Wednesday, 8 October 2014


I'm no friend to the public health industry. I'm also sceptical about most charities, especially health ones. MacMillan on the other hand is, as far as I know, very good. It provides nurses to help care for people with cancer. That's a great thing to do and I applaud them for it.

I am very annoyed with them now because of their latest temperance campaign. TV commercials, media coverage, all asking people to give up drink for October. 

Having a month off the sauce is no doubt a very wise course of action for everybody, maybe even as often as once a year, but since when was it MacMillan's job to add its voice to the throng of puritanical guilt trippery coming from the largely publicly funded public health "lobby"? 

Furthermore, do you remember the fuel protests of the early 21st century? Some people tried to organise a protest whereby nobody bought any petrol on one certain day of the week. The point being that the supply chain wouldn't be able to cope and the oil companies would have to slash prices on that day or face overflowing storage tanks. Same goes for the drinks industry. Nobody's saying you have to get pissed every day. It's good for people to have some time off the sauce. But all at the same time? That could push quite a few businesses, social amenities and livelihoods over the edge.

There are already plenty of preachers in the health charity sector without MacMillan adding its hitherto sensible voice to the din. If you are involved in or value the beer and pub industry you might like to think about suspending any future support for MacMillan until next October when you'll find out whether they intend to continue their assault on your living. Unlike MacMillan however, I'm not going to tell you what to do.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Annual "Complain about CAMRA" season in full swing.

It's that time of year again. After the wonderful preamble of complaints about what beers CAMRA chooses to buy for the massive beer festival it puts on without any subsidy, it's now time for the main event. Complaining About The Winner Of Champion Beer Of Britain. Deep joy.

Not being one to go with the herd I have two points to make here. The first being specific to the CBOB competition, the second being generally about CAMRA.

1. The CBOB competition is an extremely high profile event (whose rules are a mystery to me) which serves the purpose, among other things, of highlighting real ale to those who may not have tried it. 

Everyone I know who moans about the result annually is, like me, into more radical, hoppy beers, IPA's and suchlike. Good for them. I would like to pose this question to such moaners as a group. Do you think that the best way to convert people from John Smiths Smooth etc. or mass lager to real ale (that's the aim, forget craft beer for now) is to get them to try a West Coast style IPA? Really? 

I don't. My experience is that my road from drinking lager and not really liking it to swilling uber hoppy 10%ABV IPAs and loving it went through a good few stages. Gateway beers if you like. In the same way that a proportion of kids who enjoy eating candy cigarettes will end up doing crack, there is a progression to these things. I started off with extremely trad real ales and ended up drinking keg IPAs. Never would have happened without CAMRA.

This is my point with a lot of moaning about CAMRA. There is no need for them actively to promote keg IPAs. What they are doing already is massively helping that section of the market.

Results like this will encourage people to try a pretty inoffensive, technically good real ale. IPA makers should be pleased about this, the same way crack dealers are pleased when someone tries Marijuana.

2. Somebody said to me yesterday, "CAMRA should be abolished." I think this phrase neatly encapsulates the attitude that a small group has toward CAMRA but I would argue that it is based on a completely false premise. 

Because of CAMRA's huge success it has a lot of influence. It doesn't have that influence because of legislation or because it is in receipt, like the public health lobby for instance, of public funds. Therefore it cannot be abolished. It has to answer to nobody but its members. 

If it was failing maybe its members might hold it to account. They might even complain about who won CBOB, but I'm afraid I have to remind the moaners that all it has to answer for is more success than any other consumer group in the UK ever.

I personally would like to thank CAMRA for its role in creating the fantastic, exciting and varied beer market that we operate in. I salute you. I may even do so with a pint of Boltmaker.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Attacks on Progressive Beer Duty. Consumers, know your enemy

I have long held the suspicion that there are dark forces at work in many places in the brewing industry.

The three particular individuals who have been brave enough to say anything publicly about this are Jonathan Neame of the longest established family brewer Shepherd Neame, Stephen Pugh of long established family brewer Adnams and David Grant of Moorhouses.

In this article David Grant claims that the burgeoning number of breweries is stifling quality and innovation. He also accuses PBD recipients of using PBD to slash prices thus being unfair competition. 

