I’m not among them as the exercise has merely highlighted how specific styles of beer are better suited or designed for keg while others are at home in cask format.

Against this backdrop, the major debate about beer today surrounds its final condition when it’s served in the boozer – and this is where cask has been losing out. Unless it’s looked after – from brewery to pub cellar to the point of serving – what is in the customer’s glass won’t reflect the product created by the brewer.

In demanding the beer the brewer intended, my own drinking habits have increasingly skewed towards buying keg beer from craft brewers but, in reality, the brews I’ve enjoyed most have invariably been cask. When attending tap takeovers at my local, The Great Northern Railway Tavern in north London, the standout brews have all been cask but produced by renowned companies that predominantly brew keg beer.

Memorable beers have been Siren Craft Brew’s Suspended In Fog, Magic Rock Brewing’s High Wire, Northern Monk’s Eternal, and Cloudwater Brew Co’s Pale Ale. These were the best of these brewers’ selections on tap when served in a pub with top cellar credentials. This goes to show that unlike in the 1970s when keg was the biggest threat to cask, today’s biggest threat to cask is cask.

 

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.