Uniting the brewing generations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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RIP 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(photo BeerGuideLondon)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glynn Davis, editor or Beer Insider

 

Little and local is future of brewing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

Deviant & Dandy at Beavertown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still work to do in the tap room yard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

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

 

Amateur Drinker 2017 Review

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Pre-MBBC drinks at Mikkeller’s Warpigs

Best festival/Highlight of the Year

2017 saw my first visit to the Mikkeller Beer Celebration (MBBC), and it definitely won’t be the last, as I’ve some tickets are already booked for 2018. The festival itself was almost perfect, and there were too many wonderful beers to mention them all over again. A notable new style was the modern extremely alcoholic mead, of which the pick were Superstition’s Grand Cuvee and Coffee Marion.

Superstition at MBBC

It was augmented by all the fantastic ancillary events around Copenhagen during the week, finishing at Mikkeller Baghaven , where they were selling halves of the leftover festival kegs, properly random in that even they did not know which each was, at just 10 Krone per half.

Extremely honourable mention:

As Beavertown have hit brewing capacity constraints they truly left their real mark in 2017 via Extravaganza, which just 18 months after the debacle of the 4th birthday party, was the UK’s largest and most impressive festival to date.

The buzz at Beavertown Extravaganza

Only two years prior to this Craft Beer Co. had to cancel London Beer Carnival because they couldn’t sell out the vaults beneath Waterloo as the £50 ticket price was a step too far for “just beer”. Fast forward to 2017 and 8,000 people, over two days paid £55 for a sold-out event in Surrey Quays.

There were a couple of minor teething problems, but overall it was brilliant, and shows just how far and fast the UK scene has come. Beavertown also produced a very mellow Sour Solstice festival, in which I tasted the exceptionally rare Tommie Sjef for the first, but not the last time.

(However, it wasn’t all perfect as the small CraftMaster glasses at its 5th birthday were crap!)

Best road trip

It was the editor who strongly recommended going to the Buxton Brewery tap-house, and a trip in late September completely lived up to his endorsement. Great beers in a friendly town-centre location, which has a perfect mix of geeks, locals and hikers. There really isn’t any excuse for any London beer fan not to make the trip at least once.

Best Brewer interaction

July saw a Brasserie de la Senne dinner, organised by Matt Curtis, and held at The Prince in N22. Yvan de Baets, the brewery’s co-founder, was on particularly garrulous form, with my favourite line: “I love my yeast. It does all the work and is always the employee of the month.

It’s meant to be a blog about beer, not capital markets

March showed that those who participated in the Equity For Punks (EfP) scheme did not actually receive proper equity (http://beerinsider.com/lack-of-equity-at-brewdog/0),  and it was gratifying to read that the FT (https://www.ft.com/content/1161a174-2b68-11e7-bc4b-5528796fe35c) agreed with me  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. The year ended with their ludicrous ‘Equity for Pups’ scheme where they encouraged adults to buy shares for their dogs.

Equity or not equity that is the question?

In January 2016, just after the boost from Camden’s successful sale, Redchurch raised £500k on the Crowdcube, on a valuation of £2.2 million, based upon their 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 were back for another £400k, but ludicrously the valuation was now £5 million, or more than double.  It is absurd that a business can spectacularly miss its targets and yet double in value.

I don’t think we are in bubble territory yet but these examples are not healthy.

Best pub

The King’s Arms in Bethnal Green probably just shaded it, but will they be able to hold onto their crown in 2018 now that Mauritz is running the show at The Axe in Stoke Newington?

Silliest idea.

Brewdog Shepherd’s Bush is definitely the brewery’s flagship branch in the capital and had some cracking events in 2017 (To’Ol, Kernel and many more), but the ridiculous “no pouring until 18:00” rule, creates unnecessary bottlenecks, and benefits neither the beer geek nor the casual drinker

Notable openings:

The GNRT (Great Northern Railway Tavern) is the flagship for Fuller’s new trial to have substantial guest keg lines available in their own pubs. This is fantastic for drinkers, and fortunately the GNRT works very well.

Great Northern Railway Tavern

The Wigmore pub attached to The Langham Hotel in central London brought a decent beer line-up, to a Michel Roux Jr. food project. Will 2018 finally see the long-awaited improvement in restaurant beer lists?

Mini chains expanded with Barworks-owned The Axe, which had every beer geek in London over for a Other Half TTO during London Beer week, and, as the year ended we have the Brave Sir Robin, and Small Beer N8, all of whom have excellent pedigrees.

