The Brewers Journal is the professional magazine for the beer brewing industry. It is a brand new bi-monthly publication designed to give UK breweries, distributors, and suppliers an essential insight into the issues that matter to them, and also how to take advantage of this growing market.
An important job of the brewer is to constantly look for new ways to take brewing to the next level. Dr Gearoid Cahill, director of brewing science at Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company, explains how an oak barrel previously used to age bourbon, wine, or maybe gin, can add a lot of complexity to beer in a relatively short amount of time.
Hoxton is the latest home of Brewhouse & Kitchen, which opens this Thursday (19th July).
The latest addition, which is located underwear the arches of Hoxton Station on the former site of The Beagle, features a 50 capacity restaurant as well as two seated bar-spaces both inside and outside.
Simon Bunn, co-founder of Brewhouse & Kitchen, explained: “We are very excited to open a Brewpub in Hoxton and look forward to making lots of local friends, providing a service to the ever growing community of Hoxton.
“Being situated right next to the Hoxton Overground station, we are a convenient stop off for everyone using the station next door.”
I am shortly to become a retired brewer. I have worked for a very big brewer (Watneys) and a small brewer (Fuller’s). It always amuses me when people use those terms. They really don’t have any meaning. To a brewer who brews 5000 hl per year Fuller’s is huge (about 330,000 hl, if you must ask). However, if you are Carlsberg, Fuller’s is almost insignificant.
I read a book once – I think it was by Somerset-Maugham or maybe J B Priestly (well it was a long time ago) – in which a number of people got into a railway carriage. Many were going to the same convention, one of them worked for a company making self-adhesive tape another in glue and another in gum (this was written in the ‘50s). They did nothing but argue. When they all got off, the people remaining in the carriage looked at each other. Finally, one of them said: “Funny, I thought they would all have stuck together.”
Sometimes I feel that about the brewing industry. Craft v tradition. Keg v cask. Big brewer v small brewer. If only it was that simple. Instead, we have medium sized brewer v small brewer, slightly bigger brewer v small brewer and tiny brewer v small brewer. The consumer (hereafter referred to as the drinker) wants one thing – beer he or she enjoys.
Today the industry appears to be more fractious than the one I joined in 1974. Why is that? First, there are more breweries. Secondly, in ’74 brewers were concerned with brewing, the selling side rarely impinged itself on the minds of the brewers. In the smaller breweries today, the brewer is often the sales director too. Competition is keenly felt. If you lose a bar handle to another brewery, even if they are your friends, it still hurts. Also, supply is now much bigger than demand therefore competition is more intense.
I was talking to someone last week. They referred to the British Brewing industry as a “basket case” because nobody is making money. If that is the case, then a number of breweries will go out of business. But we have been saying that for a few years now and it still hasn’t happened. The bigger issue is that we aren’t working together to address this. Instead, big blames small and vice versa.
But, it is not all doom and gloom. The drinker today has never had more choices. The brewer is firmly established as the most important person in a brewery. Flavour is king and brewers know flavour better than anyone. Organisations, like the London Brewers’ Alliance, help each other and generate a brotherhood of brewers though its meetings. It has become fun to be a brewer and collaborations have become de rigueur.
I think the brewing business is crying out for leadership. Someone who can see both sides of the argument (they are always two sides to an argument). My own hope is that SIBA and CAMRA grasp this nettle. Why them? Because by and large SIBA represent the brewers that make the beer I am most interested in. I will lay my cards on the table and just simply say I have never been interested in making or drinking standard lager. The beer is just not to my taste; this does not make it a bad beer, just a beer I do not like. I am, like every other person in this world, quite capable of bias.
And why CAMRA? Well it is the only relevant consumer organisation. The drinkers’ voice must be heard too. Who else can represent the drinker and pub goer? They also represent the traditional beer of Britain, cask ale.
Again, my bias comes to the fore.
Ultimately, I just want someone to try to mend the factions.
Take for instance the debate on keg v cask – or evil v good as some people think. It is perfectly possible to get a bad pint of cask and a great pint of keg and vice versa. Generally, keg beer is served colder and fizzier than cask. Temperature will change the way you perceive flavour and guess what, carbon dioxide also changes the way you perceive flavour. Now given that there are so many different flavours in the world of beer, it would be logical to assume that some flavours suit keg and some suit cask. One is not better than the other, just different.
Keg is far more popular than cask. There are obvious reasons for this. It has a longer shelf life, it is easier to look after in the pub, but above all it has a bigger margin both for retail and the brewer. Currently it is also far sexier. This is because it is the container of the craft beer revolution – if only Americans could make cask beer then that, too, would be sexy.
Cask also has its advantages. It is the least processed of all beers and therefore processes the most natural flavours. A brewer at Bass told me a long time ago that cask beer has better drinkability than keg. He reasoned that this was to do with the yeast – and I agree with him. A beer that has been separated from its yeast for six months has less drinkability than a beer that has been fined just 24 hours ago.
