Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Announcing Open It! on 16th April

Open It was originally a joint effort between Mark Dredge and Andy Mogg, with the first one being held sometime in 2010. The idea was a simple one - to create an 'occasion' for opening one or more of those special bottles we all stash away for a rainy day, then either join in the chat on twitter or blog about it if you fancied. A fairly relaxed and casual affair, all told. The idea evolved over time and there were even live gatherings including one very memorable night in Leeds.

A few of us will be getting together at Burslem's Otter's Tears on Saturday April 16th to share some beers and we figured it'd be a great opportunity to bring back Open It for the night so others could join in and crack open something special to enjoy at home, or wherever they may be.

Coincidentally, Mark will be running the London Marathon the following weekend and has organised a couple of events in London to help raise funds for his chosen charity, Evalina Children's Hospital. It would be great if we could raise a few quid to help him in his fundraising efforts, so if you feel like donating on the evening you can do that HERE.

So, to recap, on Saturday April 16th, have a rummage in the beer cupboard for one of those bottles you've been saving for a special occasion, crack it open, tweet about it and join in the chat using #openit and if you're able, stick a few pennies in Mark's charity fund. What could be simpler?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

All-grain brewing at home

In a slight diversion from the So you wanna open a brewery? series of posts (returning with Part III next week), I thought it might be helpful to potential home brewers out there to document the fairly simple process I use for all-grain brewing at home. It's possible to spend many hundreds or even thousands of pounds on equipment when you really don't need to do that in order to make good beer. That's not to say you won't do that once you've caught the bug, of course!

I have two separate setups at home - my original 20L setup which has a cool box mash tun and plastic HLT/kettle (shown below, total cost about £200) and a 100L gas-fired stainless setup which I use for larger brews. This will become my pilot kit at Elusive combined with a 0.5BBL conical fermentor. It's fair to say most of my home brewing is done in the kitchen on the smaller rig and that's the one I'll cover here.

The mash tun was purchased from The Home Brew Shop in Aldershot. It's the one shown here. It has probably cost me about £1 per brew by this stage and is still going strong. I use a Peco Electrim boiler as a combined HLT and Kettle. The one shown here is a bit more fancy than mine which doesn't have the external digital control, although I did add a hop filter and ball valve with barb to mine as shown here.

My basic process is as follows:

  • Heat the strike liquor in the kettle while cleaning the mash tun and weighing out the grains and any liquor treatment salts. I'll usually give the MT a rinse through with boiling water and check the outlet and false bottom are free of grain debris. I'll also prepare a bucket of StarSan by mixing 7ml of concentrated solution with 5L of the Tesco bottled water (about £1.20) in a small plastic flexi-tub. I'll use this throughout the day - if in doubt, dunk it in!
  • Once the liquor is up to temperature, I'll mash in and measure and adjust the temperature as needed using cold or very hot water until I'm at the desired mash temperature - usually around 65-66C. I use a kitchen thermometer for this which has an external probe I can safely leave in the mash as I stir. Something like this (you can get them cheaper). With practice, you'll probably be able to avoid the need to adjust the temperature by getting the liquor just right for your setup and the ambient grain temperature.
  • I'll then re-fill the kettle and leave the sparge liquor to warm while the mash is left to rest. This usually works out well time-wise so it'll be up to temperature by the time you start sparging.
  • After the desired mash rest time, I'll use a 2L plastic jug to recirculate until the wort runs clear. Basically opening the tap (initially only partially) and filling the jug with wort then slowly and carefully pouring the jug contents back over the mash being careful to not disturb the mash bed.
  • Once the wort is running clear, I'll run off into a plastic fermentation bucket, which I'll have cleaned thoroughly then rinsed with boiling water before rinsing with StarSan. From this point on (and especially post boil), sanitation is key and something I pay a lot of attention to!

