Wednesday, 27 June 2012


noun /ˈretərik/ 

The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, esp. the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques

Language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content

There is a lot of nonsense said, and written, about beer. Sometimes it's just ill information spread around by well meaning people who have simply misunderstood what they have heard, or been told. Sometimes it is misinformation propagated innocently by enthusiastic beery folk in the name of good beer. On occasions it might be deformed truths, hidden behind suggestions of something that isn't, aimed at fuggling the brains of the poor beer consumer. Sometimes it can be downright lies spouted by brewery PR people who somehow manage to get away with deflecting the beer drinkers thought process away from some reality or other.

I'd like to think at Hardknott we are reasonably honest about our methods of promoting our beer. Yes, we jump the odd band wagon occasionally1, and we might shout about something we don't like, or someone who has upset us, if we think it'll get us noticed. But, we do always act from our hearts, with honesty about what we do. We don't tend to use hollow rhetoric.

However, it seems to us that a little bit of rhetoric might help us out, so we brewed some.

Rhetoric is our "concept" beer range. The experimental stuff that might, or might not quite work. It might be more art than beer, although I think someone once tried to use that tag line, so perhaps I won't. It's certainly craft, mainly because the results will be one off, and largely unpredictable at the mercy of the whim of the head brewer. Me.

I was kind of gunning for 13% on this one. We threw lots of various sugars at the damn thing. Lots and lots, in fact. We used three different types of yeast and mucked around with rousing, but tentatively for fear of the danger of oxidisation. In the end it stopped at just a shade over 10%.

There are all sorts of things you can throw into beer, like yeast nutrients and, if you really want to go all Heston on the job, artificial enzymes to help the yeast get along with more troublesome to digest sugars. We didn't use them on this occasion, but we do have other projects on the go...

But, for this one, as usual, we bottle conditioned. It wasn't one of those pretend bottle conditioning activities where the beer is filtered, carbonated and then just a token bit of yeast dobbed in, an absence of any fermentables or oxygen rendering secondary fermentation, with any meaning, a complete myth.2 No, this beer was flat when it went in the bottle and any sparkle is the result of what went on after we put the lid on our creation.

I'd like to make a quick note about reediness to drink. This beer has been in the bottle for the best part of 6 weeks now. It's about there, and we've decided to release it on the world. I expect the yeast might continue to improve the condition in the bottle, or perhaps not. We think the condition is a little on the soft side, but the beer is tasty, and worth drinking.

The point is, the Rhetoric range of beers, this is the first edition you see, are hopefully going to continue to age, if looked after, for a long time. Like any fine beverage, it will peak sometime after it leaves the primary producer. If you want to buy just one bottle to drink very soon then go ahead. We think you'd be better buying two, one for now and one for some time later. We will not make this beer ever again. The next one will be quite different. We want people to buy them, keep them, look at them and gloat at other people when our supply runs out, and occasionally drink them some time in the future. I think this one will be great in 3-5 years time.

It's great now, of course. "Bonkers" someone told me recently, and then continuing to assure me that this particular bonkers was a good thing "all sorts of flavours going on". Probably as opposed to the sort of bonkers that I am, which possibly isn't good.

The beer? It's a Star Anise 3 Infused, Quasi-Bombastic, Belgique Quad. The people who have been given a pre-release bottle are invited to join an OpenIt session on twitter, Saturday, around 7:30pm.

The rest of you will be able to buy it on our on-line shop very soon now.


1but normally very quickly fall off the wagon.

2For the sake of clarity, I'm not going to say I'll never do these things. Indeed, I know that for various commercial reasons true bottle conditioning may not be viable at scale. However, a little bit of yeast in any beer helps, in my view, to add to flavour and protect the beer from harmful oxygen. Yeast eats oxygen you see, improving the shelf life when done right. Indeed, when looking to age beers yeast can be very helpful indeed, even if the majority of the carbonation comes from a big heavy pressure cylinder.

Additionally, the effects of chill haze, and something that I believe might be termed "colloidal stability" or an insufficiency of said stability, can cause problems in a wider market where people seem to drink with their eyes. These reasons can necessitate the need for heavy filtering. We will try to avoid it if we can.

3Anyone who knows Kristy McCready will know she has a pathological hatred of fennel, celery and aniseed. I already had her in mind when we brewed this beer. But then she declared that despite not liking rhubarb either, she found it OK in at least one beer.