Craft beer has further blurred things by effectively putting unfiltered beer in a keg. Is this cask beer in a keg or a new hybrid? Mind you, Watneys put cask beer in kegs in the 1980s. Innovation? Or, is it just rediscovery of the past as brewing historian Ron Pattinson and I call it?
So, in conclusion, we must unite behind the issues that we have in common rather than fight over the problems that divide us. When we are all on the plane to the next CBC convention in America, the other passengers might end up saying how wonderful it is to see all the various brewers sticking together.
Have an issue you want John to discuss? Email email@example.com
Fourpure has been sold to Australian-headquartered food and drink business, owned by Kirin Holdings Company, for an undisclosed sum.
Commenting on the sale, brothers Dan and Tom Lowe who co-founded the business, explained: “It has been a lengthy process to get us to this point, we’ve spoken to a broad range of investors and been transparent about our ambition to our team and the industry.
“Private equity, bank debt, and crowdfunding are all things we worked really hard on exploring, always knowing Tom and I could not take this journey alone. We wanted the transition to be unambiguous and we both worked to be authentic throughout.”
Discussing the decision to sell to Lion, Lowe said it was because it is a “great business with fantastic people, strong sustainability credentials and a lot of expertise we can learn from”.
They added: “We also think there’s a very good cultural fit and we see a fantastic opportunity to work together to grow both Fourpure and Lion’s suite of craft beers, ciders and fine wines.”
The company added that immediate focus is to remain in London, for as long as capacity permits.
Lowe said: “The focus in the short to medium term is to continue to enhance our spiritual home, through improvements to safety, operating capacity and our broader sales, marketing and hospitality experience.
“In the event that the brand grows beyond the capacity in our current site, we will look at alternatives to enable the business to continue to expand.”
The company, which was founded last year, is currently crowdfunding and has called on Vigo to supply and install the equipment that will form the centrepiece of its new brewery.
Utopian Brewing has settled on a three vessel brew house from American Beer Equipment (ABE) with 12 fermentation and conditioning tanks and all associated equipment.
The design has scope for the addition of further conditioning vessels in the future to support annual production of over 16,000 hectolitres.
Richard Archer co-founder and managing director of Utopian explained: “Working with the Vigo team has been a very enjoyable process to date and I am very much looking forward to working closely with them over the next few months, and on into the future, as we embark on this next crucial stage of our development”.
Archer was ably-assisted by David and Rob Smith of Brewing Services when opting for the manufacturing partner.
He added: “The decision was not a straightforward one as we received a wide range of very strong responses, another positive sign of the strength of the independent craft brewing sector, with so many high-quality UK manufacturers and suppliers to choose from.
“In the end though we had to make a choice and the main factors that contributed to our selection were; the quality of the equipment, the long history of the company in beverage production, the flexibility and understanding demonstrated by the team and the quality of the reference visits during the selection process.
“Having the services and experience of David and Rob alongside me also proved to be a very valuable asset. As a Devon based brewery we are keen to use local suppliers wherever possible and so Vigo’s Devon base provided another bonus tick in the box.”
Utopian Brewing is currently undertaking a crowdfunding campaign to add its growth. It is currently 50% funded and is offering 19.07% equity to those taking part.
Commenting on the commission, Richard Charlton, technical sales advisor at Vigo, explained: “We are delighted to have been chosen to partner with Utopian on this exciting new project. When meeting with Richard originally, we immediately bought into his concept of a craft supplier of premium lager to the market.
“Utopian’s site is fantastic, and will allow them the space to expand as demand inevitably increases. Devon in particular, although having some top quality craft breweries, has very little of this scale so it’s great for the region to have Utopian choosing to locate here.
“Utopian’s decision to work with us, from a very competitive group of equipment suppliers, further demonstrates our growing reputation as an established supplier of equipment to the craft market.”
When did brewing beer become a chore?” asks Darin Haener, founder of Fermentable. “I have fond memories of the days that I would roll out my custom 10-gallon brew deck into the backyard and spend the morning relishing in the aroma of malted barley and boiling hops. Then I’d spend the rest of that afternoon enjoying the spoils of last month’s brews and conversing with great friends.”
Fermentable was created by Haener, a professional brewer who experienced first-hand how frustrating it was to manage the brewery’s day-to-day operations. “Your business is brewing beer, not managing spreadsheets, compiling TTB reports, and fumbling through brew logs. We know the in’s and out’s of the industry and what it takes to get the paperwork out of the way, so you can get brewing,” he says.
Those early experiences are why he originally chose brewing as a profession. For the first years of his professional career, Haener was learning and continuing to grow as a brewer, and he developed a passion for creating works of art in a pint glass. It wasn’t until he started managing his own breweries that he began to understand the pain of actually running a brewery as a business.
He explains: “Maintaining impeccable records, keeping hops that were frequently unavailable from suppliers in stock so I didn’t run out of the precious West Coast IPA, and struggling to remember where I put my pen so I could record my mash out time were just a few of the headaches that began to consume the majority of my time as a ‘brewer’.
