Monday, 28 December 2015

Hardknott Stream - Work in Progress

It is perhaps something of a debilitation, but it is a fact that I have numerous and varied interests. Photography, for instance, has that superb crossover between creative and technological. Just to add that little bit of extra fascination, with the modern invention of moving pictures, the talkies, colour reproduction, digital photography and now that greatest of all man's invention, the internet with which one can inflict delight the general public with creative genius.

Because I work with beer, and run my own brewery, I am constantly on the look-out for new and interesting ways of getting closer to the people who like beer, and hopefully convince them to drink Hardknott. We've made various videos, some more successful than others, all taking a surprisingly long time to put together. I enjoy doing it, but it does make me wonder if the effort is worth the benefits, if I were to look at it from a pure business point of view. Of course, there is the broader activity of beer communications, which I enjoy and in itself often becomes a distraction from what I should be doing, and part of the incentive to write this blog.

More recently I've become aware of the ability to live stream video to the internet. Not a new thing in any real terms, but as super-fast broadbandbecomes more available, even in our outcast places, it becomes technically more practical. Specifically YouTube have recently created a service that appears to be available for us to live stream moving pictures, along with sound, for anyone to watch.

Muk-Bang has taken off in Korea, it seems. A bizarre spectacle where someone, usually a young attractive specimen, eats various food for an on-line audience. Often referred to as food porn, which leaves me unsure if the format is appealing to people who want to feel good about eating, when they feel they shouldn't and so seeing young attractive people eating makes them feel better about themselves. Perhaps it is actually some sort of sexual fetish. It is best we don't delve too deep into the psychology there, else we may be distracted from my own plans. However, I do have the thought that perhaps, with people deciding to "detox" in January, I could just get frazzled in front of the camera and keep the beer world turning. You can all sit and watch us on the internet, with your carrot juice safely in hand, whilst we guzzle down beers to compensate. That way we'll all feel good.

One of the things that attracts me to the format is the ability for our audience to interact. My concept is to have topical beer items, or at least vaguely beer related, and monitor all our social media timelines for incoming comments. We can then react to your input, so helping us to get closer to you, the beer drinker. Whichever, I expect it'll be a bit of fun.

So, last Wednesday, the day before Christmas Eve, we did a little technical test to see if we could broadcast a live video signal and put together some sort of "beer show" - it worked, after a fashion. We had numerous technical issues, largely due to the super-fast broadband not being as super-fast as we expected. However, it happened, after quite a bit of effort, and we learnt a lot.

Undaunted2 by some of the difficulties, we are going to run a proper "pilot" broadcast on Wednesday 30th December 2015 at 19:30 (that's 7:30pm, in old fashioned time)  - please call in, watch what we are doing, say "hi" on twitter3, or whatever, and feedback any comments on the show. Good or bad, whatever, we cannot improve if we don't get your input. If nothing else, we'll run the @Hardknott twitter timeline on the side of the screen on some shots, just so you can see that it really is live4.

The channel can be accessed via or


1Our normal broadband, with around 12Mbit/s download, which is normally quite fast enough to watch iPlayer, only has a 500kbit/s upload speed - this really isn't quite fast enough for video streaming at any reasonable quality. We have yet to decide to invest in the locally available FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) - so we are trialling in a local business centre to see if it is viable. They still only have 1Mbit/s upload, but it's just about OK, if we set all our video settings just right.

2Yes, you are right, we are actually seriously daunted by the difficulties we face. However, there is no point pissing around, we might as well get on with the job and suffer the consequences if it makes us look silly. So, if we are going to do it, we must put across a bullish and forthright attitude. A faint heart, and all that.

3Tweet us @Hardknott to see your comment come back on the video feed. Please, don't use abuse or whatever, we of course will reserve the right to block you. And we can switch off the sidebar at any time we wish.

4You may experience a delay, typically up to 30 seconds, due to our streaming software getting its act together, the interwebby thing uploading and then downloading the data plus YouTube's servers processing. We've had it down a low as 10 seconds, which I think is fairly amazing when you realise the data crunching and transfer that needs to happen. If the delay becomes too long, have a look to check it isn't your end. Sometimes the receiving computer can buffer and you need to pull the time-bar at the bottom of the screen until it is at the end and showing perhaps -1 second.

A further technical hitch possible at the receiving end is if you open in the Hardknott site, and then navigate to YouTube (it is my recommendation that you open in YouTube) and still have the Hardknott page open you may have two version of the same stream on different delays. This will cause an echo and possible deterioration of your system's performance. Close one of the windows!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Rhetoric IV.I

It's here, this is what you've been waiting for, a new release of Rhetoric.

We've been planning this one for a while. We wanted to make a big stout, better than ever before. We wanted to see how far we could push our house yeast, just to see what it would do.

This was to be brewed with a peated malt I'd come by. However, we don't have a mill and my initial over optimistic view of the task soon turned out to be somewhat false. The food processor just didn't do the right job and so I set to with a rolling pin to manually crush 25kg of malted barley. 8 hours over 2 days saw significant temporary RSI.

We hoped it would get to 10% ABV. We aimed for an OG of 1100, or there about. In the end we managed 1098.2, which we thought to be close enough.

Of course, the final ABV of any beer is dependant on how well the yeast attacks the sugars. This in turn is dependant on a number of factors including enzyme action in the mash, yeast pitching rate, oxygenation of the wort, nutrients in the wort and no doubt a few more bio-chemical things that I don't understand.

As our team consists of not only me, with my 10 years of experience but also Scott, who is good at analysing past performance of brews and successfully improving on what we've already achieved. And then we have Sarah, who has done a degree in microbiology specialising in brewing yeast. Between us, after several discussion over coffee, donuts and QA samples of Azimuth, we devised a mash temperature, glucose dosing, aeration and pitch rate program that we though should do the job.

We took gravity readings every 12 hours, as is good practice in any yeast management strategy. We also remembered to write them all down carefully in perfectly legible writing every single time1.

Most importantly we watched them gravity drop down towards the target that we needed to achieve our goal of 10%. Using the HMRC recommended method we calculated the target PG (present gravity)

(OG-PG)*0.133 = ABV (at target ABV)

So, by rearranging the formula;

ABV/0.133 = OG-PG also known as attenuation.

ABV/0.133 = 75.2 degrees of attenuation.

PG = OG - 75.2 = 1098.2 - 75.2 = 1023

I was a little bit nervous. It was the first time we'd pushed our house yeast this far3. Would it fall over as the alcohol pickled the yeast? Would the yeast run out of the nutrients it would desperately need to keep going? Had we grown enough fresh new daughter yeast cells with the vigour needed to get the job done?

The gravity closed quickly towards 1022.4, and then romped on past it. Downwards past 1020, 1019, 1018 and further. Actually, it went incredibly fast, so fast that I wondered if it would become a stupidly dry beer, like Granite 2013 ended up to be. But no, all of a sudden the yeast stopped fermenting and the PG remained steady at 1016.6. The thing is, not only does the extra attenuation mean more alcohol, it also means that we need to use a different "f" number to calculate it;

ABV = (OG-PG)*f = (1098.2 - 1016.6) * 0.134 = 10.93%

As it'll probably do a small amount of further maturation in bottle, we felt it appropriate to declare 11% dead.

I'm keen to now have a go at pushing our yeast still further. At 1016.6, starting at 1098.2 I have a fair degree of certainty that yeasty has mopped up all the available fermentable carbohydrates. I was scared the yeast would give up due to alcohol poisoning, but no, those little critters have done me proud.