This may well have been how he used it whilst he was in receipt of it, and there are a few people who do do that but for the most part they don't get very far or last very long because that isn't what the market wants. Would anyone who has been interested in the craft ale scene for the past few years recognise that declining quality and lack of innovation are a problem? Whose beers are we talking about here I wonder? Is it Magic Rock? Summer Wine? Mallinsons? Great Heck? Are Moorhouses beers seriously percieved as more innovative and of higher quality than those? And if so, by whom?

It seems obvious to me that the reverse is in fact true. We are involved in many beer festival orders and the number of un-servable cask ales at these events has plummeted over the past 5 years or so so that it is now and extremely rare event. As for stifled innovation, I can only assume David doesn't get out much.

Presumably Moorhouses are struggling to sell their huge volumes. A quick calculation based on the figures given in the article shows that their target average selling price per firkin is £56. Not rock bottom by any means but Mr Grant should see how much the innovative breweries can get for a firkin. 

Adnams are a bit different. The Adnams website has this article from Stephen Pugh. Unlike either Shepherd Neame or Moorhouses, Adnams are an innovative brewer and they have cleverly become one of the leading craft brewers in England and they are to be congratulated for that. A call for a reform of PBD in this case isn't because they don't understand the market. It's because they want to protect their long standing family property interests, just as I would in their position. 

It's perfectly rational for them but when I see a delegation of Adnams folk at SIBA conference a shiver runs down my spine.

Bloggers please bear in mind that however many free bottles of beer Adnams send you to blog about they spend money every year campaigning for your choice of breweries to be curtailed because they don't like the competition. If you're fine with that please carry on as you are.

Now we come to Jonathan Neame. He's the boss of Sheps and Chairman of the BBPA. Although I can now find no trace of it to provide you with a link, please take my word for the fact that Mr Neame recently appeared in print with his BBPA hat on attacking PBD as a barrier to consolidation in the business, yet in the Telegraph in 2005 he had said,

 "I think consolidation is unquestionably a threat as you need to look at your cost base but it's also an opportunity as there are fewer competitors."

Evidently now he thinks more of the opportunity bit than the threat bit. But of course as the boss of Britain's oldest independent brewery a pro-consolidation stance clearly only applies to other people. Otherwise why doesn't he sell out to Carlsberg for the good of the industry?

Here we have three individuals attacking PBD from slightly different angles but they all have one thing in common. They believe you have too much choice. They want to return to the days when breweries dictated market trends and take away power from the consumer.

The direction these people wish to take the brewing industry in is one where consolidation leads to uniformity and the elimination of everything except commodity beer. Sales will then be divided up between those who are privileged to be at the top table according to strokes of the pen in supermarket distribution and property deals on pubs.

Do you want that?


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Another Expansion

I haven't blogged for a while so it's past time for a post: This isn't the usual biting insight though, just an update on our current expansion and where we're going with the brewery and the beers.

Some of you may already be aware that we decided to expand the brewery again, it's only just over two years since we more than tripled our fermenting capacity, in the face of demand which pretty consistently outstrips supply.

The plan, which is well underway, will see us move everything except the office and the brewery itself off the site at Great Heck to a new refrigerated packaging site and warehouse in the neighbouring village of Balne, about three miles away. This will allow us ultimately almost to double our fermenting capacity at Great Heck, and will instantly give us an extra 20 brewer's barrels per week of capacity.

This will be achieved by converting our two existing 12 barrel conditioning tanks into two 10 barrel fermenters. Our existing procedures see all beer spend some time in one of the CTs before being racked into casks and this will still be the case using a fleet of 800 litre mobile Stainless Steel CTs which will be filled at Great Heck and taken, for storage and emptying into the appropriate containers, on a trailer to the new site which is currently being specially adapted for that exact job.

The logistics of this sometimes strike people as a little far-fetched but in fact it will eliminate many of our operational problems here at Great Heck. Notably reducing manual handling and it will give us a much better chance of filling the correct casks with the correct beer, thus giving more efficient utilisation of our container fleet.

Cask washing, vehicle loading and storage are also being moved to Balne which means I should get my back yard back! Other positive results are that we will be able drastically to reduce the number of vehicle movements in the village of Great Heck and in addition to an extra fermenting room, which is currently used for cask storage, we will be able to develop a staff canteen and visitor centre/bar at Great Heck in one of the current coldstores.

