North London brewing scene continues its ascendency with Gorgeous Brewery

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Reuben Moore, Rob Laub, Sam Laub, and Joe Conlan

Gorgeous Brewery stepped into The Bull in Highgate to replace the London Brewing Company and has installed a significantly more serious brewing operation in this North London outpost.

On my previous visit some years ago when Dan Fox had taken on the dishevelled pub the small brewery was positioned in the kitchen but under its new owners – Rob Laub and sister Sam – the brew-kit has its own dedicated space out the back of the pub. It is also much bigger at five-barrels. To give the brewery some pulling power it also has a recently installed bar that sits alongside the brewing kit to create a proper brewery tap.

This modern shiny space, which opens out onto a sizeable garden that has been given a full overhaul, is open during the summer months. This modern clean-lined area is in contrast to the more traditional interior of the pub. What is constant across the two bars though is the in-house beer that makes up 50% of total ale sales at The Bull.

On my visit the head brewer Reuben Moore and his assistant Joe Conlan ran me through the eight brews on offer on draught that includes five on cask and three keg beers. There was also a bottle conditioned milk stout.

They were all brewed to approachable ABV’s as Moore says this reflects local tastes: “We can’t be doing imperial stouts and things like that as we need to be able to sell them to the locals.”

This supports the argument that it is not trying to play at the edgier – dare we say polarising – end of the craft beer market. This is further indicated by its sales being split evenly between cask and keg. This is helped by the demand for its cask products by local real ale boozers.

Initially the output was only available in The Bull but since taking a stand at Craft Beer Rising in February the brewery has been selling into the free trade. A Tap Take Over at The Rake in Borough Market also helped its promotional drive. This channel now accounts for around 50% of Gorgeous’ beer sales.

On my visit its keg offering definitely packed more of a punch but even these were very approachable brews. None of the output is going to polarise opinions. The pick was the Goofyhoof Pacific Pale Ale (4.6%) and Greaseball American Pale Ale (5.4%).  There was certainly no holding back on the hop mixes that certainly bumps up the cost of production but enabled complexity within what are relatively modest ABVs.

The beers are complimented by the food offering that straddles classics like fish & chips and burgers to slightly more outlandish fare including rare grilled ox heart with salsa verde, halloumi fries, and the winner for me was lobster and salmon scotch egg. As part of The Bull Pub’s ‘Wings Wednesday’ a half kilo bucket of wings with a selection of sauces is a mere £5.

The North London brewing scene is certainly pretty vibrant right now and Gorgeous Brewery is now firmly in the firmament. It also has the big advantage of being a brewpub with its guaranteed channel to market. Expect to see even more of this in the future as the market gets increasingly competitive.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Amateur Drinker loses taste for Beavertown and its Extravaganza

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Extravaganza 2017

After today’s Spurs/Beavertown news, the Editor and I were chatting about whether I should do a quick piece. I was initially reluctant, as it isn’t exactly earth-shattering, and the final Heineken link-up, although now a very short odds-on bet, hasn’t actually happened, and so the precise details aren’t yet known.

However, after reading back to a piece from May 2017 (http://beerinsider.com/lets-rake-over-the-take-overs/), where I first talked about the Beavertown-for-sale rumors, what struck me was the Wicked  Weed take-over which led the piece, and specifically the destruction of their once-proud Funkatorium festival, as independent brewers pulled out and punters demanded their money back.

Specifically, when Beavertown announce their tie-up with Heineken, what  happens to the Extravaganza  in September?

Are the steadfastly proud American independents going to fly over to support a macro-beer company? Will the quality UK craft brewers turn up to help a rival who has now aggressively rammed his tanks onto their lawns? Will the beer-geek fan-boys want to spend £60 on Heineken?

And, if not, will the event limp on as a pale shadow, or be put out of its misery?

A brief recap: Following April’s news that they were supplying Waitrose (coming up in that month’s belated round-up), May saw Beavertown announce that they would be contract brewing Neck Oil and Gamma Ray in Belgium.

Boak and Bailey were the first to specifically put 2 and 2 together and posted an incredibly prescient piece “Getting In Shape for Takeover” (https://boakandbailey.com/page/2/).

