Thursday, 30 June 2011

Craft Beer and the Recession

I have written in the past about the price of beer and craft beer in particular. I mentioned it here when I posed the question "how much can this market stand?". There wasn't much by way of conclusive response and one does wonder in these recessionary times whether there is still potential growth in the market.

Now comes some hard evidence, not from here, but from that other place, the USA, that craft beer might just be weathering hard times much better than you'd think.  Sales for Budweiser, the flagship brand for AB InBev, plunged 7.3% in 2010, driven it seems by the fact that the unemployment rate among core blue-collar beer drinkers remains three times that of more affluent, white-collar consumers.

On the other hand, craft brewers have had a different experience. Sales at Boston Beer Co., the maker of Samuel Adams and the market share leader in this category, edged up 1.7% in 2010. Sierra Nevada Brewing increasing its sales by 7.8%, Magic Hat Brewing gained 14.8% and New Belgium Brewing soared by 18.3%. "Craft beer costs more, but the consumers are saying, 'We're getting something different here and we're willing to pay for it.'"

Other reasons given for this success include that US consumers show a preference for craft beer with stronger and more experimental flavours. IPA sales for example, are are up over 40% compared to a year ago. Local loyalty is another reason it seems, with consumers willing to pay extra to support independent brewers in their own communities.

Now here isn't the USA (despite the wishes of some) and "local" certainly isn't much of a factor here - that's reserved for largely for cask - with imported beers dominating the emerging craft sector. But it seems likely that the craft beer market in Britain has a good chance of emerging from the recession in growth, albeit not enough of it indigenous.  (My own view is that the new London brewers can locally exploit this gap if they are smart and nimble enough.)

In this niche there is a lot to fight for and maybe this is why we see so much fuss being made about craft beer, though the answer seems to be in taste and innovation, not copying cask by producing keg versions of cask beers, though of course it could be argued that this itself is a niche within a niche.

So back to the question of "how much can this market stand?" "More", it seems, is the likely answer.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

I Want One of These

I like sparklers and have quite a few of all shapes, colours and sizes, so it is always interesting when a new one comes along.

According to the marketing blurb:

"The Vari-Head is a unique beer sparkler which allows you to tailor the head on hand pulled real ale without having to remove it from the beer engine.

It fits all existing beer engines with no modification, and is made from food grade plastics and 'o' rings and stainless steel screws.

The Vari-Head also increases your Hygiene levels due to the fact that it is operated by the inside of a clean glass not a server's hand."

We all know the sparkler should be compulsory, but here we may just have the perfect solution for those misguided souls that reckon otherwise.  I say "maybe", as I'd have to try it out first to be sure, but it should at least be something many pubs in the grim unsparkled part of the country could consider?

I may have to send off for one, but who knows, maybe the company will see this and send me one for some road testing.

The details are here.

Talking of sparklers, if anyone has a working "dog's dick" sparkler they don't want, do let me know.  I used to own one, but no idea where it has gone.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Yankee Doodle Dandy

The Port Street Beer House kicked off its American Beer Festival with a beer tasting event last night. Now I'm not much of a one for these things and Monday nights as we all know are reserved for Coronation Street, but Tyson, that inveterate socialite and attender of all things boozy, dragged me along.

The place was buzzing, filled not only with rheumy eyed old farts like me, but with sweet young things, the chicks all tattoos and attitude and the men all facial hair. A smattering of in betweens gave a fairly mixed crowd. CAMRA types were also there in abundance too, all to try out the kegged offerings supplied by James Clay and Vertical Drinks. American nibbles were provided, though corn bread is a taste I wouldn't want to acquire and judging by the left overs, not one that'll catch on here all that quickly. As always, there was an opportunity before festivities began to get some ale down our necks. Tyson and I both chose Dark Star Americam Pale, which was oddly sweet.

