Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Giving The People What They Want?

BrewDog is asking their customers to give them it straight about their pubs. Oops. Bars.  Force of habit that. I is old.

That's a very good idea and doing it publicly is also good.  It is to be commended.  I don't know how long the consultation will last, but some of the comments have been very enlightening to this outside observer.  They (BD) are almost universally praised under "What do we rock at?" for their customer service and product knowledge.  Well ten out of ten for that I say.  My readers will know that I have yakked on about the lack of customer service in British pubs for years and it is heartening to see that one company takes it so seriously, that in a feedback survey, that's what shines through as being praiseworthy. If only more followed that example.

When it comes to the question "What could we be better at?" perhaps unsurprisingly there's a lot of complaints about high prices, lack of a decent food offering (or it running out) and importantly lack of a good BD brewed lager and critically for those that like a pint or two, lack of sessionable beers.  Food can be excused to some extent, because few of their bars are that large and kitchen space must be a problem.  I notice in any event that they have a new guy looking at this, so doubtless improvements are on the way here, so I think we can set this aside as it were.  A good lager though I'd have thought, is essential in any craft bar and I believe I recall James Watt agreeing it was a bit of a weakness when I visited the brewery a couple of months ago. Fake Lager may have an ironic name, but it seemingly isn't cutting the mustard with some customers at least.

The fact that there are complaints about so few sessionable beers being available can be combined with another recurring comment.  Quite a few respondents complained about the lack of cask beer, citing how good it was - a point I have made myself many times.  Trashy Blonde is remembered fondly by a few respondents. I remember others fondly too and have written about them in the past. No  sessionable beers and no cask is seen as a problem by many of BD's own customers - or at least those that can be bothered to comment.  I think we all know what the solution should be, but I somehow doubt if we'll see cask returning.  It doesn't suit the image.

Let's hope customer demand proves me wrong.

Funnily enough soft drink range and the non beer ranges in general were panned.  I haven't even noticed that.  My bad probably.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Return of a Legend. Dobbin's Yakima Grande Pale Ale

Readers of this blog may recall my admiration of one Brendan Dobbin, who some say, and I'm among them, pioneered artisanal "beer with a difference" in this country.  I first wrote about Brendan in this blog post dated 6th December 2010.  It was titled "The Start of the Revolution?". I urge you to read that post in conjunction with this one.  It deserved far more comments than it actually achieved and will set the scene for what I'm about to tell you.

Courtesy of my good friend John Clarke - also an early advocate and admirer of Mr D - I hear that the beer that made him a legend throughout the beery types of Manchester and far beyond, is set to return.  The beer is Yakima Grande Pale Ale and believe me, it is the stuff of legend.  It will be brewed by Conwy Brewery in North Wales, under licence, to the exact Dobbin recipe.  The man himself has been responsible for supply and set up of Conwy's new brewery in Llysfaen, where a new 25BBl brewery designed by Brendan, has been installed.  The beer, under the famous Dobbin brand, West Coast Brewing will, excitingly, use the original Dobbin yeast.  The letter, to John and his colleagues, is reproduced with his permission.

Hi John, Mark, and Phil, Please allow me to introduce myself my name is David Worsley, I am the sales representative for Conwy Brewery Ltd in North Wales and have been in the brewing industry for the last 46 years, with Hydes Anvil Brewery in Manchester and since 2012, with Conwy Brewery, I thought it might be nice to let you know that an old cask beer favourite will be returning to the North West of England in early June. As you may already know our wonderful cask ales are already a great favourite in and around the North West especially in Manchester, Stockport, Chorley, and Bolton, we have teamed up with Brendan Dobbin to produce this wonderful cask ale using his original recipe the Malt, Hops, and yeast strain, it will be sold under the West Coast Brewing Banner. Brendan was along with yourselves of course key to reviving cask beers in the 70s, 80s and early 90s with both his West Coast Brewing brand of cask beers and his Firkin Brewpub Chain and we were only too pleased when he assisted us in installing our new brewery equipment and allowing us to brew his beers under license through the West Coast Brand. We are positive this wonderful beer will be well received as it was over 20 years ago and I would ask you all to spread the word that Brendan s beers are back where they belong giving true cask beer drinkers a taste of the past brought to them from North Wales No 1 Brewery.