Bagels - nom!
  • As the wort runs off, I'll slowly add sparge water using the same 2L plastic jug and gentle pouring method over the entire mash, again taking care not to disturb it too much. 
  • Once I've run off the right amount of wort, I'll empty the remainder of the sparge liquor from the kettle and use my trusty (cleaned, again!) jug to move the first few litres of wort into the kettle until I'm able to safely lift and pour the remainder in.
  • The wort will then be boiled as per the recipe and then allowed to cool slightly. I'll manually create a whirlpool with my mash paddle to encourage trub to drop below the tap and hop filter while the first few degrees are lost.
  • Once the trub has dropped and the wort looks clear in the kettle I'll run the hot wort off into the same plastic FV, which will have been fully sanitised for a second time, then stick the lid on with the airlock hole bunged up. Sanitisation is now hugely important!
  • The FV will then be sat in a cold bath until the wort has reached the desired pitching temperature, which usually takes a couple of hours depending on the water temperature. As it initially cools, you'll need to let the steam out of the FV or the lid will pop off. In summer I'll add ice to the bath to bring the ambient mains water temperature down. 
  • A sample for gravity measurement will be taken using a sanitised turkey baster and the yeast will then be pitched into the aerated wort and left to work its magic, after putting the airlock in place. These days I have a temperature controlled fridge (a fairly recent addition) but as long as you have a room that sits at a reasonably steady temperature and you're using a yeast which works well at that temperature you'll be fine. My first 30 odd fermentations were done in the dining room. In winter I used to wrap the FV in a blanket to help keep the warmth in and would use an external temperature strip stuck to the outside of the FV to be able to keep an eye on it without disturbing the fermentation

In summary, most of the beer I've produced at home has been made using only a mash tun, a combined HLT/kettle, a plastic bucket and a plastic jug. Learning and refining the overall process (and of course your recipes!) is far more important than spending lots of money on expensive kit. I would ideally use a wort chiller (my bigger kit has a plate chiller) but I've got an annoying tap in the kitchen which would mean having to run hoses about the place from the garden. I've managed fine without one though and they aren't especially cheap.

If you're really on a budget, have a look into the BIAB approach. You can achieve great results using that method and it won't cost as much as the kit shown here. Also, if you're the hands-on type, you can certainly save money by making or modifying your own kit, for example converting an existing cool box rather than buying a pre-converted one.

Monday, 18 January 2016

So you wanna open a brewery? Part II

In the first part of this series of blog posts I covered a fairly broad range of subjects and ended with a question about addressing different markets. The response to that and other points raised in the post drew some incredibly helpful comments from the owners of a number of fantastically successful breweries, so I would recommend revisiting that post and having a read before continuing on here.

In wrapping up that post, I suggested this second part would cover premises build-out, layout, pricing and sales. However, I'm going to stray slightly from that and focus instead on the administrative/permission side of setting up a brewery in the UK first. I received a number of emails from others in a similar position (or considering starting a brewery) that suggested to me that this might prove a useful area to drill down further into and also received some advice offline that I'd like to share as part of that. I'll cover premises build-out, layout, pricing and sales in Part III.

Before we get into the detail of how to go about obtaining them, here are the things you'll need to cover as a minimum before you can operate a commercial brewery:
  • Obtaining planning permission, or obtaining premises that already have B1C or B2. I'm not going to re-cover this below - contact the local authority to see what they expect and go from there!
  • Setting up a limited company (or registering as a sole trader)
  • Opening a business banking account
  • Registering for VAT
  • Registering with HMRC for beer duty
  • Registering for Corporation Tax 
  • Informing the local Environmental Health department
  • Obtaining permission to discharge effluent
  • Registering under the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS)
  • Obtaining Insurance

Limited Company

The process of registering is actually pretty straightforward and is completed entirely online. You'll need to provide the registered address of the company, names and address of directors and the number of shares each has etc. The process may be simple but in following it, you're signing up to some legal obligations so would do well to read up on those (e.g. requirement to submit accounts by certain dates or face fines). The place to go is here. I received my company number by email a couple of days after applying followed by lots of bumph in the post. If you use your home address as the registered company address expect to receive your first junk mail a few days later! Also, be alert to spam callers from that point - I had one who sounded very convincing and timed it perfectly to try to deceptively obtain my electricity supply contract, no doubt with a nice commission for them.

The other option is to register as a sole trader. There are pros and cons to each, certainly, and it may depend on your personal circumstances as to which is best. This article outlines some of the differences. Consider consulting with an accountant if you're not sure which is the best path

Business Banking

Now, you'd think trying to give a bank some money would be easy but you can end up jumping through a few hoops to open a business account including being credit checked and providing a good amount of personal information, especially if you'd like an overdraft facility etc. I started out by reading through the information available on Martin Lewis' excellent Money Saving Expert site which listed a few deals for free business banking for a certain period etc. I ended up going with my own bank and it just happened to be offering free banking to new business for a period of 18 months. Do read through the charges you can expect after that period - nothing is really 'free' in business! It took me about five days to open an account and this included an interview with an advisor who asked me a few questions about the cashflow forecast I'd submitted and also pointed out that I'd used Andy as my name with Companies House and Andrew in my banking application. Changing it on the application would have meant resubmitting the whole thing (yep!) but fortunately changing the director details with Companies House can be done online.


