Friday, June 22, 2012

OK, so I haven't posted anything for a while.
         I have been looking at the industry of which I form a part, and wondering where it is all going?
         I started brewing because I love great beer and I needed something to do with the microbiology degree I spent several years drinking my way to!
          When I started , micro breweries were as much a novelty as a decent  well stocked cellar, and I loved the chance to use my skills as a scientist , my passion as a drinker and my calling as a chef  all in one job.
        I do not intend to dwell in the past (enough funny stories and unbelievable accidents for my "Meet the Brewer" nights) I cannot help but reflect though on the state of our slice of the industry now.
        Many people start in self employment because they want some degree of flexibility or freedom in their work life balance, they soon find out that there are as many people pulling their chain in self employment as in employment, just the chain pullers are different, and the impact is personal and heart felt  when the buck stops with them.
          As I look around now,  the ideals of freedom and liberty which many of the "Old School" brewers stood for are rapidly evaporating for a new, not necessarily better, future. Brewers have to trade through "approved" schemes, need the OK from this that or another to say that their beer is beer, or kow-tow to the right people to get sales, enter competitions, or even get access to markets and as a result of this don't rock the boat by pointing out the plethora of naked emperors who are the new chain pullers.
       The "Real Ale Taliban" take many guises, and brewing has become more and more of a beauty parade   than anything to do with brewing, it is ironic that our [The UK] only Gold Medal Winner @ World Beer Cup [USA] has been rusticated from the "Official" beer organisations because he is a producer of Craft produced Brewery Conditioned beer, and is thus beyond the pail as far as these self appointed guardians of an artificial ideal are concerned.
            Doesn't anyone get it? Our industry is starting to draw the kind of fire from the antis lobby which tobacco got twenty years ago, and what do we do about it? NOTHING, bickering about dispense or getting  more tweats than anyone else is far more important than calling for open market access or fighting the missinformed tax on  strong beer while the brewers stand by and fiddle.
      I really am pissed off with the industry becoming more obsessed    with apps and tweats with a constant stream of electronic crap being spewed forth to promote the latest piss poor hop infusion from yet another wannabe beerstar, the persona of the operator now being more important than the quality of the beer, the hype beating the hop, the hack being the holder of the chain, the brewer and the beer giving away to  bullshit and bragging.
      Beer, it would be great to hear about it again, and hear less about the ex-........[fill in gap]er who woke one morning and golly gee was a brewer! lets get back to basics, lets get back to beer (in all its forms of dispense).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tales from the playground, the Tartan Toddlers take on the Cask Pensioners.

It's like watching the two playground bullies knocking 10 bells out of each other, everyone wants to see both parties get a slap of reality, Camra want to wake up, smell the beer, times move on, dispense will never pull away from cask, it is too fundamental to the soul and core of British brewing, but there are some times that modern dispense and quality beers can be great bedfellows, as for their "lab" well, that really is getting too far up their own backsides about quality - by their opinion, not the rest of the industry, and trying to get their will imposed on the industry - well, life ain't like that. I would rather drink a pint of sterile Sam Adams than a minging wholesaler cooked pint of Crudgingtons old Chunderbox , even if Camra say that I should stick to Tradition, sometimes tradition, like Rickets, TB, Plague and Small Pox is best left on its own.

There are plenty examples of beer festivals on great and grand scales, and some very well run smaller events too, completely outwith the control of Camra where Brewery Conditioned and other "non-approved" beer styles are served, and drunk, with as much gusto as cask. We have branches which consider themselves immune to the very moaning about beer temperature with which they cane landlords when it comes to the County fest, where warm beer is OK, and expensive out of county beer is fine where they would nail any landlord who charged more than a pensioners beer price, and expel brewers who complain about poor festival beer quality and massive out of county plugging because a brewer pays for a big advert in their Rant Mag! 