I'm not holding out too much hope for Kristy liking this one, however.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Humanity of Craft Beer

The good old craft beer definition thing keeps rearing its head. There are people that don’t see the need to define it. Sometimes this seems to be because they feel comfortable with what they see as craft and wonder why there is a fuss at all. Some people, it seems, feel that beer is just beer and we shouldn’t try to differentiate.

I can find good reason to hook with these synergies; on the one hand I know what I class as craft and what I don’t, and on the other appreciate that the world of beer is broad, and even that which I dismiss as not craft still deserves a worthy place in the broader sense.
But still, the desire is still there to attempt a demarcation. We all have the need to assign to a club, a clan, our tribe that defines our inner sense of being. Our own individual need to say “this is who I am and these are the people with whom I belong”

Despite this obvious need to define ourselves it is unlikely that we will ever find the answer. What you feel is worthy, dear drinker, of being part of your craft world will always differ to mine. We should not be afraid to admit to this and remember that whilst we can discuss, argue and perhaps occasionally get annoyed with each other over what we feel is right, the fact that we all care about it is proof that it matters enough.

Momentarily I shall remove myself from the abstract and consider a practical point of view. I make and sell beer. I need a way to put across how the beer I sell differs from the other beer that customers could buy from other brewers.

To allow me to explain I will apologise in advance for in part being a little derogatory about beer that I don’t make, but could, at least in the eyes of some, still be classed as craft. I am, of course, referring to cask beer, made as inoffensive as possible, to appeal to as broad an audience as possible and brewed mainly to the cost constraints laid down by accountants. Made by people who might well be brewers, and may well be quite technically competent and indeed, far more competent than me, but have had all the flair and imagination knocked out of them by financial targets imposed by men in suits. It might be cask and it might be local, but it isn’t exactly what you would call inspirational.

I can hear a sigh “There you go again Dave” will come a comment “Why can’t you just say what is good about your beer, rather than condemn other beers” and the reason is quite simple; comparison. The people who like, and drink everyday the beers I am describing are content with what they drink. If they are happy then that is all good to me. Equally, it is important for me to say that this is not the sort of beer I wish to make. Partly by saying this it helps me to apologise to the people who don’t like what I brew, and to define what the people who like my beer might drink.

To this end one definition of craft beer is that which has flavours, strengths, aromas and presentation that steps far away from the criteria needed for the common man. Perhaps it is hopped to hell, or is 10%++ or has some crazy adjunct flavour that just shouldn’t be in beer. Perhaps, as I saw one commentator write, brewed in the American style.

You can say these things, and more. I would like to offer one other asset of craft beer. One that seems to ring through all others; Craft beers have a real story behind them. Real personalities. Real people. People who care about touching base with the drinker who buys the beer. People who’s inspiration shines through not only in the beer itself but also the fact that they take time to communicate what the beer is about. People who are not just influenced by accountants, and shareholders who care only about their dividend, but are also influenced by wanting to inspire the drinker.

John Keeling, me and The English Experiment at The Rake
I am writing this sat on a train to Euston Station. We have already sent a cask to The Rake Bar. John Keeling, Alex and I made a beer a few weeks back and we called it The English Experiment. One thing is for sure, after John’s expenses to travel up to Cumbria and my expenses for today are taken into account, this beer is making a substantial loss financially, at least for this batch. If we brew a lot more of it we might well make money. If so, can we still call it the same beer if John isn’t there to wave his Fullers’ magic?

Rhetorical, is the answer for now. Making money, directly at least, was not the point of the exercise. Obviously, we hope that the PR will be mutually beneficial to both our enterprises.

We hope that this transparent and public show of what the comradeship within inspirational UK brewers can mean will strengthen my point that in part, beer is about people. From the people who load the grist case, dig out the mash tun, scrub the copper, fill the casks, run the bottling line, analyse the results, sell the beer, buy the beer and of course, drink the beer, it’s about the people.

People, personalities, emotions, fun and fears, and many, many more human factors are what, in my mind, makes craft beer more than any other definable quality.

Because of that, we will never define craft beer, nor should we be able to. The people and the personalities who make it will, in themselves, continue to discuss for a very long time what it means. It is good that we do, I’m happy that we do, because it shows we are human.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Photo Competition

It occurs to me that some of the people who enjoy our beer very definitely buck the idea that beer drinkers are unhealthy podgy people who can't be bothered to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. I could list everyone who springs to mind, but it's too long a list to include here. There are a couple of people who have even taken the time to cart a bottle or two up a mountain and photograph it in all it's splendour. I can't think of a better backdrop for one of our beers than some majestic mountain view, be it from the pub beer garden or atop that hill you've just struggled up.

