Those of us that are a bit more long in the tooth than most, have fond and maybe rose tinted views of the beers of the past. We remember clearly when someone would say "Let's go for a pint in the Dog and Duck" and the first response would be "Whose ale is it?" We may not have been that knowledgeable about hop varieties or styles - indeed, broadly, there were only two styles, mild or bitter. Our minds were completely untroubled by IBUs or indeed IPAs and if terms such as "craft", "barrel aged" or "sour" were presented to us they would have been as incomprehensible then as would have been the internet or computers. But whose beer was on sale was important to us. We did have one relatively geeky word though - "traditional" for that is what we called real ale then - or cask as it is so often now described. It was trad beer that we sought. We knew it to be better. And we knew what we liked. A darts match in a Whitbread House would have us beating an early and agreed retreat to a more conducive venue - a place with better ale, where we didn't have to dilute keg Trophy with a bottle of Forest Brown to make it drinkable. It would quite often be a Higsons' house.
Matt Curtis , in a very good piece has written, yesterday I think, about the second wave of brewing, where sleeker, better equipped operations such as Mondo Brewing and Cloudwater with state of the art German built breweries and brewers who actually have training, are likely to make a big impression on the brewing scene. Some seem to look down on this, but Matt makes the very valid point that while lots of brewers can produce decent enough beers, what we need is consistency. As Matt puts it, "Dependability goes hand in hand with sustainability." While I may not agree entirely that brewers such as Magic Rock and Beavertown are on their way to becoming regionals, there is evidence that great plant and good brewing technique can grow a business. Not a million miles from me, Moorhouses is a perfect example and in deepest Staffordshire, Joules is another. Though their plants are nearly as shiny and modern and capable, their business model is a million miles from the urban keg forward models Matt is used to, but this merely underlines Matt's point. The second wave of breweries is growing and diversifying, even if they are in some cases, producing not Alts or Double IPAs, but cask conditioned bitters and golden ales. Matt's point still remains perfectly valid and if you want a decent growth strategy, there is certainly merit in going bigger from the start. Therein too lies your exit strategy should you want one - and everyone should.
This brings me neatly back to Higsons. I read with interest in the Liverpool Echo that a new Higsons Brewery company has applied for planning permission to build a new brewery "The planning documents say the primary business would be the “production
and sale of craft beer (including draught beer, bottle beer and
spirits)” but the facility would also include a bar/cafe and “an upper
floor beer hall where visitors can also enjoy a selection of ‘grazing’
food”. Significantly, the plan includes "a state of the art, highly engineered, German-manufactured beer
production plant which will occupy the majority of the available ground
floor". This sounds ambitious but this business model does have legs as outlined above. I do hope
though that they can bring back Higsons Bitter in a recognisable (cask conditioned) recipe. And, of course, do other things too. Mixed cask and keg is good.
Liverpool is a very sentimental place and the name Higsons still resonates. It needs a beer it can call its own. Fingers crossed, Higsons can be synonymous with Liverpool once more. Bringing back dead beers can be a good thing. Joules is an example of existing success and Roger Protz has been tasting Charrington IPA at Burton. You need to have a receptive audience though.
It still astonishes me that many "beer drinkers" have never gone into a pub and asked for "A pint of bitter please.".
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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