In related news, we've are so proud of what our house yeast has done that we've given it a twitter account. Follow @HardknottYeasty and you might get an insight into what the yeast is up to in the tanks.



1Yes, you are perfectly right, that was a lie. Mostly we have a collection of people who are very intelligent, well educated and very fluent in both English2 and Mathematics. However, calligraphy ain't our strong point.

2Well, Scott is fluent in a version of English that has gotten corrupted by them people over the other side of the big pond. Still, he's quite eloquent with it, for an American.

3Previous beers that were up at this ABV we've used a combination of yeasts to get to the ABV, generally including dried yeast. We've only been using our current strain of yeast for just over 12 months.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Hardknott Birthday Beer Cocktail Night

1st December 2015, Slate Cocktail Bar, Kendal, 7:30pm onwards.

Vitesse Noir Espresso Martini
As mentioned previously, this Christmas Eve Hardknott will be 10 years old. As everyone will be focused on the festive event itself having any sort of celebration right then will be a bit pointless. So, we're going to start off our Anniversary celebrations early, before everyone gets too carried away with all that Santa nonsense.

We will be launching our new Rhetoric IV.I and throwing a bit of a cocktail party. Just to help people get there, rather than having the party in our somewhat remote location, we're taking over a bar in Kendal for a night. We'll have a keg of Azimuth and loads of tasters of special Hardknott beers too.

I was born in Kendal, and as I'm now in my 50th year1 it's nice to have a bit of an event in the town. Besides, Kendal has a train station that isn't too difficult to get to from the likes of Lancaster, Manchester and other such conurbations.

Rhetoric IV.I
If you are really lucky, we'll have
earlier versions for you to try 
Slate is a brand new cocktail bar in the centre of Kendal, right next to Booths supermarket. Beer doesn't feature quite as much as it could, but we know Adam who runs the bar and we think there is room for a bit of a twist on things. We've never played around with beer cocktails, but according to Adam many of our beers will work well. Vitesse Noir Espresso Martini or a Peat Smoked Old Fashioned using our new Rhetoric IV.I? There will be many more ideas on the night.

You don't have to have a beer cocktail, just come along and sup a few glasses of Azimuth, and have some fun.


1Yeah, I know, I find it difficult to believe too. Where on earth has all that time gone?

Craft Snakebite - Azimuth and Orchard Pig Naval Gazer

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Do we HAVE to produce cask beer?

Way back in 2005, when we first started brewing, 100% of our beer was cask. In the first 5 years of the life of Hardknott the percentage remained in the high 90% range. We had a tiny amount contract bottled and hand bottled a little bit ourselves. We experimented with the odd keg.

When we moved to our current location in 2010 we knew we wanted to explore other formats. Bottle was a high priority1 and keg was a very close second. However, the vast majority was cask beer, and that was the way it stayed until we finally bought our bottling line.

I'm doing some fairly intensive business development thinking right now. We've built a great team, made huge progress, but the financial success of Hardknott in any sort of meaningful way needs a good move forward.

I've been looking at some sales statistics. Sales of cask is standing just about steady. Stagnating, in fact. Cask is dominated by a plethora of breweries many of whom are competing on price alone. This means turning the stuff around with little time in tank, no dry hopping, minimal hops in any case. And to some extent if that is their thing, turn it out cheap, 'cause actually, cheap low-taste beer is what the majority of pubs can sell easily.

We don't want to make low-taste beer. We don't want to make stuff to the lowest budget we can. We want to make stuff that makes a statement, makers a difference, turns heads. We use more hops, dry hop most beers, and it stays in tank a little longer, because Scott refuses to claim it to be ready until he is happy2. It costs a little more to do and we unashamedly charge a little more than many breweries.

What we've found is that our bottle and keg production has been our solid growth area. We now produce less than 25% cask. It isn't that we put less beer in cask, we have just grown the other areas. Most of what we package is in bottle. This is a good situation from a business point of view. To justify the space the bottling line occupies, to pay down the loan we still have on the machine, we need to make it work hard.

Putting beer into keg at the same time we bottle is easy. We like doing that and is generally what we do for Azimuth for sure, which sells very well in both formats.

Cask is becoming more and more of a chore, and makes less and less business sense. There is frankly a huge surplus of rubbish cask producers, and equally a good number of great cask producers. Competing on price, maintaining quality, in an area that is becoming a marginal activity, isn't going to replace my shoe leather. Running so many different beers in several different packaging is becoming difficult to manage and something might have to give.

But, I'm happy to sell beer in whatever format makes commercial sense. If I can empty a full tank into cask and sell it in a week, then I will3. But more and more now we're trying to shoehorn cask production into what space we can find in the schedule, exacerbated by the fact that we are very close to absolute maximum production we can achieve with the equipment we've got.

I noticed a blogpost by Tandleman back in August regarding a brewery that announced the cessation of cask production. I can understand his frustration at the brewery's announcement. Stopping cask production does then result in a failure of the beers to appear in cask-only outlets. But it might be obvious to the reader that I can see the point of view - every business owner has a primary responsibility to make decisions for the good of the business.

I was however a bit taken aback by Tandleman's "that raises two fingers to those that have loyally supped Buxton beers on handpump these last years" comment. That one has sort of lingered in the back of my mind. Surely, if cask were supported with enough strength, breweries would not make such decisions?


1And if we started again today it would be cans, all the way, but we are where we are for the time being.

2Which in itself causes us problems. We try to guess when beer will be ready to rack. We send out availability lists to pubs and distributors at the beginning of the week, and to provide the range we want to show, sometimes beers might not be quite there. Ann then makes sales and issues racking orders. "[So and so] want it by Friday, and we need to send out Wednesday, which is tomorrow, is it ready to rack?"

The sale might not be made until Tuesday, but it is still in tank, it is brewday and the mashtun is still to dig out. A look at the beer shows it isn't quite ready, and then a tank for today's brew needs to be cleaned. The beer might get racked tomorrow, if we get enough casks cleaned, but then there will be the pallet to build, and we might miss the window to call in the haulier. It could go out Thursday, but then we'd have to pay for next day delivery, putting up the delivery cost, which we absorb. Besides, the beer will be ready when it is ready "Ask them if Monday is OK" and generally the reply is that no, they need it this week or not at all.

3A full tank is more than two full pallets of casks. Most of our distributors only take one pallet at a time, and that is generally a mixed pallet. It means to carry on making sense, and for us to carry on making cask, we need you, the cask fan, to drink Hardknott, demand Hardknott, that way we'll get more demand this end, and everyone will be happy.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Hardknott is nearly 10 years old

Back when I was an engineer1I dreamt of running my own business. It came to a bit of a head, fairly suddenly, when a combination of dissatisfaction with the job I was doing combined with a little bit of luck property wise. We sold our house and bought a pub.

This was late in 2003. I have always had a love of good food and drink, preferably locally sourced, made by people I know, full-flavoured and interesting. I liked something different.  Always on the lookout for a different night out, that different flavour, interesting take, and anything really that moved away from the same-old-same-old that dominates the wider leisure industry. This ethos, this desire to be different has percolated through everything we've done in our business.

In 2005 we decided to buy some brewery kit. A 2-and-a-bit2 barrel brew house complete with two fermenters. I set it up in the Autumn of 2005 and got it all working and mashed in for the first time Christmas Eve 2005. The beer fermented over the Christmas period and we had the first beer on the bar New Years Eve just in time to see in 2006.