As for the Truculent Tartan Brigade? 
Well, after a while, one gets more than a little bored with constant mewling and literary puking from the wailing brat in its cot. Beer so good it has to be brewed by a grown-up under contract, beers so good that only by causing offence and gobbing off like a Buckfast fuelled wino in a Glaswegean Gutter can they get attention. 
Producing [NOT BREWING] beers by 1st year student chemistry tricks (most of us grew out of making apple jack cider after our first years) and calling it an innovation just to top the European Neighbors in fairly poor terms (the Bismark marked a huge  loss of life, not just a sales opportunity for the local Fucktards in the industry).  I will not bother with the other wheezes as they are not worth the physical effort to type out, other than to say that it has always been what is in the bottle which I have considered the key part rather than what is on the outside of the bottle as far as label, PR stunt or "Bad Boy" image.

Both bullies need to learn that they are not the biggest or most important in the playground and both need to grow up and look to the future of beer rather than their own , narrow, self important, futures. As most people know who have been around for long enough, neither can be trusted to be telling the whole unspun truth, and both will be looking to their own ratings as they continue to stamp and rant at each other [YAWN]. 

Long may they continue to knock lumps off each other while the rest of us continue to brew great beers, have a good time and do things our way.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Emperors apparel and large trunk bearing mammals in the colour of pink.

Last night was the Guild of Beerwriters annual jolly, a chance to recognise the bloggers ," nu media"[sic] producers, book writers and other producers of fine literature about the elixir of life (well, at very least the mash tun).

It was good to see some new faces getting recognition, and such a great industry turnout to boot.

 With some well known brewers and a couple of the "Old School" beer writers on board, things were going so well..... Until, that is the brewers cluster started to discuss amongst ourselves the 101 "initiatives" orbiting the industry right now which seem to be as much as anything else a pension plan for the old guard of the industry who seem to want to hark back to some long forgotten utopian age of brewing.
The only place where it existed was in the pages of the likes of Jerome K Jerome or John Majors addled ramblings about warm beer and family values (Now there was a statement left in history which came back to bite him on the arse thanks to Edwina , and I am sure that Cack Nark would have failed any pub he drank at found guilty of serving beer above regulation "Slush Puppy" temperature!).

  The objects of our bile were the number of initiatives out there all trying to drain us of money under the guise of training, education, or, empowerment of the customer, most of them, in reality, another cash cow for another part of the ancillary bodies which exist in a strangely nebulous layer hanging on to the producing brewers like a bad fart which cannot be escaped as it seeps through the cracks of commercial opportunism.

  We are pushed by pubcos to pay for beer ID systems which involve sending beer to "expert" tasters who will then come up with a "simplified" pictogram which would have been great for the average egyptian beer drinker with the symbols and masonic logos involved, but  most of which leaves bar staff as confused about the beer as they are about the credit crunch or Korean politics, so what chance there is of the customer understanding what the description is saying when they are told that the pumpclip is telling the server that this beer is "eyeball, snotty nose sunshine thingy", hmm get the dry hop on that one.
To arrive at this point will have cost the brewer time, cash , beer and high blood pressure, especially when the description bares no resemblance to the beer sent, which is not surprising since when the beer left the brewery, all control of storage etc left the brewers hands. Someone has now done very nicely thankyou out of half an hours work and the beer may now be sold at further chisseling discout to the pubco which insisted on the job being done, the brewer being grateful that the burden of carrying all that money around in  his pockets has been relieved to support yet another stealth tax on his business.

  I could easily rant all day about these different money spinners but I will shorten my comments to say that in any other industry, they would be called an extortion racket , in the beer industry it is possible to dress them up as more attempts to bring cask ale and good beer to the awareness of the wine drinking pub goer.
Why do I get so wound up about all this? Well, to put it simply, tradition is a great foundation but a poor building block. When I started brewing in the craft sector, there were less than 100 micros, many of the originators of these "added value" scams were part of big or family brewers, saw us as a threat and in one or two cases openly admitted to looking forward to this latest "fad" falling flat on its whatsits.

  While I am all for tradition, and its reminders from the past for those of us in the present, it is a good yard stick but a poor master, in that the ways in which many of these initiatives are shaped belong in the '70's, not the 21st Century. It is all very well clinging to how pubs were in "the old days"  and how [in the opinion of a few] the decline in beer sales can be reversed, but more and more, I feel that the point is missed by a mile.