Details of this wonderful beer are as follows; Dobbins Yakima Grande Hoppy Pale Ale, ABV 5.0%, I am sure the good people of the North West will once again be very pleased with this unique cask beer.

I do hope you find the above of interest, but if you would like any more details or information on any of our beers or services, brewery tours also catered for, please do not hesitate to contact me.

For those that wish to try the beer, and there will be many I'm sure, John tells me that the beer, which is only being brewed tomorrow, will be available at Stockport Beer and Cider Festival, which runs from the 29th to 31st May at Edgeley Park Stockport.  John said "We have ordered two firkins for Stockport Beer & Cider Festival.  It may not arrive until the Wednesday so is unlikely to be on sale before Friday night or Saturday (so it has time to settle properly - there will be a programme note to that effect). 

So there you have it.  A chance to actually taste one of the beers that started the beer revolution in this country.  History recreated.  All roads lead to Stockport.

You really can't overstate Brendan's importance in British Brewing in the early 1980s.  I'm sure too, that Conwy Brewery, who know their stuff, will make a good fist of it.  I wrote about them here.  This development may also lead to more of Brendan's beers re-appearing too.  Yippee.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Lees Brewery, Middleton Junction, Manchester

After an early morning of short tempered exchanges on Twitter I needed some shopping.  I took these photos while waiting at traffic lights, to and from the supermarket.  The clock is wrong though, by two hours!

Hopefully nothing to argue about there.

Click the photos to enlarge.

Cask conditioning?  If it is all done in the brewery, I have one simple question.  How come there is so much badly kept  cask beer about?

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Does This Look Nice?

Before I go further, I will declare an interest. I like Camden Town Brewery.  I would like them even more if they'd continued to brew excellent cask beers such as Inner City Green, but there you are. You can't have everything.  But I still like them a lot.  I drink their beers in London when I see them.

Yesterday they announced a new beer on Twitter and proudly showed a photo of it.  Given a couple of less than complimentary comments from me and @Robsterowski, they said that it was the photo looked bad, not the beer and replaced it with a better photo.  They seemed further surprised by another couple of tweets saying, again, that the beer still didn't look good. Or in fact, that it looked awful.  They then went off for a beer, no doubt shaking their heads with disbelief at such heretics.

Now I'm not the biggest fan of cloudy, soupy, beer as many of my readers will no doubt know*.  A bit of haze is fine and no, I don't include hefe weizen in this, the clue being in the name. Now some will just say "Fuck off Tandleman, you have form here".  And I do.  It's a fair cop Guv. But I still reckon this colloidal beer doesn't look in the least appealing, no matter how it subsequently tasted.**

If you want a bit of haziness, fine, but frankly, I don't even understand how they get finished (fully fermented and conditioned) beer this cloudy. Or more importantly, why you'd want to.

The beer is a Swedish Pale Ale called God Help Save the Elk. 

* Curmudgeon also talks about soupy beer here.