Fast forward to the present day, five years after we sold the pub and moved to Millom, and we are rapidly approaching our Tenth Anniversary. We've grown quite a bit, bought a bottling line, and bigger and better tanks. We've still got a long way to go before I feel we have a secure and solid future for Hardknott - we are literally desperate to build a new brewhouse for a start.3

Ten years down the line I have a team that seem to get on with the job of making stunning beer without much hassle. I only occasionally get asked for technical input and in that regard have stepped back to the role of just tasting the beer, looking over recipe proposals and feeling like, if I interfere, it would simply be for the sake of stamping my authority. Don't fix what ain't broke they say, so I don't.

Of course I couldn't let our 10th Anniversary date slip by without doing something special. We haven't made a Rhetoric for a little while. The next one is Rhetoric IV, and so we thought it should be our anniversary beer. We've made an imperial stout with peat smoked malt. It adds a great extra dimension we think.

We've actually called this one Rhetoric IV.I - or if you prefer 4.1. "Why the point 1?" you ask. Well, because we've put some in some spirit casks to bottle later on in 2016, just so you have something to look forward to. Rhetoric IV.II, IV.III and IV.IV will be issued through 2016 when we deem them to be ready.

We'll be bottling Rhetoric IV.I very soon, so look out for it.


1I still consider myself to be an engineer. If stuff goes wrong at the brewery it is generally me who has to fix it. Indeed, my "To fix" list grows every day. I'm sort of hoping that some things will drop off the end and make it on to the "To weigh in" list as we get to afford to replace some things, but that is another story, which I hope to tell you soon. Meanwhile, I am now a part-time engineer, as I also have a business to run.

2I used to kid myself it was a two and a half barrel brewery. It wasn't really. I was lucky to get 9 firkins out of a fermenter, and generally 8 and a pin much more likely. Our tanks now are around 1600 litres or more per brew. Nominal 10 brewery barrels.

3Again, more news on this soon, I hope. My people are still working on a few things here. You know, accountants, business plans, solicitors and contracts. All really boring stuff I have to deal with just to move us upwards and onwards.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Beer and The Environment

Brewing is a fairly energy intensive process. There is significant heating and cooling in the process of brewing and getting beer ready to drink. On top of that, on the whole, it is a bulky product compared to higher ABV drinks. Transporting beer uses a fair bit of hydrocarbons, and if you think about it, mainly we are transporting water.

The original version of this figure was prepared
Robert A. Rohde from publicly available data,
and is incorporated into the
Global Warming Art project.
I follow this thing known as "Global Warming" - in particular because I'm a bit of a fan of messing around on frozen water. When I get a chance, and a bit of spare cash, I enjoy the occasional skiing trip. This summer just gone, and in what by now is becoming a dreamy distant memory as our British weather closes in around us on the run-up to Christmas, I enjoyed a thing often referred to as a "holiday" where Ann and I tramped on glaciers in the French Alps.

I first walked on a glacier in 1981, at the age of 16. I wouldn't expect the reader to understand how much enjoyment that brought me, or the many subsequent occasions since; It is one of those things that floats my boat very high and well above any spiritual plimsoll mark that I can emote in words. It is therefore a great worry that in my lifetime I have visibly seen the effects of climate change on the retreat of glaciers. It is happening, how much it is natural, and how much by man-made effect even the scientists find difficult to quantify.

Glacier d'Argentiere - Chamonix Valley, France
Heating brewing liquor to mash, then some more to sparge, and then raising the temperature to a boil,  keeping it boiling and losing volume by boiling, which is necessary for evaporation of volatiles, all use energy. All the time the process is losing heat as the liquor is kept upwards of 65 degrees for several hours. The then boiling wort needs to be cooled back down rapidly so that yeast can be pitched. A good system will recover the heat for reuse in the process, but there is still some waste.

The yeast, due to it's metabolism, generates heat as it ferments. This heat needs to be removed else the beer will overheat and nasty favours will result as the yeast gets stressed. It requires some energy, one way or another, to remove this heat. In general, despite me investigating ways to recover this heat for reuse, it is classed as "low grade" heat and not really re-usable.

We then chill the beer for packaging, and hold it at as low a temperature as possible for a while to improve the clarity and mature the beer. This takes energy and despite insulated tanks, without maintaining constant cooling, the beer would warm up again and risk being spoilt.

Our energy bill is too high. I expect most breweries worry about their energy bill. Due to our size I expect our energy bill is higher per litre brewed than many bigger breweries. Bigger tanks lose less heat per unit volume than smaller ones, for the same grade of insulation. Bigger breweries can more efficiently recover heat put into the process.

High energy bills also reflect back on CO2 emissions. There are other ways of doing it where the electricity supplier is paid to only supply green electricity. If you don't understand this, then ask Stringers, they know the deal, and buy into it whole heartedly1. I get it, and think it is a great idea, except for the slight problem that it puts up overheads because the energy costs more. I'm not convinced that the
vast majority of beer drinkers are grateful enough to pay more for the beer, although I'd like to think I'm wrong on that.

I'm interested in reducing the cost of our energy, and think it is the best way for us to improve our impact on the environment. By reducing costs we can plough back the savings into new and better equipment, upscale a little and so reduce our losses per litre. This will also improve our efficiency still further and so enable us to start to look at incorporating true renewable energy solutions that are cost neutral into our process. We have already been looking at Anaerobic Digestion, and I have a feasibility study on my desk, done for us by a student at Lancaster University, showing that with a bit of ingenuity, if partnering with an agricultural site it is possible to supplement heating with biogas.

I have a concept for a custom built brewery that is sited somewhere in Cumbria that makes use of any available renewable energy. Generally to make it work such a site would need to have the space necessary. Be it anaerobic digestion of our waste, coupled with farm waste, or be it biomass boilers, solar panels or wind turbines I don't really know. In any case, it might well be a dream too far as these things are well outside the financial resources we currently have.

But there it is, my dream, my real goal. This is one of the many things I'd like to do with Hardknott. I could keep it a secret, and hope that someone else doesn't realise this eventual dream before me, but they probably will beat me to it, and when they do, at least you know that I, along with other brewers I expect, had the dream.


1I am hopeful that the reader sees my mention of Stringers here as an endorsement of their ethos, rather than negative comment. They clearly are intent on doing what they believe is right. Their renewable credentials are important and I'm rather pleased to see their website now shows a somewhat more overt display of this important selling point.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Equity for Punks Revisited

Back in 2009 I became somewhat infatuated with a small but up-and-coming brewery called BrewDog. James Watt managed to capture my imagination with his promise of change within the beer industry. Personal circumstances conspired the night of the launch of Equity for Punks and I found myself with a maverick attitude. I parting with £230 for a 50p share in BrewDog. I forget the exact proportion of the equity up for sale, but whatever, I had bought a little bit of a brewery and at the time that cheered me up when other stuff was properly getting to me. I had been slowly getting tired of running a pub, and the drab "Real Ale" scene that felt like it was restricting progression of beer.

I spent the next few days, weeks even, justifying my purchase. Many people were very quick to point out that BrewDog had grossly overvalued themselves. However, I believed then, as I still do now, that the boys have a very powerful formula that was bound to find some sort of success; I wasn't purchasing their current value, I was buying into a promise of bigger things to come. If the bigger things didn't happen, at least I bought into a concept that was worthy, part of a change in the beer world that was needed, and possibly still is.

I only took brief notice of the second round of their crowd funding concept. It seemed by the valuation at the time that I might have doubled my money, but I really couldn't be bothered to do the sums. I had by that time moved Hardknott to its current location and my association with BrewDog seemed to me to be bringing me more embarrassment than benefits, so I decided to pipe-down and just get on with the job of growing my own brewery, even though there were times I overtly used similar tactics.