So to the first drink. This was Left Hand Brewing 400 Pound Monkey, described as a balanced English Style pale ale. Of course with American 2 row barley, the ubiquitous crystal malt, plus Munich malt and wheat, it certainly wasn't. OK there were some English hops in it, but the whole impression was one of sweet imbalance. None of our party particularly liked it. Next up was Great Divide Espresso Yeti Oak Aged Imperial Stout, a whopper at 9.5%. This was rather good, though it needed a swirl or two to get rid of the carbonic bite. Roasty, coffee and alcohol in a complex and demanding brew. It was very tasty, though the proffered sixth of a pint sample was probably enough. Sierra Nevada Stout followed which was a large step down after the Yeti. At 5.7% it seemed dull in comparison, but slipped down well enough. The final beer, to "oohs and ahs" from the assembled crowd was Sierra Nevada Torpedo on cask. Assertively hoppy, rather smooth, but with some sweetness from the dreaded crystal malt, it delivered great gusts of Magnums, Cascades and Citra and was pretty well liked by all.

The bar was then raided, with various brews being passed around, though I quickly settled on a beer that was neither American nor kegged. Cask Magic Rock Dark Arts, a stout, did it for me, with loads of lovely roast, liquorice and hop flavours combining to make a drink that was too lusciously drinkable for a 6% beer.

So all in all a good experience. The American beers were all fine, though some more likeable than others. In small quantities, the high carbonation didn't matter and all were surprisingly fresh tasting.  Well done to Port St Beer House. It was a good do.

The festival is open to the public from today until all the beers have gone. And don't worry about the quality of the cask beers here. They are spot on.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Tailor Made

I used to regard the Weisses Bräuhaus in Munich mostly as a place to sit outside of on a lovely summer's day, while watching the traffic go past. You can't really watch the people on the pavement, as most seats face the wrong way. It isn't  in the most picturesque of locations in fact, though the building itself is quite grand. Why not sit inside then? Well, until the smoking ban, it was really rather a hell hole, with a leather curtain always drawn over the door and a fug that required an iron lung to negotiate. Then there was the beer, a kind of muddy wheat beer, which was neither dunkles nor helles.
The Weisses Bräuhaus was the brewing home of Schneider und Sohn until one gloomy night in 1944, when the brewery in Tal and the Weisses Beer Hall were destroyed in an RAF air raid.  It had somehow managed to survive around 10 major raids before its luck finally ran out. The company then, as now, owned a brewery in Kelheim in the countryside and all operations were moved there. The pub was rebuilt after the war, but the brewery never was.  Now Schneider is a major player in the wheat beer game and the Kelheim brewery is extensive and modern.  The beer range has been modernised too and now that the smoking ban is firmly in place, the doors have been flung open and a bright but traditional interior revealed.

We went mob handed on a very wet Saturday, though I had sneaked a couple of  beers outside earlier in the week in warm sunshine and I was astonished at the improvement in both beer and pub. I reckon they must have a new brewer along with the new range. Original is firmly auburn in colour with orange highlights. Full bodied, slightly bitter, not too heavily carbonated, with heady banana and clove esters and is very moreish.  It may well be brewed to the original 1872 recipe, but I reckon someone has tidied up the processes.  There is a pale version too and a green one, as in organic.  Aventinus, a weizenbock, still sets the mark for beers of this style. 8.2%, complex and dangerously drinkable, this is one not to miss.  Nor should you miss Hopfenweisse with its distinct American hop nose and IPA like drinking, but with obvious wheat undertones. It is a stunning beer and markedly different to anything you'll encounter in Bavaria, but again at 8.2%, not for the unwary.  It is temptingly only 30c or so more than the Original, which may or may not encourage recklessness.

Food here is superb, the dirndled waitresses a mix of matronly and young, the customers the same and the place is jumping at all times with a great atmosphere.  Don't miss it if you go.

The photo shows various stammtisch or locals table "markers". When the group come on, say, a Tuesday night, out comes their particular sign to reserve it.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Good and Not Quite so Good

I have to say I like the Euston Tap. I like the fact that it is where it is and it does what it does. On the minus side, it is a bit too pokey and on the neutral side, it is a bar, not a pub. Back to location. Pubs are usually good for people watching, but here you are best to do this outside, as the hustle and bustle parades before you, conveyor belt like, in and out of Euston Station. Inside it sells good quality beer in a very polite way. It offers tasters, it has both keg and cask beers and enough bottled ones to keep most enthusiasts happy. It is immensely handy for the weary passenger tottering off a train, dragging their thirst behind and you know what? They actually know their stuff cask wise. The beer is invariably good, fresh, clean and lively. It is also for London, for cask beer at least, very reasonably priced. So for me, a cask man through and through, it ticks a lot of boxes. I recommend it 100%.