“I began to lose sight of what it was that drove me to choose a life of schlepping spent-grain and dragging hoses. Managing the business side of my brewery had begun to suck the passion out of my career. I wanted to remember why I started brewing in the first place, and this set-in-motion my first attempt to hone my business operations.
“I started with an assortment of spreadsheets for tracking inventory and forecasting ordering, which grew into another mess with a whole new set of problems. Deciphering bad handwriting and wort smudged brew logs was doing nothing but detracting me from formulating my next masterpiece. Management software quickly became the clear choice for solving these problems.”
For Haener, finding a solution to help automatically track inventory, generate reports, and rid the brewery of paper documents was going to be a big win for his breweries. At that time, he explains, brewery management software solutions did not exist, so he continued with spreadsheets, longing for the day that I could use a piece of streamlined software to make managing my brewery operations easier.
“Fortunately, today, there are a wide variety of platforms out there that can help with these issues. From free schedulers to full-fledged enterprise level Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, if you’re struggling with your management and need help, there is a software solution that will meet your brewery’s needs and budget,” he says.
“All that said, management software isn’t for everyone. If you have a small brewery that is making a few hundred barrels of beer a year, your operations are dialled in, and you aren’t looking to grow much beyond your current production, it probably doesn’t make sense to spend the time and money to invest in a system that is built to help you grow as a brewery.”
Haener concludes: “However, if growth is your goal, it’s a good idea to start looking at ways to streamline your business, and management software is a great place to start.”
Inventory and production management
Brew Love Software is a brewery management software helping breweries ranging in size from startup to 10,000 BBLS of production to manage their ingredient inventory and production in one tool.
According to Russell Miller, founder of the business, customers are looking to manage their production with as little mental energy as possible. Brewers ask for a tool they can use without spending hours on the computer jumping from one spreadsheet to the next, updating and trying to remember to save a new version each time.
They want something that takes away some of the demand on their attention so they can focus on brewing and growing their business. They also want reports that tell them what their business is doing, as well as reports they can use to provide their numbers to the government as required.
Brew Love Software’s offering is based around one software package. It focuses on breweries from start-up to around 15k BBLS/Year (~18k HL/Yr), where often one brewer runs most of the show. The tools are the same whether your goal is to grow your brewery or just optimise production for the equipment you’ve got.
He explains: “What you really need is to know your numbers. Brew Love helps you prepare orders of raw materials in time to meet your production schedule, determine the real cost of goods for finished beer, keep track of your kegs and know who still hasn’t returned them, and maintain production records in case of government audits.
“It also helps manage customers’ beer orders, track barrel ageing, remind you to make payments for materials before they are overdue and to get paid for your beer, automatically update your raw material inventory when a batch is started, log losses, track quality control, and manage beer inventory.”
For Miller, effective investment in the software side of your business helps answer a key question: “How do you know what’s making money and what’s costing you money if you’re not tracking it?”
He adds: “If you’re on the fence about software, let me ask you something. If you really think about it, how much of your mental energy and attention do you spend trying to make your brewery run efficiently and cost effectively? Simply put, software can reduce the time and energy you spend keeping your business successful. Or, perhaps software can help you get to efficiently managing your costs for the first time.
“Maybe you’ve already got a process in place. How many moving parts does it have and how many points of possible failure? Assess where you are with your business. Are you exactly where you want to be? Are your costs controlled? I like the saying, if you keep doing what you’re already doing, you’ll keep getting the results you’re already getting. Are you happy with those results?
“Software reminds you of actions so you don’t have to remember everything yourself, it automates time consuming tasks that you are currently doing manually, it keeps digital records for you so that data is easily accessible and usable, not stuck on paper somewhere in a drawer full of files. Software works in ways you only wish spreadsheets could.
“You probably got in business to make great beer and to make good money in the process. How do you know what’s making money and what’s costing you money if you’re not tracking it? Software will allow you to focus on making good beer and to expend less effort on the business of making it.”
Small Pack Focus
For Nigel Hoppitt, director at brewery management systems firm Spasoft, he’s observed a particular shift in the arena of beer packaging.
“Beer packaging is changing especially in small-pack products, the range in supermarkets has increased giving more breweries access to new outlets. Breweries are looking for more automation and improved data recording and retention, which we have always excelled at and offered solutions focussed on accuracy,” he explains.
“Currently we are preparing a release that will improve the management of the wide range of small-pack containers and pack sizes into account, speeding up order entry and offering pre-allocation of stock by batch/datecode,” sats Hoppitt.
“Our system already forces accuracy in shipping and delivery, moving stock allocation one step earlier assists with stock management for larger customers and ensures customers get what they need and makes the stock allocation faster. Planning production and stock gets easier with the new Production Schedule module. A graphical interface shows tank utilisation, beer stock availability and highlights potential raw stock shortages. This module will also lead into our new GUI format for rollout throughout 2018.”
For Hoppitt, it’s not surprising to see an increasing number of breweries place a stronger emphasis on the online side of their business.