BrewDog became increasingly controversial, and annoyed more and more people, whilst at the same time creating such a buzz that the whole thing appeared unstoppable by nearly anything, even the most annoying PR stunt. I thought at least if they continue to grow the sceptical critiques would be proved wrong.

Equity for Punks 3 was at a time I was trying very hard to force Hardknott, and my own PR machine, to distance from BrewDog completely. I really have no idea what went on. I'm still unsure if the distance between us is good or bad, but equally, it became clear that BrewDog cared much less about me too.

What did happen, at some point in time, was that my single share was converted to 10 shares, each with a nominal value of 5p. The 5p shares seemed to be selling at that point for £95. My shares then seemed to be worth £950. Not a bad step up for the £230 I initially invested.

On looking, finally, at Equity for Punks 4 it became clear that this really had been a freight train that is quite unstoppable. The new shares are being sold at £47.5 each. BrewDog have raised over £10m already and are hoping to get to £25m in total.

When completed the new shares will be 1p shares. My 10 shares will also be converted into 1p shares and I'll have 50 of them. At least that is my understanding. My original investment of £230 seems to now be worth £2,375. A ten fold increase in 6 years. Of course, what it will mean if they fail to raise £25m I don't really know, but it still looks quite good from my point of view.

I was uncertain about writing this post. As I've indicated, I'm now in a place where I want Hardknott to succeed because we are who we are, not because we are someone who has simply copied off BrewDog. Equally, now that I have my own brewery, and BrewDog has grown beyond any projections even I would have believed, they are on the verge of being a multinational monolithic conglomerate they rail against. I've felt that there is now a tension between us that is barely tangible, but clearly we are viewed as a threat, rather than an ally. It's a shame, but not surprising I guess.

I console myself with the fact that whatever we do, and whatever our honesty in the way we operate, I have at least gained some growth in my investment with BrewDog. If we were to do the same, and go to the crowd for funding, we'd certainly not be as brash, audacious, or actually even slightly devious. The fact we don't lie to the banks, or our customers, or are quite as all out ballsy as those guys, and as a result are more content in making our own way might not bring us quite that same world domination. If we went to the crowd we'd probably be looking for people to support us because we are not going to be so controversial, but at the same time, we could not expect to make quite such dramatic gains.


I did a number of posts around the time of the whole launch. It was, I have to admit, quite exciting. I have never regretted forking out £230, even if sometimes I did wonder if I would see the cash again. Check out the posts below.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Azimuth storms several wins at SIBA

Winning awards is something that brings real pleasure to a brewery. When you've worked, as a team, to build the quality and consistency of the beers to a height that you believe is worthy of an award, it is satisfying to get confirmation from the judges. Yesterday was something of a triumph for Hardknott.

There are a few things I like about the SIBA awards, but one of the main things is that the judges, by and large, are industry people and brewers from other regions. There are obvious controls in place to ensure no one associated with the beers are judging them, and there is tight control around the double blind systems1.

Equally, the beers presented are what the brewer wants to show off. It's a frustration I have with CBOB, for instance, that we seem to fail to even get off the ground, despite obviously having simply top-class beers.

But never mind, at the North West SIBA competition, running off the back of The Bolton Beer Festival, we won a few awards. To say we are delighted would be a huge understatement. I think the SIBA awards, although less well known, are far more prestigious. By the industry, for the industry.

Anyway, Azimuth got Gold in the strong bitters and pale ale small pack category, netting us a swanky glass trophy. It then went on to win Bronze overall in the small pack section2. This ensures we will be in the National SIBA final at BeerX.

Nuclear Sunset gained Bronze in speciality beers small pack.

Azimuth also gained Bronze in cask for strong bitters and pale ales.

Interesting that Azimuth only got bronze in cask. I could point to the fact that I think the extra carbonation in bottle, or in keg for that matter, lifts the aromas in Azimuth. It could just be that there were more entries (over twice the amount) in the cask section. Either way, there are some good beers that we beat, so I'm pleased.

To get a gold, and following on to a bronze overall is a testament I think to the quality of out brewing and our diligence to bottling process. From a pure financial point of view, having our own bottling line is dubious. However, we have full control over quality, the beer doesn't travel far and our determination to not sterile filter, and so we maintain flavours, ensures a superb end result. And the results of this competition are the proof.


1This isn't always the case, and there have been ructions, quite rightly at SIBA meetings, as a result of problems. However, I believe that where these problems have been spotted, aggrieved brewers are quick to jump in and point out that it isn't fair and transparent ensuring a good competition. Run by brewers, for brewers. We get het up when we even imagine someone else is getting an unfair advantage.

2Small pack refers to either can or bottle. At the moment, in SIBA competitions, there are not many brewers who are entering cans. There were none, I believe, in this region. Glass, for now, seems to still be the preferred package.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Where is the real danger?

There are people that think the threat to cask beer is a thing. Others worry about British hops. And there are those that panic that a 50 year old, and largely inefficient and past it's best breed of malting barley being left behind is a huge issue. Some people feel that buildings that are old, draughty, have shitty cellars liable to flooding and often quite disgusting are things worth saving for the good of beer in general, despite the fact punters don't really agree and stay away in droves.

But I'd ask you to think again.

We are a tiny brewery. We struggle to find ways of getting our beer efficiently to the places people drink it. We are remote and really need the help of distributors to get it fairly much out there. But there is a problem, a huge and nasty problem.

The big boys.

"We've got both types of beer in here, Bud AND Bud Light"

Today we here of the agreement in principle to AB Inbev and SAB Miller joining forces to make the biggest beer producer in the world. A global domination that is huge, and to be honest, quite scary. 30% of all beer in the world will be made by one, big, nasty, aggressive and domineering conglomerate. Around 1/3 of all beer will be made by an organisation that doesn't actually care about beer at all. A business that thinks beer can be bought and sold like a commodity, and cares nothing about you, the beer drinker.

Now, you could say, so what? Why does it matter? After all, Craft Beer is booming, there are breweries opening up all over and there is more choice in craft beer bars and independent free houses all over the UK.

Well, yes, but, there are still many pubs, bars, restaurants and the like where the beer choice is narrowed down to a few major beers. Practices that are restrictive are reported to be occurring in USA. I am sure, due to resistance I feel, that the same practices are occurring over here. It might be somewhat less obvious and in a cleverer and less obtrusive way. But equally, a perspective on that could suggest conspiracy. After all, There's A Beer For That.

I think the big beer producers, and their watery, bland, uninteresting beer, along with their nasty, restrictive and domineering control of supply chains are inhibiting great beer getting to great people like you.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Hop Breeding

Part 2 of my hop series.

I don't care too much for British hops. There, I've said it. I know making such a statement tends to offend some of the die hard trad. fans. The truth of the matter is that to create the beers we want to make, British hops so far just haven't got what it takes to make the grade. The bigger family and regional brewers tend to use British Hops for their mainstream beers. If we did the same, we'd be pushing out beers that were the same, why would we want to do that?

Faram's breading program planted
5,000 seedlings in 2015
each one a new variety cross
On a personal level this upsets me quite a bit. If British Hop growers could manage to grow hops that do the same thing as the massive aroma of American hops, I'd not only be happy to buy them, I'd positively go out of my way to do so. The hospitality we have received at Stocks farm, for instance, puts that big bit of guilt into my head for my reluctance to use British hops. There are some really great people in the British Hop farming industry, they deserve success. I hold out an optimistic hope that they'll produce something really great.