One such trouper is Yvan Seth who regularly drops by the brewery to pick up beer, or drop off empties, whilst visiting our area on a walking expedition.

He was here very recently and as he's been doing such a great job in getting beer around the country the least we could do was let him have some beer.

Off he went and took pictures of it in various great locations
It struck me that the best pictures of The English Experiment have actually been taken in Scotland. Alex Salmond, eat your heart out.

Yvan has also taken some on top of a New Zealand mountain, however, the record this end has been lost in my twitter timeline somewhere......

I'm sure Yvan will send it me again.

Another, more local walker/photographer is a guy called Adam, who has been partly responsible for getting our town a decent beer outlet. Tweeting as @BearOnThSquare he sent me a picture from the top of Pavey Ark in The Lake District.

I really like all these pictures and hope to build up a collection.

To help me find more pictures I have been thinking for a while of running a competition. So, today I'm doing something about it. If you would like to receive a mixed case of our beer and have, or would like to take some pictures of our beer in unusual locations, you can email them to dave at

Get snapping!!


Rules, we don't really believe in rules, but best make some up anyway.

By sending us your picture you permit the use of your work by Hardknott. All credit will be given to the originator of the work. You will retain copyright and will be free to use the photography as you feel fit for any other purpose.
To enable us to assign credits please include all information regarding the originator of the work.
To enable us to send out any prizes full postal address must be included.
Although we encourage entries from all parts of the world, please note that we can only guarantee shipping beer prizes to UK mainland addresses.
Hardknott reserves the right to assign prizes as it sees fit, or to not issue any prizes should no entry be deemed suitable.
Winners will be announced on this blog and a selection of worthy mentions may also be included.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The English Experiment

John Keeling is one of those friends I have had the pleasure of being acquainted with as a direct result of this blog. It started one day back in October 2009 sat drinking a cup of coffee at Sheffield station. We were meeting several people from The British Guild of Beer Writers. Several people who I know had already arrived and I was introduced to John. I replied with my name and the response John gave will remain a warming memory for the rest of my years.

"I know, I read your blog"

The knowledge that at least one significant head brewer in the UK brewing scene reads my blog was an enormous boost.

I have met up with John on several occasions since. I've even written about his brewery after a visit. He has convinced me that he and his company should have a very rightful place amongst the hotly debated definition of Craft Brewers.

When John phoned me and suggested we should do a collaboration I was thrilled. Of course, there is the inevitable little bit of extra PR it will provide us, but also I am flattered to be considered as worthy enough to be approached by a significant and historic brewery. I felt a little bit of responsibility towards the process too. Clearly Fuller's have to gain something out of allowing their Brewing Director to travel up to Cumbria and spend time with us.

What I hope they have gained is assurance of credibility. At a time when just being a long standing family brewer is not enough. At a time when there is a swing towards a more contemporary and cutting edge approach to brewing there is a danger that by not evolving, and seeing to evolve, a historic brewery will end up extinct. If you look like a dinosaur, there is every chance you will end up suffering the same fate.

Of course, when a brewer has a solid and substantial brand following such as Fuller's, with their ever successful London Pride, care needs to be taken not to upset this. To that end I was aware that we had a responsibility to somehow take care not to upset Fuller's significant reputation, but also to not undermine our own principles.

To make a beer that both Fullers and Hardknott would be proud of is the main objective. For it to comply with our objectives it had to be different, somehow. A contemporary spin on using all English ingredients seemed to be a good thing to do.

Charles Faram came to the rescue with their hop breeding program. We got Archer, Baron, Bishop and Landlady hops which I believe are the first year of a very small comertial release. Will Rogers from Faram had this to say;

"These four varieties have come from the Charles Faram hop development program and we are delighted at their application in this collaboration brew. They are in the traditional English style but with fantastic disease resistance to facilitate a sustainable future for the English hop industry. They have been selected for their excellent brewing potential with new flavours and aromas whilst still being recognisably English in their nature."

There will be a cask at The Rake Bar on Monday 11th June from 5pm. I'll be there and so will John Keeling.

Meanwhile, we also shot some video of the fun we had. It has taken me hours to get the 1 hour 20 minutes of footage down to this, so please watch it.