Category Archives: opinion

A Disruptive Influence?

One of the most critical and questioning voices in the world of British beer is not a writer but a brewer: Jon Kyme of Stringers.

When he blogs, it is usually because someone has provoked him by, for example, making a claim in marketing material that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and he often adopts indirectly the persona of ‘The Professor‘ to deliver lectures laced with economics, science and philosophy.

On Twitter, he often posts acidic sub-Tweets picking up on factual errors, grandiose claims, or even just typos. In comments on various blogs, he is similarly sharp, in both senses of the word.

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What if… BrewDog & Greene King?

What if BrewDog entered into partnership with Greene King to roll out second-tier BrewDog packages in places where their flagship bars cannot reach?

Yesterday, we promised a prediction, but it would be more accurate to describe this as a bit of fanciful thinking plucked more-or-less from thin air. We just want to put it in writing so that, if it does come to pass, we’ll look dead clever.

1. We can’t stop looking at the keg beer menu at the new Greene King ‘craft beer concept’ in Cambridge as pictured on the Pints and Pubs blog: it features one GK beer, Hop Monster, but four from BrewDog.

Keg beer list at the Grain Store, Cambridge, by Pints and Pubs, used with permission.

2. Wetherspoon’s Craftwork package, which borrows heavily from BrewDog’s aesthetic and features their beer in bottles and keg, hints at how such an arrangement might work.

Craftwork point of sale materials at Wetherspoon's.

3. Though they have ambitious plans, finding and fitting out suitable premises seems to be holding BrewDog back. Greene King, meanwhile, have 1600 pubs up and down the country, few of which anyone interested in beer will touch with a bargepole.

4. The Scottish Wunderkinder have already dabbled in franchising.

5. They’ve been critical of Greene King’s beer in the past, but they work happily with Tesco, arguing when this relationship is criticised (as we read it) that they’re spreading the gospel of Craft Beer in an otherwise barren land.

6. For Greene King’s part, this would be a route to instant credibility, even assuming that such a partnership might give a temporary hit to BrewDog’s own reputation.

7. We keep coming back to the similarities between BrewDog and David Bruce’s Firkin chain in the 1980s: that went truly national when he sold his company to a bigger brewery which turned what he’d developed over the course of a decade into a (not as good) out-of-the-box branded package.

Just to reiterate: this is just guesswork, for fun — we have no ‘specific and credible intelligence’, as they say.

But what do you reckon — are we barking up the wrong tree? Or, to put that another way, if something like this was announced next week, would you be surprised?

(And, as an aside, imagine what fun might ensue if BrewDog got a batch of GK’s Old 5X stock ale to play with…)

Excluded From the Party

‘When I was up north recently, I spoke to another brewer who said that beer had split into two worlds and that there’s a party to which regional brewers are not invited.’ — Roger Ryman, Head Brewer, St Austell

There aren’t many flashpoints in British brewing but the invisible, fuzzy line between traditional-family-regional brewers (TFRBs) and ‘craft beer’ is one.

From the perspective of small brewers struggling to establish themselves, and that of their fans, when a 100+ year old brewery swings the weight of its distribution network and pub estate behind a new ‘craft’ sub-brand, that looks like bandwagon-jumping and perhaps even an attempt at sabotage.

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This clever hoax caused many to flip their lids precisely because it played into people’s fears and expectations — if it had been true, it might not have been that surprising in a world which has given us Charles Wells/Dogfish Head DNA New World IPA.

For their part, TFRBs seem to take it rather personally, sometimes dismissing craft beer as a lot of silly superficial nonsense on the one hand, while desperately angling to join the club on the other. This statement from Stuart Bateman, as quoted by Roger Protz, offers one expression of those conflicting instincts:

I’m fed up with being told I can’t call myself a craft brewer because I’ve been brewing for more than two years… People who say that are denigrating the industry. I haven’t got a pony tail, ear-rings or tattoos but I’m producing craft beer…

When we spoke to Mr Ryman, he also said, with some sadness, that the manager of a craft beer bar in one of our major cities had told him he could never stock St Austell beers, however good or interesting they might be, because no-one would buy them. For those venues, and the customers they target, it is certainly not ‘all about the beer’.

And Craft Beer Rising (London, 19-22 February) is arguably the least hip of the wave of new non-CAMRA festivals precisely because it is so welcoming to brewers such as Thwaites, St Austell, Belhaven and Sharp’s.

Once again, it all seems to come down to that least tangible of qualities — ‘cool’. It is decided by a hive mind, not always on the basis of consistent logic; you’ve either got it or you haven’t; and, even if your products are selling like billy-o without it, it’s quite natural to yearn for that badge of status.

UPDATE 30/01/2015 11:00: Some sharp responses on Twitter in re: Craft Beer Rising.

Disclosure: we were paid to write an article for Craft Beer Rising magazine last year; Roger Ryman made us a cup of coffee and shared some beers with us.

Do We Want Beer Architects?

Last week’s article in the Wall Street Journal about conflict between traditional brewers and ‘beer architects’ in Belgium appalled someone we follow on Twitter:

Now, we’re not sure if the world needs beer architects, or if the term is one we’d like to see stick, but it’s an interesting way of framing the discussion.

Until fairly recently, there were no architects — only builders, and, later, master builders. Then came people like Christopher Wren — intelligent to the point of genius, and bred to practice good taste at a pitch most humans can’t detect — who made a living conceiving of buildings or estates; sketching them; modelling them… and then contracting someone else to get their hands dirty in the construction.

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British Beer in the Next Year

We’re planning a longform ‘state of play 2014-15′ supplement to Brew Britannia for the summer but, in the meantime, here are some brief thoughts on what the next year might hold.

1. Larger, better-established family/regional breweries, anxious over their status in relation to ‘craft beer’, will dabble in once-obscure areas of the Jacksonian style framework:

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