For details of how and when (and if!) to register go here. You can elect to register voluntarily before you're required to but be aware that if you do, you're then automatically on the hook for the legal obligations as if you were required to register. I registered voluntarily once I'd paid for my brewery kit because VAT was charged and I'd like to claim it back along with any VAT paid out on during the build-out process. You'll be asked for the business bank account, company number, directors details and offered a number of options/schemes as part of the application process. Once you start, you can save your progress and come back so don't worry about reading up on something you're not sure about. Once the application was completed, I received my VAT number the next day. As part of applying you set up an account on a portal that you'll return to in order to submit returns etc. Tip: the login username is only shown once (a long number) so screenshot it!

Beer Duty

All breweries must be registered with HMRC by law and are required to pay duty on what's produced. The notice that covers this is Excise Notice 226: Beer Duty and reading that from top to bottom is a good place to start! The document covers the application process towards the end. You'll need to copy the questions into a new document and provide answers as required, attaching the required supporting information which includes a plan of the premises where duty suspended produce will be stored. I've had a few tips from others here including something relatively new whereby HMRC will visit you and interview you as a matter of course (this used to be at their discretion). They'll ask to see your brewery premises, the equipment and details of how you're planning to monitor and track the amount of duty you should be paying once you're up and running. I actually submitted my application today so can't write about my personal experience yet. The application also asks for your VAT number and company number so you should look to complete those processes first.

Corporation Tax

All limited companies must register for corporation tax. This is the tax you pay on profits of the company and requires you to submit audited accounts according to a schedule set based on your first accounting period (determined based on when you register). Everything you need to know is covered here. Again, there are legal obligations here. If you're not comfortable with them it's probably best to speak to a small business accountant.

Environmental Health

Breweries are now assessed under the same guidelines as food producers and you can expect to receive a visit from an Environmental Health Officer once you notify them that you're producing beer. When and how to do with this will vary depending on the local authority so contact the local council to discuss it with them. Most will assess under the Food Hygiene Rating scheme and you'll receive a rating like any food production facility might.

Effluent Discharge

You'll need to contact your water supplier to discuss their requirements here. Since breweries produce waste that requires treatment you'll need to register with your supplier and they'll charge you based on the volume you expect to discharge and the type of effluent you're discharging. Some breweries I've spoken to are visited periodically to have samples taken for analysis. The permit application process for Thames Water is covered here.


The Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme introduces a requirement for anyone who sells, offers or exposes for sale or arranges to sell alcohol to other businesses on or after the point at which excise duty is payable, to be approved by HMRC. This is a new scheme which is covered by Excise Notice 2002. I plan to register for this once I've completed my duty registration. Note that in future, you'll be required to check that anyone you sell alcohol to is also registered, if they'll be selling on to others (e.g. distributors).


All small businesses should have insurance to protect them against theft, loss/damage and public liability. This isn't something I have in place yet but will look to do so before I start trading. It's also likely your building lease will be issued on a repairing basis - that is, you're liable for repairs to any damage that occurs during your tenancy. This may be worth considering as part of insurance coverage too.

So that's the end of Part II of this series of posts - perhaps duller than Part I but hopefully interesting and useful to some! 

Breweries - is there anything you can add to the above? Please do pitch in and share your experiences of the above processes and any tips you can offer!

Monday, 4 January 2016

So you wanna open a brewery? Part I

Back in August of last year, I finally bit the bullet and decided quit my job to focus on opening Elusive Brewing. As I wrote back then, the decision was partly driven by being at breaking point with my job but deep down I knew that unless I took this positive step, it was too easy to keep putting things off and watch the weeks trickle past. 

Since leaving that job in September, I've been doing many things including relentlessly chasing and ultimately having to give up (again) on the premises we were so close to securing in Basingstoke, finding and agreeing terms on new premises in Finchampstead, visiting as many breweries as possible to gather ideas and learn from others' experiences of starting a brewery, gaining further work experience at Weird Beard, brewing three collaboration beers, completing a BrewLab training course at Wimbledon Brewery, developing and honing recipes to work within the parameters of the ingredients we can access, developing a marketing strategy (of sorts) and finally, setting up the business side of the limited company we'll operate under including planning budgets, drawing up cashflow forecasts and sorting out business banking and the various registrations.

Over the past year or two, I've taken on board lots of advice from those whose footsteps I'm following in, from the very big to the very small. I've also learned a few things along the way but consider myself very much still at the bottom of the learning curve when it comes to owning and operating a brewery or indeed any small business. This series of blog posts really has three aims:

  1. Document Elusive Brewing from inception through to (hopefully!) the first pint being pulled in a pub
  2. Share lessons learned along the way, both directly and indirectly
  3. Provide a means by which I can solicit advice and input on particular subjects as we progress towards launch
This first post is going to cover three areas: Investment (and budgeting more generally), Premises (identifying) and Products & Branding. 


