Thursday, 13 July 2017

Reduce beer duty or defend PBD?

Hundreds of small breweries in the UK benefit from Progressive Beer Duty (PBD). The discount we enjoy has helped to see a huge increase in the number of small breweries in the UK. It is aimed at helping, to some extent, offset the economies of scale that larger breweries achieve.

The smaller a brewery the more manpower is needed to brew each pint of beer. For example, it takes around 6 hours minimum to brew a batch of beer1. There isn't much can be done to make this a lot faster, and in some cases it might take a lot longer with inefficient brew kit. To a large extent, irrespective of brew-length2, it takes perhaps one person to do a brew with little other help3.

For this reason production costs are generally higher per unit of volume the smaller the brewery. In fact one study I am looking at4 indicates an exponential fall of costs as the brewery gets bigger. PBD is there to help small breweries with the diseconomies of scale suffered by small craft brewers.

As beer duty has risen over the years, and so many more new breweries have sprung up, bigger breweries have started to complain about the increasing perceived cash "discount". It is certainly true that as beer duty becomes a bigger part of the overall costs of brewing beer so we see PBD working better for us smaller breweries. Perhaps we shouldn't object quite so much when beer duty increases? It hurts, but it hurts the bigger breweries more.

It is also seen as unfair that the maximum amount of PBD in cash terms is limited to about £200,000Once a brewery hits production of 5,000 there is no benefit to produce more in terms of beer duty savings. Arguably every drop of beer produced above 5,000hl is charged at full duty rate. However, economies of scale do really make a difference.

There are moves to change the structure of PBD. The thing that scares me is that SIBA is looking to engage with various organisation in a bid to create unity in the beer industry. It is likely that there will be increasing moves to change the shape of PBD so much larger breweries gain some significant benefits. The reasons for wanting to engage with the wider beer industry, it is argued, is that we should have a common lobbying voice to put to Government to reduce beer duty.

Number of breweries by size in the UK

Personally I would much rather SIBA fight to keep PBD as it is. There might be a little bit of a painful step at the 5,000hl level, but frankly there are a small number of breweries that will get close to this.

Looking at the chart above, there are a huge number of breweries below the 1,000hl level. Many of them cannot, or do not want to grow towards 5,000hl, and if they do, their barriers are generally the stiff competition that exists.

Although SIBA are saying that the 5,000hl limit is sacrosanct and the 50% discount below that cannot be touched, and frankly there are scary noises around to fiddle even with that, there will be unintended consequences of giving breweries in the 5,000 - 200,000hl range added benefits. Any duty benefit given to breweries larger than 5,000hl will inevitably give them a competitive edge that will directly impact on those breweries less than 5000hl, who will receive no added help.

Looking at the spread of brewery size it is quite clear that there are very few breweries above 5000hl. Indeed, more than 50% of the breweries in the UK are in fact under 1,000hl and stand no chance of ever achieving 5,000hl.

Total share of volume by brewery size
The reasons for considering a dialogue that might change PBD is to help have a unified voice to lobby for an overall reduction in beer duty. I fail to see how that might help me, and hundreds of other breweries like ours. Indeed, I am of the view that lobbying for major changes to the now fairly established policy of increasing all alcohol duties in line with RPI is a somewhat futile activity.

The vast majority of beer brewed in the UK is made by huge companies. Over 90% is brewed by only 25 massive breweries. An increase in beer duty hurts them much more than it hurts me. A decrease benefits them much, much more than it benefits me. The vast majority of the electorate is now convinced that these big companies are evil and deserve to be punished.

A change in PBD will give me no benefits, and likely make a very small number of larger breweries more competitive, so hurting my sales. Indeed, this is the reason there is a driver for change anyway.

It is this, more than anything else, that has made me fairly convinced that we need to look more carefully at how SIBA view it's members. If you are a SIBA member and have yet to vote in the membership ballot, I would urge you to do so as soon as possible.

I do hope the reader is impressed with my pie charts. This is a beer blog after all, and we all know that beer and pies are an ideal combination.


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1The brewing process from point of mash in to having the fermentable liquid, called wort, in a tank ready to pitch the yeast.

