Pubpaper 805 – Brewdogs’ Equity for Punks 4

Posted: 23rd April 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Brewdog get a lot of mentions in this column, in fact out of the 234 articles I have done for Pubpaper, 43 have mentioned the Scottish brewery, about 1 in every 6 and this week I’ll be increasing the hit rate for mentions even more!

They made the brewdog_logo_detailnews last week due to the announcement of Equity for Punks 4, their latest fundraising share offering where they hope to raise £25,000,000 to develop their brewing capacity and provide funds to open new bars both in the UK and internationally.  The business by any measure is doing very well, revenue up nearly 400% over the last 3 reported years (and predicted to jump another 56% in the 2015 results), profit is up 1000% in the same period, figures any company would be proud of.

However the Equity for Punks investment is slightly different from a traditional issue of shares, it is not like the stock market where shares can move in price and be traded (well not yet anyway, plans are afoot to introduce a private trading platform for Brewdog shares, and they have not ruled out a public listing in the future).  When you buy shares in Brewdog, you naturally own a part of the company and get voting rights, but you get your benefits back in brand loyalty, through discounts at their shops and bars, the free beer on your birthday in a Brewdog bar, an invite to the party like AGM.

This is a very shrewd move from James, Martin and the team and a pattern that has echoed through the previous three Equity for Punk share offerings.  People invest in the company, then they invest in the company even more by using their discount to buy Brewdog beer and visiting Brewdog bars, it is the gift that keeps on giving for the company.   Just look at the extra benefits you get as an “Equity Punk”, first option on new beers, access to their beer box club and Abstrakt specialist beer club, all of these are extra cost items, all making more money for Brewdog.

You do not invest in Brewdog to make money (unless you are drinking so much Brewdog beer that your discount outstrips the cost of buying the shares), you are buying into the ethos of the company.  I wrote a few weeks ago about Brewdogs dilemma about its craft / mainstream future and by continuing with the non trading nature of the shares which encourages fans of both Brewdog and good beer to invest, they are sticking true to their roots back in 2007.

A lot of the money the company turns over goes back into the company, dividends are not paid out to shareholders.  The three main operators at the company, James Watt, Martin Dickie and Charles Greggor will own 74% of the company after this £25m issue.   Salaries for the directors are not excessive for a £30 million turnover company, with 3 directors on circa £125,000 with others on significantly less.  Employees are paid a living wage, not the minimum wage.  They are creating a significant number of jobs in the area, with 130 estimated to be created with the opening of the new plant this issue is funding.

The demand is obviously there for their beer, there is no other reason to build a new brewhouse triple the size of your existing plant at the cost of £3 million, just to keep up with demand.  There is also no reason to earmark nearly £9 million to open new bars here and abroad unless there is the demand for it.   It is not just over here where the demand is apparent, another £3 million is planned for a US based brewing operation to try and break this tough market with plenty of competitors, although links with US brewers from collaborations won’t hurt them at all.  Eight planned new bars and new markets will add new challenges, although owning a part of your distribution chain, via the planned set up of an “UK Import and Distribution Arm” will certainly help matters.

The core purpose is the same as any other brewer at Brewdog, get more beer to more venues in more countries as efficiently as possible, it is the subtle differences in how the company is run which puts the undeniably large company which Brewdog has become apart from the more mainstream brewers of its size.


Pubpaper 806 – UK vs US Craft Brewing Scene

Posted: 22nd April 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

I’ve discussed over the last few weeks the Craft Beer sector of the market and several times I’ve mentioned that to see where the UK craft beer scene will go, it is good to look at a country about 10 years ahead of us when it comes to the craft scene, this country being the USA.  In the States there is an organisation called the Brewers Association who represent large craft regional brewers, microbrewers and brewpubs.  The rules of its craft brewer designation are simple; that you produce less that 6 million barrels of beer a year (less than 3% of US market), you are less than 25% owned by mainstream brewer; the majority of its total beverage output is via beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.

The growth of craft beer in the states really started in 1985, at that point there was only 110 brewers in total across the whole of the the country.  Over the next 14 years that number multiplied by a factor of 15, with 1500 brewers operational by 1999.  The number of new brewers then stagnated for about 8 years hovering around that same 1500 figure.  However in 2007 an explosion started, four years later in 2011 the figure had risen past the 2000 brewery mark.  It only took just over another 2 years in early 2013 to reach 3000 brewers and in the following year another 462 brewers started up operations.

