News pubs

News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 October 2016: Takeovers, Lay-Offs and Argy-Bargy

Here’s everything that’s grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the last week, from seismic industry movements to historic lagers.

For starters, there’s been quite a bit of news from the US.

We got to all of this news via Jason Notte (@Notteham) who also offers commentary on Brooklyn. Whether this is the cataclysmic ‘shake out’ people have been prophesying (hoping for?) remains to be seen but it certainly feels as if some big plates are shifting.

The debate at IndyManBeerCon
SOURCE: Keith Flett (@kmflett) via Twitter.

Closer to home, but not unrelated, accounts of an apparently fractious debate at the Independent Manchester Beer Convention (IndyManBeerCon) have begun to emerge. Soap opera aside there is some interesting content here. Claudia Asch’s summary (she’s one of the organisers) reports that the slick, well-funded Cloudwater is apparently regarded as almost as big a threat as those shoddy undercutting breweries:

Sue [Hayward of Waen Brewery] and Gazza[[Prescott] from Hopcraft had a bit of a go at Cloudwater, for lack of a better word… The gist of Gazza and Sue’s argument seemed to be: we can’t sell our beer because of Cloudwater. Can it be that simple? Maybe, just maybe, Cloudwater are giving the market what it wants? The beers sell easily?

Sue Hayward recently retired her brewery, though the brand lives on, and you can read her account of the debate here, which rather than easing off, hammers home the point:

For us, no amount of hard work and brewing of great national award winning beers, that appeared in some of the best craft beer houses all over the UK, was ever going to be enough in the last couple of years, with the influx of the money-laden start up ‘hipster’ brewers. I in no way aim that at anyone in particular in reality but a lot of us have seen it many times. 

SOURCE: The Beer Nut.
SOURCE: The Beer Nut.

The Beer Nut (@thebeernut), AKA The Big Palate, AKA Johnny Tastebuds, reflects on Carlsberg’s attempt to revive a beer from their own history:

When samples of the beer were first distributed to the crowd it was interesting to observe the effect of appearance on taste perception. The room was dark, the beer appeared dark and it most definitely tasted dark: lots of caramel and even chocolate, a bit like an English strong ale or German doppelbock. Another taster in a more brightly-lit area really lacked the rich dark flavours, though was still undoubtedly malt-forward.

The Cartoon -- entrance.
SOURCE: Adapted from ‘Cartoon, West Croydon’ by Ewan Munro, from Flickr under Creative Commons.

The Croydon Advertiser (warning: annoying ads) has a picture-laden feature on the town’s lost pubs including one particularly lovely post-war booze bunker, ‘The Cartoon’, which was also reportedly the first pub in Croydon to embrace the mid-1970s real ale revival. (Via @jamesevison.)

Property journalist George Turner writes in detail about how a London developer went about attempting to decommission a London pub in the face of local and legal opposition:

As customers started to arrive at the Star on Saturday they saw that representatives of the owner of the freehold, Marcus Cooper, had arrived with a new tenant, Gray Champion. Gray had worked for the Marcus Cooper group a decade earlier and was now keen to set up his own estate agency. Luckily for Gray, an opportunity had just opened up! Over the next couple of days, Gray moved in a desk and a computer into the seating area of the pub and boarded up the bar, ready for the grand opening of Champion Estates on Monday March 23rd… But Westminster Council were suspicious. Was Gray Champion a bonafide estate agent, or was this a sham by Marcus Cooper to try and close down the Star before the government closed the very loophole he was trying to exploit?

(Via @johncryne.)

7 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 October 2016: Takeovers, Lay-Offs and Argy-Bargy”

I’m certainly no cheerleader for Cloudwater, but they have built up their reputation through producing well-made, innovative beers that people actually want to drink – surely the recipe for success in the craft beer market. The fact that it was brewed by Cloudwater would make it more likely that I would sample something unusual, simply because I’d be confident they’d done a good job of it.

There seems to be a large element of “tall poppy syndrome” about all of this. I’m not aware that Cloudwater beers are particularly cheap (indeed often the opposite), nor that they are engaging in loss-leading. Competition can be a harsh mistress.

Sue had blogged a reply here:

I note that the discussion seems to conflate two problems:

1. low price
2. ‘hipster’ breweries*

They are not caused by the same breweries – because the leading names in UK microbrewery “craft” most certainly do not sell cheap. But there are other small breweries who do. So the problem is the premium-end is stolen by the the trendy breweries, whilst the cheap ones knock your feet out from under you. Breweries like Waen, and dozens (hundreds?) of others are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Wanting to brew beers at the premium end (with the costs associated) but having nowhere to sell them… city/craft market volume mostly going to trendy breweries, and local market saturated by not great beer that sets a cheap local price expectation.

What we’re observing “craft beer” saturation… whilst the sector is certainly in growth the brewing volume trying to supply it is growing faster than the outlet volume.

* To steal the term Sue uses…

…which is what you get when your head brewer has decades of experience at a top macro brewery – bloody well-made beer. Cloudwater are often knocked for the ‘hype’ around their beers and their ‘hipster’ brand – accusations of which imply an element of style and gimmickry over substance.

Never mind that Cloudwater remain, in practical and physical terms, a tiny brewery whose marketing budget is effectively zero – they are one of a few breweries (Buxton and Kernel also spring to mind) who are able to not only innovate, but to follow through on their ideas with the skill (or craft!?) to make beer of a consistently high quality, whether it’s a 4% bitter or a barrel-aged imperial stout.

As the craft audience matures, it will find that consistency and reliability will start to outweigh novelty and fashion, and so brewers like Cloudwater should endure. Or maybe I’m getting old?!

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