By the way, I don’t mind the subsequent Beavertown denials, as that may have been contractually imposed upon them, but, why on earth did Cloudwater get involved and criticize independent journalism? The Mancunians must have been feeling fairly silly when rumours of the Dutch giant buying 49% where reported in Mergermarket and then reached The Times (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/heineken-sees-stairway-to-heaven-xcn0lml5q ) and even  more so today.

Another long running story is Spurs looking for a craft brewer on-site at their stadium, and, for obvious geographical reasons, Beavertown were heavy favourites, and openly admitted the link (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-14/). However, 12 days ago, Tottenham announced that Heineken would be their “Official Beer Partner” at White Hart Lane (http://www.tottenhamhotspur.com/news/partners/heineken-named-as-official-beer-partner-for-tottenham-hotspur-iconic-new-stadium-180518/), and most assumed that the idea had died.

Then today, Beavertown revealed that they would indeed be opening a brewery and taproom at the ground (http://www.beavertownbrewery.co.uk/beavertown-x-tottenham/).

There is absolutely no way that Heineken would fork out a fortune to be the official beer and then allow this to happen, unless they were going to be getting into bed with Beavertown themselves.

I’m not going to go into details about the final tie-up until it’s confirmed, although mass production almost always produces a lower quality, more consistent, and cheaper product.

However, what is going to happen with Extravaganza?

I can see many brewers and punters, potentially wanting to pull out of a Dutch macro beer event, and then momentum can pick up very quickly, especially in today’s social media world. Indeed, even if you personally have no problem with Heineken, if no brewers are turning up, then what’s the point in going?

Will Beavertown make a gesture of goodwill now and offer a full refund if they do break their promises and tie-up with Heineken? Given their strident denials, it won’t cost them anything!

Certainly, if brewers do pull out, even if the Ticket Tannoy web-site says that Extravaganza tickets are “non-refundable”, customers will have reasonable grounds to demand a refund as the product has been substantially changed.

In that case, if you have booked via a credit card company, then they may well refund you. Alternatively Beavertown may find themselves facing a lot of MCOL Money Claim Online court cases…

Ironically, as I was writing this, Camden (AB Inv) tweeted that they would be showcasing a collaboration with Wicked Weed (AB Inv) at their spanking new tap-room. I won’t be going….

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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March was a strange month as there was nothing exceptional to rave about or anything especially bad to complain about. It is almost certainly a one-off, but if it’s a trend due to a maturing industry, it will certainly make blogging a lot harder!

The biggest news came when Brewdog swooped on Draft House’s chain of London bars, which was a shock, especially given the proximity of certain branches.  Apparently they are going to keep the brands completely separate, even to the extent that DH won’t be stocking any of Brewdog’s beer.

This rather begs the question of why they bought the chain, especially given the obvious economic advantages of pouring your own, that have led to the expansion of tap-rooms and brewers such as Five Points buying their own pubs.

Draft House was an early, and, therefore, an important player in the scene, but it’s fair to say they lost their way a bit recently as high-end standards have risen and good beer has become almost ubiquitous.

Craft Beer Co EC1 hosted a 5th birthday party for Siren, which was appropriate, as this was where the brewery first launched, in the Jurassic craft beer days of 2013. I was particularly looking forward to the promised return of Limoncello, a lemon DIPA brewed with Mikkeller and Hill Farmstead.

I absolutely loved this beer in the summer of 2014, when I was first getting into the scene, and even sought out its occasional elder brother, barrel aged version Whisky Sour TIPA. They discontinued it, I think because the then-head-brewer Ryan went home to the States, and I have mourned the loss ever since.

Ryan Witter-Merithew so much to thank for

I don’t know whether my expectations were too high, or my tastes have evolved, or the citrus IPA universe has massively expanded, or the recipe has changed, but it was just good, rather than sensational. I certainly remember it as being a lot more lemony. Maiden is Siren’s Solera-style American Barley Wine, in which this year’s brew is combined with last year’s beer, and so on, so that the average age is always increasing and there is an ever decreasing piece of the original in the present release. Some famous sherry’s made this way even claim to go back centuries. 2018 saw the release of Maiden 2017. These are great beers, but not necessarily suited to an afternoon in the pub!

Camra’s London Drinker Beer & Cider Festival, at Camden Centre in Bidborough Street, has been one of the capital’s longest running festivals. Unfortunately 2018 will be the last as the venue is closing. Fuller’s Vintage Ale, the undoubted highlight!