  Only a few weeks ago I  attended an industry event where a panel was discussing the issues around the various declines of the industry, and to cut a long story short, the conclusions of those on the panel (of national and multinational brewers) were that customers, especially women,  want to be attracted by light low challenge beers, nice glasses, and recognised brands! Well no shit Sherlock! that must have taken HOURS to come up with, really, hours. If that is how the bigger end of industry sees things then we are doomed.

  What the customer wants is for everyone to get the  attention of bar staff when being served, everyone to get a clean, appropriate, glass, everyone to get a properly informed answer about a beer if they ask it, and no, I do not think that it requires a bloody expensive set of stealthy beer fees to add another tin medal to the pub door to prove that something was about right in the opinion of another retired member of the 70s Red Barrell makers club on a particular day out of 365, or the local enthusiasts club were pleased with the sandwiches and an obscure pint for their ticking book.  Success begats success. a busy pub is usually the best sign of a good pub.

  Everyone in the industry is looking to blame someone/something for declining pub sales - why it is so hard to see is beyond me, there are simple reasons, and simple solutions, and they do not need another cash raising seminar to be identified.

   Look at the pubs which are doing well, selling plenty of beer per square foot, buzzing seven days a week, most of them have some fairly simple rules of engagement: staff who actually know, enjoy, and understand beer, clean glasses, the right glass for the job, and who know how to present something which for someone on minimum wage represents  over 3/4 of an hours toil to earn so that the drinker feels that their choice to drink a pint in the pub which costs as much as a 4 pack of "Wife Beater" from the offy is justified.

 While I am very much for quality of dispense, serving temperature, and quality of cellarmanship, I think that because it is harder to sell a course for part time staff who will be on their way when term finishes, it is not considered a big enough stealth cash gold mine for the "audit Brigade". I notice that many of the small pub staff I come accross, where the owners have personally trained their staff don't have Cack Mark, but do have staff who know their beers, even the 1 or 2 day a week ones, they have clean glasses, and staff who can say a bit more than "it's wet, foamy, and comes in pints" the staff actually look like they want to be there and even part timers get swept up in the enthusiasm for beer.

 Endless testing [for a fee] may tick the right boxes, but it doesn't allow for the human factor, something which seems to have gone from the pub from both sides of the bar. To get the utopian pub of dreams, first we need to look at the point of sale and its front of house face as much as looking at screwing a few more quid out of the brewer towards the pension fund while trying to be the "voice" of authority about pubs, you had your chance 30 years ago, and it didn't work then. Look around, the pubs which are doing well tailor their offering to the customer, not the latest seminar tick box inspection!     

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Pub Tie, should this sacred cow be shot?