2The brew-length is the volume of wort produced in a single brew-day.

3I am of course generalising here. However, the bigger a brewery installation the more likely labour saving features have been introduced. For us we still have small mash tuns which necessitate digging out the grain from the top. A brewery with a brew length of say 25hl will almost certainly have side access door enabling spent gains to be raked out with comparative ease. A 100hl brewery might well have a self-digging mash tun and be operating a whirlpool type copper which generally only uses pellets. Cleaning such brew-houses

There are variations on this with smaller brew-houses where automation allows more brewing per shift by use of parallel vessels and mash-in possible for a second brew while the first is still in the copper.

4Unfortunately, because of the nature of the data it is unlikely that I'll be able to publish the exact details of this study.

5This assumes an average beer strength of 4.2%. The current full duty rate is £19.08 per hectolitre percent (HL%). Full PBD discount gives a reduction of £9.54/HL%. So for a brewery producing 5,000hl of 4.2% beer their total savings on beer duty is 4.2 x 5,000 x £9.54 = £200,340.

Before the duty rate increase in March it was £192,990. So a brewery between 5,000hl and 30,000hl annual production saw an increase in this benefit over the very biggest breweries of £7,350.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

SIBA membership ballot

I entered the beer and pub industry because I felt there was something wrong with it. That was just over 13 years ago. A lot has changed in that time, but frankly so much more has remained steadfastly unchanged. The beer tie still exists, most pubs still fail to have anything of an interesting beer range and that is largely due to the massive force of brewing businesses that control much of the market.

It doesn't seem unreasonable to me to think that changes to the industry should be led by my trade body, SIBA.

There are various discussion within SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) regarding a number of issues. I have engaged in an attempt to get the best out of the organisation for my business, and currently I am of the view that my efforts have largely cost me time and money with very little to show.

I presented a couple of motions at SIBA AGM this year. One was asking for a ballot of members to ascertain if the membership criteria was in accord with the membership's views. The motion was passed with a healthy majority.

Motion 1:
SIBA will carry out a ballot of all members to ensure that the membership is happy with the current membership criteria.
Should the results of the membership show that the majority of the membership is unhappy with the current criteria SIBA must fully, demonstrably and transparently consult the membership to determine a new membership criteria.

The ballot is now being conducted, and after an initial technical hitch, the vote is now live for all SIBA members.

I spent yesterday trying to write further words to support my reasons for a "no" vote. I have to be honest and say that I fail to add anything that I haven't already written, and again, or that I have said in my speeches.

The speeches were recorded by the SIBA photographer. I've lifted my bits out of the official video that languishes behind a password. This may not meet with total approval of the officialdom, but I'm only showing me, so hopefully I'll get away with it.

There are further points made by other brewers at the AGM. Some of them rather splendid. I'd strongly recommend logging onto the SIBA toolbox and looking for the membership ballot link and finding the video. The motions start 45 minutes into the video.


BeerX 2017 SIBA AGM - Dave's speeches
from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

I would really like a "no" vote. Not because I really think that it'll make a lot of difference tightening up the membership, but because I would like SIBA to realise that they do not do enough for small brewers like me.

If the vote goes to a "yes" then it might just be the end of my time trying to engage with SIBA as it will then be proof that SIBA will fail to adequately align with my view of what the beer-world should look like.

Some extra information;

It is estimated that;
over 60% of breweries in the UK produce less than 1,000hl per year
over 80% of breweries in the UK produce less than 2,500hl per year
over 90% of breweries in the UK produce less than 5,000hl per year

And yet the focus from SIBA is on providing for breweries who produce over 5,000hl per year.



Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Hardknott past, present and future

Hardknott is just over 11 years old. We started with a two-and-a-bit barrel (3.5hl) plant brewing occasionally for the pub we then owned. We almost exclusively brewed for cask with only a tiny bit ending up in bottle and a couple of highly experimental kegs. It was a most useful trial period that culminated in us setting up as a separate stand-alone production brewery after selling the pub early 2010.