A new Role is being created as part of the project. Whilst Jarno @drumlordsj will be in charge of production at Great Heck, Karine @3somegirl will be promoted to Overlord of Balne where she'll be working with new boy Barry Weetman and our new drayman, Ged.

The extra space at Balne means we are going to be filling our own keykegs and there's a possibility of doing our own bottling at some point in the future as there is potential to expand our new premises when we are ready. Keykeg products will start off with Yakima IPA, Shankar IPA and Black Jesus. We'll also soon be kegging Amish Mash in proper Steel kegs and making it available to pubs looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous permanent German Weizen.

Thanks to all our lovely customers, now in the UK and abroad, we are experiencing huge demand and we're really looking forward to being able to come a bit closer to meeting it. Hopefully our beers should be just a little bit easier for you to find in the coming year. I hope you enjoy them.



Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Trade Marks and microbrewers

Been a while since I've blogged but I've been moved to words by the latest Trademark dispute, this one between Everards and Elixir Brew Co.

It's an area in which I have a little experience and I can tell you it's never fun. Great Heck Brewing Co owns no registered trademarks at all but we have been asked by a trademark owner to stop using a beer name and we complied. We have also filed a registration and then abandoned it.

I'm not going to go into detail about the time we had to re-name a beer to avoid legal action from a TM holder because that wouldn't be fair on the TM holder. They acted entirely within their rights and I won't name them let alone criticise them. With regard to that case, and without mentioning names, I will criticise aspects of the registration system which it brought to light.

When a TM registration application is registered the registration office (I forget what it's called) first does a preliminary search to see if the trademark is already registered then advises the applicant on what the results are. If the applicant goes ahead with the registration it is then published in a journal for review mainly by IP companies acting on behalf of TM owners to see if any registered TM owners object.

One rule of TMs is that you aren't allowed to register a name which simply describes the product. In our case the name we were using arguably shouldn't have been allowed to be registered in the first place because of this rule however when it was registered nobody objected because although it was mainly descriptive it wasn't similar to an existing TM, so the people who police new registrations, existing TM holders, didn't care and nobody objected.

From that point on it was irrelevant whether or not the mark should have been registered. Once it is registered it's registered and arguments about overturning the registration would be ridiculously costly and pretty much futile. This struck me as unjust and a fault with the system. It is not a fault with the TM holder in question. They didn't do anything wrong.

Our other encounter with the system was more similar to that experienced by Elixir. I applied to register the beer name Dave. The TV company has registrations for it in just about every category except beer so I thought we'd be OK. The advice after searching however was that it was likely to be objected to by a posh off licence chain in London who own the name Davy's. Arguments about different sectors and lack of potential for confusion are irrelevant here. Off licences and brewers are in the same category of TM and the names are similar so we were advised we would be very likely to receive not only an objection but also a cease and desist from Davy's - probably the reason why the TV company didn't have a registration in that category - so we killed the application before it went forward for review. And we still market a beer called Dave. 

I'm very pleased that Everards have joined the long list of TM holders who have withdrawn their cease and desist actions in these circumstances. My assumption is that this will have been issued almost automatically as part of a standard IP protection system and it's good and to be expected and applauded that management have had the nouse to overrule it in this case. Well done Everards and congratulations to Elixir.

One question is raised by this though, and it applies to all the recent public TM scandals involving big boys and little boys with the exception of the Wierd Beard / Camden spat which was entirely different. 

Redwell, Tickety Brew and Elixir were all trying to register  a trademark similar or identical to an existing registered trademark in the same category. They were all eventually allowed to continue using the mark, thank God, (I doubt whether their registration applications will have been successful though) by the TM owners but I wonder why, given my experience outlined above and assuming they were as careful and as well advised as I was, did they pursue their own registrations in the first place? 

Many commentators in social media (Probably not the brewers themselves I hasten to add) say things like, "How can <big brand> trade mark such a commonly used word/phrase as, <Trade Mark in Question?>" 

The answer to that may lie with the small brewers themselves. They were after all trying to gain registered TM protection for exactly the words in question for their own benefit. 