London Drinker beer & cider festival (RIP): last we’ll see of this lot

To make the official opening of their new SE1 bar, Moor hosted Arrogant Sour on Tour, an away fixture for Alessandro Belli’s Reggio Emilia festival. Although they advertised the start as 17:00, the sours weren’t poured until Alessandro turned up, after 18:00, which was annoying. The sours were then good, but too expensive at £5/third. Moor’s Old Freddy Walker on cask is always a delight, and the special Sloe version was sensational.

Bottleshop flew Interboro over from Brooklyn. Mad Fat Fluid IPA , Mad Fat Fresh IPA (w/Civil Society Brewing), Mad Fat Mofo DIPA (w/ Sand City) all benefited from that freshness, but I wasn’t a huge fan of Panther Like a Panther, a porter, one of three beers of that name brewed with musicians Run The Jewels.

Omnipollo Week saw old favourites such as Zodiak IPA and Nebuchadnezzar DIPA early on and then the notorious Noa Soft Serve. A bastion of many festivals, this is the Pecan Mud Stout served by what can loosely be described as a Slush Puppy machine. Here, they went full-on 1980’s-cocktails and optionally garnished in with marshmallows and Cross Town Doughnuts.  Andrew “pastry stout” Morgan drinking one was truly a sight to behold!

Denver’s Great Divide had been scheduled for February but eventually turned up for this blog. Hercules DIPA andTitan DIPA for the classicists amongst us, although the experimental Samurai Rice Ale didn’t really work. Brasserie Trose Dames, from Ste-Croix, Switzerland specialize in sour and wild ales. Unfortunately, in a harbinger of life after April 2019, these were delayed at customs.

Five Points was the latest company to raise capital on CrowdCube.  Good brewery but I strongly recommend that anyone who is tempted to invest, in this or any other company using this platform to be very careful.  Crowdfunding is not pretty.

Anspach & Hobday celebrated its birthday by pouring a Single Hop IPA direct from the tank at their Bermondsey home, which was obviously as fresh as can be, and excellent. They also had a very famous guest, which certainly brought in the crowds: 3 Floyds Zombie Dust, arguably the most renowned Pale Ale in the world. I had only had it at festivals, which is a different type of tasting experience, so it was great to drink it normally.

Deya TTO at GNRT, Hornsey. I drank Steady Rollin’ Man APA, This Ai’nt My First Rodeo, a porter in collaboration with Duration and Rave coffee, Falling into place DIPA and Gareth brews Pale Ale, a superb brewers’ special.

King Arms, E2 hosted an MTB with Menno Oliver of De Molen, although I visited later and didn’t meet him.  Amarillo DIPA, Bommen & Granaten Brett Rioja BA Barley Wine, Mout & Mocca Imperial Stout, Vur & Vlam IPA and Rasputin, a sweet Imperial Stout, all balanced by the refreshing Hop & Liefde Pale Ale!

Mother Kelly’s have a very close relationship with Põhjala, Tallinn’s finest so it was no surprise to see the Vauxhall branch host a TTO. Oo, an Imperial Baltic Porter, Vermalised an IPA,  Must Kuld El Salvador a Coffee Porter, and Kalana, a Brown Ale all enjoyable.

The month ended with Easter, whose loss of beer festivals I have already lamented…..

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.

 

Magic Rock Brewing Company – magic beers and rock solid business

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Richard Burhouse, founder of Magic Rock Brewing Company

Established craft brewers moving into supermarkets is a reflection of an industry maturing and is also recognition that selling into myriad independent venues is now the domain of the many newer brewers joining the scene.

Having been brewing since 2011 Richard Burhouse, founder of Magic Rock Brewing Company, says the growth for his business is now more in the packaged goods area than continuing to being just about selling into pubs.

“The new battleground for us is big customers like Marks & Spencer where we have three cans nationwide. The growth is here for us and also in the restaurant chains rather than pubs. The long established brewers need to break into these areas. It’s the reality of growing up. We need penetration into the mainstream while the small guys go into independents,” he says.

This is part of a plan to grow sales of the core range – that presently number 10 although the big sellers are Inhaler, Cannonball, High Wire and High Wire Grapefruit. Although he will continue to service the independent market a key part of this involves the constant flow of specials.

At the moment the core is 60% of sales, specials are 30%, and cask is 10%, with the latter reducing as keg and can sales increase.