For breweries, Burnt Mill won rave reviews in the autumn while most interesting saw House, which opened on site at the Prince N22, as The Earl of Essex struggled a few years ago with the same idea.

Closings.

A very sad farewell to Duke’s BBQ, which I will cover in detail in the upcoming December blog.

Sundries

Flying in US imports were all the rage with Bissell @ Hoplocker, Other Half at The Axe and Modern times at The Bottle Shop.

The welcome return of Marble in quantity to London,

A question about Jaipur on a mid-afternoon network TV gameshow. (Why weren’t you working? – Ed).

Easiest improvement for 2018, unfortunately as in 2017.

A live beer list on the internet isn’t difficult, but helps, and attracts customers. Well done to Mother Kelly’s that does it. There really in no excuses for those that don’t.

Overall 2017 saw London’s beer scene grow from strength to strength, so apologies for anyone who I have forgotten. I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year.

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

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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November saw a tsunami of ticket-releases, as MBCC, Extravaganza, Beavertown’s 6th Birthday and LCBF all came the market. Roll on 2018!

The best event last month was Darker Days IV, Matt Curtis’s annual, seasonal, celebration of darker styles, at The Duke’s Head. This year, he paired Burning Sky with food from, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen. Tom Dobson, brewer, spoke informatively about each beer. Flanders Red ale, and Cherry Monolith, another wild, were highlights. Finally, we ended with a bourbon BA imperial stout, apparently the only bottles sold into London.

Prior to the dinner, I managed to pop into GNRT for a Magic Rock TTO. The Cherry Cola Berliner Weisse apparently tasted authentic, in which case I’m glad I’ve never touched the soft drink, as the beer was horribly, sickly sweet. Mexicanao Berryade, a raspberry and lemon gose, was very good, but the stand-out was an old classic, High Wire on cask.

More ludicrous capital market shenanigans from Brewdog: In a story that was so staggeringly stupid, that I initially thought it was Daily Mash satire, a company asked rational investors to part with money as they were “becoming the first company to allow you to gift shares in

Brewdog to your dog”. https://www.brewdog.com/lowdown/blog/equity-for-pups. This isn’t quite as stupid as the infamous prospectus for “a company for carrying out an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is” during the South Sea Bubble, but then again that was in 1720, and is in all financial history books.

Brewdog: investor friendly?

Fullers and friends, six collaborations between the London brewery and craft brewers, were only available in bottles and sold exclusively in Waitrose. After basically camping outside my local Barbican branch, I finally managed to get four cases.

Overall they were interesting, especially for £2 each in a supermarket. My favourite was  Moor Rebirth ESB. Based upon the original recipe from 1971 (which I was absolutely shocked at: I would have bet the ranch on pre-WW2, and would have been far less surprised if it had been 19th century) ,a  complex bitter, closely followed by Thornbridge Flora & The Griffin, a  red rye

The only disappointment was Four Pure Galleon lager which  was  thin and weak. Hardknott Pea Souper, a smoked porter , was not bad, but  I think they reined this in a bit too much for the supermarket crowd as I’d have liked a little more smoke  I’ve kept a couple back to age.

Marble Matariki saison, was refreshing although it would have been better in the summer rather than November. Cloudwater NEIPA   I think they’ve tried too hard to appeal to both camps of traditional and the ultra modern NEIPA style, so it fell between two stools a bit. Either have a Fuller’s cask or a Cloudwater NEIPA, and if you personally don’t like either style then that’s your choice.

I attended the free Brooklyn Ghost tasting at 40ft with Garrett Oliver, which caused such a storm on Twitter. It was primarily a PR event, to promote their acquisition of London Fields  although I was one of the lucky few (less than 20% I’d guess), who had got a ticket in the public free-for-all.  The argument was over whether good journalism could come from a PR event, after Garret made some knowingly controversial comments about NEIPA, which brought further publicity.

The host was as charismatic as always, and the measures were very generous, especially considering the high ABV: he correctly warned us we would be smashed. Special mention for Black Ops, the famous imperial stout, Cloaking Device, an imperial porter, and Hand and Seal, a stunning barley wine

After lavishing fully-deserved praise on Beavertown’s Extravaganza, it is only fair to say that the Afterburner party was a bit of a mess. The collaborations from the event were served at a ticketed tap-room. However, the ticket price was trivial, with drinks having to be paid for by card. This was a terrible idea and meant the logistics were awful with 35-40 minute queues. Obviously this self-fulfilled, as it necessitated getting multiple drinks when you finally got to the front and then promptly re-joining the back. To their credit, although also an acknowledgment of how bad it was, they did come round with free cans of Neck Oil.