So what can a micro brewer learn from these cases? What I take away from it is that we need to consider extremely carefully why we want to register the TM. What are we hoping to get out of it? The Camden / Wierd beard case shows us that even if a small brewer is successful in registering a TM, if they ever use that registration against a competitor it's a social media PR nightmare.

My advice, and I guess the guys from Redwell, Tickettybrew and Elixir might well agree with me, is be very careful before finalising a trademark registration application. Sooner or later someone is going to come a cropper with it. 

Remember you can always monitor other people's new applications and object on grounds of prior use if someone else tries to register your unregistered mark.

Even if your mark is not confusable with another and you are successful in registering it, would you actually enforce it against a newer, smaller brewer and a barrage of outrage in social media?

My conclusion is that the system is bloody awful, unjust and unfair and I want as little to do with it as possible.


Monday, 20 January 2014

Brewing Bubble. I doubt it.

I read an interesting blog today by Turnip Ale, which you can see here: Turnip Ale. The authour is carrying out research into the reasons the breweries that are failing are failing. It's an interesting question and the authour acknowledges that even those ex-brewers who co-operate in the research may not be speaking the whole truth. I can't imagine too many conversations went like this: Q. "Why do you think your brewery failed?" A. "Because i am a useless tosser." It's in most people's nature to blame outside factors for their own failures so hey ho.

My contribution to this is to take a macro view of the sector and make sweeping generalisations about what I think is going on. No change there then, that's my thing.

The article I'm referring to used a phrase I don't think I've heard before, "Brewing Bubble." I suppose I know what that means but I'm not sure whether such a thing exists. My reading of the past 6 Cask Ale Reports by SIBA, which show locally produced cask ale volumes growing at approximately the rate that the producers are expanding in number and capacity lads me to believe that it is supply that is driving growth and supply is nowhere near the potential demand as the market matures.

There is an assumption in the article, I think, that if there was plenty of demand then no breweries should be going out of business. I don't agree with that. Ever since I started my brewery in 2008 I've heard a minority of brewers complaining about there being too many breweries. Keep an eye on these guys because among the established players they are going to be the ones who are going to decline.

Again, since 2008 I've seen a massive rise in the standard quality of cask ales which is expected by the market, purely because it has been driven by competition from new entrants who have by and large astounded me with the quality of their first offerings. So many excellent breweries have opened their doors in recent years that I find them humbling and inspirational in equal measure.

The upshot of this is a phenomenon something like Moore's Law. The quality and flavour of each pint of "The Average" cask ale is increasing every year. This poses a problem for some established "Micros" whose management tend to be among those complaining about the number of new breweries. I can think of some such breweries whose products were inspirational to me 6 years ago but by merely remaining consistent have faded by comparison to "Average." The beers haven't got worse, the competition has got better, way better. IBM would have gone out of business years ago if their products had been "Consistent." 

Many established brewers have recognised this and responded by keeping pace with the higher expectations of the marketplace or even outpacing it. These brewers are doing well. Even some big regionals have responded positively, some setting up microbreweries to brew interesting craft beers on their existing sites. The managements of these companies are to be praised for their efforts. They are sufficiently open minded to realise that harking back to the old days and pointing to the consistency of your beers that used to be good enough isn't going to wash.

When I go out I'm looking to taste beers that are better than mine so i can learn from them. That's one of the things that's responsible for my brewery's success so far: We've increased production by 50% every year since we started. We didn't do that by being consistent. We did it by looking, learning and working bloody hard with total commitment to being the best. I'm not saying we are the best but the important thing is that that's what we aspire to and that means continuous improvement is integral to what we do. If that doesn't sound like how you like to run a business then I suggest you buy a newsagents or become a taxi driver rather than open a brewery. If it sounds like your idea of fun, I'll buy you a drink at the bar at some award ceremony.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

Reactionary Attitudes in (fringe) Media

It's Saturday and I'm drinking beer by the fire in my pyjamas so I finally have time to unveil my slightly amused thoughts on a "blog" which is in fact, and I apologise for this, really an article in a huge .pdf of a fanzine which you can read here . If you can't be bothered to read the whole thing you will have heard similar stuff before: "This modern hoppy beer is a load of undrinkable piss water and everyone who thinks it's good is suffereing from Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome." To provide a short summary.