We do have to remember that the hop growing industry in the UK is very much smaller than USA. I haven't got exact figures for the UK, but believe we have around 1,000 hectares of hop yards. In The States they have over 18,000 hectares1. There is a little more financial backing for development of unique, innovative and really stunning hop varieties. This has resulted in varieties like Citra and Simcoe, loved universally by craft beer brewers the world over. Even some of the more "established" new world hops are barely more than a couple of decades old. Cascade, on my brief research the oldest of what we'd consider "craft", was not released until 1972.

Is this the reason the British hop growers struggle to wow us? I think development of new hop varieties is part of the problem. I am lead to understand that there has been no government money put into UK hop breading for over 10 years, and yet EU money is provided for Eastern European hop growers, so my contacts tell me.

Verticillium Wilt
But I worry that terroir has a huge amount to do with it. It may just be possible the the UK climate, that fantastic "maritime" weather will always limit any success to strive towards what New World growers can achieve.

Never-the-less, I want British growers to continue to try. Charles Faram have a breading program, thank goodness, so there is hope.

Hop breeding focuses on one really important requirement - disease resistance. It seems that hops are really quite susceptible to disease. Powdery mildew, downey mildew, verticillium wilt etc are problems. There is no point growing a stunning new hop variety only to find that it is nearly impossible to grow without infestations. I wonder if it is inevitable that a variety that is resistant enough to the British weather will always tend to be more subtle in characteristics.

The problem is, breeding programs take anything up to 10 years to get a new variety from first cross breeding to selection of full commercial crop. Selection of promising cultivars have to go through disease assessment as well as aroma selection. Brewing trials at some point are necessary and if this is done in series, i.e. only after a variety has shown to be resistant, it can draw out the whole process.

Jester - one of the successes
Charles Faram have broken the rules somewhat compared to standard commercial programs. They can do this because they work with the growers sharing risks, and ultimately rewards. They instigate small scale commercial trials long before full disease resistance has been ascertained.

One result is the Jester strain, which seems to have achieved some success, with the down side that it is hermaphrodite; it produces both male and female flowers, only the females are any good for brewing. The proportions of male to female seems to depend on weather during the season.

This radical program can bring a new variety to commercial crop only 6 years after initial variety crosses have been made. There are some 20 or so named varieties due to go into brewing trials either this coming year or next. Many of these varieties have yet to fully pass wilt tests, so there are still some risks, but some of them have fantastic aroma descriptors, so I'm hopeful.

I do hope we eventually get great hop varieties in the UK. The trouble is, I just had a quick look on Ratebeer. I know I shouldn't, but  I did. One brewer who has done a large range of single hop beers, named to give the impression one particular style of beer was being killed off - you know the one. Look at the scores, tells a tale. Universally the American varieties are the ones that win.

Personally, with the bad news coming out of the overall northern hemisphere I think craft brewers need to reassess the mix of hops that go into beers. We are certainly doing that. Craft brewers of course are very happy to embrace any technology that is required to get the result we need. We're working on ideas that might just be able to achieve the same, and possibly even better results by judicious application of new techniques and ideas.

Thanks to Will Rogers for the fascinating talk at the Hop Seminar, and in advance for turning a blind eye to plagiarising his presentation. The pictures here are all stolen from the file kindly sent from Faram to my inbox.

Apologies to Faram, Stocks farm, Ali Caper and The British Hop Association for any errors, omissions or inaccuracies here. Some of the information was stored in my fallible grey matter and is liable to data corruption. Please put any corrections in the comments.


1Source: Paul Corbett's Power Point presentation from the hop seminar 2015 - exact figure given 18,307 estimated. Up from 15,382 in 2014 the increase driven by this so called craft beer revolution.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015


Part 1 in a series (possibly, if I can be bothered with the others)

Don't know variety, but they look nice.
"You know Dave, most people think the way you brew consistent beer is to do the same thing every time" said John Keeling, brewing director at Fullers "Marketing departments don't understand that" The comment was during a discussion we were having on one of my visits to his brewery in Chiswick. It is one of those specific things that has stuck in my mind.

That very general comment can be applied to many areas of brewing. Yeast management, grist formulation, fermentation control, but most specifically to hops.

Hops, they are very important to brewing. OK, it's possible to brew beer without them, but in reality very few beers that are brewed without hops have any sort of real commercial future. Us brewers depend upon them for our existence. Right about now there are hop farms all over the northern hemisphere harvesting hops, kilning them and sending them off to market.

A dwarf variety - easier to harvest but less yield
Scott and I went down to Worcestershire last week to take a look at a hop farm during harvest, Stocks farm to be precise, owned by Richard and Ali Capper. It is alleged that Richard is the tallest hop grower in the world, nevertheless, he still fails to be able to get to the top of the tall varieties without as ladder.

The event is well known by brewing types as the "Hop Walk" and is run by that well established and jolly nice purveyor of hops, Charles Faram. We buy most of our hops from these people, and they provide excellent service. If nothing else the Hop Walk is a great chance for a free feed, a catch up with brewing friends and a look around a somewhat picturesque farm close to The Malvern Hills. We are generally told some salient points regarding the hop harvest and the likely yields that might occur.

Faram's run a seminar the day before the hop walk giving some really useful insights into the hop industry. Peter Darby, who leads much of the development of new hop varieties in the UK, gave a fascinating talk on hop damage, and the impact of various effects that cause hops to turn brown. It seems that there is something of a misnomer that suggests that any hop cone that is not very green is somehow inferior. Peter fairly clearly states that often brown hops are not a problem, and on occasions can even be good.

Sorry, this image was "borrowed" from Wikipedia.
You see, put basically, the majority of the compounds we want are contained in the Lupulin Glands, which are protected by the bract. Provided these glands are not damaged, things are generally OK. If browning of the cone is due to senescence, it might actually be good as some beneficial compounds can develop as the cone ages. However, mostly this isn't allowed to happen as the cones become friable and difficult to harvest. Mostly browning on the outside is due to physical damage, hail, wind etc. That's all OK. Light is always1 bad for harvested hops, so if the cones have been left in the light after harvest they can quickly develop unpleasant flavours.

Evolution is a thing that fascinates me. I ponder from time to time the evolutionary purpose of things we humans use for our own end. Much plant matter we eat has nutrients and energy stored which has the original evolutionary purpose for the propagation that the species as an energy store for the next generation. Fruit is more complicated in that it's purpose is often as a temptation for animals to consume the fruit and spread the seeds further, often through excrement. But why on earth does the hop plant produce lupulin glands in it's flowers? The pungent and bitter flavours tend to repel if anything. Only the hardiest of creatures get into the hop cone, and then they pretty much spell disaster for the plant and subsequent growth on the same plot. They can't be a food store for baby hop plants.

I was pleased when one delegate to the conference asked Peter that very question. What is the biological reason for the lupulin gland? Apparently it is to protect the seed once it is shed from the plant. The gland protects physically and it's antibacterial properties, which helps preserve beer, also helps protect the hop seed from attack prior to germination.

We don't know what variety this is, either
The announcements of the hop harvest estimates are a major part of the hop seminar and hop walk days. A good bit of detail was given, and I'm still working my way through figures I've gleaned. The good news is that in response to the craft beer thing, most countries have increased the area of wirework2

However, what seems to be the case is that central Europe has been very badly hit by drought. Saaz hop variety for instance could be hit very badly indeed. Bad news if you rely on that for some sort on light lager style beer. Various other varieties from Germany, Czech Republic etc could be very hard hit.

So, that's OK for us, isn't it? We don't depend on that variety. For that matter we are not very dependant on much from central Europe. But hang on, what about any knock on effect? Clearly general hop shortages are going to impact across the board as substitutions are made.