As breweries grow and their market changes, they need more time for their customers and brewing their beers. Adding a system to their business is more efficient, tracking contact with the customers, having their contact and order history to hand, accurately entering orders, knowing what has gone where, and preventing production issues by having the right amount of stock in place. Producing a monthly duty report at the click of a button saves hours compared to an accounts package or interlinked excel spreadsheets, he says.
“Reliable cloud-based solutions are the answer. They remove the data integrity issue from the brewery, offer secure access from any location and give flexibility to support the many ways in which breweries work. It is cost effective and painless to migrate from spreadsheets and paper to a complete cloud-based solution that gives a seamless and economic solution end to end.
“Our solution is available for less than the cost of a High Street coffee a day. Your data integrity is our responsibility. We ensure the security of your data including backups and disaster recovery, plus the uptime of our servers, maintaining your access to your data.”
The Pain Points of Brewing
by Ben Morgan-Smith, co-founder of BrewBroker
There are a number of pain-points that exist in the brewing industry. Ben Morgan-Smith, co-founder of BrewBroker addresses some of them.
Setting up a brewery is extremely expensive and without a solid pipeline of orders carries a significant amount of risk for brewers at the start of their journey.
The risk and cost of growing into a facility: One way to balance the investment is to embark on building a facility a business can grow in to. It still carries risk (more risk in fact) but allows that initial investment to be spread over a longer period higher volume of orders/more revenue.
Container conundrums: 330ml cans have been the vogue container for certainly the craft beer sector of the market. However, only certain producers have had access to canning facilities. Quick thinkers have set up business to try and deal with the shortfall have moved the industry on (We Can/Them That Can for example). However, it took time for the UK market to catch up with demand. Buying kegs is also a large expense. One-way kegs have offered an alternative solution through suppliers such as Kegstar.
Craft market behaviour
Particularly in the on trade, the dynamic of ‘listings’ has changed. The Craft Beer movement by its nature encourages the end user to have a promiscuous purchasing habit.
This means a single ‘listing’ in an outlet is unlikely to deliver the volume it once would have, as consumer demand is meaning outlets rotate their stock and range extremely regularly. An approach of brewers to defend against this is to have a strategy that creates a larger footprint, either by an increased range of products, or geographical reach, including international trade.
However, distribution at scale can be challenging for a new, rapidly growing brand, especially in the very fragmented UK market place. Concepts like Eebria Trade and Sparetap is a huge step towards a world where it will be easier for pubs and retailers to order products directly, so the landscape is likely to continue to evolve.
Breaking into new markets: Getting beer onto the Continent or over to the States, New Zealand and Australia carries many challenges. The cost of shipping – most commonly on a container ship – is costly and adds to the challenge of keeping the beer fresh. It can take weeks to move product from one market to another, reducing the shelf life but also risking a reduction in quality due to the rigours of long haul transit.
The food miles: The environmental cost of moving beer long distances, no matter what the container/method of transport is significant and could be lessened if the product could be produced closer to, or in market of end use. This is especially relevant with the product that would ideally be refrigerated throughout the entire process.
Working with partners to reduce the risk could offer a solution, via an asset sharing economy. In short using the capacity already in the marketplace rather than building a new facility. With brewing, this would lessen the strain on those with spare capacity in their brewery (through either having room to grow or a downturn in demand), as well as new entrants into the market or those experiencing rapid growth that do not have facilities available.
For packaging, it would allow for the same progress, existing plants/facilities being fully utilised for the benefit of both the buying and selling party.This happens to an extent already, and some brewers build it into their story as an added reason to believe. However, the process of finding partners, developing trust and progressing to a transaction is a long and drawn out process that is creating waste in itself.
As a buyer, the online marketplace can instantly match you with an initial list of supplier who are able to fulfil your order (as oppose to manually ringing countless options), and then progress on to creating a tender, receive and compare a number of quotes from a shortlist of suitors, before going onto managing the transaction through a sophisticated payment system.
As a supplier of brewing and packaging services, the system means you are only presented with tenders that suit your capacity/capabilities, so no time is wasted progressing conversations with buyers that won’t progress in a deal.
This digital evolution in the brewing industry can mean new entrants, or those experiencing rapid growth, can produce a product easily without huge investment in new facilities, and those with spare capacity can maximise the income possible from their assets. It can open up producers to a larger range of options of containers and packaging.
This means that producers can lower their environmental footprint, cost-effectively and with the best possible version of their product in market.
A US brewer recently commented that if you’re a brewery in 2018 and you don’t have a selection of barrels out the back “people look at you funny”, and that’s a trend we’re increasing seeing in the UK and Ireland. Barrel-ageing programmes enable brewers to diversify their product offering, and many are seeing this side of their business grow at a rapid pace, according to Sam Babikian, co-owner of Barrel-IT from ZymurTech.
Barrel-IT is a web-based software used as a Service (SaaS) application. It was built from the ground up to increase visibility of what is happening in your oak cellar. This ranges from the logistical aspects of receiving barrels, filling them and blending them to locating them, emptying them, and reusing or selling them off, which can all be done with a few clicks.