A brewery is a very capital-heavy business in the first year. That is, you'll need lots of cash to reach the start line. A lot of this expenditure can be written down (accounted for) over a long period but that doesn't help you pay for it in the first place. One of the first things I did was make a list of everything I'd need in order to get the first brew out of the door. I'm pretty sure it's still not complete and I'll be cursing all the little things I've forgotten as we progress but the bigger ticket items include:

  • Brewing vessels - CLT, HLT, Mash Tun, Kettle and Fermenters plus chillers
  • Casks, kegs and bottles and the means by which to clean, fill and ship them
  • Storage (cold room, shelving, ladders, pallet truck/lifter)
  • Office items including any IT you'll need (at least desk, laptop and printer)
  • Ingredients and chemicals
  • Cleaning equipment (pressure wash, wet vac, squeegees, brushes, sundries etc.)

The highest cost above is probably going to be the brewery itself but the rest of it will soon add up. Without revealing my (and more specifically my suppliers') hand(s) fully, I've actually budgeted 3x the cost of the brewery as a total startup budget. This budget includes the work required on the premises and, well, everything else. That figure wasn't plucked out of thin air by the way - it's what I've worked out I'll need with a reasonable buffer added in. Others I've since discussed this with had done it for (in some cases much) less and of course there were breweries who'd spent more. 

The first challenge, of course, is to raise those funds. The brewing equipment manufacturer will likely require a deposit up front and the rest on shipment. The rest of the spend will come later but it won't be particularly spread out either, so be prepared for it.

Elusive will be tiny initially, with a maximum throughput of 5BBL or 800L per week (that's 18x9G casks, 26x30L KeyKegs or 2400x330ml bottles). That hard-limits potential revenue and therefore fixed costs need to be kept in check in order to attain cashflow positivity within a reasonable period and, more importantly, maintain it. Actually, that's kind of a balance and one I pondered for a while. The main fixed costs are rent (plus any associated maintenance/service fees) and business rates - oh, and wages of course! Other costs are variable based on throughput and can be turned down if sales are slow but the bottom line is some large costs are fixed and you'll need to pay them no matter how little or much you're selling. The balance, or maybe 'trick' is a better word, is to maximise potential throughput (and therefore revenue) for the fixed cost but a third dimension is labour capacity, because it's all well and good being able to double brewing capacity within your current space but you'll need more man hours to do it and Elusive will be starting as a one-man operation - although I'll have some part-time support from friends and family, thankfully!

So with a view of your fixed costs, variable costs and brewing throughput (potential revenue) you should start to model cash flow for various levels of sales. What happens if sales are only half of what's forecasted? Can you still meet your fixed costs? Certainly, if you're looking to take on external investment or loans, you'll need to have that modelled carefully and be prepared to talk through it in great detail. Conversely, this model will also drive pricing (and to an extent, vice-versa) but that's something I'll cover in a future post. 


This is something I feel I could write a book on already and yet, at time of writing, I still don't have keys to an industrial unit. For most breweries I've visited, premises was the single biggest headache in getting started and it'll take at least double the length of time you thought it would. It's a crucial aspect to get right, of course. Size, cost, location, ease of access and suitable utility connections are all very important. The first concern, however, should be the use class. This governs what the premises can and can't be used for. A small brewery would generally fall under B2 (industrial) but may also be covered under B1c (light industrial) depending on the local authority. Before putting an offer on any premises, it's imperative to check the current use class and consult with the local authority to confirm this covers your use. They may ask some questions about what you'll be up to and there's a good chance they won't know anything about brewing, so be prepared for that. Use classes can be changed but that usually requires going through the local authority's planning process and can be very time consuming.

The next considerations are rent and rates. A private landlord or local authority will likely want to enter into a fixed-term lease - 3 years is typical although you'd be wise to negotiate a break clause so you can get out if things go really well or indeed, if they don't! They'll have a rental price in mind they want to achieve over that period and you'll need to find out what that is by negotiating. They'll also want a deposit (3 months is typical) and most likely, the first quarter's rent in advance, although everything is negotiable of course. Ask if they'll be charging you VAT too. The advice I got was that this can sometimes be hard to claim back depending on the rental structure, so bear that in mind. Rates are set by the local authority and you can check the VOA website to see the rateable value of any premises you're considering and based on that, what you'll be paying to the council and when.

Finally, you'll need to instruct a solicitor to act on your behalf during the lease process. They may advise you to conduct land searches etc. which will add to their labour costs. You may also be liable for the legal fees of your landlord and their agency fees - be sure to ask about all of this when negotiating!

