Monday, 15 January 2018

Urban Underground

It's taken a while, perhaps even best part of 50 years, but I've got to the point of realising I am not normal. It seems the world is a mass of homogeneity and I mostly don't fit into any of it. But then, what is normal? Normal, when referring to the characteristics of the human condition, is very probably an amalgam of the average of us all. In reality we are all very different.

This is the back-story to our new beer, Urban Underground. I feel I'm almost in my own little underground world on occasions. Part of an alternative to the mainstream and a happier place for me to be. This beer is something of an outward expression of that feeling of misfit, and an empathy with anyone else who feels the same.

One cannot help one's height. As adults we have grown to a certain vertical dimension and stopped. We then start to shrink as we head inevitably to old age1. I suppose some people like to wear high heels when they feel challenged vertically,  although that isn't one of my particular kinks. The colour of our skin, our numerical age, and our genetic sex are rooted in our conception. More variable characteristics such as where we may feel we sit in a gender spectrum, sexuality, social status, how young we actual feel or where generally we fit in any sort of spectrum of personality2 add together to make each and every one of us completely individual.

Moreover, we are really quite plastic in the way our personalities develop. I know that I have changed in many ways over the years. Part of that is due to me bucking the preconceived ideas of what is normal and deciding to reject the straight jacket of societal pressure. The life journey I am on only really hit overdrive when I cast away the rigours of academia. If you'll pardon further powered travel metaphors, that journey only became turbo-charged when I ceased PAYE status. School eh? How many people just don't get along with school and later in life find out what they are really all about?3

We want Hardknott to be all-inclusive. We try hard to avoid alienating anyone based on age, race, sex or sexuality, background or any other defining feature. More than that we hope to positively appeal to anyone who doesn't fit normal, mainly because I'm needy for new friends.

We've tried hard to make this beer more accessible and therefore more inclusive. We've put just as many hops in as we do in Azimuth or Intergalactic Space Hopper, but less has gone in copper and much more have gone in post fermentation. This has reduced bitterness whilst maximising aroma making a very drinkable beer.

This is a big, fruity, laid-back IPA, with notes of orange, mango and a hint of pepper. At 5.9% it is certainly not run-of-the-mill, certainly not part of the average mainstream and hopefully will be in the niche sweet-spot helping you to find your true self.

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1Indeed, fear of my own mortality, although perhaps tangental to my points here, is non-the-less something that concerns me. I'm unsure quite how far I've worked through my own mid-life crisis, but it is most certainly there. It is a fact that life is a terminal disease, it is therefore important to live it to the full and with gay, straight, bi or any other type of abandon, depending on how you feel.

2I'm hoping I've avoided any specific technical psychological term here. It is quite possible this whole post skates on thin ice in order for me to get across my point. Mental health is a subject that deserves sensitivity. For me, I've never been formally diagnosed with any issues, but there have been dark times. I suspect a huge number of people feel the same. There are many diagnosable personality "disorders" - but then when does someone who is a bit different actually have a personality "disorder". I have on many occasions considered if I might exhibit some characteristics that indicate I may be both dyslexic and on the autistic spectrum. I've come to the conclusion that I am just me, and that I work and feel a certain way and the world should just live with the way I am.

3And I could rant on about how I feel the education systems fails many who do not fit the standard academia model. There is way too much emphasis on league tables in my view. Totally insufficient focus on skills and knowledge that might actually be useful to students in a vocational setting. A general lack of understand that some people just don't get on well if all they are forced to to do is sit at a desk all day. Some people don't work well with words and numbers, would rather spend time doing something much more practical and might even thrive if they were allowed that stimulation.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Chips should be brown

I do like chips. I also like roast potatoes. Pies with a thick crisp pastry are also quite lovely. Fresh baked bread with lashings of butter melting through that gooey yeast-formed lattice of heartening carbohydrate, all held together with a nice, crunchy brown crust is just the ticket. Oh, and toast, just at that point of not quite being burnt, but almost there. Heaven!

Recent scientific health research pours terrible doubt on the future of foods that are naturally browned through baking, grilling or frying, which I feel is something of a terrible shame. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the results of the scientific research is inconclusive regarding the actual health hazards associated with naturally browning food at elevated temperatures. In being overzealous with caution regarding the health of the population I fear the Food Standards Agency are propagating what I believe to be a food risk myth and in so doing turning science into pseudoscience. There is no proof that eating burnt toast or crispy roast potatoes increases your risk of cancer.