Put this into perspective, at the start of Brewing Association records on the number of brewers in the country in 1873 there was 4131 brewers recorded.  At this rate the USA will surpass this number in the next 3-4 years.  This number in 1873 was an historical high for the era between then and now.  The US brewing industry nose dived after this year for just under a decade, losing nearly half of the brewing operations in 1873.  The period from 1910-1920 was disastrous for the industry with numbers falling from 1568 to 669 brewers, the following year was prohibition and the registered numbers of course hit zero.  After alcohol was legalised again in 1933 numbers hit about 800 brewers by the start of the next decade.  This figure gradually drifting down to the figure I started this with in 1985.

In 2014, the scene is quite interesting in America, of the 3462 breweries (or 1 brewery per 92,000 people), only 46 are non craft breweries, of the remainder 135 are big enough to be classed as regional (producing more than 15,000 barrels), 1871 are microbreweries (producing less than 15,000 barrels) and 1412 are brewpubs (where at least 25% of production is sold on site).  The rate of closure of such breweries is low as well, with 7 brewpubs opening for every one closing in 2014 and 23 microbreweries opening for every one which closes.  Brew pubs of course are exposed to the risks inherent with production and retails operations, so the higher rate is no surprise.

Taking a similar set of UK based numbers (the best figures come from Society of Independent Brewers).  Brewpubs are not as popular in the UK as in the US and in no way make up nearly over one third of all brewing operations.  Looking at microbreweries as per the 15,000 barrel limit in America, the responses to this survey would put about 87% of brewers in this category (lumping in the small number of brewpubs with the pure brewing operations, deducting a few percent for the large national brewers and those small operations owned by them). If you assume this over the 1,285 breweries in the UK, then it mean that about 1100 of them are microbreweries, a healthy segment of the market.  The good news is that we have more brewers per capita with one brewery for every 50,000 people or to put it into perspective an average of 4 “breweries per Calderdale” (pop. 204,000), showing Halifax and the surrounding area punches well above its weight when it comes to beer production.  Our growth in the number of brewers is similar to that post 2007 in the US as well, another good omen.

The big difference between us and the USA is that their definition of craft is purely numerical and puts many of the brewers we’d simply call “Small to Medium” sized breweries who we’d not consider anywhere near “craft beer” into that category.  Is this a bad thing, not in this writers eyes, craft is a label and is being diluted by mainstream brewers every day.  It will become meaningless in the next decade or so unless we adopt a precise measure of the term.  Are we following the USA for its good points in developing a craft beer market, absolutely and if we develop our brewpub market as they have that would be no bad thing at all.


Imagine this.  Your pub has been around for close to 100 years and is considered a classic example of the pub architecture of the time, complete with tiled exterior and signage.  Inside the historical layout, fixtures and fittings have been maintained from when it was built unlike most pubs of its era.  Your pub is also being considered for grade 2 listed status and the following day may well see this status granted.

1421069_Carlton-Tavern-3The problem is a property developer based in Israel owns the building and land and wants rid of the building, only interested in the land it sit on.  You know this as only 3 months ago the land owner applied for permission to demolish your pub and build a block of flats with a ground floor bar.  Only 20 minutes by tube to Central London from two local tube stations a mere 7 minute walk away, the 10 flats could each be worth several hundreds of thousands of pounds.  This planning permission was denied due to the development not including the provision of funding for affordable housing units (all big developments in London have to pay into an affordable housing fund).

1421068_Carlton-TavernThe owner of the pub asks you to shut the pub for an “inventory”, however a few hours after you leave the pub you get an urgent phone call saying the bulldozers had moved in and the pub was being ripped apart, fixtures, fittings and all.   By the time you return and a planning enforcement team from the council turn up, the majority of the building is in ruins with one of the four walls partially intact.  You can still see the sports trophies on shelves and the flat screen TV mounted on an interior wall.  An empty glass still sits on the table in the now exposed bar.

sparkling-ales_3261461bThis is what happened to the Carlton Tavern in North West London.  The timing was no coincidence, one day before grade 2 protected listing could have been granted, leaving the land owner next to no chance of building the valuable flats.  The pub was in good condition with trading more than viable, there was no commercial reason to shut the pub on its own merits.  Pure greed drove this action.   At least most land owners and pub companies have the courtesy to run the pub into the ground before forcing the tenant to leave and then closing the business.  The company who did this, CLTX, makes Enterprise Inns look like the model of good business ethics.

