A reflection on the rise of investments into the Craft Beer industry.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018
A reflection on the rise of investments into the Craft Beer industry.
Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Beavertown Neck Oil was a gateway beer for me, just like many other craft ale fans
If you follow any craft beer social media accounts you won’t have avoided the reports circulating around the possible ‘big beer’ acquisition of a minority stake into Beavertown, with The Times writing on 26th May that the London based brewery is in talks with industry giant Heineken . So when I sat drinking a pint of Neck Oil in the Wine Vaults a couple of weeks ago I started considering the vociferous reaction amongst fans of the UK craft beer industry.

Was I as mad as everyone else?

Well no, I wasn’t, but the news did bring some sadness. For me, like many others, two core beers from Beavertown (Gamma Ray and Neck Oil) were amongst my first experience of genuine contemporary craft beer. Then, as I explored the wonders of modern brewing, time and again I came back and was impressed by Beavertown beers such as Humuloid and Spresso. So this is where my hop related heavy heart was coming from; Beavertown for me are one of the originals of British craft brewing, blazing a trail for those that followed.

Spresso is one of my favourite coffee stouts
So if they can find themselves succumbing to the pound power of big beer, what hope is there for the rest?

Well I don’t think we need to worry too much; you only need to see the shelves in most supermarkets or the number of new craft beer bars and shops opening to see that it is a booming industry. With that there will be the obvious growth and there has to be a place in the market for breweries creating good beer on a large scale. You won’t find many British brewers that can fulfil the purchasing requirements of Tesco so it stands to reason that those with an established brand and customer base will be attractive prospects for an investment which then allows a substantial increase in production.

If this investment comes from big beer then it will cause issues for committed fans of craft brewing, not least due to the various horror stories about large beer producers attempting to create hop monopolies (mohopolies?) in certain regions. Paste Magazine's report into AB InBev's hop buying practise in South Africa makes for worrying reading and these bullish tactics effectively squeeze the ability of smaller breweries to secure their much needed supplies. This poses a clear risk to the independents.

Of course not every craft beer that you find in a high street store or supermarket is only there because of external cash injection from a global super producer or investment company; for every Meantime (owned by Asahi Group Holdings, the seventh largest beer producer in the world and readily stocked in UK supermarkets) you can find a Wild Beer or Wiper and True (both independent but now stocked in Waitrose).

But even if a brewery has received a financial investment, if it hasn't come via the deep but morally dubious pockets of a "big beer" is that still a problem? Well I don’t know about you but I really feel for anyone drinking rubbish beer, so if these monetary injections mean that cans of quality craft beer start hitting supermarket shelves I’m actually in support. 

Whereas supermarket buying powers means that certain beers will become more readily available, I don’t see this as being the death knell for independent bottle shops and bars. I predict that where your casual beer drinker may start opting for craft offerings, this will be at the expense of macro beer already on the supermarket shelves. For those us that really appreciate the best of UK craft beer, the specialist retailers (both online and shop based) are sure to remain our preferred outlets. The truly independent breweries that are able to supply the stock levels that larger retailer would need will remain the exception. It is in the discovery and support of the smaller breweries that the craft beer lover really reaps their rewards.

Meantime Brewery were sold to SAB Miller in 2015 and then on to Asahi Group Holdings in 2016
Personally I am unlikely to purchase from a brewery that is financially backed by a large super producer but it does not mean that I recoil in horror simply at the thought of small producers achieving the success that the majority of small business owners would bite your hand off for. More importantly for the companies involved, the onward success will be based upon increased market reach and a subsequent growth of customers far exceeding the numbers that may choose to turn away due to the lack of independence and "craft beer-ness." It's simple economics and demonstrates that when we're talking about the likes of Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller and Heineken International, they can clearly afford to lose your custom when they look at the bigger picture.

Finally you have to consider what you would do in brewer's beer soaked shoes? With the inherent difficulties in starting a business, the long hours, the mortgaging (and re-mortgaging) of homes, the pressures on family, can you really begrudge the small producer who welcomes the financial security of serious cash injection. I’m not saying that this is the case for every acquisition but unless you really know the ins and outs of the balance sheet, maybe this is something that needs to be considered before a hard working brewery is labelled as a sell-out.

Ultimately you the consumer will vote with your wallets and as long as the true craft beer fans continue to support the independent breweries that we all hold dear, the future should remain bright.

Let me know below how you feel about the reported investment into Beavertown? If it goes through will you stop buying their beer?

Do you think Beavertown Beers will still find a place in your fridge?

Surving and thriving at a beer festival (learn from my mistakes!)