I enjoy eating these things. I enjoy cooking these things. I always enjoy these food stuffs most when I make them myself. You see, there seems to be an ever increasing trend these days to make stuff anaemic rather than the colour they should be, a nice deep brown.

Browning of food during cooking, and incidentally the colouration of malted barley that goes to make your beer, occurs due to the Maillard reaction. This reaction changes the colour, flavour and brittleness of food. It becomes darker, tastier and more crunchy. The reaction is between reducing sugars and amino acids. The reactions, and therefore the resultant compounds can be complex and are dependant on the particular types of amino acid present, as well as the time, temperature and chemical conditions (PH for example) of the cooking process.

From a culinary point of view this is often referred to as caramelisation. Chemically, caramelisation is different to the Maillard reaction and therefore does not produce acrylamide. But in starchy foods both reactions tend to occur together and contribute to the overall deliciousness of properly cooked items such as chips.

Roast potatoes, made by me. Probably quite high in acrylamide, but they were delicious.
The problem it seems is that there has been scientific research that links a substance called acrylamide to cancer in laboratory animals. It is thought that acrylamide is formed as one of the products of the Maillard reaction, in any case it is present in starchy foods that have been heated over 120ºC. Such foods include chips, bread, biscuits and crisps.

Recently the FSA have issued advice that is designed to decrease the consumption of acrylamide. This advice includes cooking chips until they are "golden" rather than brown. It also includes the advice that cooking times should be reduced and preferably that cooking temperatures be lower.  Advising that production of acrylamide is reduced by reducing the surface area to volume ratio, for instance by making chips chunky rather than skinny1.

Now, if dietary acrylamide was proven to be a significant risk to human health then perhaps we should consider these recommendations. If reduction of cancer rates could be guaranteed by simply ensuring the population was eating pale food then there would be some point to the FSA scaremongering.

However, no epidemiological study has yet found a link between dietary acrylamide and cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund has carried out their own research and "this study didn’t find any strong evidence for a link between eating overcooked starchy foods that contain acrylamide and cancer risk in humans". Moreover, although they are falling short of calling out the FSA for overzealous caution, they do list the issue amongst 5 diet and cancer myths debunked. Indeed, there is no report anywhere that I can find that shows a link and even in the FSA reports there is yet to be a proven link.2

There is new legislation3 coming into force in April that is designed to manage the levels of acrylamide in food that are produced by food business operators. This bothers me hugely. Legislation brought in to address a problem that has yet to even be proven to exist seems over the top in the extreme. Legislation which will inevitably cause food producers to worry more about meeting the demands of the rules rather than making tasty food, and goes some way to explaining in my mind why most chips these days have virtually no colour about them at all.

A good while ago I wrote a whole post on the subject of chips4, and how I like to make them. Double frying ensures fully cooked fluffy interior and and a nice crisp brown exterior. And yes, the brown colour on the outside of chips does improve the flavour somewhat. I love bread with a thick brown crust, and pastry nicely coloured on the outside. Sadly, with the monstrosity that is Greggs bakery, the UK seems to be losing the idea of what a proper pie should be like, but make no doubt about it, no pastry item should be pale and limp.

The only remaining glimmer of hope is optimistic application of the ALARA principle, detailed at the end of this post. Standing for "As Low As Reasonably Achievable" the principle does permit some justified wriggling. If you are a restaurant, for instance, and you consciously and deliberately make the choice to create menu items designed to have a high level of browning of starch products then it is perfectly legitimate to argue that it is impossible to make such items properly without increased levels of acrylamide. However, in my experience environmental health officers lack the ability to understand the intricacies of such arguments and would rather dogmatically apply their own interpretation of the the rules.

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1However, it was interesting that in a certain study a supermarket's own brand crispy roast potatoes with goose fat seemed to come out with a greater level of acrylamide than the skinny chips from most well known fast food chains. We all know that crispy roast potatoes with goose fat are food things to die for. It may well be that there is a reaction with certain amino acids in the goose fat and the carbohydrates in the potatoes that ensure such deliciousness, but equally cause increased levels of acrylamide. Indeed, looking down the list of things in the results of the above mentioned study and it becomes apparent to me that there is a strong link between deliciousness and levels of acrylamide.