There is now a good chance that the site will stand empty for a time whilst Israeli owner tries to get planning permission for a second time from a seriously miffed off local planning authority in Westminster who are considering legal action regarding the unauthorised demolition.  The local community has lost a good pub, the landlady and staff have lost their jobs and no good has come of the whole sorry affair.

It is a shocking story and I can only hope they don’t get a £100,000 slap on the wrist and then get permission to build the said block of apartments a month later.  I hate to be a cynic, but I suspect this is what exactly will happen.  But is it any worse than losing a pub to one of the big supermarket local chains.  When property is leased to Tesco or Sainsburys it is on a long term lease of at least 10 years and often up to 25 years.  Do you think it will be converted back to a pub when Tesco decide to close the store, no it will become another retail unit or the site will be converted to housing in one form or another.   Once the pub leaves the building it rarely returns, its patrons move on elsewhere, other places take its position in peoples drinking habits.

luddendenfoot_coachandhorsesThere are some premises which are too big for the demand in the area they reside in, that I do admit and they will never be commercially viable again.  Locally in Calderdale at Luddenden Foot, the area now has a relatively healthy pub stock for its size with the ever present Old Brandy Wine and the Weavers serving the local population.  However a stones throw away from Weavers on the main road is the Old Coach and Horses, which has been a number of restaurants since shutting as a pub.

The place is big as I remember from eating there once, you’d need a lot of the village to fill the place.  The pub has been boarded up for at least 5 years now and is becoming an eyesore along with its cavernous car park.  I’d not object to the site being reused for another purpose, but the difference here is that its life as a pub is over, the Carlton Tavern’s was not.



Brewdog are the biggest craft brewery in the UK at the moment from a commercial point of view.  In 8 years they have grown from a 2 man operation brewing 55 pallets of beer a year to a company owned by 15,000 shareholders, turning over nearly £30 million per year and employing 360 people.   Their beer is now consumed in 55 countries across the globe.  They brewed 90,000 hectolitres of beer last year, equating to 16 million pints and this is served across 26 of their own bars in 9 countries.

These are impressive numbers for any 8 year old company, profits are up 69% to £4.9 million, slowing from the phenomenal profit rise of 383% for the the year 2013, but figures most businesses would be delighted with nether the less.  Looking below the figures (from February 2015), their UK bars are all holding their own against local competition.  One of their smallest bars, Leeds Corn Exchange turns over about £7,000 per week, whilst the larger regional bars such as Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool are all taking at least £16,000.  It’s biggest turnover comes from their London branches unsurprisingly.with Shepherd Bush taking £21,000, way behind Shoreditch which trumps it with £27,000 per week.

Overall they take nearly a million pounds a month from their bars across the world, making up £11 million of their £30 million turnover.  This means their average bar takes at least £8,000 per week in the tills, a figure which is probably higher when you factor in bars which opened part way through the year.  No doubt the higher prices than you would pay at other nearby non craft beer pubs contribute to this turnover.  Taking their base price for Punk IPA, which from memory is about £4.25 a pint, and that this beer accounts for over 50% of their beer sales, this means each bar on average sells about 1600 pints per week when you taking into account food and snack sales.

Of course when you look at the higher turnover premises, it is no surprise that they are the bars which are the food and drink units, it is well know that wet and dry units increase their turnover and profits massively on their food margins if successful.   Their sales at Shoreditch, which is very much food and drink led are about what Marstons expect from their premium premises, so they are definitely competing with the mass market money wise.

Back to looking at the beers, their normal strength beer dominates sales with 92 pints in 100 being beers such as Punk IPA, 5AM Saint, Dead Pony Club and Fake Lager (you might know it better as This is Lager in Wetherspoons).  This is Lager /  Fake Lager make up nearly 6% of their beer sales, which means Wetherspoons are giving them probably close to £1 million per year for the beer.   That is the story of Brewdog last year in numbers, lets step back and look at the bigger picture.