Meanwhile, during 2009 I started to discover some very interesting beers. Jaipur of course, and Punk IPA. Big imperial stouts and barley wines also hit me big-time that year. My view of beer, it turns out, was going through a humongous shift of perspective, initially started by a visit to Oregon late 2008. Massive hop-hits of American style IPAs. Beers with more body and interest due to higher ABVs.. and all manner of preconception-busting styles that shook my own perspective to the very core in a very good and exciting way.

Of course there was then, and still are some great brewers doing some fantastic things in the UK. Fullers remains a solid favourite of mine, and there might even be some more I'll have to say on that soon. But that seminal year, with the discovery or Thornbridge and BrewDog made me want to look further at how I could develop my own brewing passions. I wanted to be a craft brewer, because I believed that meant more than just being a "real ale micro-brewery" even though it seemed many commentators treated that concept of craft beer with a huge level of contempt.

When I set up my stand alone production brewery I wanted to follow the more contemporary style that was emerging and I believe I have a rightful claim to be Cumbria's first and best independent craft brewery.

Whatever your view of craft beer, one thing is certain, we remain very independent. There have been various take-overs of bigger entities. Meantime, Camden Town and now Hawkshead to name just three that are high above my event horizon.

Just this week we hear of BrewDog bullying tactics over brand names, applying similar corporate style pressure that they have previously fought against. Indeed, admittedly with some amusement to me, Martin and James changed their names to Elvis by deed poll after a law suit was filled by the late Mr Presley's estate.

Meanwhile we remain frustratingly small. We have produced about 1000hl every year for the past 4 years. We have also, due to the combination of the inefficiencies of our size, increasing costs and downward market pressures on brewery gate prices seen increasing losses that cannot be sustained. We cannot continue to do what we are doing the way we are doing it.

So, big choices to make. Huge choices to make. We have a buyer for our house, which will realise a chunk of hard cash. In a few weeks, hopefully, we will complete on the sale our house and pay down some scary loans that are partly to blame for our losses1. We will then be in a position to decide exactly what we are going to do next. We will have some hard cash left with which to consider investment in the business, but it will not be enough by itself to make it work, so we will have to take out some more scary loans, but a lot more carefully this time.

In reality, the most obvious thing to do would be just to wind up our operation. Ditch the dream of making a successful competitive, exciting and unique craft brewery as just a ridiculous idea that cannot work commercially from where we are. The market information does not make it look great; with the increasing competition, dropping wholesale pricing and increasing costs like no tomorrow. Stopping production that actually costs us money to keep doing, selling all our equipment and binning Hardknott often seems the only logical thing to do.

Is this what we will do? Not if I have my fucking way it isn't.

We have lived, breathed, dreamed and sweated Hardknott for 11 years. I'm damned if I'm giving up now. But we need to be bigger and better and different to how we have been.

So, how do we make it work? Well, I could tell you all my ideas, and my plans, show you all my blue-prints for success, but you'd have to get me very drunk before I did. They are all fairly exciting and progressive, and if I can find a way to fund them I'll make damn sure at least some of them happen.

Let's just say we have a bold plan. It's a plan that will be risky and will put everything we have on the line. We are quite probably mad. But what choice do we have? Lose Hardknott? Lose everything we have worked so hard to achieve over the last 11 years? Lose all that talent we have in the team, lose the inspiration that got us this far? Come on, that is worth fighting for surely?

We firmly believe we have a huge amount of potential. Our core beliefs, dreams and aspirations have not changed.

Besides, can we allow a few major craft pioneers to simply leave us for dust? With BrewDog becoming ever more corporate like, Meantime, Camden Town and Hawkshead selling out we feel there is a danger of the idea of craft beer becoming ever more threatened. With the likes of Marston's claiming part of the craft arena and many smaller traditional brewers taking up the cudgel, with some admirably good results,  we have a battle on our hands and make no mistake about it.

As this all unfolds over the next few months I hope to start sharing a bit more detail. I hope you will all watch and support us and our tiny team. We may well be asking for particular practical support, much is as yet uncertain, but we hope you will trust us to do the right thing when we do call for that help.