2I want to expand a little on my thoughts regarding the effect of acrylamide on the body. The substance is potentially carcinogenic, this is true. When exposure by inhalation is at substantially elevated levels there is some proof that there is some cancer risk, for example in smokers. In laboratory animals cancer risk is shown to be present from exposure.
"The National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens considers acrylamide to be reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, based on studies in laboratory animals given acrylamide in drinking water. However, toxicology studies have shown that humans and rodents not only absorb acrylamide at different rates, they metabolize it differently as well." - National Cancer Institute (USA)
Acrylamide can be metabolised in different ways. It is possible that ingested acrylamide does find it's way to DNA in the body and so cause the mutations, it is also entirely possible that humans metabolise ingested acrylamide in a way that prevents it being damaging to DNA.

Homo Sapiens have also ways cooked food, and we evolved out of earlier species that also cooked food. Cooking by our ancestors has probably been a thing for about a million years. Cooking is possibly one of the reasons our species has become so successful, and therefore it is also highly likely we have developed an evolutionary tolerance to acrylamide in our food. It is certain that humans and rats metabolise acrylamide differently. Rats have never evolved to use fire for cooking.

3This legislation is actually coming from the EU. More evidence, I guess, to backup the Brexiteers case. However, drilling down through the information it seems it is the UK that is driving this, and besides, I'm not convinced that we won't just copy and paste EU legislation once we are out.

4I'm intregued that actually the picture of my chips in that by now rather ancient post shows them to be quite pale. Some varieties of potatoes, especially early season are notoriously difficult to brown owing to low concentrations of sugars. I assume this was the case in this sample.


Some background information

Acrylamide in malted barley

Pale malts 630-660µg kg-1
Coloured malts 2200µg kg-1
(source http://acta-arhiv.chem-soc.si/54/54-1-98.pdf)

Calculation of acrylamide in beer

1 pint of beer = 0.568 litres
assume beer has OG = 1.050
Litre degrees per pint = 0.568 x 50 = 28.4lº
Assume yield of 300lº/kg
Mass of malt per pint of beer = 28.4/300 = 0.095kg or 95g
Pale beer acrylamide content = 0.095 x 650 = 62µg
Dark beer (20% dark malt) acrylic content = 0.095 x (650 x 0.8 + 2200 x 0.2)
        = 0.095 x (520 + 440) = 0.095 x 960 = 91µg

Safe levels of consumption

182µg/day for a 70kg human https://www.bakeryandsnacks.com/Article/2009/12/08/Scientists-determine-safe-acrylamide-levels

ALARA

ALARA is an acronym for the concept “As Low As Reasonably Achievable”. This simply means that a Food Business Operator (FBO) should take appropriate measures to reduce the presence of a given contaminant in a final product to a minimum: taking account of the risk presented, but also taking account of other legitimate considerations, such as potential risks from other contaminants, organoleptic properties and quality of the final product, and the feasibility and effectiveness of controls.


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Peat Souper

Every so often things happen that helps me realise that there are good people in the world. Business can be a nasty thing to have to do it would seem. Indeed, very often it feels like to succeed you simply have to be more ruthless than your competitor1. So when I received a nice email in early January, and I followed up with a phone call regarding collaborations that could well help us out, I knew that the year was going to turn out to be very interesting indeed. It was excellent timing as I was becoming very jaded of the whole industry really.

I was not wrong. This year has panned out very interestingly, and it's not over yet. The communications I refer to were from John Keeling, Director of Brewing and Global Ambassador at Fuller, Smith and Turner, the Chiswick based family brewing business. He claimed to have an idea for a great collaboration project and suggested he had some good news for me.

Ever since I met John at Sheffield station back in October 2009 I have found him to be a most generous, witty and friendly brewer. In contrast to some other beer industry leaders2 he has embraced the nurturing of a two-way street between the very smallest of breweries and Fullers. This does mean that although we may still have some differences of opinion on some things, I still have a huge respect for him and everyone at Fullers.

So, what was the great plan of John's? You probably all know by now, a mixed six pack of beers each a collaboration with the best craft breweries in the UK. John hand-picked the breweries and we were delighted to be invited to be part of the project.