Although Burhouse acknowledges that you “cannot be the hot thing forever” he is managing to strike a balance between being an increasingly mainstream operator and still appealing to the beer cognoscenti through limited runs of Magic Rock specials like Mind Control and Hedonic Escalation that still find a receptive audience.

The strategy has helped total sales increase by 30% year-on-year over the past two years and has pushed output to 13,500 hectolitres. It could hit 16,500 hl this year from a site that has the potential to generate 20,000 hl per year “if we don’t mess around with imperial stouts and lagers” that sit around in the tanks.

Around 1,500 hl of this beer is sold through the Magic Rock Tap Room that seems to surprise Burhouse with how popular it has been. On a Friday and Saturday night it is one-in-one-out as it typically hits its 350 capacity.

This has resulted in Magic Rock looking at opening up more retail outlets as it not only helps control margins but also pushes up volumes and protects the business from the “vagaries of the market”.

“We’ve looked at retail in the town centre [of Huddersfield] and at the moment we’re looking at something in the valleys with a food producer as a joint-venture. We’re keen to put forward an offer for the locals and improve the area and also create jobs for people,” says Burhouse.

He’s also been investigating the opportunity of opening a small bar in Leeds or Manchester. But what he is not intending to do is follow the likes of Moor and Cloudwater in opening up so-called tap rooms in London.

“You go to where there is a heavy market and we prefer local first. It feels more obvious to us. London is a great way to make money quickly but we’re not from London and I think there is a market that is loyal to London breweries. It’s not a priority for us,” he explains.

Such moves indicate a confidence from Burhouse who says the Magic Rock business is now at a size whereby it can “weather the extra competition”. It is also clear that his beers remain massively popular.

Indicative of the thirst among drinkers is the brewery’s requirement to allocate beers out to preferred customers: “We do two specials/collaborations per month that have to be allocated out. They help pull-up the core beer sales as customers top-up their orders with other beers. It’s a reciprocal [arrangement] with long standing customers.”

Also the 600 tickets for the forthcoming Sesh Fest Invitational (on June 9) at the Magic Rock Tap Room sold out in 40 minutes. It not only highlights the appeal of session beers (all the beers from the 30 invited brewers invited to serve must be ABV of 4.5% or below) but more importantly the high regard that Magic Rock continues to be held by the industry and drinkers.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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February’s highlight was a tutored Fuller’s Vintage tasting at The Bottle Shop, led by John Keeling. The first beer was Past Masters XX, using a recipe from 1893, although the closest they could get to the barley, of that time, was from Prince Charles’s organic farm.

It was brewed in 2010, and is technically now three years out of date. It had the malt, rather than hops characteristic of aging, and some “sherriyificiation” but was perfectly drinkable. Next was an Oatmeal porter, from a 1926 recipe, before we went onto the Vintage Ales:

John talked about the sine wave of tasting for these beers with various vintages going up, down and up again: I have always been interested in the ageing of alcohol, from the freshness of West Coat IPA’s to the immortal Madeira

1997 was the 1st Vintage Ale, which now costs around £500 due to scarcity. Needless to say that wasn’t on our tasting menu! We went thru 2016 (rich, complex), 2015 (only British ingredients, fruit-driven aroma with a bitter finish), 2014 (my favourite, zestier), 2009 (caramelised orange and vanilla) and finally 2005, which was the only one to have lost life.

We then finished with Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve Number 5 Oak Aged Ale. The original beer is aged in Scottish whisky barrels for two years, along with wild bacteria, and then 60 casks are re-blended with regular ESB to tame it, and increase the precision of the flavours, and lower the ABV.

John Keeling (photo credit Brewers Journal)

John is a fantastic and passionate speaker: He distinguished between water, which is chemistry, and used to matter in brewing, but can now be replicated, and the other base ingredients, which are alive, hence biology and subject to evolution and variation.

This led to his main theme for all alcoholic drinks: variety around consistency. There should be minor batch to batch variations in the product as the base varies, but with excellent process ensuring a basic level of underlying consistency.

Early February saw the unwelcome news that Will Hawkes was closing the Craft Beer London app and website. This hasn’t been properly updated for a while, so it was not entirely unexpected.  In early 2013, when I first started becoming interested in beer, I religiously used this app to search out new places. It’s strange to think that this was before LCBF, let alone BeaverEx, Bottle Shop Arch, Mother Kelly’s, Cloudwater and many, many more even existed. We’ve come a long way, but I will always be grateful for the start his app gave me, so a deserved thanks to Will.