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1Many people have said to me... "don't!... DON'T sell your house to save your business!". I have a fairly simple reply; when the majority of the debt is either secured on the house anyway, or on personal credit cards, there are not many choices left. We simply do not have the financial headroom to close down the business neatly and safely without risking much more personally, losing our house and our business anyway and becoming personally bankrupt.

I am hopeful that suppliers, HMRC and our loyal fans will all see this as the right thing to do by everyone. Equally, a tidy solution to this will hopefully leave our credit rating in some sort of reasonable health.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

SIBA AGM - Sheffield 16th March 2017

Well, the motions for SIBA AGM are out... I am presenting two motions.

Some time ago I turned from being a vocal critic of SIBA, shouting from the sidelines, to working inside to make democratic change. In many ways I have been enjoying the efforts I put in. However, being a small business owner it can be quite time consuming and spending time away from the brewery to attend regional meetings and the policy committee meetings that I am involved with is difficult.

This is a key point really in my considerations. A point that I will labour in my total of 10 minutes at the podium. The fact that the average SIBA member produces around 1000hl of beer a year. Representing perhaps £200,000 turnover. If you understand the margins on beer you will easily see that it is very difficult to make a decent living at this level.

Half of the SIBA membership is smaller than this.

It seems, at least when it comes to the brewery, I am about average in size. We brew perhaps slightly over 1000hl per year.

I find it difficult to engage with SIBA in a meaningful way, predominantly time and distance being the barrier, and I am possibly not as time constrained as brewing businesses smaller than me. It is my belief that SIBA fails to accurately represent the majority of it's membership, but changing that is not likely to be easy if the majority of the membership does not engage.

To that end, if you are a SIBA member and cannot attend the AGM please invoke your right to send a vote by proxy.

Let's be heard.

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My motion that is listed as motion 3 has raised one or two questions.... yes, I believe PBD should be defended as is, and will state so in my speech. However, in reality motion 3 is presented as a defence in case motion 4 is passed. If there is an independent review then changes to PBD must be considered alongside the fact that meaningful access to tied markets is still not improving, despite MRO.

I make no bones about it, motion 4 would be much better rejected and a clear message sent from the membership that PBD should stay unchanged.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Jester


Meet Jester. He was born 18th July 2016. He's lived with us since he was 7 weeks old.

I'm sure you will be thinking "Dave, just bugger off to Facebook if you are going to post pictures of your pets, we thought this was a beer blog!"
Well, yes, but we named Jester after the fairly recently developed British hop variety.
 "Dave, you make beers with New World hops... using British hops will just make the beer taste of twigs and moss!"
You lot are so lacking in inspiration and experimentation ain't you? I mean, historically British hops have developed for boring major regional brewers and their twig tasting beers....... but things are changing.
Make no bones about it, there are efforts being made to develop new hop varieties and it is important for us brewers to explore what they can do for beers.
We've started a new series of beers; the neutron series. The first one was Neutron Centennial. We use quite a lot of Centennial hops in our beers so getting the chance to isolate the single hop was handy.
 Jester hop variety has got some English characteristics, but we thought it to be one of the more suitable hops to play with. We're not apologetic for trying and we think we brought out the best in it.








Jester the Azimutt is doing fine...As you can see he's grown up into a fine proud dog...all growed up and that.

Have English hop varieties grown up yet? Well, it's improving, but there is still work to do.. We'll keep trying new varieties until we find the top-notch ones that can replace those properly funky American varieties.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Small Brewer's Duty Reform Coalition

I've oft raised concerns regarding SIBA, the trade organisation of independent brewers. Over the past two years or so I have moved towards a position of working closely inside SIBA to achieve change through engagement rather than shouting from the sidelines. Arguably this is a more responsible and constructive activity1.

I am a member of the Policy Committee, which is currently looking at various issue that are becoming more public, notably progressive beer duty(PBD)2, and access to market3. These two issues are extricably linked in many ways.

SIBA originally started out life as the Small Independent Brewers' Association. It was decided some time ago to change the name to Society of Independent Brewers, but for the sake of simplicity retain the original acronym. One can have a view on the appropriateness of the change, and the subsequent closer working relationship with the likes of BBPA, regional brewers and even major multinationals.