The whole process was great fun, from recipe formulation, brewing the pilot beer, through to the label design it was a true collaborative effort. We learnt a lot too, which is one of the most significant advantages for us of taking part in collaborations. Even down to learning how to deal with the brand managers in larger organisations who simply don't get the difference is style between them and us. That's a whole story by itself3, but we eventually found a compromise that worked for everyone.

We are having a launch event in Birmingham next Wednesday (8th November 2017) at The Old Stock Joint, which is a Fullers pub. All six beers will be presented along with some special Hardknott beers.

If you have signed up to our Hardknott Crowd Rewards site then attending the event and making yourself known to us will get you 300 #HKBeerCoins. Further #HKBeerCoins are available for anyone helping us to promote the event.

If you've read this far well done, you deserve 50 HKBeerCoins just for that. Enter the token
P34tS0uper into the correct place on the HardkottCrowd.com site and they are yours!!

Oh, and of course there is a video of the brewday.




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1Contrary to what some people like to claim, the beer industry is incredibly competitive. I am often encouraged to work together for common aims within the beer industry, and then get heavily shafted by the very people who I am asked to work with. We are not all friends, and make no mistake, big businesses worth many millions of pounds, with directors on healthy salaries are regularly pissing on my bonfire.

2In many quarters there are continual attacks on the sucesses of micro-brewers up and down the industry. Unfortunately I'm afraid there are moves to damage the very smallest of brewers, and the attacks are coming from some surprising areas, which is worrying me intensely.

3Our beer wasn't named until we actually had the beer in the FV. I wanted to call it The Big Smoke, but apparently that name had already been taken. We came up with various alternatives, all of which got kicked out by the trademark experts. All the names that the Fullers people came up with as safe names we thought sucked and were incredibly un-crafty and certainly not Hardknotty.

To be fair, Mr Keeling told us to dig our heals in and fight for what we wanted. So I very gently suggested that if they wanted it to be a truly collaborative beer the name had to be similar to the sort of name I would use for our own beers. I liked Peat Soup, because it was play on words regarding London smog and a reference to the fact the beer used peat smoked malt. Some of the Fullers people thought it too obtuse for most people to understand. I think people that understand us also understand the name reference. You, dear reader, are not stupid.

I think there was a fear that people may react badly to the word "soup" which might subliminally make folk thing the beer was gloopy or something.

Eventually we came up with Peat Souper. A super beer!! Well, hopefully we've got away with it, and it doesn't flop when out in the wild.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Thinking Drinkers

"Drink less, drink better" is a mantra I can get behind. Especially in this era of sin-bashing by a plethora of kill-joys masquerading as people concerned for the wellbeing of humanity, it is perhaps useful to consider that being discerning about what we drink is no bad thing. Looking out for and making an effort to find better alcoholic drinks helps re-capture the moral high-ground. At the very least ensuring we are not at the bottom of the hill.

I've known Ben McFarland for a while, I mean, he is a thrice Beer Writer of the Year and writes a fair bit about beer. He's even included us in one of his books1. Tom Sandham it seems is also a renowned drinks writer, although his specialism seems somewhat broader than Ben's. I suppose cocktails might be a thing for some people, even if this particular imbiber prefers not to be so pretentious.2

This duo was created some time ago, as best I can work out around 2011 when they debuted at The Edinburgh Fringe with "The Thinking Drinker’s Guide to Alcohol" - This seems to coincide with my own conscious recognition of their existence as a duo.

I guess I was confused about what exactly they did. Did they do drinks tastings? Are they a comedy act? Was it perhaps more serious a message they wanted to put across. I have remained healthily intrigued about their act, but had never been in the right place at the right time and available enough to be bothered to drag my sorry arse along to see them live.

"There is something on at the Begger's I think we should go and see" said Ann "Oh?" I said dismissively, as at times our agreement on what makes a good show may differ.Still, The Beggar's Theatre in Millom does bring some good shows from time-to-time, so I guess I was ready to be open minded.

"Yeah, a comedy act, something to do with drinkers or something" she declared, thinking she had knowledge I didn't. "Yeah, know about them" I replied nonchalantly. "Fairly sure this is a brand new show" Ann was determined to maintain that air of superior knowledge. I shattered her illusions "The Thinking Drinkers, Ben and Tom, I think you'll find"

Ann must think I walk around eyes wide shut. I mean, there'd been publicity and stuff, of course I knew about it. Anyway, with a bit of various juggling of other important activities we managed to get to see the show last Friday, and so glad we did.