Friday, 8 June 2018
Surving and thriving at a beer festival (learn from my mistakes!)
Friday, 8 June 2018

Beer festivals like Warriorfest can be a great opportunity to try some new and exciting craft ales

It seems like Beer Festival season has truly arrived! Just within Portsmouth and Southsea alone we've got Beerex, Portsmouth Beer Festival (at Guild Hall) and the second Warriorfest.. And all of that is before the end of July! 

Now I am almost ashamed to say that in my excitement at Warriorfest last year I may have over indulged slightly, ending the night more than a little wobbly. Now this doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it and in fact it was the best beer event I've ever been to. But I've learned some important lessons about how to make the most of your trip to a beer festival as well as ensuring that you don't end up waking up on the morning after feeling as bad as I did!
1) Don’t preload - it can't just be me, but when I go out with friends I don't want it to be just for a few hours. But because I'm getting too old for clubs I'd rather start earlier in the day to ensure that I get maximum social (drinking) time. Now if all you are going to do is sit in a pub and slowly imbibe session strength ales there is nothing wrong with this… if you are heading to a beer festival with the intention of sinking beers in the 7-10% ABV range then drinking before may be foolhardy….

There will be plenty of beer at the festival, you don't need to drink before hand!
2) Don't over buy your tokens - for those that aren't aware, often beer festivals are token based. On arrival you buy a strip of tokens and then you exchange those tokens at the different bars for beer. Now on a normal night out I have never got to the end of the evening and thought, wow I've got money left in my wallet, I need to spend it now on beer and drink it. But, exchange that money for beer tokens it's a different story…. "argh, if I don't spend these tokens it's a complete waste!" Before you know it I'm rapidly scouring the bars to make sure I've drunk every available drop. That's a recipe for disaster! If you run out of tokens, you can always go back and buy more.
You can always buy more beer tokens later!
3) Target session beers, especially at the start - when I first became seriously interested in craft beer I discovered the joys of drinks at the upper end of the ABV scale. Where in the past 'super strength' beers had only been the tipple of choice for street drinkers, the modern brewer had begun to work wonders with double and triple IPAs as well as imperial stouts and porters. Wowed by amazing beers from the likes of Cloudwater, Buxton and many more, I became trapped in a mind set where I believed beers had to be 7% ABV or higher to pack any flavour in. This is not a healthy approach to have when looking to try as many beers as possible within a five hour festival. Luckily, mainly thanks to an effort to lose some weight, I have become reacquainted with how good lower strength beers can taste and I've had some great stuff in the 3.5 to 5% ABV range over the last few months. So make sure that when you go to your beer festival keep an open mind and learn to appreciate the 'session strength' offerings. It may be the difference between you still being able to see and walk straight when you leave.
If you are going to try the triple IPA, maybe stick to just one... and make is a small one!
4) Use the beer list - any beer festival worth it's hops will furnish you with a full list of the beers on offer, usually including ABV and often tasting notes as well. Embrace your inner (and possibly outer) beer nerd, get your pen out and identify which beers you really want to try. This is a tactic I've used before and is useful as I didn't just find myself grabbing any old beer and drinking it quickly just to move onto the next.
You may feel like a train spotter but using the beer list can pay dividends
5) If it's an event that covers more that one session, pick one of the first ones - this is particularly important if you're using the beer list as above, because I've been caught out before when going to the last session of a two day beer festival. I'd gone through the list whilst queuing to get in, highlighted some key beers that I really wanted to try, only to then discover that they'd already sold out of it in the earlier sessions. Now this will often come down to how well the breweries and event orgnaisers have planned, at often they will make efforts to keep some stock back for the later sessions but this is not guaranteed. So if you've got the chance, always opt for an earlier session if you don't want to risk missing out.
If you can get to an earlier session you might find a better choice

6) Eat - This is a multi pronged attack! One, you want to eat before "getting on it." This isn't ground breaking advice. But beer festivals, especially craft beer festivals, often take great care when picking their vendors and you'll often get the chance to try some amazing food. I know one friend in particular who still talks very fondly about "the best pie he ever had" at a Southsea Beerex a few years ago. So see who's selling what, maybe experiment with some beer and food pairings that you wouldn't normally try and whilst you're at it, soak up some of that alcohol. Your tomorrow self will thank you for it.
Eat... before, during and after... just eat!
7) Plan your escape route - if you're lucky enough to live local to some great beer festivals you can just don your beer coat and walk home. But if not, you run the risk of being part of that group of several hundred drunk people all looking for a taxi at the same time. Now if you've paced yourself (see point 3) you my be able to ignore the taxi battle royale by heading for the nearest pub and carrying the night on? Or maybe now is the time to get some sustenance on board and head for a late night dinner. I cannot stress enough though, if you think you'll be ready for bed when the festival finishes, pre book your taxi or lift home… it could make a massive difference to what time that spinning head hits the pillow.
Make sure you leave looking as well as when you arrived!
So these are my tips to survive and thrive at a beer festival? Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments below.

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