** I fully accept that your mileage may of course vary.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Can Canned?

There was a great deal of interest a few weeks ago when JD Wetherspoon launched in all of their pubs, a range of craft beer in cans from the well thought of Sixpoint Brewery in New York State.  Now it seems it all may be falling flat.
Canned beer to people of my generation is still a bit of a no no.  It reminds us of awful McEwans's Export and Tennent's Lager swigged in kitchens at parties, or on the bus or train on the way to the game. Those lucky enough to have escaped the dreaded Scottish duo will no doubt have your local equivalent thereof to shudder over. Many of us will still have dreadful flashbacks to our plooky youth, necking the stuff straight out of the can in public parks and feel these days are rightly behind us and the idea of paying top dollar for such a thing, beyond comperehension. In short, canned beer is still seen by many as a cheap and inferior product with a distinct metallic tinge, though we are assured that nowadays the internal coatings in cans stop that happening.  Folks like me saw, and to a large extent still see, cans as a transition product to pub drinking or at best, an occasional standby to give the less discerning visitor, or perhaps to surreptitiously neck in the privacy of our own living rooms when cash is short. Of course things move on and led  by our American friends, craft beer in cans is seen as trendy and fun and to prove the point, can be bought in many of the "new wave" bars around the country for outrageous prices.

In fairness, technology is on the side of the can fan.  Cans don't allow light in, which should ward off staling for much longer. The coatings inside prevent (as long as you decant it into a glass) the metallic taste and they are easier to chill and store for both consumer and retailer.  What's not to like in some ways and exponents of canned beer were very excited when JDW started selling them at two for a fiver in their pubs.  There was talk of a wonderful breakthrough into the mainstream and of the shattering of the high price craft beer model. "Canned beer is the future" type of thing. Heady stuff. Alas it seems that the JDW experiment (if that's what it is) is faltering.  They just aren't selling. In fact in many JDWs, you can now get all three of the variants for a five spot.  Quite a discount for genuine imported American beers.

So is it just that JDW is the wrong group to be selling the product, as their demographic would hardly seem to be best suited for it?  Is it the case that the beers, as some have suggested, are thin and piss poor?  Or are cans in mainstream pubs just something that won't sell?  Does it tell us anything at all about the likely success of canned craft beer?

I think it does. Canned craft beer will remain a niche within a niche.

I made this comment about the beers when they were launched:

They (JDW) try beers out and quietly drop them when demand doesn't meet expectations. You can probably expect that the availability of the new range will be reduced in many pubs if the beers don't sell, or, as in the past, they may just quietly be withdrawn. so maybe we best wait and see before getting too excited?

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Forty Years in the GBG

The Good Beer Guide is, depending on your predilections either a worthless and outdated way of telling you where you'll find good real ale, or, on the other hand,  a vademecum, without which you'd never venture out of your home territory on an amber nectar seeking mission. Either way there is little doubt that pubs and breweries value their entry in it greatly and competition to gain entry is very fierce indeed.  It is therefore most unusual to have the same pub in it for forty years - just one short of the maximum possible - very rare indeed in fact, with around six others nationwide in the same enviable position.

Thus it was I was called to the Cross Keys in Uppermill to present a certificate to the current licensees to mark this milestone.  The Cross Keys is up a very steep hill from Uppermill Village and is owned by JW Lees.  Splendidly traditional, with stone flagged floors, it was built in 1745 on the Marsden Packhorse route over the Pennines and became a pub in 1763.  It sells rather a comprehensive range of Lees beers and in addition, is home to many different groups including the Oldham Mountain Rescue Team, a Ukelele Club and of course a folk music one. Really a traditional pub at the heart of its local community. The place was packed with CAMRA members, representatives of Lees Brewery and of course locals.  It was a very jolly scene on a lovely sunny afternoon.

In my speech I remarked that the award was a tribute not only to the current licensees, but those before them in the previous forty years. I pointed out how hard it is to get in the guide in the first place and the remarkable difficulty of persuading local members year after year of the case for entry.  I highlighted the importance to the community of such pubs and their service to local people.  It was one of those moments that makes being the Branch Chairman an absolute pleasure. It was equally pleasurable to talk to the licensees. That's essential if you are to do your CAMRA job properly.  I tried two beers.  Lees Brewer's Dark, a fine mild, was a rare treat in cask format and the seasonal, Hoptimist lived up to it name.

The beers were in superb condition.  I expected no less.

Lees kindly bought us all a pint. Cheers for that.