The Small (or as some would rather know it, Craft) Brewing sector is under attack once again, while many revel in the fact that there are now more breweries in the UK than any time in the last couple of hundred years, the threats are increasing to this sector almost as fast as pubs close and more breweries open to serve the remaining few.
In the midst of all this booming and busting we have the "old Lags" of the regional brewers, I remember about 20 years ago being told by one of their number (when there were less than 100 micros out there) that we were seen as a bunch of upstarts who had no "right" to be in existence - effectively we should pack up and go home, leaving the "Traditional" brewers to make their Mild, Bitter, and Best, continue to decline and fade away, until the last one closed its doors as the shareholders cashed in their chips on the prime development land on which the breweries stood.... The beer drinker who looked for quality, tradition and variety could then be left out in the cold, forced to brew their own, or be left with the last decent brews in the UK coming from Belgium (no, I do not mean Stella - that's brewed in Wales for the UK market!).
Eventually the numbers of small brewers grew, it became obvious that they were here to stay, and by steady campaigning by a few dedicated and unpaid long forgotten names, Jim Laker, Phil Freakly, Paul Soden, Dave Roberts, Carolla Brown, a few of whom are left in the industry but their efforts long forgotten, the unthinkable happened, Progressive Beer Duty was achieved, and suddenly it was everyone's bright ideas which had bought it about, the pioneers long forgotten.
With the advent of PBD, even more breweries have sprung up, to the point where we are today, many breweries, few pubs, and the Old School breweries that remain, barking like dogs in mangers at the nasty uncouth newcomers with their fancy ideas, innovation, and PBD.
The backdrop to this has seen most of the very big brewing capacity ownership go overseas with the likes of AB Inbev, Coors, Heineken to name a few of the few. Pubs have become discount lead through the deals set up with Pubcos on the dissolution of the tied estate, the pubcos now feeling the crunch of overextended credit, continue to push both suppliers and tenants to patch up the cracks with more money, beer is a commodity, as are employees. The city boys running the pubs fail to see what the independent (and in many cases successful) sector have known for a long time, provide character to your pubs, staff who care (because they own the pub!) and quality with genuine choice and customers come. Screw the staff, insist on a restrictive and inflexible beer list, and cut everything to the bone and the staff don't care any more than the customers do, stay at home and drink there.
Meanwhile, we have the mewling wingeing and howling from the Family Brewers, those people who bleated that the small brewers should not be there, who have been too slow and stuck in their ways (with a few exceptions) to respond to the 21st Century challenge of multimedia entertainment competing with their tied pubs and those nasty crafty people making everything from traditional beers through to the newer golden styles, spiced beers and even real lagers!
The response of this sector has been to launch broadside after broadside, taking it it turns week after week to attack what they see as unfair competition from the new brewers, instead of competing, the only medal they can win is the moaning medal for the Olympics rather than anything for innovation or pub development. The small brewers seem to be caught like rabbits in a car headlight, waiting for impact, thinking that if they sit there proclaiming that "they believe in PBD", it, just like Tinkerbell, will be saved by everyone crossing their fingers and   wishing hard. Well, it isn't like that, the Small/Craft brewers have a bigger fight on than I think they realise, while the sectors own representatives sold them down the  river while preserving their own operations in the pub supply department for the sake of not being embarrassed next time they are on the piss with their chums from the BBPA or the Pubcos, the rest of the brewers out there can see what is really going on. Even Camra in the form of Roger Protz has felt it necessary to wade in and comment on the fire being aimed at the Craft sector  in place of it defending itself, like a bystander stepping in to stop a young pup which doesn't realise that it can bite back when threatened without loss of face.
I do not want to see the traditional breweries (what's left of them) disappear any more than I want the Craft sector to shrink, but enough is enough, spurred on by the limp wrist appeasement by SIBA, they now think that their tied estates are safe, that they should be the only brewers on the block, and with the opening of the game-bird season, so comes the opening of the Craft brewer season.
The answer? Craft Brewers need to kick back independently, the emollient stand taken by Siba has made it look weak and politically toothless, the Brewers need to independently get into the press, state our case, the Family brewers claim that with every duty rise PBD gets bigger as a discount from the true duty rate, but according to basic maths, so does the fuel cost, and the cost of materials and the cost of employment, so that argument is well shot on the wing. While they moan away in their wood clad boardrooms, many of the family brewers vigorously hold on to their block exemption for their tied houses (conveniently forgetting that SIBA didn't gun hard for them at the last HMGovt review). If the Family brewers wish to play hard ball then it is time the brewers took the high ground, next time the chance comes have a bloody good dig at the tie, ask your SIBA representative why they are sat on their hands, and ask the Family brewers why they would rather moan about the Craft sector instead of innovating , opening up their protected tied estates, and get into line with the small brewers to get PBD for them too (the European definition would include them as small brewers and they could get PBD!).
Moaning about the price of beer from Craft brewers is not the answer, most Craft Brewers have got plenty of experience of "special" deals being done by the very brewers complaining that PBD brings cheap beer.
The threat to brewers, our own industry future, is greatest from within, poor representation in the name of appeasement, and Dog in a Manger stick in the mud attitudes from the "traditional" element really don't help either.