Busy day at Beavertown

To celebrate its 6th birthday, Beavertown  invited six other brewers who brought both a couple of their own beers and a collaboration with the party-hosts: Boundary (Zoltar Says Make Your Wish, a red wine BA export stout), Land & Labour (Be Excellent to Each Other, an IPA), Pilot (What Am I Going To Do With a Gun Rack, a gin martini saison), Deya (Fear Does Not Exist In This Dojo, a hazy IPA), Elusive ( Eat Flame Bozo, a mojito Hopfenweisse)  and Cloudwater (three collabs, the best of which was Do Not Open Until 1985, a DIPA) were the chosen six for me.

The beers were good, but logistically the event was not. The situation wasn’t as bad as the notorious, un-ticketed 4th birthday, but it still wasn’t pleasant. One of the main blocks of portable toilets failed, creating enormous queues elsewhere, even though people were going across to Pressure Drop, which wasn’t particularly fair on them, as it just moved some of the bottleneck there.

Beavertown beer list: you can’t read it, neither could I

Further disappointing news came from the William IV in Leyton that is to become a dreaded gastro-pub. This was always the house pub for Brodie’s, and was much more important at the turn of the decade than it is now as other venues and breweries have appeared. The biggest loss will be felt at Easter with the demise of Bunny Basher, which has been around for more years than I care to remember.

As recently as 2016 (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-9/), I could write that “Easter in London is now marked by two annual beer festivals”. To lose one (C100 at Clapham) may be regarded as a misfortune: to lose two looks like carelessness.

Whilst I must disclose a personal interest, it was great to see a Bohem TTO at GNRT, including a first appearance for Vasco, a wonderfully full-flavoured DIPL lagered for eight weeks and Raleigh, a Czech twist on the unique Bamberg smoked lagers, which is a true love-it-or-hate-it beer.

Craft Beer Rising is more of a trade show these days, and the prices charged for the pitches kept out many small players. It’s hard to complain about drinking Stone Berlin, but there wasn’t much new to report. Beer of the day was the Brew York Imperial Tonkoko Stout. This is a pumped up version of the normal Tonkoko and gave a wonderful coconut, Tonka, Cacao and vanilla hit. Absolutely fantastic, and the commonly heard “Bounty in a glass” doesn’t do it full justice.

Brew York at CBR including Tonkoko Imperial Stout

Northern Monk announced they would be crowd-funding, using the very much maligned Crowdcube site. They are a very good brewery, so it is worrying that they could not find a more legitimate way of raising capital. Chorlton raised the possibility on Twitter of issuing “beer bonds” which would cost £250 and entitle the holder to get a 5 litre keg every month, of the brewers’ choice, for the six month life of the bond. This is even more ridiculous, and thankfully, they appear to have dropped the idea.

Bottle Shop hosted Brooklyn’s KCBC, or King’s County Brewers Collective, to give them their full title! Marble of Doom II was a superb raspberry, key lime sour, alongside two DDH IPA’s, Dangerous Precedent, which was good, and Viking Disco, which was better.

There were also collaborations with BBNo and Hackney, whose childhood friendship with a KCBC brewer led to the project. I enjoyed all the beers so much that I went up to The Axe on Saturday to carry on drinking them! The Arch also welcomed De Molen with Amarillo DIPA, Tsarina Esra imperial porter, Mooi + Meedogenioos, an imperial stout, and People’s Republic of Juice, with IPA’ from across the UK and which shows all the hallmarks of the recently hired Chris Hall’s pun machine.

Chris Hall: pun machine (photo credit: Matthew Curtis)

Fourpure held a successful opening party to show off its new brewing capacity investments. They were all very impressive, but the size is now starting to move away from what we have thought of as craft in this country, if not the States, although this is not a debate I want to get into here. They also announced a collab project with brewers from six continents, including Belgium’s De La Senne, Australia’s Two Birds, the USA’s Melvin, and Japan’s Hitachino Nest.

Finally, in brief: Brewdog gave away one million pints of Punk IPA. Fuller’s took over Sussex’s Dark Star, which should prove a good fit, as it is predominantly cask. Duvel doubled its stake in Birrificio Del Ducato, which runs The Italian Job, to 70%, and Five Points will be taking over the Pembury Tavern, on the junction from which they take their name.