I'll cover premises build-out in a future post. Unless you're taking occupation of a former brewery site, you'll likely have a good amount of work to complete before the equipment can be moved into place.

Products (beer!) and Branding

Brewing is very much a growth sector in the UK at the moment with the number of breweries having grown significantly over the past 2-3 years. Conversely, the number of pubs is decreasing, so more breweries are competing for fewer overall customers. As a small brewery, your costs per barrel will be significantly higher than the big brewery in the area (and especially the regionals/nationals) so you'll certainly have to work hard to establish a customer base. Of course, demand for 'artisanal' products with more flavour and a story behind them is partly what's driven the 'craft' brewing boom in the UK, so it's not all bad news. The best advice I got here was to absolutely focus on making the beer the best it can be. If your product is going to be more expensive than the brewery down the road it needs to be simply better, or more interesting, or have a local connection - something to make pubs want to buy it and drinkers want to drink it. If quality isn't great, you might sell the first few batches but you can be certain those customers won't come back for more.

This is something I've been very conscious of when setting up Elusive. Frankly, the thought of getting it wrong it terrifies me. During the recent boom I've come across many breweries who've learned at their customer's expense - shipping beer that wasn't quite right, apologising (or not) and working to improve things with the next batch. Some have certainly improved and gone on to succeed but in an increasingly crowded market, if anyone's going to be squeezed it'll be a brewery shipping bad beer. Any successful small business needs a good product to build a market with and a brewery is no different. There's no longer 'build it and they will come' route to market for small breweries.

A secondary consideration for me is that with Elusive, I'll be aiming at two markets and they're a bit different. The first is the local cask market and the second is a wider 'craft' keg and bottle market. With that in mind, I've been putting a lot of thought into which beers might work best in each of those markets, especially the local one. One thing I did was brew prototypes and circulate them locally for feedback - some was positive and some less so, but it was all valuable input. The main point here is I'm making no assumptions as I can't afford to just make something and hope it works. Yes, I'm doing this to brew beers I want to brew but ultimately if I want a local market, I need to find something that works for me and my potential customers. 

On branding, from the outset I've wanted something fun and vibrant. I think we've got that aspect of it right but again, I won't be afraid to take feedback on board if it we find bits of it don't work in practice. The beers I hope to sell locally will have a local connection in the name and pump clips but we don't want to the brand to be the limiting factor to wider appeal, so balance is required. 

I'll end Part I of this series with a question for existing small breweries (input from all welcome, of course!):

  • Have you had to take into account addressing different markets and did you produce different beers for each or find something that works in both/all? 'Market' here could mean cask versus keg/bottle or anything you like, really - I'm curious to know if other breweries used similar approaches or just put beer out and went with the flow!

In Part II, I'll cover our premises build-out, layout, pricing and sales. I might even include some photos of our progress to help break the monotony of my rambling!

EDIT: To read Part II, click here

Sunday, 20 December 2015

12 Beers of Christmas 2015

As the festive season pulls sharply into focus, thoughts turn once again to Beer O'Clock show's twelve beers of Christmas. This simple idea is all about drinking some decent beer over the Christmas period and using whichever is your preferred social media channel to talk about it, should you wish to. For me, it's as good a reason as any open a few things that have been acquired throughout the year rather than wait for a really special occasion - not that Christmas isn't special of course!

In previous incarnations, I've made the mistake of biting off more than I could chew by picking which beers will be drunk on which days in advance, only to find that I either didn't fancy that day's beer or it was a big boozy bottle with nobody around to share it with. This year, I'm going to go with the flow. I've got some lower ABV beers there to ease in with. Some will be shared and others will be sipped and supped selfishly while pondering Christmas' great question - what else can I eat without leaving this chair? I might even have more than one on a given day then have a (gasp!) day off. 

If you'd like to get involved, head on over to Beer O'Clock show's twitter feed for details. It starts today, 20th December, but is a pretty relaxed affair so go with whatever works for you. Without further ado, here are the beers I've picked out:

  • St. Bernadus Abt 12 (Oak Aged): This was a gift from my good friend Phil Hardy, who came down to visit en-route to a family wedding a few months ago. Phil's had a tough year but one that closes out with him having fulfilled his dream of opening his own beer shop, Otter's Tears. All up, 2015 has been a good year for seeing friends either make the leap into working in beer/brewing full time or make excellent progress towards the same. We'll be raising a glass to Phil and his lovely wife Rachel when this one's cracked open. Congratulations, guys!
  • Fantôme Boo (2012): Dany Prignon's beers are known for being a little bit left of centre. You never quite know what you're going to get. This is a Saison brewed with pumpkin spice, the back story of which is covered here. Indeed, that forum post was right in that I was able to this up at Beer Boutique in Putney, I think at the back end of 2012 but it may have been 2013. The cork looks somewhat 'stressed' so I'll be opening this one outside!
  • Mikkeller Nelson Sauvin (Reisling BA): This one got a shout out in my Golden Pints as the best overseas bottled beer. BrewDog were selling these online for about £20 if I recall. The EFP discount softened the blow but, no matter, the moment I opened one of these earlier this year, I went online and bought a few more in a decadent splurge that I only slightly regretted the next day. Is it beer? I don't care. It's a sublime creation, the aroma of which leaps out of the glass to fill the nostrils with gooseberry and melon. The wine barrel adds a depth of complexity - just enough to make this one to contemplate rather than gulp down, which is entirely possible despite its 9% ABV. I'm looking forward to this immensely!
  • Magic Rock, Bourbon Barrel Bearded Lady (No. 2): Sadly my last bottle of this release (which is a couple of years old now) but all good things must come to an end. This year marked the end of the Huddersfield-based brewery's first home, as they moved to a much larger site closer to the centre of town. Magic Rock have experienced phenomenal growth and richly deserved success since their opening in 2011 - a sentiment I tried to capture both here when I first sampled this release and here when we went up to the launch of their new tap room earlier this year. A transitional year leaves them in a position to grow even more in 2016 and that's certainly worth celebrating. Cheers Rich, Stu, Scott, Joe, Nick, Becky, Dunc+Team and anyone else I've missed - hope you enjoy your well earned Christmas break!
  • The Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi (2014): This was a year in which I went back in time to rediscover some of the Belgian classics I'd enjoyed when first expanding my beery horizons in the late 90s. This beer was one of the first really good modern takes on the golden strong ale style, in my view. It's a beer I've had a few times but one I love to revisit - definitely in the decadent sipper category!
  • Wild Beer Co Put it in Your Pipe: Wild may be better known for their sour, farm house and hoppy beers but they certainly brew some very impressive dark beers too. I picked this one up on release but since then it has, rather shamefully, lurked at the back of the beer shelf gathering dust. I'm sure it'll be no worse for it, however. At 5.5% this is one of the lower ABV beers in this selection but from the description, it sounds like it won't be lacking in flavour. Will 2016 be the year the new-wave of British breweries fall back on beers such as this in order to preserve precious hop stocks?

  • Jester King Black Metal: I first encountered the wild yeast fermented creations of this Texas-based brewery at De Molen's Borefts festival back in 2012. I recall vividly being wowed by a sour stout - perhaps even the first one I'd tried in that style. The programme suggests that was probably Funk Metal rather than this, which I'm guessing may be its bigger sibling given the higher ABV. I'm not sure where I'll fit this one in - you need to be in the mood to tackle 750ml of 10% anything. Perhaps I'll do well to share this one!
  • Moa Sour Blanc (2013): This was picked up from South London's excellent Hop, Burns and Black - Moa being one of several New Zealand breweries they stock. I had the good fortune to visit Moa during our amazing pre-wedding adventure in 2012 and it was one of the few things I actually blogged about on that trip. This beer is brewed in the traditional Belgian Lambic style and fermented with wild yeast in oak barrels. My palate may well need to call upon this one at some point.
  • BrewDog Dog D: The 4th release of the Abstrakt series was much celebrated and we were such huge fans of that beer, to the point we actually crowned our wedding breakfast with a snifter or two. It was a chilli infused stout with such incredible depth. BrewDog eventually saw sense and re-brewed it, opting to use the recipe as a base for an anniversary release (Dog A). This is the fourth incarnation of that (fifth if you count AB:04 itself) but the first to be barrel aged. I've yet to sample it so this bottle will be much enjoyed, I'm sure. I might even share it with my lovely wife. Might.
  • Fuller's Vintage Ale (2010): The last of six bottles I purchased from Waitrose in Wokingham five years ago, on the say-so of Mark Dredge. I recall Mark tweeting about it and first bringing this beer to my attention as until then, I wasn't even aware it existed as an annual release. At the time I was looking for some beers to stash away to see how they changed over time, and this proved to be the perfect one to start the collection with. I drunk the first fresh and have sampled a bottle each year since, so this is another good thing coming to an end. If there's anyone out there thinking of starting a beer 'cellar', you'd do well to grab a few bottles of this year's!
  • Firestone Walker 18th Anniversary Ale: These annual releases are, without fail, exceptional beers. I recall taking the very first one I got my hands on (14th) up to Rick Furzer's Open It Live event in Leeds - I think that was in 2011. It was good enough to silence a whole table of fellow beer geeks (we had a lot of great beer that night, to be fair!) so I've sought it out each year since and have yet to be disappointed. This is last year's release and one I've had previously, so I know I'm in for an absolute treat.
  • De Ranke Père Noël: This is a Christmas favourite that will probably see light of day on the 25th itself. Belgium loves a good Christmas beer. Breweries there seem to mostly find the right balance between too little and too much spice, usually relying on one of their well-honed base beers, building the flavours atop until it just seems to work. I'm also a huge fan of St Bernadus' festive release so that may well get an airing too - after all, t'is the season to be jolly!