I have to say I like the Dean Swift.  It is handy for our flat, it has the most amazing customer service, (amazing to the point of disconcerting almost.) The food is fantastic, the pub is bustling and cheerful.  It sells a wide variety of cask, keg and bottled beers, so there is something for everyone?  Well not quite.  I am sorry to say it, but after four or five visits, each widely enough apart, I have to say they don't do cask beer at all well.  Warm, oxidised, over vented, flabby beer. Shame.  Now I know many don't like negative comments about pubs and actually I don't like to have to make them,  but you know, this just isn't good enough.  They really should get the cellar and dispense temperature down to around 12C and check how the beer actually tastes and is presented to the customer. It is pricey enough after all.  The pub claims "Here at the Dean Swift we are passionate about amazing beer."  All I ask is that they live up to that.  I still recommend it highly though. Just not for cask beer.

So there you have it. My opinion. I am not just a beer blogger, I'm a customer.  In both cases, I'd urge you to check for yourself and let me know what you think. 

At the Euston Tap recently I had my only pint (so far) of Camden's Inner City Green.  Very good indeed. I want more of it.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Pricey Keg?

You all know me. An open minded sort of a guy who takes things as he finds them, doesn't get hidebound by outdated definitions, always willing to try new things, never stuck in the past and very, very, generous with my moolah. A kind of modern day Adam Adamant. A few extra coppers here and there for beer? No problem if it is something I want to drink; no problem if it has quality running through it and it came a long way; no problem if it is in London where that's just the way it is, again as long as the quality is right. But what if I'm expected to pay extra for a beer that would cost me a lot less on cask? Less in the same pub even?

Back to the open minded bit. I'm stung, nay, cut to the very quick by those misguided miscreants, those picky trouble makers, those poor deluded souls that think I don't like craft keg beer out of badness. I've been complaining about the lack of availability of British craft keg up here in the grim North as I have had little experience of it other than a bit in London and Sheffield, but here we have in Manchester the chance to try it. Port St Beer House has installed extra keg taps for British craft keg, so me and E hot footed it there last Friday. E somewhat grudgingly it has to be said. It seems my keg drinking plan didn't meet with her approval. Cutting remarks such as "we could go to the Marble for a couple of decent pints" show you Dear Reader, what I'm up against in the search for enlightenment.

So I order a couple of halves to prove my doubting better half wrong. "A half of Schiehallion and one of Jaipur (both keg) please." "£4.50 of your British pounds" quoth the bearded barperson. "Fucking Hell" quoth me and her indoors in unison. Now there isn't a keg price-list in the PSBH - an oversight I'm sure - but there is one for cask. It's in the photo. Keg is apparently pricier. Lots pricier. What did it taste of? The Schiehallion of carbonic acid and metal, the Jaipur, like a fizzy, pale shadow of itself , which might just have suited a hot summer day in a beer garden, but on the whole just appeared to be rather pointless, especially in the PSBH where I have to say, they know their stuff cask wise and would have presented the real thing in all its glory.  We reverted to the much cheaper and better cask and noted that Thornbridge appear to be labelling some beers as "Thornbridge Hall".  New and old breweries I assume.

We burped all the way home, remarking that CAMRA has little to fear from new wave keg. At this rate it will price itself out of the market, so don't be afraid to pile on the cost new wave brewers. Oh I know it has extra production costs, but don't worry about price.  Nor you Dear Landlord.  Make the pips squeak. You both owe it to your followers.

And you my keg loving lovelies? Drink up. I've seen the future and it certainly works for me!

This is a bit of fun really, but it does illustrate a serious point on price. Just how much will that market stand?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Falling and Rising Numbers

In our CAMRA Branch, our Pubs Officer is on the ball. He produced some figures the other night, which I have laboriously put into a table after crunching the numbers, probably incorrectly.

Rochdale, Oldham and Bury now has as off April 2011, 626 pubs. The corresponding number in 2010 was 643. That's a drop of 17 overall. The surprising thing is that while pub numbers overall have fallen, in each year, in each area, the number of cask pubs has risen and keg pubs declined. Now you may be surprised at the number of keg pubs we have - I was for sure - but then again, this is mainly a poor area and poor areas have keg pubs and lots of them. At least in this neck of the woods.  The North that is. We have though gone from a cask minority to a cask majority, so that is pleasing to me at least.