He explains: “Our Quality Control module can be used to track different post fermentation/distillation data attributes and assures that only barrels of a certain quality go into the final product. The Scoring module can be used for group sensory analysis to help determine specific attributes or characteristic of each barrel, with the data from these modules then being used to help create a blend plan or a product release. This system not only tells you where your barrels are physically located but what’s been in them and what additions, if any, where added.
“It tracks the complete history of each barrel or as we say “who did what to it when and where”. Lastly, Barrel-It is a decentralized system, meaning that permission or access can be granted to each user at a module level. For example, you can provide access to your cellar man, QA/QC lab, or your sensory testers just to the modules they need.”
According to Sam Babikian, US-based Barrel-IT’s clients range in size, with some having as few as 60 barrels to some that have over 10,000. The general feedback Babikian and his team receive is that when oak cellars get close to around 60 or 70 barrels, things get very difficult to manage using spreadsheets.
“Some of our clients with smaller programs jumped on board early knowing they are going to expand and they wanted to have the complete history of their entire program in Barrel-IT. So, even for breweries that have smaller barrel programs our price point is such that even they get good value using our software,” he says. “When you think about it, the retail cost potential of even one barrel of product is at least $5,000 or more. We have had clients say that if the software prevents the loss of one barrel or better yet helps prevent one bad barrel from ruining an entire blend, it’s already paid for itself for many years.”
Babikian echoes what we’ve already heard, and goes on to add: “The bottom line is investing in the right software will save you money. The things to remember are that when implementing software is there will always be a bit of culture shock and of course a learning curve. However, these issues can be minimized by being selective of the software you choose.
“Put together a list of features that is important to you and try to find one the hits most of what is on that list. For the ones that are not on the list think about how you might be able to change or adapt your process to make it work.
“When you talk to software companies find out their response times for how quickly they can patch or update problems. No software is perfect, they all have bugs in there somewhere. Lastly, see how perceptive they are to adding functionality and future changes or new ideas. If your idea is one that would help other clients as well and make the overall application better that should be enough incentive for them to add it to their roadmap for a future release,” says Babikian.
“I spoke with a brewer yesterday who is typical. They have 35 spreadsheets that all need to be kept up to date and, once each month, he needs to generate reports for government tax authorities – who take a dim view of inaccurate information. He said it used to take him a half day to do it, but as he has grown, it now takes him three days to do these mandatory reports. He said he wanted to buy some of his time back,” explains Dr Will Bralick, founder of Iconic BMS
Bralick says: “I described to him how our system operates: you follow standard operating procedures – those defined by how the system works – to handle purchasing raw materials, receiving them, managing them in inventory (lot/serial control, expiration dates), using them in production to produce beer which is then sold using the POS or B2B sales process and then ship the product.
“All of those activities are the natural activities of the brewery – so nothing unusual there. At the end of the month, if the processes have been followed reliably, then the click of a button produces the necessary reports. When I described how our system operates along these lines he sounded like he had found nirvana.
“One significant advantage of a system like this is that it creates an opportunity for the business of the brewery to be continually refined and improved upon. Improving efficiency across the organization is achieved by improving the efficiency of the system. Before a process can be improved it must be consistent. An automated system imposes this necessary consistency on the users.
“Often the impact of a system like this is immeasurable. Impact is change. Although the users can experience the change, they cannot say how much (or whether) it has improved things because before the system is implemented, most of the business operations are not measured. Once the system is in place, those measurements can be taken.”
It’s the type of humid, sultry night that makes watching sport a challenging affair, let alone playing close to two hours of it.
The clock hits the 88th minute of a scintillating tie between Portugal and Spain, and the former trail 3-2 despite going ahead twice in this Group B, World Cup tie.
But it’s not over. Portugal have a free kick.
Cristiano Ronaldo steps over the ball. Primed. The position isn’t ideal but this is Ronaldo, after all.
Adopting his trademark stance, he paces towards the ball, smashing it and curving it beautifully around the right-hand side of the wall, beating five defenders and one of the world’s best goalkeepers in the process.
The stadium goes wild and the World Cup, it seems, has now officially started. And though it pains them, there’s applause from Spain fans among the tens of thousands in attendance, too. It was a brilliant strike and such quality needs acknowledging.
Rewind several months and fans of Italian club Juventus felt compelled to do similar when the same player put them to the sword with a sumptuous overhead kick during the illustrious European club competition, the Champions League.
But despite his successes and ability, Ronaldo still has his detractors. Sure, you might not support the teams he plays for, but football is the beautiful game, right? So once in a while, why not enjoy these players for what they are. Does it matter if Lionel Messi is the world’s best and Ronaldo is second. Or vice versa? To be able to watch both is a joy and after all, it’s only football…
And from speaking to Paul Jones, co-founder and owner of Manchester-based Cloudwater, you get the impression he wishes that all of the unnecessary noise and hype around beer could disappear once in a while, so people could enjoy a great beer for what it is, a great beer. Without all of the background nonsense.