Tall variety - more difficult to maintain but twice the yield
We think the rows on the left are first year
But it gets worse. It seems that although the American hop industry have increased wirework and planted out greater areas, they have not been immune from the impact of the well publicised droughts over the West Coast. We hear the aroma varieties like Centennial, Willamette and Simcoe are down significantly. Moreover, for those really fanatic about Simcoe, the yield per hectare year-on-year is said to be falling. What we are not sure is if this is due to old root stock or reduced disease resistance as a result of genetic mutation of the infestations. This does demonstrate the very important role hop breading programs, which I'll explain in another post.

I am told that as the harvest is coming in there are some surprises that makes it likely that things might not be quite so bad as we previously expected. When I was at the hop walk they were 10 days into the harvest. It's a week later already, so it's fast moving. None-the-less, I'm more than a little worried about our continued supply of economic hops. We are also told that due to significant investment in the American hop grows farms they are demanding higher prices for hops. We already spend an eye watering amount on hops.

Cool depth of field - but we don't know what these are either
I think it is essential for breweries to do two major things to overcome not only this years crop shortages, but variability of crops in future. The first and most important is to contract with a hop merchant. OK, that can be tricky if you are too small to reach the threshold required to be permitted to contract. However, Faram assure me that they will accommodate small volumes on a less formal basis to ensure breweries can source hops. It helps the hop merchant too, knowing what everyone is likely to use. The last two years we've been late at getting our commitment in, and this has caused us trouble. If you haven't got a contract in place for 2015 northern hemisphere hops you might be in trouble. Start working on your southern hemisphere contract now, would be my advice.

But the other major thing, in my mind, is to remain flexible with beer recipe formulation. Going back to John Keeling's point, even if you can get a solid supply of the hop you need, year after year, it's characteristics will vary depending on the growing conditions. Even on the farm, leaving the hop a day or two longer before harvest with some varieties can change the alpha acid and aroma oils significantly. Weather, machine malfunction and many other factors can influence the harvest, not forgetting human judgement.

See, told you it was picturesque
We are often asked about the hops that go into our beers. It's good that beer drinkers are interested. However, Azimuth for instance, currently has about 9 different varieties of hop due to our constant striving to improve the beer and also due to some shortages we have encountered.

We want to make absolutely stunning beer. We will do what it takes to make that stunning beer, and if that means changing the ratios of hops in a beer, or even substituting or augmenting varieties then we will do so, and regularly do.

I expect my next post will talk about the Charles Faram hop breading breeding program.


1Always? Well, that can't be true, they grow outdoors, where the sun shines. Sometimes even in the UK.  No, I can only assume a live hop plant constantly repairs damage caused by light on its hop cones.

2Hops grow on wires which are held up by a fairly simple post arrangement. I say simple, when you see the expanse of wirework even on a fairly small hop yard you can appreciate the work and investment that is put in by the farmer.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Signposting Craft

It's tricky for a beer drinker to know what is, and what is not craft beer. Everyone has their view on that, and there are some very definite non-craft people aiming to muddy the water, vis-a-vis Revisionist beers, which for sure fail to rise to the craft beer bar. It doesn't help my view of them when a representative tries to convince me they are a "gateway" to craft. I've heard that sort of rubbish before from big brand managers. If Marstons want to convince me that they are serious about craft then they need to stop trying to tell me that "small batch" is the sort of volume that I can only have dreams about selling. Whilst their estates don't buy from me, and are unlikely to any time soon, their soft soap rubbish is sure to only irritate, rather than pacify. Oh, and they could do with starting to use a few hops too.

Still, most brewers that I consider true craft don't supply supermarkets. We do, and we are absolutely tiny compared to most that do supply these big useful routes to market. This makes our beer a big deal in the aisles of Morrisons. What is really nice is that the people who plan the layout of the stores have decided that craft beer needs to be signposted. This is being rolled out across the stores nationwide, apparently.

Whether you think craft beer is a thing or not, it's certainly considered a thing by these supermarket people, and I'm not going to argue with that. Best of all, there is non of that Revisionist rubbish on show, although not at all sure how Crabbies is either craft or beer.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Crazy Intergalacticness

This post has developed into a rant. You are best advised to avoid reading it and just watch this video. It's daft, I put quite a bit of work into it and despite the effort, I still wonder if it'll hit the spot. I love it if folks watch it, share it, and if you really want to, take the mickey.

The beer is called Intergalactic Space Hopper. It's 5.2% pale and hoppy as hell. We're launching it at Glasgow Craft Beer Rising and Grasmere Guzzler this weekend. Ann and I'll will be a Glasgow, Scott will be at Grasmere on Saturday.

And so, to the rant.

Promoting beer is an interesting job. It's certainly getting trickier to make oneself heard with so many breweries out there now. Makes me kind of frustrated when some people seem to feel that it isn't simply great the choice you beer drinkers have. The choice out there is fantastic, there is just a huge amount of cask beer everywhere now. Microbrewer keg beer is becoming much more popular than to be honest even I thought it'd become. Choosing just how bright or murky the beer you buy is all down to walking into the pub or craft beer bar you know and trust. If you want it cheap, go to Wetherspoons.

For the poor brewer it does mean putting in extra effort to get noticed. We know we don't always get it right, but we try, and it's pleasurable when we get noticed, there's no doubt about that. Sometimes the reasons for being noticed aren't exactly the way we planned, but getting noticed in an ever increasingly crowded marketplace is almost always a good thing, even if the attention gets a little uncomfortable.

We are releasing a beer this weekend. It's a good beer, stacked full of bright hop aromas and a good punch of complex hop flavours. I'd say stunning. Considering we've had some problems this year getting the hops we wanted, partly due to our own inability to accurately predict growth combined with administrative cock-ups both at Hardknott central and at hop merchants. It didn't help that some hop harvests were short last season.

Despite the brilliance of the beer, that just isn't good enough to generate sales all by itself. So, I do what I do to try and promote the Hardknott brand, and if I were honest I'd say it's getting tougher to get it right. When we started Hardknott it almost seemed all we had to do was write a few blog posts and everything would be alright. We were actually saying to people that we hadn't got enough beer. So, we took the risk and took out some fairly eye watering loans, by my modest standards anyway, and went for expansion.

We've made some mistakes, worked hard, put out some marketing projects, on next to no budget, and had some success.

"O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!"

Indeed, it is something I consider all the time. How is Hardknott perceived? How am I perceived? We work very hard, make a meagre living out of beer. I imagine much like most people in the beer industry we are driven by a passion1 for beer. I do wonder just how much the diversity of beer out there is so great because a huge number of people are working very hard for very little financial return. Yes, some breweries are doing fantastically well. We're stuck just a little bit far away from the metropolises to make it quite as well, but we do OK, partly because I refuse to wind my neck in, and give an outward impression of having limited self awareness.2. The reality is, as Jeffrey Bell is well aware, I consider frequently how both myself and my business are perceived.

So, if I were honest, I'm not entirely happy with the video I post here. I've put a huge number of hours into it. Learned a lot about animation and syncing it with music. I had some fun trying to get the right feel to the sound track. I am sure it'll get some people going WTF? Whatever, it's here, and so is the beer. Go ahead, talk about me, I'll cry into my beer tonight, but so long as it gets the Hardknott name out there, on balance I'll feel good about it.


1There you go, an example of a word that we become afraid to use, because it has to some extent become a cliche. But I believe there are many people, working their fuckingi socks off to make fantastic beer, driven not by greed, or sinister capitalist intentions, but by passion. Let us say that we do exactly that, eh? without taking the god damn piss.