It was billed as comedy, but with serious faces of apparent drinks connoisseurs on the publicity posters and promise of free drinks, as well as their by now well known mantra we were unsure exactly what to expect. Would it be a drinks tasting event with a few gags? Would it be a lecture on responsible drinking? Oh, wait, the title of the show is "Thinking Drinkers' History of Alcohol" - so, it's a history lesson, perhaps? Indeed, I had heard various comments from idle armchair critiques amongst beer writing circles declare that they "....did not really understand what those two were up to...."

The mistake, I guess, is to think that serious drinks writers can't do comedy. Ben is three times Beer Writer of the Year, he shouldn't be lowering the tone by making people laugh, that's disrespectful.

Well laugh we did. Without doubt the prime genre is that of comedy, up front and in your face.Yes, there is some historical stuff in there, but much more by way of creating a vague storyline. There are some drinks tastings to be had, which was kinda good, as we were promised that. But predominantly it was a broad appeal, slightly adult, clever and fast-paced comedy piece. One of those great bits of comedy where you groan at the obvious puns, guffaw at the innuendoes, bravo the clever more subtle jokes and still feel there was more you didn't quite understand, but didn't mind because you were still recovering from the last gag.

We enjoyed the evening, and sharing a few beers after the show. We even gave in and bought their latest book, Thinking Drinkers: The Enlightened Imbiber's Guide to Alcohol.

So, if you get a chance, go and see the show, we had a great time.

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1We are fairly sure it is Boutique Beer: 500 Quality Craft Beers, but as we haven't actually got a copy we can't check. Jeez, we can't be going and buying every book that we happen to get mentioned in.

2It's relative I guess. Most regular beer drinkers probably think I'm pretentious in my outlook towards beer. However, most cocktails seem to have left me feeling like I just wasted a whole lot more money than I needed to and sent me right back to enjoying some good beer.

3Ann still thinks The Sound of Music is a great show. I mean.....

4And some of the risqué costumes did leave a little bit too much in your face. My mind is still tainted by the sight of way too much ... Although it appears the girls didn't mind too much, they told me afterwards, so perhaps drinks writers can be sex symbols after all.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Hardknott Crowd Rewards

This post is about our new rewards engagement scheme, Hardknott Crowd Rewards. No, it's not another crowd funding scheme, indeed it is the exact opposite. You can skip the post below and just hit the link to find out what it's all about.



"Find somewhere with lots of chimney pots" he said. Because smoke makes people want to drink more beer? I have to admit I found the connection between chimneys and a demand for beer somewhat confusing when I initially heard the adage. The confusion only lasted a few seconds as my decaying grey matter caught up with the metaphor. It is the case that for some decades that heavily populated areas no longer rely on open fires to heat houses and chimney pots are indeed artefacts of a bygone age, what with central heating and such like.

It is true, it is much easier to sell beer in areas that have a reasonable population density, like big towns, cities and large conurbations. Hardknott certainly is not located in an area that could be classed as highly populated. Indeed, if we measured the total population we could reach in 30 minutes from our town of Millom and compared to all the other towns in Cumbria we would rank very low indeed, beaten perhaps only by Kirby Stephen1

Our success at Hardknott has undeniably been as a result of our activities online. Selling outside of Cumbria by reaching out through this blog, Twitter, Facebook and developing a reputation via these means. Selling into city centres via various distribution modes has helped us get where we are.

As the Craft Beer scene matures, as it certainly is doing, and more and more breweries become savvy to the power of social media it becomes more difficult to be heard. Equally, more and more breweries are setting up closer to, or even in the middle of cities. Right there, right where they need to be and very visible to the local populations, especially if they stand on their chimney pots.

On top of that maintaining social media accounts is something of a time-consuming activity. Lately I've been trying to claw-back parts of my life that have been missing over that last 12 years, mainly because my knees will fail me before long and I want to use them whilst they still work. I have rekindled two of my favourite passions lately, mountaineering2 and musical theatre3. Doing all of this means that I do not spend all my waking hours tweeting, blogging and makes it more difficult to attend beer events and the like.

So, how to engage with people? How to reach more people and get Hardknott more noticed?