Friday, 11 December 2015

Golden Pints 2015

Best UK Cask Beer

I'm going local here with Longdog's Lamplight Porter, although (local-ish) Vibrant Forest's Simcoe Pale might've edged it had I managed to find more! Beyond those, Hammerton's N1, Surrey Hills' Collusion and Siren's Love of Work all hit the spot.

Best UK Keg Beer

I can't pick one but here's a list of things I've REALLY enjoyed on keg this year:

Alpha State - Sorachi IPA
Brew By Numbers - Black IPA Enigma 
Cloudwater - IPA (Autumn) & DIPA
Retribution Brewing - Double IPA
Siren - Life's a Peach
Summer Wine - Surfing Monk & Sucker Punch
Thornbridge - Halcyon
Weird Beard - Defacer & Decadence

Best UK Bottled Beer

Siren/B.Nektar Uncle Zester with a honourable mentions to M&S/Adnams Mosaic Pale (a train beer favourite), BrewDog's Born To Die and Weird Beard Sadako Jack Daniel's BA.

Best UK Canned Beer

Not going to name a specific one but the Moor and Vocation ranges are both fantastic. It was also great to see Magic Rock's Cannonball arrive in the shiny format. 

Best Overseas Draught

The Funky Buddha beers that Craft Beer Co brought over were pretty special but I'm going with Cellarmaker's Coffee and Cigarettes, which was a highlight in Copenhagen this year.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer

Mikkeller - Nelson Sauvignon (Reisling BA). Enough to reduce a grown man to tears, but is it beer? I don't care. The moment I tasted it, I went online and bought more.

Best Overseas Canned Beer

The Modern Times beers were all fantastic. Hope to see more of them on these shores next year.

Best Collaboration Brew

Really loved the Hawkshead/Crooked Stave Key Lime Tau, one of this year's Rainbow Project collaborations - all of which I enjoyed, actually. Next year's is shaping up nicely, too.

Best Overall Beer

Siren/B.Nektar Uncle Zester. This was a beer that really grabbed me from the first sip - the sweetness of the honey is married wonderfully to the gentle sourness of the Berliner style base (presumably related to Calypso). Despite being north of 8% ABV, I could easily drink more than one bottle at a sitting - don't try that at home, kids. Part of me is sad there's not much of this masterful creation left but another part (the part which suffers hangovers) will be glad to see the back of it!

Best Branding

The rise in popularity of cans saw some great designs being used but there's a new (as yet, not canning) brewery who just completely nailed capturing everything their brewery is about in their design. That was Kew Brewery.

Best Pump Clip

Weird Beard's Defacer (Keg) - the first to feature their fantastic new foil branding.

Best Bottle Label

Absolutely loved the Mikkeller/Lindemans Spontanbasil screen-printed bottles. It suits the beer perfectly. The beer itself was a fascinating creation that really seemed to polarise opinion!

Best UK Brewery

Buxton have been consistently fantastic all year and seem to be able to work their magic across many different styles. A visit to the tap room in September cemented that and I certainly hope to visit again in 2016.

Best Overseas Brewery

Well I reckon Buxton's good buddies Omnipollo are pretty much brewing some of the most interesting and creative beers in the world right now.

Best New Brewery Opening 2015

It already feels like Cloudwater have been around a while but they only launched this year (and I'm looking forward to sampling their winter range) - keep up the good work! Vocation's beers have been flawlessly good. Up until recently I'd only tried the cans but a recent sample on cask confirmed those cans are no fluke. 

Pub/Bar of the Year

Ooh, this is a tough one but I'm going to plump for the Magic Rock Tap. Transport me there right away, please! I wrote about it here.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2015

I suppose that must go to Magic Rock Tap!

Festival of the Year

IMBC - just seems to get better and better each year. Long may it continue.

Supermarket of the Year

Marks and Spencer - great expansion of their range this year and their own-labeled beers have been very well selected.