The brewery has enjoyed a meteoric rise in less than four years. It has many fans that enjoy the beers it produces but like any successful individual, outfit or business, it has those that for whatever reason, look upon it less favourably.
And for that reason, Jones wants to set the record straight.
“When we started putting together this company in 2014, we had a list of dreams and ambitions. Above all, we wanted to build a great business and make impressive beer that people would enjoy,” he tells us. “We asked ourselves how we could create a company that makes enough money to retire older staff with a good pension. I also had goals such as being invited to the Mikkeller Beer Celebration in Copenhagen and collaborate with breweries we idolise across the globe. So we’re privileged to have hit a lot of our founding goals early on.”
Accolades and awards
Early success is somewhat of an understatement and Cloudwater’s ascension up the respected RateBeer Awards is a fitting way to map the brewery’s rise. In 2016, the business was recognised as the ‘Best New Brewer’ in England. Not bad for a brewery that had only started brewing the year prior. 12 months later, things were getting even more serious. Jones would have needed an additional baggage allowance to haul back 11 accolades from the States, including the fifth best brewery in the world, no less.
But despite such unprecedented success, it was the this year’s awards that really blew his mind.
“Being awarded the fifth best brewery in the world at RateBeer Best 2017 blew my mind. But we reached the end of 2017, and we were pretty sure we’d drop out of the top 10,” says Jones. “It had been a good ride so I listed a number of objectives I wanted to achieve going forward in the near future, and one of those was to hit that number two spot at RateBeer Best, and two weeks later, we did.”
He explains: “There are people that would absolutely ridicule me for saying stuff like that, and they do. But as I’ve said, what we absolutely are trying to be is a brewery that is as involved with its internal processes as it is with the consumer. We really care about our consumers, and that they are excited and satisfied by their experiences they have with, and around, our beer.
“We don’t want to be a band playing to an empty room. We are trying to write music that is so good that we can’t help dancing to it while playing to a crowd that is dancing to it, too. That’s the ambition and I don’t think there is anything shoddy in that.”
In an age where ratings are valued and denounced in equal measure, it’s only natural to acknowledge positive feedback, especially when it can be such a boon to one’s business. Look at Ronaldo. Love him or hate him, you are sure as hell going to find his goalscoring prowess more enjoyable when it’s for your team, not against them.
“It’s weird to find it difficult to appreciate and value feedback, which can be especially helpful if it is included in your internal conversations about quality, value, and more. From my view, ignoring customer feedback is a flawed approach. Sure, we’re in the manufacturing sector but we are moving rapidly towards also being a service industry, so that means customer satisfaction has to register somewhere,” he says. “This is especially valid in the UK, which I would argue is the most competitive beer marketplace in the world. Ratings can make a big impact on whether you can easily shift your beer or not.”
And Cloudwater is shifting its beers. A lot of them. Several new beers are released each week. Whether its a 2.9% Small India Pale Lager brewed with Citra, or an 8.5% Double IPA that comprises Citra BBC backed up by Mosaic and an aroma hop bill of Citra BBC, Mosaic BBC, Enigma and Loral. Their beers are flying out.
London was, and remains, its largest market. Figures that unsurprisingly impacted its decision to open its first taproom and storage facility outside of Manchester. And if that goes to plan, there could even be another such outpost on the horizon, for the capital, too.
He explains: “Look, Manchester’s city centre population is about 250,000, and the Greater Manchester population is around two and a half million. So out of that, how many come to the centre to drink beer. And of those, how many of those like our type of beer?
“Sure, the scene here continues to develop, slowly, but there hasn’t been the growth in craft outlets to match the number of breweries opening. In London, the demand and market are massive and it makes sense to put your beer where the people are. Especially when they’re the type of people that already enjoy your beer.”
Jones is hopeful that between 10-12% of everything the brewery packages in Manchester each week will go through the new facility, which is located on Enid Street in Bermondsey, a town in the London Borough of Southwark. When it opens, it’ll be in good company a couple of doors down from Brew By Numbers and also Bristol’s Moor Beer, which also opted for the area for its capital site. In addition, breweries such as The Kernel, Fourpure, London Beer Factory and Anspach and Hobday call Bermondsey home, as does distributor The Bottle Shop.
“London gives us an opportunity to close the gap between the consumer and us, and gives us a direct opportunity to convey what we’re about, our vision, and ideas,” he says. “But these new premises have to work financially, too. We don’t have cash to burn and we’re not doing this off the back of any kind of refinancing because we’re trying to make this work out of the company’s own pockets as much as we possibly can.”
He adds: “We’re trying to progress slow and steady and to ensure any new taprooms operate as a going concern. If we chose a quieter neighbourhood and the outlet had a flat six months, that would drive our attention and resources away from the brewery, and the focus on beer quality, to how we could make that work. They need to be as self-sufficient as possible from day one. The whole company is better off if we focus on getting new retail sites off the ground without keeping any of us awake at night.”