The wholesaler Honest Brew will allocate up to £50,000 a year to be spent on capex with a small independent brewery who is already their customer. The first recipient is Verdant, who get £20,000 for new tanks. Although they billed it as an investment fund, it isn’t: Honest won’t take equity, but it is an interest free loan, which is paid back in stock. Essentially all they have done is pre-pay, reversing the normal working capital relationship.

Bottleshop now has 16 taps, although this includes Prosecco , which I don’t count! The standout beer recently was:  Wicked Weed Montmaretto, a magnificent barrel-aged cheery & Amaretto sour. Other TTO’s were Marble, with The Castle of Udolpho, a boozy, dark ruby winter ale, and the always excellent Dobber IPA, Rodenbach,  Caractere Rouge, and Alexander, and Cloudwater, in which Paul Jones made a guest appearance. Speyside BA imperial chocolate stout, the Christmas Cake imperial stout, in collaboration with To Øl, which was their last ever cask beer, after they discontinued that method a year ago. They have obviously been on a Busman’s holiday to the US recently as there have been a wave of collabs with American brewers. The best were Lipids & Proteins IPA w/Modern Times, and Catch My Eye, a pale w/Jester King.

Heineken have been searching for a UK craft brewer acquisition for a while. They have now found one and will be taking a minority stake in Brixton Brewery, which will enable them to move to a new 15,000 square foot site half a mile away. More welcome was the news that West Berkshire Brewery would now be brewing Yeastie Boys in the UK.

West Berkshire Brewery vessels

 

A personal drunken highlight was an evening with the author Graeme Macrae Burnet at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road where I drank Meantime (I know, sorry) for the first time in years, to promote his new novel “The Accident on the A35”. All of his books, based on a very general theme of unreliable narration’, are fantastic and I will go my grave maintaining that “His Bloody Project” should have walked last year’s Booker.

Five Points had an excellent cask TTO at the Old Fountain, the highlight of which was the fantastic Green Hop. Northern Monk brought their regulars to the House of Hammerton.

West Berkshire Brewery bottling/canning line

Burnt Mill, from Suffolk, are new to me and I enjoyed Green Path and Eastville, both IPA, in can and keg at both Bottleshop and The Prince.

Finally, this article (http://www.chicagotribune.com/dining/drink/beer/ct-food-craft-beer-pastry-stout-20171115-story,amp.html) was the first time that I came across the term ‘pastry stout’, to describe overly sugary imperial stouts that “taste more like dessert than beer. It clearly makes an excellent point, as I have heard the term repeatedly since then!

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.

 

Entrepreneurial Briton who’s made big mark on US craft brewing

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David Bruce, chairman of West Berkshire Brewery

In 2015 brewing entrepreneur David Bruce received an email from the Seattle-based Elysian Brewing company in the US with the message that the business was to be sold for $35 million and the assumption was that as an investor he would agree to the deal.

He did agree and shortly afterwards $2.1 million landed in his bank account following the brewery’s purchase by AB InBev. This was a decent return on the $45,000 he had invested in the business in 1993. It was made all the more pleasurable because he had largely forgotten about the investment.

It dated back to a time when Bruce was very active in the US and he made a number of investments that helped the fledgling craft brewing industry and also kick-started the brewpub phenomenon, which until his involvement had not existed in the US.

Following his creation of the groundbreaking Firkin brewpub chain – that began with the first pub in 1979 in south London – he did a presentation at the American Homebrewers Association’s Conference in Boulder, Colorado in 1982. To read the speech click here -> Transcript of American Home Brewers Assoc

At this point he says there were only four craft brewers in the US – Sam Adams, Boulder Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada and Anchor Brewing – and no brewpubs.

Bruce says: “The homebrewers were the start of craft brewing in the US and they were clearly brewing at home. I told them that I’d done four brewpubs in London and just brewed on-site and sold straight to the customers. They could not believe it – beer straight from the brewery to the bar!”

In 1992 he returned to the US having sold off the Firkin chain in 1988 for £6.6 million, which left him with £4.6 million after paying off the loans, and he recognised that craft brewing was really taking off. He met with Englishman abroad Richard Wrigley of the Manhattan Brewing Company and found out the business was for sale – for a mere $1 but with $2 million of debt.