Things are coming a little bit to a head. There is the recent formation of a coalition of brewers named "Small Brewers Duty Reform Coalition" (SBDRC) who are now looking to change the duty scheme to favour what is called "The Squeezed Middle". See the details here. I believe this to be a threatening and aggressive move, especially as many of the protagonists are SIBA members. It does not help us to work sensibly to produce a fair and cohesive strategy for the future of PBD.

If you have been following this blog so far this year you will note that I am greatly concerned about overall saturation of the beer market; great for beer drinkers, but not so for brewers large and small. The whole market is being squeezed significantly. Indeed, we feel like we are the squeezed bottom4.

The basic premise for the perceived need to change PBD is that there is a barrier to growth and there may be some merit in looking at that. Without going into detail, it is difficult to grow beyond 5,000hl due to the structure of relief as the increase of duty at 5000hl is very sharp. There is another much less convincing argument that it is unfair that brewers over 60,000hl get no relief at all, as they still fail to have economies of scale. Frankly, it is complete nonsense to imagine a muti-muillion pound businesses see similar diseconomies of scale compared to micro-brewers and to conflate the two issues is dishonest.

SIBA have nicely and robustly countered the SBDRC announcement with its own press release.

I want to voice here my own Hardknott centric view on all of this. Micro-breweries are going out of business. I hear of one gone into receivership just this week. Other micro-brewers are either activating or considering significant retraction of activities. Much of the reason for this is because the "squeezed middle" are driving down prices, and significant to all of this is recent huge mandated  price drop for SIBA members into Enterprise Inns.

If we change the nature of PBD significantly we will see the "squeezed middle" using any duty benefit to further drive down the price in the market increasing damage to an already struggling micro-brewery industry. The only true benefactors will be PubCos and brewers with significant pub estates. There is already significant evidence to suggest that the vast majority of duty decreases of any sort are simply demanded by retail chains to improve their bottom line.

The work done behind the scenes to deal with these issues is complex, sensitive and contains significant alternative perspectives. I simply put my point of view across here, but it is one that I would expect most brewers of our size (1200hl/yr) to agree with. It is also worth noting that I represent around the average size for SIBA members, and therefore would expect SIBA to take as much notice of me as they would of any brewer bigger than me.

Further more, very few SIBA members are above 5000hl, over 90% of SIBA members are below 5000hl and benefit from full duty relief, essential for their very existence. The remaining 10% or so appear to be significantly more powerful in shaping SIBA policies and certainly carry more weight and have more resources to help influence policy.

One would expect SIBA to defend PBD completely and utterly. Up until recently this is exactly what has been happening, and I am hopeful that this will continue to be the case. I am significantly scared that this may change if we do not fight very strongly against SBDRC and some of the noises being made by larger organisations.

Part of the problem is that SIBA has grown now to include some fairly big brewers. Brewers can now be a member of SIBA even if they brew a colossal 200,000hl per year. This represents businesses that turn over tens of millions of pounds per year. They are huge. It is inconceivable that they can relate to the difficulties faced by 90% of SIBA members.

Now, SIBA is a democratic organisation, which in itself begs the question as to why we have allowed ourselves a position where we have such giants in our camp. I believe there is a core reason behind this, and my main reason for writing this post. Change is made via regional meetings, representation is sent via trusties to the board. Additionally, there is a route for major changes to be made via motions to the AGM. If I understand correctly, these motions have to first be approved at regional level for onward consideration by the board before finally being presented at national AGM (BeerX) for a vote.

I see there being some significant flaws in this process. Firstly, many of the brewers below 5000hl are working their butts off just to stay afloat and cannot afford the time or fuel to travel and engage with this process. I believe the direction SIBA would take would be significantly different if many more members engaged.

This is the key message behind this post. I am considering two motions to the AGM. One that ties any change to PBD to a significant, meaningful and proactive change to access to market for brewers below 5000hl. The second motion would question the rationale behind having membership over 60,000hl and the associate membership category, perhaps demanding a referendum on the policy to determine if the membership is happy with the status quo. My reason for this second motion is that I believe members over 60,000hl significantly compromise SIBAs ability to act for the majority of the membership.