Independent Retailer of the Year

Spent many a fun Saturday at Bottle Shop, Bermondsey and its been great to watch them grow and grow but I'm giving the nod to the now award-winning (not so) newcomers Hop, Burns & Black. I'm not sure what it is about that place that makes you feel right at home whenever you walk in but whatever it is, the place has it in abundance. Just wish I lived nearer!

Online Retailer of the Year

Yet again, BrewDog got the most of my hard earned in terms of online spend. Their guest beer range and stream of interesting new releases keeps me coming back.

Best Beer Blog or Website

Ed's Beer Blog (very regular posts with fantastic, diverse content) with honourable mentions to Total Ales and Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer

There can only be one winner here for me and that's @twattybeer (twitter) - David's doodles are always on point and very funny (one of my favourites features below, with permission).

Best Brewery Website/Social Media

That would be BrewDog, again. Great engagement and solid, fresh content. Honourable mention to Leith's Pilot Beer (twitter) - their sense of humour is second to none.

Image copyright @twattybeer

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Using beer ratings as market research

I've been working a lot lately on firming up the first 10 beers I plan to brew at Elusive, drawing from what is quite a large collection of recipes. This got me thinking about market research and ascertaining how well these beers might be received. Although that's not necessarily an indicator of potential sales, I figured it might provide useful input into developing an overall strategy. In an increasingly crowded market, simply starting up and hoping for the best is a risky approach. There's no longer a 'build it and they will come' road to market. Whilst you might shift your first few batches out of curiosity, if they aren't well received at point of sale, it'll get tougher from there.

Like many beer drinkers, I use Untappd (when I remember!) to record the beers I've drunk and give a rating. Personally, it's mostly used as an aide memoire but others like the gamification aspect of collecting badges and the other social features it provides. Untappd is a great source of data, although compared to sites such as ratebeer, the data is perhaps less 'clean' given the comparative lack of moderation - for example, if the first drinker of a specific new beer adds it in the wrong style category, it may never get changed. With that in mind, the analysis here should not be considered useful for anything more than satisfying my curiosity! There were some other boundaries I set when analysing this data:

  • A style would be discounted if there were fewer than five beers listed
  • Data would not be 'cleaned' at all
  • Since Untappd breaks down by country, I'd focus just on England
  • Overseas rates of English beers would be included (don't know how to exclude them)

Before we get into the data and findings, it's useful to have a read of Untappd's explanation how scores are determined. The first thing I looked at was the top rated breweries. This is readily available in the user interface:

There are a couple of standouts (for me) here - the first being Hanlons and the second being Samuel Smith's. Hanlons used to brew the much sought after Thomas Hardy's ale. A quick look at their ratings shows this is a common and inevitably highly rated check in, mostly from overseas. Is this driven by scarcity? Possibly. Sam Smith's stands out because of the huge number of ratings. Again, this appears to be due to a strong overseas influence. On to the top 15 rated beers overall, we see a pattern starting to emerge:

If we discount our Sam Smith's outlier, these are mostly strong beers. There's not a huge delta in the number of ratings (relative to the outlier) but the average ABV is just under 10%. This got me thinking about skew by style. That is, if you look at the top rated beers by style, how much variance is there in the average. The graph below (click to expand) shows that skew. It was created by taking the top 5 beers in each style and averaging the scores, then comparing that to the overall average across them all, which was a score of 3.70.

Here we can see a very positive skew towards the 'big' Stouts and IPAs, as reflected in the overall highest rated beers. In analysing the data to create the above graph, I noticed that in some cases there was also a large(r) delta within the styles too. That is, the top rated beer by style was varying degrees higher than the average of the top 5. Those were often the least popular styles (e.g. Cream Ale) but in some cases were also popular, suggesting an 'opportunity' to score relatively well (because of the positive skew) compared to brewing a beer with a lower overall average across the top beers in style. I can't think of a way to show this graphically but these styles stand out as 'opportunity' styles:
  • Imperial Stout
  • Milk Stout
  • Strong Ale (English)
  • Porter (English)
  • Mild (English)
  • Red Ale (American Amber/Red/Imperial)
At the other end of the scale, these styles could be considered 'opportunity' styles for other reasons, because they skew lower but have variance within the style, suggesting that attaining a high score relative to other beers in the style might be easier compared to the other end of the scale:
  • Chilli Beer
  • Bock
  • California Common
Finally, looking at all of the included styles and counting which breweries had the most number of top rated beers, we see that London's Kernel Brewery stands out by having the top rated beer across 9 different styles.

Does this make for useful market research to a would be brewery? Possibly not, but at least it satisfied my aim of dragging this blog back to where it started - with pretty graphs!