I had an idea a few months back, and I've spent most of my time since developing it. Today I decided it was good enough to launch.

Hardknott Crowd Rewards


Go on, click on the link. I'm hopeful it'll be self explanatory, but it is brand new and we'll be developing it over the next few weeks. Either way, help us out by sharing the love and you might end up with some really great goodies. We've even had some t-shirts made as you can see from the pictures here.


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1I did consider Kirby Lonsdale and Grange-over-sands in that list, but they are both less than 30 minutes from Kendal. Yes, these places do seem to be listed as towns. I do look at these things as part of my research into development of my business.

2I spent two very glorious weeks in Chamonix this summer. I climbed a mountain called Mont Blanc du Tacul (4248m, my first and hopefully not last 4,000m peak). Next year I hope to summit Mont Blanc itself. The reader is highly unlikely to know just how important this is to me.

3This year I took part in a fantastic musical in Abbey Musical Society production of Barnum. I enjoyed it hugely and was a brilliant diversion from some of the nonsense I have to deal with in the beer world.

Next spring I'm in a production of Cats with the same group. If you have ever seen the show you will understand why I need my knees. I'm playing Alonzo, in case you are interested.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

A sign of decline

Many years ago, when I was a young man,1 I was introduced to a local Cumbrian brewery called Yates. Their bitter was at the time an interesting addition to an otherwise well established traditional base of cask beers in Cumbria from the likes of Jennings in Cockermouth and Hartley's in Ulverston. Subsequent closure of Hartley's and the selling of Jennings to Marstons effectively made Yates the oldest independent brewery in Cumbria.

Yates has a place in my heart. In 1986 when it was first established there was very little in the way of microbreweries in Cumbria, if any at all. As a young man it awakened my interest in the brewing industry and was probably an important, if subliminal influence when I considered my own brewing career.

I was saddened to hear a few weeks ago that the current owners, after trying to sell the brewery as a going concern, have decided to simply close the brewery. Having heard on the local grapevine I was waiting until I saw an official word before comment. This brewery closure does sadden me somewhat for a number of reasons.

Quite apart from the fact it is a shame the oldest and most established independent Cumbrian brewery is closing, for me it is something of a weather-check on the state of the industry and the market for independent beer. Moreover, it is an indication perhaps of the likely value of such breweries should any owner wish to find an exit strategy. I feel this is a significant issue for anyone looking to invest in any brewery operation.

Profits for most breweries in receipt of full duty discount is tiny. Indeed, I have some data2 that shows  the average brewery below 5,000hl annual production will be lucky to break even. Some will make a profit and some will make a loss. If it is not possible to sell a brewery upon retirement then it is highly likely an overall loss will be made on exit from the industry in most cases. It seems to me that if Yates cannot sell, as a well established business and known brand, then what hope is there?

Caroline and Graham Baxter, who wish to retire
and cannot find a buyer for their brewery.
Of course growth to a bigger and more healthy business might be an answer, but if a significant number of the estimated 1,4002 breweries under 5,000hl were to grow to an average of say 10,000hl  annual production, which is where I believe we'd need to be to see significant value in the brewing business, then this would represent an increase of their combined share of the beer market from around 3%2 to over 30% of the total beer brewed.

I cannot see how this is even remotely achievable without a much greater revolution in the beer industry. Total volume brewed currently by breweries under 200,000hl is about 9%3 of the total beer brewed and of that about 7%4 is brewed by SIBA full brewing members. To move a significant number of current sub 5,000hl breweries into a strong position we'd need to take significant volume away from the global giants, and although I'd love to see that happen, I doubt it actually ever will.

It remains for me to wonder what the future is. Personally some rationalisation and combined business collaborations would be a sensible move. I did approach Yates when I heard they were up for sale to explore how we could work out a deal. We couldn't afford the freehold, but might have been able to work out how to find value in the brand and the equipment and work out a deal. Apparently our approach wasn't welcome.

I think more innovative business solutions need to be explored if the current micro-brewing sector is to thrive. I've looked at a few options, and with only a few exceptions owners of micro-breweries don't seem to get it and seem determined to plough a lonely and pointless furrow.

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1Indeed, it was a very long time ago.

2Data has been confidentially supplied to me by SIBA.

3Combined SIBA data and BBPA data

4Estimates by SIBA

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.