He was dissuaded from investing by Manhattan’s young brewer Garrett Oliver who instead suggested sticking his money in Brooklyn Brewery – which he was involved with alongside Steve Hindy and Tom Potter. It had until that point had its beer brewed under licence at F.X. Matt Brewing Company in Upstate New York but the three of them wanted the funds to set up their own brewing facility.

A meeting was convened between Bruce and Hindy and Potter. A deal was struck whereby Bruce would put in $100,000 along with Roger Looker (formerly of County NatWest bank), Gary Pettet (currently chairman of InnBrighton), Tim Thwaites (then at Whitbread), Mike Mills (then FD at Grosvenor Inns), and Colin Herridge (then secretary of the RFU) who also each put in $100,000.

Around this time Bruce also put $450,000 into Wynkoop Brewing Company having seen its founder John Hickenlooper give a talk at an early craft beer conference in San Francisco. He had set up the first US brewpub in Denver, Colorado having worked to ensure the state was the first to repeal the Prohibition act that did not allow for the production and sale of alcohol to be undertaken on the same premises.

“He got the first brewpub licence in North America and opened the first brewpub on his own but he had no money. I put in the money and he opened seven brewpubs while I was the company’s development director. They were all later sold to the employees,” says Bruce.

As an aside – following his pioneering brewpub venture Hickenlooper became mayor of Denver and such was his success that he then moved on to becoming the Governor of Colorado. “He has transformed the bust State of Colorado into a wealthy state. This was from him legalising cannabis from which massive legal revenues are now generated,” explains Bruce.

The last of Bruce’s financial outlays was with Elysian, which generated a more than fair return. The reality though is that overall the investments he has made in the US craft beer scene have been massively more influential than they have been beneficial to his bank account. The US beer scene would arguably not be as vibrant today if it were not for the early efforts of the likes of Bruce and the other pioneers of the time.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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October saw PunchDrink run a depressing article about how Other Half had become a sign of status symbol of conspicuous consumption on Wall St. (https://punchdrink.com/articles/how-other-half-brewery-become-official-beer-wall-street-finance/). I think the only one of my readers who would not be aghast at this development is the Editor, who might have a slight smirk at his prescience having written about this very topic earlier this year.

The relative mispricing between Finback & Other Half in the article is eerily reminiscent of the notorious story of the Chateau Lafite in China:  For some mysterious, long-forgotten reason (an unverifiable theory is that it was because it is easiest to pronounce) Lafite became regarded in China as being superior to the other 1st growths.

For centuries, globally, these wines had been regarded as roughly similar and priced accordingly. Add the cultural mix of Face and Gift-giving to the world’s most populous country and the result was that by 2011, when the phenomenon peaked, Lafite was around three times more expensive than the others! (http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-legend-of-lafit) Wine or beer, Bankers or Party Officials, either of the world’s two great super-powers, human nature is the same.

Brewdog’s annual CollabFest was the best yet: The beers were pouring from lunch-time, so crowds were eased, whilst the quality seemed a lot better this year. I visited Clerkenwell, and although their home offering (w/Siren), Cookie Dough, a white stout was a bit too sweet, they did bring round free cookies so fair play! My highlights were Das Ist Techno Sex (Glasgow, Up Front), a passion-fruit and key lime gose, Are You Taking the Peche (Norwich, Deya), a slightly sweet peach IPA, Risk: Cherry Stone (Soho, Urban Farmhouse, again far and away, the best that Redchurch do), a sour. And finally A Guy Called Fudge (Gothenburg, Mikrofonbryggeriet), an IPA. There were a few misses, but that’s to be expected with experimental, ‘festival-beers’.

…neither could I

Beer Merchants announced that they will be opening a tap-room in Hackney Wick, alongside a “dedicated barrel-aged sour beer blender”. This is welcome news, but they have come up with a bizarre method of funding it: customers are invited to ‘invest’ £x but they are “not offering equity, but for every £1 you invest in the bar, we’ll give you £2 to spend at the Tap” Frankly, it is not an investment then, but a combination of a supermarket “Buy 1, Get 1 Free” promotion, that is as old as retailing itself, and invoice discounting.

The same day, Brewdog declared that 2018 will see a new, 8,500 square feet Brewpub at the corner of Great Tower Street and Mark Lane.