Being kept awake at night is something Jones knows all too well and he references the design misstep that put a grey cloud over the brewery at the beginning of this year. Collaborating with Miami’s J. Wakefield Brewing brought the branding of the US brewery’s beers such as ‘Orange Dreamsicle’ into laser focus in the UK. Labels that placed scantily-clad women at the fore of design. With such feedback taken on board, the collaboration between the Miami and Manchester breweries attempted to indulge in some self-deprecation.
The branding of the beer, ‘Shelf Turds’ featured illustrations of Jones and Jonathan Wakefield in their underwear. However, the market disapproved. Not only was the beer removed, but Jones took it upon himself to liaise with J. Wakefield and encourage them to look again at some of their existing branding, which they rebranded in turn.
Despite being commended for the lengths he went to, Jones still feels regret over the situation, but would also like a wider industry dialogue on the nuances of such instances, too.
“It was very tough, and extremely stressful. Even though I might have done a thousand positive things for the industry up to that point, nothing else seemed to matter, one mistake and that was it. I was fucked for a month, if not longer. And irrational fears of another Twitter storm still lingers on.” he says. “It felt like people threw anything positive we had done out of the window for that one mistake. We have high standards for ourselves, and we don’t want to misrepresent our values, or offend anyone, ever. Maybe we’ll move past this being brought up in every interview eventually, and I hope we do, but the way things manifest themselves online at the moment an element of point scoring and powerplay is the norm.”
Jones goes on: “I say to my guys all the time, because we get a lot of stick from a lot of people, that it’s either people trying to slow us down or exert some sort of influence over us. It’s rarely a truly altruistic concern that someone has when they flame you online, it’s really that they want to be powerful, and to be this week’s judge and jury.
“What seems to be getting lost behind some of the most seething outrage is a call in and focus making the online spaces around beer a more positive. If I was a wine drinker right now and I tuned into beer Twitter at the wrong time, as this week’s spat or argument aired in public, I might be put off quite quickly and think ‘Wow this is awful!’.
“I guess it’s quite normal that overwhelming positivity and good gets lost against the negative, and I feel that there’s, at times, a lesser overview than there could be of how the industry really influences the world. I think that’s a big problem but, you know, online platforms don’t really make long form, nuanced conversation easy, or in some cases, possible.”
Jones feels that the J.Wakefield incident only started to die down after weeks of criticism and it was something that he says nearly made him pull back from being the public figure he’s known as in the industry.
“It made me feel as if having a public voice, and raising issues outside of beer production wasn’t worth it. Because if what is going to come of me having a voice is being shot down so easily, then it just doesn’t feel worth it. I almost decided I won’t have a voice and we as a brewery will speak on things less. I’ve tried to demonstrate that we can just be humans, a company of humans with values, but at least at this point in time, it feels there is no margin for error,” he explains. “I worry about how many voices are silenced right now. There are people in the industry that have things they would love to express but I know that there are many that are terrified about putting their values out there because as soon as you do you are pinned to a mast, and held up to impossible standards. It’s no wonder the vast majority of breweries just stick to beer, and conduct themselves in a bit of a social or political vacuum – it’s far less traumatic.”
He adds: “I know I now find it ever more difficult to make statements based on my experiences, without second guessing if people will call me out for something that’s visible from their point of view but maybe not mine. But I’m more concerned with trying to demonstrate that people can trust us, and that we’re doing our best to offer them long-lasting value in our beer. That’s what’s crucially important.
“I’m very hard on our beer quality so I make sure to exert every little angle of scrutiny over what is flawed in every batch, with a view to protecting the consumers experience. Nothing else pays our bills, keeps our lights on and makes the other positive things we want to do outside production without customer satisfaction.
“So it is important to me that when someone is disappointed with their experience we pay attention. Reacting to negative feedback as if it’s just a consumer complaining is too narrow. Sometimes customers think we’re so good that they’re deeply upset to discover we don’t always hit our mark, however hard we try. It’s important to me to come off the back of even angry complaints asking myself what we can do to make things better?”
Jones is acutely aware of the positive impact strong ratings and accolades have had on his business during these first three and a half years. But in the words of Uncle Ben from the Spiderman comic book universe, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ and that’s something that no doubts resonates with the Cloudwater director.
“If we carry out any critical evaluation of our beer in-house and we flag something up, and if a customer picks up on that too, then we escalate that issue to rectify any problems as soon as we can. As long as the feedback is genuine, of course. I have always tried to take any negativity thrown at us from the most positive angle I can, and to use it for good. I have more than enough on my plate looking after the business, team, and customers that want us to succeed than to be slowed down by people hoping we’ll fail,” he explains. “I would like to promote more appreciation of the stuff that will build the industry into the right space rather than what will chip away at it. Because we’re only really good at doing the latter right now.”
Jones adds: “As food and drink has become a consumer-facing, direct communicating industry, I see a lot of animosity, of businesses being negatively impacted by shabby reviews and how it drags them down.
“Some reviews are genuine and some are not, and it can be difficult to separate to two sometimes. We’re all doing our best and it’s easy for consumers to expect utter flawlessness in every little thing but that’s not always possible, despite every effort. It’s made especially tough when we’re working at the scale of how businesses such as ours operate.