Now I'd like to spot trends, identify market weaknesses and do many other things, but I won't, except to say, if you run a traditional keg pub, better start thinking about changing over to cask if you want to increase your survival chances. The other trend of course is that from a CAMRA point of view, we have far too many keg pubs in our branch area and we need to target some of the better ones for change - for a bit of good old fashioned campaigning in other words. There's loads of other things to spot though, but keg isn't doing well out of the decrease in pubs year on year, here at least.

As for new wave keg pubs? We don't really have any. Not any that sell British new wave keg anyway.

Here's the details.

God knows how Ron does his tables and makes it all so neat. It took me ages and I'm not doing it again - even if the arithmetic is skewiff.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Dear Do at Oktoberfest

Prices have been announced for this year's Oktoberfest and for the first time prices per litre will break the €9 mark. This has been met with predictable howls of outrage and complaints of profiteering against a background of huge under-filling of glasses. Brewers in turn blame the state which requires much stricter anti terrorism measures, pushing up costs

One philosophic type though has rationalised the issue thus:

" Here is how I plan to consider it:

Beer cost: 6 euro.

Dirndl viewing surcharge: 3.20 euro.

Somehow, this arithmetic makes the beer taste a bit better"

He probably has a point!

The Hofbräuhaus currently charges a mere €7.30 per litre

Saturday, 4 June 2011

This Seems Like a Good Idea

I read in the Manchester Evening News that a London based company is aiming to breathe new life into struggling Manchester pubs by creating 'no frills' accommodation for backpackers and travellers. Journeys converts sections of pubs into hostels by installing bunk beds for visitors who can then boost landlords’ food and drink takings through their added custom.

Apparently the company has four such sites in London and one in Brighton. On the face of it, a rather good plan and with the no frills aspect, fairly straightforward to operate. Profitable too potentially, as Journeys say one of their first sites, which has been running for two years, was created in a dilapidated pub and in its second year of trading turned over £630,000, yielding a profit of £221,000.

That's clearly the sunny side, but it seems worth exploring for some.

The MEN has the full story here.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Beer from the Brewing Grave (2)

After I ran out of Hoegaarden (Hoegaarden is my beery dirty little secret) on Saturday night when watching the football, I was tempted into trying the bottle of Rochefort 8 which I mentioned here. E was watching some scabby film or other, so  I sought solace in Twitter, where Ghostie egged me on to do live tasting notes. It was actually pretty good though, with just a hint of staling coming towards the end as it warmed up. It started clear as a bell with perfect carbonation. Light chestnut in colour. Nose was slight, but of perfumed honey. Same perfume in taste - rose petals - with an underlying dry pepper note and alcohol warmth. The middle was spicy and figgy, but still fresh, though a touch thin. Finish was cough linctus with tongue coating dried fruit and alcohol and that's where the cardboard just crept in. In truth it stood up well, but I wouldn't leave it 15 plus years.

Thus giddy with excitement and inflamed by the Hoey, I rooted around and pulled out one of two surviving bottles of Hen's Tooth brewed by the long closed Morland of Abingdon. The brewery was taken over by Greene King and closed, though GK brewed Hen's Tooth for quite a while, though I don't know if they still do. I reviewed this beer here in December 2007 and it was stunningly good. Would it have survived another three plus years? I needn't have worried, though the beer had become a darker brown if memory serves. Here's the notes: Best before 9 Feb 2000. Sharp hiss of carbonation. Clear and properly carbonated with a firm sediment. Russett brown in colour. Caramel malt nose. Slight metallic notes lead to a complex taste of alcohol, vine fruits and malt loaf. Not at all tired, though the Seville Orange I noted then has now matured into raisiny vine fruits. Finishes with plenty bitterness and alcohol. No evidence of staling.

This was a piece of  brewing history. I wasn't too surprised that it was still good, but I'd be pushing my luck to keep its surviving sibling much longer.  All in all I enjoyed my little trip into the past, though of course, I'd rather be tasting a fresh one from a still existing Morland.

Now I know what you're thinking. "Fine for a sad old fart like Tandleman to spend a Saturday night on Twitter, but what the feck was a fine young man like Ghostie doing?" And you'd be right of course.