The article in question was posted on Facebook by +Sue Hayward earlier this week and I found the reactionary sentiments within it somewhat familiar. Particularly because, even though, as previously established, I am always right, I used to expound such sentiments myself to anyone who would listen. Famous listeners of the past including none other than Richard Burhouse, now of Magic Rock, then of MBT and Justin from Moor brewery, both in the same sitting. It was pretty much the only time I ever met Justin (For some reason) and the first of many hilarious japes with Richard. 

I explained in detail to both of them why they were mistaken in thinking that Richard's particular favourite USIPA which he'd brought to the SIBA conference was good and that, on the contrary, it was like drinking ear-wax, except that ear wax would have been clearer.

In my defence I will say that I did not lump all hoppy beers together in this. At the time I was already a big fan of and indeed in the early stages of acting on my inspiration by Sierra Nevada IPA and the like, and I still am a fan although my homage is not in such an early stage any more. the thing I've always admired about American beers is the level of flavour and aroma achieved combined with low or moderate bitterness. Hopefully you can taste that in Great Heck Beers. 

Nonetheless I now publicly admit to Richard and my few readers that, in spite of years of leg pulling fun which must probably draw to a close hereafter, I was talking out of my arse.

What it comes down to is the perception of the drinker. Does he or she like what he or she is drinking or not? That's all that matters. 

Some of my readers will be at some point in a journey of acquiring a taste for hoppy beers. I think that's how it works. Luckily for brewers like Richard and Justin that development of a taste for it seems to be a one way street. You're as likely to switch back from drinking Magic Rock to drinking John Smiths as you are to switch back from crack to Vick's vapo-rub. It's a one way street. A one way street with many stops along the way.

My journey started with beers like Landlord. I remember trying it and thinking how amazingly full of flavour it was. It blew my mind. It was and still is a great, iconic beer but I don't drink it or particularly like it any more. It's not Timothy, it's me. I'd probably drink a gallon of that stuff Richard forced on me at SIBA 09, or whenever it was.

So what does this say about our self published journalist's reactionary editorial? Remember when you were a teenager and you had a boyfriend or girlfriend? You thought they were ace right? And they probably were but would you go back to them now? Maybe you would but it probably wouldn't be much fun. Our columnist is, in beer terms, still seeing his first girlfriend. that's fine. Maybe they'll stay together forever and be perfectly happy. It doesn't mean I'm stupid for shacking up with a hot blonde 12 years my junior though does it? 

The difference is, I know what I'm missing and he doesn't. 

Hahahaha! (Loudly)

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Everybody is falling out

It's a new year, a new web site and a new blog so now you finally get to hear my perceptive analyses of events. Which is very nice because I'm always right.

We'll start off with a sweeping overview of all the internal nattering and falling our over things that is currently going on in what is now known as "Craft brewing." What better way to do that than to give you my views on the term, Craft?

I personally do use the term craft. I use it in the same way I use the term, Quality: As a lazy shorthand to evoke some idea about values. I think that's all it can ever be because it doesn't actually mean anything. It just associates the user with other users of the term.

That in itself makes me feel uncomfortable. I don't really want to be associated with the negative hype against CAMRA and others which some of the disciples of craft are associated. So much so that I enjoy saying that we make craft real ale. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

Craft isn't my least favourite word though. that honour goes to the word "Brand." Ugh! I'm interested in making great beer. Call it what you like, I want to keep on making it better every time. A brand may well build up on the back of that, that would be nice, but setting out to build a brand and using beer as a mere commodity to be branded... that's just horrible and it's not something i have any interest in.

So how does all this shine light on why everyone is falling out over keg beers, hoppy beers, real ale, whatever? I think it's because some people are being disingenuous about what motivates them. That wouldn't be so bad if they didn't make such a big deal about how their motivation somehow makes their craft product better, but that's what they do. 

Please don't tell me you're a skater punk who's trying to overthrow the establishment by brewing narly beers and expect me to believe you just because you wear enormous gymn shoes with the laces undone and have a pierced tongue, when your actions make it obvious that your prime motivation is to build a brand to sell to a multinational brewing brand conglomerate. I don't mind anyone doing either of those things, they are both pretty cool things to do if that's what floats your boat, but in combination they make an odour not dissimilar to what comes out the back of a bull.

Happy New Year!