“We make beer in small batches, with ½-3 brews per release. We’re not blending 5, 10, 15 batches into a single tank where we can correct any errors in the early ones with recipe or process changes in the latter ones.
“Unblended beer is what most smaller brewers make and there is a margin for error there that doesn’t exist in macro blended beer. So it’s a question of asking how do we keep raising expectations, telling folk it’s a better experience than what they can get elsewhere, while also not building a perception that we can be utterly flawless.”
One approach Cloudwater has taken to quality is through the adoption of how it conveys freshness information on its canned output. The business has printed packaged on dates since September 2015. Jones has previously said that the business has compromised reasonable shelf lives with short BBE dates,..
Warminster said it was saddened by the forthcoming closure of Tuckers Maltings and that it would endeavour to ensure growers and customers are not affected.
Chris Garratt, said: “Whilst Warminster Maltings is older than Tuckers, having had 50 years under the management of Guinness, we didn’t start independent life until relatively recently, in the mid 90’s, and have since been active in the brewing and distilling sectors, both in the UK and overseas.
“Having had a little time to plan, we have already established contact with the local Devon and Cornish growers to ensure we can provide the continuation and benefit of local barley.
“We have our own dedicated fleet of lorries and will provide a dedicated quality delivery service. For those wishing to collect, we have made arrangements with some local stores to hold a range of malts or receive local brewers orders.”
We welcome the opportunity to supply more brewers in the Southwest. To discuss a local supply please contact Chris Garratt, 01985 212014.
Edwin Tucker and Sons, the firm that runs Tuckers Maltings, made the announcement earlier this month that the site was to close.
They said: “After producing malt in Newton Abbot for 118 years the directors of Tuckers have had to make the sad decision to close the Maltings in the autumn of 2018.”
In continued: “We have always been proud to be the smallest maltsters in the country producing malt in the old traditional way.
“Operating on this scale has finally proven to be uncompetitive in the modern world and increasing capacity within the old traditional building would be very difficult while not jeopardising the quality of the product.
“After consultation and professional advice it was decided it would be wise to make this decision while the business was financially sound and closure could be achieved in an organised and efficient way.
“Production will finish in September when all the 2017 crop has been malted and it is anticipated supplies to customers will finish by the end of October.”
Andrew Walton, formerly of Bermondsey-based Fourpure, will head up brewing operations at Goose Island’s Shoreditch-based brewpub.
Walton, who is Siebel Institute certified, will be responsible for the operation of the London brewery and the development of unique recipes for beers made on site.
In his role as brewmaster, he will also be the first in Europe to manage the Rack AeriAle system.
The Rack AeriAle system is a nitrogen draft-dispensing setup that connects barrel-aged beers directly to the pub’s tap system without the risk of oxidization.
Walton will also be able to call upon a draught infusion tower and a small barrel aging area.
Ken Stout, president of Goose Island Beer Co. International, said: “London has always held a special place in Goose Island’s history.
“Our next chapter in Shoreditch represents a work of love and dedication that has been 30 years in the making, and we’re excited to have the brewpub in Andrew’s capable hands.
“As we continue to contribute to, and learn from, British beer culture, we are excited to be creating a new experience in the heart of east London, where foodies, beer drinkers and music lovers alike can join together in appreciation of a good time – and great beer.”
Commenting on his new role, Andrew Watson said: “I am thrilled to be joining Goose Island at such an exciting time. I’ve had an incredibly warm welcome in Chicago and as I continue to learn about the Goose Island family, I’m eager to do them proud as Brewmaster in our new Shoreditch location. It’ll certainly be an adventure, and one I can’t wait to get cracking on.”
The British business will distribute Founders beer for the next five years. This follows on from the former’s acquisition of Charles Well in 2017, a move that allowed Marston’s to distribute Founders beer for 12 months.
With Founders’ flagship beer All Day IPA stocked in 400 pubs and supermarkets in the UK, Marston’s said it has increased sales of the beer by 274%.
John Clements, head of commercial marketing at Marston’s, said: “We’re incredibly proud to renew our contract with Founders and very much look forward to our continued adventure together.
“We’re thrilled that the Founders philosophy and premium tasting portfolio is really starting to take effect here in the UK. We’re working with numerous independent operators, craft beer bars and the likes of Young’s, Castle Pub Company and Morrison’s to name just a few.
“When I think about All Day IPA in particular, it really is all about the beer – it’s that good, we simply say to operators “just take the lid off and take a sip.”
Brian May, vice president of exports, Founders Brewing Co, added: “We built Founders on an attitude of no regrets – an attitude of taking risks to bring the best beer possible to our fellow renegades and rebels.
“We’re not just a brewery, we’re a family, consisting of a group of passionate beer enthusiasts that take what we do seriously – but don’t take ourselves too seriously. In short, we make beer for people like us.
“We’re incredibly humbled by how much Founders has grown here in the US and we hope to replicate that success here in the UK by driving distribution in key retailers that are as passionate about great beer as we are.”