For these, and other motions from other breweries to be successful we require as many sub 5000hl brewery representatives to attend both regional AGMs and the National AGM at BeerX in March.

If any micro-brewery cannot attend then there is an option for proxi-voting, which I would strongly urge members to activate.

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1Although sometimes frustrating from the point of view of this blog, as to write publicly regarding some issues would be unprofessional. Equally, there are comments I'd like to make from a Hardknott perspective that would be in disagreement with a broader view of SIBA in general. This part is hugely frustrating. Hardknott has a unique ethos towards beer and it is important to get that message out.

2Progressive beer duty is the scheme whereby small brewer's diseconomies of scale are partly helped by a reduction on the amount of tax we pay. Without this duty us small brewers would have an incredibly difficult time competing in the market and there would certainly be much less choice in the beer world. If we lose this relief many brewers will find it difficult to continue and we would see significant shrinkage in the micro-brewery market.

3A significant proportion of the pub market is tied to particular brewers. This might be through ownership of the freehold of the pub, or it might be through less obvious barriers through ownership of dispense equipment.

4With apologies, we know who to blame for this phrase, and suitable admonishment has already been administered.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

The emotional cost of social media

I've had numerous compliments for my previous post regarding my doubts about the future. It does seem to me that my best writing comes from an honest and open description of difficulties, even if risking wider damage to overall public's perception. Indeed, BBC Radio Cumbria was in the brewery on Friday to record an interview as a result of that post. I didn't want to do it live, normally I do, as I was certain I'd say something I'd later regret. Hopefully it will go out next week, if I get to know when I'll post on twitter.

So, with the bit between my teeth, and the potential risk associated with a runaway creature, I feel it is time for me to explore writing about a deep angst I now experience and has possibly taken me close to mental illness. Yes, 2016 was that tough, I hope this post will turn into therapy.

I've built a lot of my business through the internet. Back in 2008 I had been exploring various ways of making my business do better. I was advised, amongst other things, to write a blog. Engaging Facebook was also seen by various business mentors to be a thing, although I continue to have my doubts about how useful that is. Applying SEOto tempt Google to rank higher is a thing I studied courses on.

I started to write a blog about my business, and searched for other blogs to see what people were saying about pubs and beer. That was over 8 years ago. I became engrossed into the whole discussion about beer and pubs, cask and keg, sparklers and CAMRA and numerous subjects. I even won an award with the Guild of Beer Writers, which gave me immense pleasure and even briefly made me think that I could do it for a living.

In 2009 a thing called Twitter started to gather momentum and I joined in. It can be great fun and I've met a lot of people via that medium and reached customers I'd have never achieved to with any other form of communications. We pushed out our message and continued to work to promote Hardknott beers through our move away from a brewpub to stand alone brewery.

Broadly it has worked. I have very little doubt in my mind that I would not have progressed Hardknott anywhere near as far as we have without interactions on social media. I haven't always got it right, and certainly have made some mistakes. There have been good natured discussion on many occasions, and equally some flame-wars at other times. When it goes well the feeling of success, of acceptance by the wider community as a person of knowledge and wise words, it is an incredibly useful motivator by way of emotionally uplifting feelings. Money almost doesn't matter in the grand scheme of thingswhen it goes right.

When it doesn't go right, things can go very wrong indeed. After the euphoria of success of the early days there comes the realisation that staying on top becomes more difficult as more and more people enter the game. I am now realising the huge buzz of success can be replaced with a downer so large as to create withdrawal cravings similar to what I imagine a drug addict may experience. It does make me ponder the damage that might be done to emotions as a result of attempting to promote a business on the internet.

I do like a good discussion. I like to think I can consider a point of view that might differ to mine and put across an analysis of the situation in a calm and collected way, providing the other person is trying to do the same and not just being antagonistic. However, when I am arguing for my very existence, when I know that for several years I've been making fairly substantial losses and I am fighting through my blog, or twitter, or whatever to keep alive the passion in my heart it becomes very difficult to not see some commentators as just being deliberately disruptive. I like a sensible discussion, but not an all out argument, and definitely not anything that resembles being flamed, or where I feel the need to flame someone else because they appear to me to just poking a pointy stick for the sake of being nasty. I feel it is especially difficult when it seems to me to be for the sole purpose of undermining my own convictions.