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.

Don’t change Draft House

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Draft House: good enough for Rick Astley

For some people among the beer cognoscenti, the Draft House chain of craft beer bars would never be regarded as the coolest places in town because they would always be able to point to quirkier places with more esoteric beer selections. This does these bars a great disservice because when they opened in 2009 they became an early emporium for craft beer. However, founder Charlie McVeigh also wanted them to be accessible and not to become beer geek ghettos.

This ultimately led to a sometimes quite random mix of beers on the bar but in this combination there would invariably be sufficient to keep the knowledgeable beer drinker interested while also appealing to those new to the game tentatively dipping their toe in the craft beer pond for the first time.

I can recall meeting McVeigh for the first time – via a mutual friend – sitting outside the original venue in Northcote Road in south London not long after its opening. He had just thrown out the best-selling lager because he was selling too much of the stuff. He wanted to introduce people to something new so the only solution was to get rid of the recognisable mainstream lager. Instead McVeigh was incredibly enthusiastic that night for bottles of Yeti Imperial Stout from Great Divide brewery in the US that he was very keen to share.

To his credit he also initiated a three thirds paddle for a fixed £5 even though he knew it was extra work for the bar teams and for certain beers of a hefty ABV it meant the margin was not exactly great. The clear intention was to introduce people to new beers and encourage experimentation – damn the profits.

But he’s no mere philanthropist (well he might be now he has just sold Draft House to BrewDog for a reputed £15m) he’s a businessman and he wanted to build a profitable bar chain. It has never been a vanity project. If he hadn’t been just as focused on the P&L as the beer list then I doubt very much the respected leisure and hospitality specialist Luke Johnson would have come in as an investor in the Draft House operation.

Johnson’s involvement gave the business an injection of capital and the push/confidence to take the model to significantly larger (and more profitable sites). When you compare the Charlotte Street site in central London with the two units in the City of London then size-wise they are from different planets. With these chunky openings came tank beer from Pilsner Urquell, which again managed to appeal to more mainstream drinkers while also maintaining the respect and interest of the beer aficionados.

It is this balancing act of appealing to the various camps that I’d suggest has been the most successful aspect of the Draft House business and the legacy of McVeigh. This democratisation of craft beer has also been part of the manifesto of BrewDog. Whereas lots of its soap-box grandstanding has become a tad skewed, hypocritical even in some cases, and rather confused, there is no doubting its constant underlying objective of introducing better beer to as many people as possible is fully authentic.

No doubt this like-minded stance came into the thinking of BrewDog when it approached Draft House with its takeover offer. Now the deal is done my one big concern is the wide choice of beers McVeigh made a core part of the proposition of the Draft House business will be compromised because BrewDog is clearly in the game of selling its own beer.

Rebranding them all as BrewDog bars would also be a retrograde step as it would undoubtedly give the Scottish brewer a rather concentrated central London portfolio and take it a step closer to being an over-bearing presence, just like the monolithic brewers that it constantly rails against.

In the ideal world little would change and Draft House would continue to operate as the equivalent of the JD Wetherspoon of craft beer bars (without the sticky carpets) – accessible to all and always something different you want to drink. I personally cannot think of a greater compliment.

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

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Apologies for the lateness of this column for which, like everything else that went wrong in the country recently, I will blame on the unseasonably adverse weather! It’s also a bit shorter than normal, but if anyone complains – and let’s face it they may well cheer – then the month was legitimately quiet!

The BottleShop Arch, which acquired a new celebrity, Amber the cat, started the year with an absolute bang: Melvin kegs and cans were air freighted over for a TTO. The beers, from Alpine, Wyoming, were truly sensational with Hubert MPA, Melvin IPA and 2×4 DIPA being my personal favourite.

This really showed the benefits of ColdChain, both in preserving the freshness, and, also, crucially, persuading the very top US brewers that quality control is paramount enough to risk their brand and personal pride by exporting.

A Cloudwater TTO included some rare cellared and barrel-aged delights: Red wine barrel-aged kettle sour raspberry and blueberry, bourbon BA Loral and Ardi, BA apricot Hopfenweisse, and Mont Saleve Pompettes, a wild ale with Brasserie du Mont Saleve.