Their Shepherd’s Bush branch hosted Siren, and again insisted on their ludicrous Friday 18:00 embargo. That this was utterly superfluous was shown when I visited the next lunch-time and nothing had run out! I enjoyed Hard Rollin’, a superb IPA with Dry & Bitter, and Deuce, a blonde ale with strawberries & cream. Summer Citra Gin Party was a DIPA, which they claimed was 8.5%, but it was way boozier than that: apparently they had aged it in gin barrels and lost control.

Siren’s big guns

Anyway, I won’t tell the Revenue if they don’t. (In 2015, and again the next year, they brewed Ginspired,  a G&T IPA with Magic Rock, that was much more restrained, and better). Fresh Cream, was a huge bourbon BA imperial milk stout with added chilli, although even with the added spice, I found it a little too sweet for my tastes. Draugen (a collab with Dugges), an imperial smoked porter with Islay smoked malt, was on the other end of the spectrum!

Partizan are doubling their capacity by moving around the corner, to 34 Raymouth Rd. Their former home will be occupied by Affinity, previously in Tottenham, and newcomer, Spartan, further increasing venues for the Bermondsey Beer Mile. They held a closing party, with brews from themselves and friends, including Kernel, who originally gave them their first piece of kit, way back in 2012.

That afternoon, Bottle Shop unfortunately had to cancel Left Hand’s Nitro Milk Stout re-launch, due to the remnants of a hurricane holding up the transit. Predictably, there were some great events at the Bottle Shop Arch in October though: Belgian rarities (Oud Beerse Oude Viart Lambiek and Verzet Kameradski Balsamico, a hybrid of an imperial stout and an Oud Bruin) were matched with cheese from Raw Cheese Power.

Heretically, I don’t enjoy the cheese and beer match as much as most, as I can feel bloated, and can’t stop thinking of the calories, but here the acidity of the beers rally cut through the fattiness of the cheese. Two breweries were poured for the first time in the UK: the aforementioned Finback (Origin, a DIPA, and All Caps, with Fuerst Wiacek, were both good but Whale Farm, a NEDIPA with Alefarm , was the clear stand-out). They were flown over so super fresh, whilst Belgium’s L’Ermitage’s notables were Theoreme de l’Empereur, a Belgian Ale, and Noire du Midi, a porter.

Somewhat bizarrely, I attended two separate official bar launches in North London, graced by the mayors of respectively Haringey and Enfield. The first was for Bohem’s renovated tap-room, for which I must again express an interest (as an investor), whilst the latter for Little Green Dragon Ales. This micro-pub, a labour of love for Richard Reeve, is a tribute to the Green Dragon, a Winchmore Hill pub from the early 18th century until 2014, when developers overcame a local campaign and converted it into flats. It is cask-only at the moment, with a fantastic, friendly atmosphere. I most enjoyed drinking Five Points Brickfield Brown ale.

Thankfully, in that I don’t expect our cousins across the pond to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, I didn’t attend any Halloween events in 2017. Moreover, Beavertown ceased making Stingy Jack, their spiced pumpkin ale. Apparently they were left with a load of unsold stock in 2016. Actually, as pumpkin beers go, I didn’t find this too bad, but that’s a pretty low bar.

Tottenham’s finest held a week-long Coming Home TTO, back where it all began, at Duke’s BBQ. This culminated in a pre-launch of Humuloid, the new NE DIPA elder brother of Lupoloid, and proved to be an excellent rendition of the style.

I managed to order two bottles of the latest Tommie Sjef, Salie, a wild ale with sage, and Liefste, one refermented with chardonnay grapes. Successfully delivered, they are already pencilled in for the festive season.

BrewDog Camden showcased four Californian beers: Almanac Farmer’s Reserve, and three from Lost Abbey: Gift Of The Magi, a Belgian strong ale, Red Barn Ale, a sasion, and the frightening, but utterly magnificent, Deliverance, a blend of bourbon BA imperial stout and brandy BA barley wine!

De Molen took over the original Mother Kelly’s, including  21 Grams Cryo Hop, a DIPA that will steal your soul (geddit?) and Vuur & Vlam (Fire & Flames), an IPA. I enjoyed Moor’s JJJ, a TPIA, on tap at the Old Fountain, but found it a bit too strong this year, although whether that is a different brew or because I am getting older is open to question.

Finally, it was good to see that Duration (Derek Bates, ex-BBNo) get the go-ahead for a family farmhouse brewery in Norfolk. Look forward to trying their beers in 2018…

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.