I truly believe in what I am doing. I do have a passion to brew great beer, to make a difference in the beer world and try to realign the drinkers view of beer. I think to some extent over the last 11 years of brewing I have done that. But the passion can sometimes manifest itself as great hurt when I feel I care more than those that I interact with and when those people I feel ought to be my friends. Indeed moreover, when to me they would actually benefit by my attempts to improve the lot of the general micro-brewing scene should they allow me my point. It is difficult not to just see it as being malicious.

I don't know if it is me, struggling to make my own business work. Perhaps it is the desperation of others who feel the need to attack anything I do that is aiming to big up my own beers, or justify something I'm doing. Of course on some occasions it could be my own paranoia creating an imaginary enemy, which is an explanation I oft considered3. It is highly likely that it is a combination of all of these. However I have felt lately that in most forms of on-line interaction an incredible increase of tension and uncomfortable situations.

My main form of promotion for my brewery has been, and probably still is via the internet. I have felt an increasing sense of discomfort recently to the extent that I feel I have developed a level of depression, a form of adversity and reluctance to engage. Perhaps I am too needy, perhaps I am not as cut out for on-line engagement as I thought I was, perhaps I am just too sensitive and if that is so then perhaps this is another reason to consider more carefully my future.

There seems to be significant information suggesting that social media is creating mental illness in young people. I can't find a really great link that is not just sensationalist news items that say we should be watching out for our kids. Why just young people? Can old people like me not suffer too?

It has drawn me to consider the risks of promoting a business via social media. I notice one eminent brewery owner reduce his on-line activity stating it is due to feeling uncomfortable with some of the interactions. It also makes me consider that perhaps all writers who take themselves seriously find themselves needing to gain sufficient praise and acceptance and that perhaps only a small dose of cruel critique may send them into a spiral of unhappiness.

It is important for me to try and get the balance right. The purpose behind this blog has changed, to some extent. Moving from being a brewing pub-owner to being a brewer has certainly changed my perspective. It is essential for me to work at promoting my beers and the best way in my mind to do that is via my blog. It is obviously not helpful to my own state of mind or for the promotion of my beers if I continue to try to manage, with carefully constructed arguments, comments that appear to be trolling.

I know I haven't always engaged appropriately when dealing with comments on here, or discussions on twitter. Indeed, sometimes I have felt huge stress and even anger, which is incredibly unhelpful to everyone, and may in fact make me look a little like an internet troll myself. So, time to fully engage comment moderation and be selective about the comments I permit to be posted. I can normally tell when a thread is likely to drag me into a difficult situation. I also think it is important to try to avoid starting to respond, or even look at the comments elsewhere that are likely to create a situation.

Besides, I want to feel happy, and want to be able to write and engage. I can't do that if I'm scared to be here.

There might be a wider issue here; I know many brewers are struggling at the moment. Since our New Year post I've been contacted by several brewers saying their lot this last 12 months has gotten worse. This is in addition to the already strong indication that all is not well in the industry. Perhaps we are all feeling the pinch and taking it out on each other, I can't imagine that is a good thing. Let us focus on fighting those outside our own impassioned group of dedicated brewers, rather than appearing to tear each other apart.

Over 90% of the total beer brewed in the UK is made by less than 2% of the breweries. They are the true enemy.

Less than 1% of the total beer is made by over 90% of the breweries (those under under 5000hl), which includes me and many very great breweries. Will simply must stop pissing each other off.

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1SEO = Search Engine Optimisation

2If I were honest I don't care about money as such. I do like new toys, I like to live in a nice house and it would be nice to get way on holiday, but to me money is a way of measuring success, but only one of them.

3Although, when casual observers say to me "I thought <insert name> was your friend" I have to conclude it is not just paranoia and generally reply "So did I"