The beers were as excellent as one would expect. Moreover, as a big fan of Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner, it was great to see Cloudwater produce a wonderful entry, in a Tweet, in which they self-indulgently spoke about how they knew that people drank their beer for their values. Which leads to a wonderful new euphemism “Sorry Officer, I just loved a company’s values so much, and had to show it”!

Unsurprisingly, January was a month of notable imperial stouts: I had Founders CBS, Canadian Breakfast Stout, the maple syrup barrel-aged imperial stout at Earl of Essex, Cinna Mo, Idjit and Coffee Vanilla Black, at the Dugges Winter Showcase at the Arch and the re-release of Buxton/Omnipollo Yellow Belly, 2014 Rainbow Project, and usually regarded as the best ever beer from that wonderful concept-event.

Bloomberg announced (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-11/bob-bob-ricard-restaurant-plans-to-revolutionize-the-way-you-pay-to-eat-out) that Bob Bob Ricard are introducing a new pricing model, based on the airline industry, with different menu prices, depending on the time and day on which a customer is dining.

Price differentiation, which IT advances have made very much easier as opposed to when I studied the subject in economics many moons ago, is now familiar to all from the travel industry. If successful in restaurants I can easily see it moving into pubs, and, I think, for most readers of this column it would really improve our experience with the Friday night, and even worse Xmas crowd, seeing prices go up and those of us enjoying the pub on a Monday in January enjoying reductions.

Seriously, it would really benefit pubs, which are sub-optimal both when they are too busy and when they are too quiet. Plus, the pricing and hence beer list would be electronic so could be displayed online, solving one of my favourite bugbears.

Brewdog Soho

Brewdog also had a couple of interesting events, but yet again suffered from the ridiculously stupid, “No pouring until 18:00”. This was particularly absurd at the Stillwater TTO in EC1, when the January date meant there was almost no one else in the bar. The SuperHop, a  Norwegian Wood, a tart, berry sour with Amundsen and Cellar Door, a saison, were all delicious.

Shepherd’s Bush hosted Marble, on a Friday, and by 19:15 it was so unpleasantly busy (15 minute plus queue for service) that we left. This was a real pity as the beers were fantastic: Damage Plan IPA, Uppe Hela Natten, a macchiato porter, Decadence, an imperial stout, the famous Barley Wine, The Castle of Udolpho, a BA Old Ale, two BA (bourbon and pinot noir) versions of Gale’s Old Ale, and A-Tomic, a sour red.

The timing issue meant pushing the beer nerds into the same time-slot as the after-office crowd and thereby both getting in each other’s way. The competition for stupidest decision by Brewdog head office is an incredibly competitive one, but the rigid 18:00 start must be up there.

They also announced a new branch, Seven Dials, on Shaftesbury Avenue, in the former Polpo Ape & Bird restaurant and very close to their Soho bar.

I did the ‘Arry Redknapp gag last year (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-16/) but January transfer action was hot in 2018 as well: James Kemp, head brewer at Marble, and possibly responsible for so much of their recent revival, since he went there in January (again!) 2016, joining Yeatise Boys, and being replaced by Joe Ince, who moves up internally.

John Keeling, chairman, London Brewers Alliance

In addition, Paul Spraget left Four Pure to take the reins at Orbit. Finally, some excellent news for the London Brewers Alliance, as John Keeling takes over as Chairman, and announced that Fuller’s is to host London Brewers’ Alliance Festival on June 23 with 40 London brewers.

 

Green Flash announced that they were pulling distribution from 32 US states and cutting 15% of their workforce to concentrate on core markets.  They had been in all 52 states, but had become over-stretched and were unable to compete properly with local alternatives.

Burns Night was celebrated at The Old Fountain.  Earlier in the month, they had Five Points Derailed Porter, on cask. This is a seasonal version of their basic Railway Porter, aged on Brettanomyces wild yeast for a minimum of nine months, which is a superb, earthy and roasty, and probably the best beer I have had from them.

Deviant & Dandy launch evening

Deviant and Dandy held their opening party in Hackney. The most noteworthy beer was CCCP, a Crazy Chocolate Chartreuse Porter that really tasted like the famous French liquor.

Finally, I was wondering if anyone knew what was happening with the Farringdon Tap and whether the project was still going ahead?

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.

 

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