2Stonch has returned! I give himii two links to his blog in this post. That should please him. But then, despite his reasonably successful attempts to wind me up, his blog has given me good mention this last few weeks, so I can't, in reality, complain.iii

iYup, that's out of character for this blog. But, right now, after going to bed at 4am to get this video finished, and now being up with fire in my belly, determined to get the beer to Glasgow, I feel it's justified.

iiOr should it be them? Seems there are four of them contributing now. Geez, that makes it all the harder for me to keep up with blogging too.....

iiiYup, you are right, in a way I'm complaining. But whatever. What leaves me slightly confused is what on earth Mr Bell is actually playing at. His comments seem directed at suggesting I should stop doing what I do. My persona, and that of my brewery are organic and from the heart. We're still an incredibly an incredibly small brewery and to be honest I absolutely have no intention of winding my neck in. To stay afloat in this new and incredibly busy craft beer scene we simply have to work hard with limited resources. So stick that in your pipe Stonch.


I quite like the music for this, although it could do with a fair bit of mastering to get it better. Time, you know. Anyhow, some of the complexities of the piece are lost due dipping it to hear voice overs and the like. If you if you are daft enough to want to hear it unadulterated and with the sound synced animation too, it's here. Ann say's I should issue a epilepsy warning as the animation is quite flashy light by itself.

Intergalactic Space Hopper just the music and sound to motion stuff. from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Cheese making

Starter culture added.
Careful temperature control
needed from this point
So, beer 'n' cheese. It's fab. I love cheese nearly as much as beer, or perhaps if I were pushed on the subject it'd be difficult to choose.

Anyhow, the other day I had this daft idea that I'd have a bash at making some cheese. You folks might while your Saturdays away making home-brew beer. As I mess with that sort of stuff during the week, I thought I'd have a bash at some food to go with the beer. Anyway, milk is cheap these days, didn't you know?

Curds and whey
So I bought a cheese making kit from some on-line place. It came with a press, rennet, starter containing relevant bacteria, cheese cloth and some other necessary goodies. Just add a big pan and some milk and you're away.

Now, interesting trouble occurred; good hard cheese needs full cream non-homogenised milk1. After a trip last night though to the metropolis that goes by the name of Barrow-in-Furness, and a hurried visit to Pizza Hut2 to pacify my not-so-little kids and Ann, we traipsed around the supermarkets. We found, amongst the oceans of ridiculously low-cost milk, 7 litres of Jersey Gold Top in Tesco. Asda? Nada. Morrison's? Not open late. I was looking for 10 litres. Turns out this type of milk is a quid a litre or more3 and not so easy to get on a Friday night.

Starting to look OK
Anyhow, today I set to at my very first attempt. A cheddar clone, nothing exciting, but it's a start. That 7 litres did quite well, and probably will make best part of 1kg of cheese, once it is properly pressed and matured. Only a month to wait, but already I'm planning my next experiment.

Break up to salt
Beer-washed cheese anyone?

Anyhow, not much of a beer-related post, but it was fun, I hope someone finds this interesting. If nowt else, it's an excuse for me to collate the pictures somewhere sensible.


Adding curds to mould for pressing
1Most milk these days is homogenised, and so the cream is distributed throughout the milk rather than floating on top, like it used to in the olden-days. Today they squirt it through tiny holes, as best I can work out, to make the fat globules smaller and the milk take on a more "creamy" texture. So, most milk in supermarkets is homogenised, and what smooth-flow is to beer I guess.

2Sorry, yes I know, I feel ashamed.

Not much left for me to do
3We do have a source of unpasteurised milk, which will make just the best cheese ever. However, I wanted to eliminate the uncertainty of farm or animal spoilage organisms before progressing to that stage. If this experiment works, I'll have a bash with the raw stuff.

I lived on a farm for a couple of years when I first left my parents tender care. We got unpasteurised milk fresh every day. It was delicious, really delicious. Just like sneaking a beer from the tank at the brewery, there is something really special about milk that has travelled only a few yards and had no messing done to it.

I do have a deep suspicion that the reasons for pasteurisation are much more to do with shelf life and commercial pressures than any real health risks. Never did me any harm. Some French cheese is made from unpasteurised milk and is simply gorgeous. I'm hoping to get to make something similar sometime.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Craft Beer Rising Glasgow - Intergalactic Space Hopper

Who remembers space hoppers? I do, first time around. I was about 5, and back then a bouncy rubber ball with a couple of handles where just the thing for a family who couldn't afford a chopper bike for Christmas. I have fond memories of bouncing around on such daft things.

It's been a while since we've been to a good craft beer festival with a new beer. We thought we'd bounce along to the Glasgow version of Craft Beer Rising this year, and decided it would be a wheeze to try out a new recipe. Scott is getting quite good at formulating stuff all by himself, with only a cursory glance at the recipe from me. I wanted to see just how much space-age hugeness we could get into the beer. So, he set about a hop loading that was almost entirely at the end of the boil, after flame out and in dry hopping. The aroma is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.

The beer will be released Friday 4th September at the first session of Craft Beer Rising Glasgow and simultaneously that day available from our webshop. If you are a pub, or distributor and want to get an advanced order, give us a call and ask for Ann.

This is an unusual announcement for us, as the beer isn't quite ready yet. I'm ordinarily uneasy about saying too much regarding a beer before it is ready to go. However, you guys need plenty of notice so you can get your tickets and try the stuff.

Just in case you can't get to Glasgow, we've also got some going to Grasmere Gussler at Tweedies bar, along with a fair selection of other Hardknott beers. This event occurs the same weekend as Craft Beer Rising.

Just a warning though, there is a chance that I'll get around to making some sort of daft video to go with the release. It might involve real, retro space hoppers, but I've yet to decide.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Pondering the Pub Thing Again

You know I love pubs. You don't? Look, I even owned one for a while, that's how much I love them. Owning a pub, it turns out, isn't always quite as much of a love thing as just going to one on a Saturday night, getting a bit tipsy and making slightly knob-head innuendo flirty jokes at the nice lady bar staff. Which is fun, until you get home, sleep it off, and get next day it gets pointed out by your partner, who of course was there too, that actually, you really are a knob-head. You remember through the haze of the hangover that actually, yes, you realise now, and for a few hours vow to never drink again. Or at least not quite so much. At least until next week at any rate.

The problem is, when you own a pub, and that drunken knob-head is in fact making irritating flirty jokey innuendo at your partner, you realise that actually drunk people, when you are not drunk, are very much not funny at all. But still, they are part of the territory, and you have to remain calm, as a person of responsibility, when you are the pub owner, and the person who might have to be up in the docks should anything turn nasty. Trying to square some of these circles was the reason I started writing this blog in the first place. Ultimately the stresses made us decide to leave the pub, before it got the better of us, although arguably, it already had.

I'm really going quite far off the track with this opening, but it is relevant background I think. And just to point out, we are just over a year into having our own licence on-trade outlet again1, on Millom Station. You might have heard of it, it's called Hardknott OnTrack. We like it. We'd like it to be busier, and open more often, but it serves it's main purpose, which is to ensure there is somewhere in my town we can get Hardknott Beer served the way I want it. Due to the way I have it staffed, I'm normally only found in there sober when it's closed, generally fixing something. Any other time I'm found in there I'm a drunken dick-head. The arrangement seems to work OK, most of the time.

I possibly didn't need to give you that "I think I know what I'm talking about" preamble to introduce the main theme of this post, but I think the wrapping around the subject helps to make more of what would otherwise be just a favour for someone.

Earlier in the week Frances Brace, a British Guild of Beer Writers member forwarded me some information about a pub in her village that was potentially never going to open again. Asking if I could raise awareness as the village is trying to raise enough money to buy the pub and run it as a collective. The pub is call The Duke of Marlborough in Somersham I'm only too pleased to try and help, although I'm not sure what mentioning it on my blog will do, but happy to do so.

It got me thinking, as oft times I do; If no one want's to buy and run this pub, then perhaps this is just a lost cause? Putting all your money into a pub, or even finding a bank that will help out, can be a bit daunting. Haven't you heard? Pubs are struggling, so why would anyone in their right mind want to fund such a daft idea. If you think I'm working against Frances' request, bear with me.

The trouble with owner-run pubs is that often you become too close, too passionate, too caring. Very often everything you've ever owned has been ploughed into the pub and it is the licensee's whole life, and complete existence. Couple that with long days, a need to unwind, and a pint or two at the end of the day and you can end up with an incendiary situation when dealing with the thing day-in, day-out.

Could pubs run by the community be the very thing? I used to think not. How on earth can a pub be run by committee? That's just daft.

But it does seem to be working. In Cumbria there is the Hesket Newmarket pub The Old Crown. This is reputed to be the country's very first community owned pub. Why does the model seem to work? Why should a pub that doesn't seem to thrive under private ownership seem to do OK when run under the guidance of a gathering of pub enthusiasts?

I feel I do understand a little. For a start, a pub has a large user base. People who own the pub, in a collective, are likely to want to use their asset. They are also providing a feed-back into the pool of ideas, but generally off-line, rather than as a drunken knob-head saying "''eresh mate, what syou wants to do ish..."

I've had some great ideas when I've been drunk. I've also had some really lousy ones. The trouble is, when you've had a long day, and trying to unwind, the last thing you want is some drunk trying to tell you how to run your business. Rather than being receptive to new ideas, the scenario tends to make me more determined to ignore them all, even the ones I shouldn't.

A committee of genuinely caring people, who love the pub, and can discuss collectively the ideas, hopefully whilst not too drunk, may generate a truly inspirational environment. In any case, so long as they keep the job ticking over, and the books balanced, whatever they do, they'll be maintaining the pub the way they want it to be.

Most importantly, if the pub is in the hands of the community, perhaps it is more loved. Despite the fact that most licensees work very long hours for precious little reward, very often annoyance is directed at the licensee for "ripping off" the beer drinker. At least in the case of a pub run by the villagers, and other interested parties, the price of the pint is at least going back into the village asset with full transparency of the economics involved. The pub goer is empowered and given a little bit of control, and everyone is happy.


1It is now over 5 years since we sold our first pub. It is interesting that many people are unaware that we are no longer there. Indeed, we recently decided to stop supplying that pub with any beer at all, hence no mention of the pub's name in this text.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Being Above Board

It's an interesting time in brewing. With Craft Beer seemingly going from strength to strength the appearance to the outside world is that it has to be a great thing to get into. In many ways it is, and living he dream can be very rewarding, but not without it's troubles.

It is true that the price of a pint in those contemporary craft beer bars is going up. The disparity between that and some more traditional pubs is disconcerting to some. Equally the fact that often keg beer is more expensive than cask also causes some angst.

This article is inspired by the news that Jarrow Brewery has recently had over 20,000 litres of beer seized by HMRC. It seems unclear exactly why. HMRC seem to state that they were brewing, and hinting that they were selling beer without a licence. The brewery simply state that beer has gone out of date because they can't sell it without a licence. Either way, it seems a drastic step to seize beer if there isn't a concern that underhand stuff is going on.

It continues to be a problem for brewers to get their beer to market. With an ever increasing number of breweries inevitably there is significant competition. At times that competition can manifest itself as eye-watering price cutting at wholesale. Off course, in a competitive capitalist economic system this is what we expect.

The unfortunate side effect of this is that there are going to be casualties. Equally, in desperate attempts to stay afloat, some might be tempted to moving a little to he wrong side of the law. I do hear reports from publicans about sales of beer "without paperwork" I am told that the way this is handled for the beer duty return is that the beer is officially not sold, but instead has been "destroyed".

To compound this situation HMRC have been somewhat silent for several years. When we first started brewing we got two visits from HMRC. Both went reasonably well and we were signed off as compliant. It was slightly nerve wracking, but I found the inspectors all very helpful. In discussing the destruction of beer I had some helpful tips from one very nice officer which basically run a long the lines that if it was the occasional cask then we should just get along and do it. If it was a whole gyle, a good number of casks, or a regular thing, we ought to let him know, just so as he could come along if he wished and witness the destruction.

We did that, on an odd occasion, when we were unhappy with a beer, and tipped a whole tank down the drain. Back then, around 2010, we were still only around 350 litres, 3.5hl, 8 firkins or 2 brewery barrels per brew. He was grateful I got in touch and said it was OK to just get on with the job of tipping it down the drain. Provided of course that United Utilities was happy that we had the correct discharge authorisation.

Since then this particular gent has moved on. Indeed, the last communication was that officers were being thinned out as a result of cutbacks caused by the economic situation. We even had one officer telling us that really, us little guys were not much of a concern as there were much bigger fish to fry. We were told we should just record all the beer we destroy and not worry about it.

So, you can see that this is a clear signal to go ahead and pretend that beer is being destroyed, when in fact it is being sold "without paperwork" for cash, no questions asked. Beer duty and VAT no doubt being evaded. I know quite a few business friends that think this is not only OK, but the only thing that can keep a business alive in a tough competitive time. After all, it'd be doing the beer drinker a service by getting the cost of their pint down.

But I do worry about it. In fact, the fear of HMRC coming and finding something is amiss and we'd get a great big tax bill we can't pay is something that fears me most in this business. We do not sell beer "for cash, without paperwork" Obviously we take cash, it is handy to avoid bank charges, and is perfectly legal, but we record it and issue an invoice. For a start, I want a new brewhouse. Hiding turnover and profit from the tax man also hides it from the bank manager. The banks want to see legal economic performance if they are going to lend for new shiny stainless steel.

Evading the tax man is something that I particularly find offensive. Yes, I think we pay too much tax, but we are all a liberty to vote for the politicians that decide what is going to be taxed, and how much tax is to be charged. We are also all at liberty to lobby who ever we like, demonstrate legally or complain about taxation on our blogs. However, once the taxation system is set, we all have a duty to put into the coffers what is due.

Now, as there are more and more breweries, there is more and more cut throat competition and more and more breweries desperate to make their dream work. Many of us in the industry are worried that this is going too far, and that the price of cask beer at wholesale is becoming increasingly unsustainably cheap.

What I do know is that as the economic situation continues to improve HMRC are again being funded a little better. With the increasing number of breweries, and evidence becoming clear that micro-breweries are in fact now contributing to the avoidance of duty, make no doubt about it HMRC will again be knocking on our doors.

HMRC are also looking at the whole supply chain. Since last year it has been a legal requirement to ensure that we are confident that anyone we sell beer to is adhering with the law. In the New Year HMRC will require every wholesaler to register. In some ways all of this puts an ever increasing burden on those of us who are already trying very hard to ensure we are above board.

Luckily, SIBA are doing quite a lot to support us. They have various tools available on the website in the members area.

Despite this I expect over the next couple of years some breweries will only able to keep trading by avoiding some beer duty and VAT. These breweries are going to find it difficult. I wonder if Jarrow is the start of the whole pack of cards tumbling? Certainly, those breweries who already have a strong pricing structure, defended by good marketing, strong PR message, quality beer and adherence to the law are much more likely to survive.