I asked the question a few weeks ago regarding when Brewdog will have to make the choice of craft or mainstream when they reach critical mass, my view on this has changed.   Profit growth will continue to slow until it becomes a steady figures somewhere in the teens, size comes with costs, salaries and overheads and this will bite into those huge profit jumps.  The key is whether the owners push to try and recover bigger profit growth as a priority or accept this steady growth as the sign of a stable mature company.   If they choose the latter with care not to over saturate the country with Brewdog bars, and prioritise the quality and range of beer up, then there is no reason why they cannot stay “craft” but sell big.  If Martin Dickie or James Watt ever sold up to commercial investors, that badge would be off in an instant, these two and the “Punks” in the Equity for Punks share issue program are the key to not slipping into the mainstream camp.

As you see in the USA, size is not the definer of “craft credentials”, but it is the brewers ethos in the eyes of the public and who owns the company (there are strict rules to being in the USA Craft Club, Goose Island is no longer craft beer now it is owned by Molson Coors).  As I said 2 weeks ago, craft beer is a lot more mature in the USA than the UK, it is one of the few times it is sensible to look at the states to see how market can grow and survive with it principles intact.

This week, a catch up on the world of beer.   Lets start with the good news that the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment (New Clause 2) Bill, otherwise known as the law which will allow large pub company tenants the right to move to a Market Rent Only (MRO) agreement, where they can buy beer from a supplier of their choice (but still be mandated to stock a selection of PubCo agreed brands) has got royal assent meaning it is now enshrined in law.  The government has said that the new pub code will be amended to include the MRO legislation and the new pub code adjudicator will be up and running by May 2016.

However there is still secondary legislation to follow to deal with short term leases, franchise managers and deferral of MRO in exchange for investment by the pub company.  We have to be careful that this is not used by the PubCo’s to sneak in watering down measures which will make the act favour them more.    I would expect to see some transfer of pub assets ahead of the implementation date from those brewery linked pub operators who are just over the 500 pub limit to “new companies” who just happen to have supply deals with the same brewery, the aim being to cut their size to 499 pubs or less as to avoid being covered by the act of law.

Whilst on the topic of big brewers, Marstons is buying out the beer operations of Thwaites, the Blackburn based brewer and pub operator.   This deal is the final step of integration between the two companies as Marstons has been brewing the mainstream Thwaites brands for just over a year now.  The opening of a £10m brewery in the area producing the mainstream beers for some of its own pubs and hotels (which it will be retaining) and its craft brands is still going ahead as planned.  Marstons already owns the regional brewers Jennings, Ringwood, Wychwood, Banks’s.

The risk of course is that the range of beers from Thwaites will be reduced to a handful of core products.  Wainwright and Lancaster Bomber will of course be pushed out into the Marston estate as these are national brands.  Their Dark and Smooth keg brands should continue to be offered as well.  The Craft Dan beers which are released each month should be safe as these will stay in the Blackburn craft operation, but I’d expect a marked reduction in their quarterly beer releases, as well as more Marstons brands beers moving into the Thwaites pubs chain, a consequence of the accompanying supply deal for most wet products between the new owner and the acquired company’s pubs.

There is a link between these two stories.  When Marston bought our Jennings, Ringwood and Wychwood, they also took on their pub estates at the same time, with subsequent sell off of premises where they were not profitable enough or did not suit the needs of Marston regarding building or location.  This time they were never part of the the equation.  They were only interested in the brewing arm they already had the contracted out production for.  The classical thought is that a bigger pub estate will mean economies of scale regarding head office costs, regional administration and reduced purchasing costs due to increasing volume.   Marston are already over the 500 pub limit by a factor of three with 1500 pubs, so it would make no difference re the legislation.   Thwaites has 300 pubs so would add significantly to the size of the Marstons estate, but more importantly their pubs would be subject to the new legislation as part of the bigger group.  This way they escape the MRO / Free of Tie options which will be granted to pubs in the parent company.

Companies such as Enterprise and Punch are too big to split up into 499 pub units without significant costs.  However for those who have a similar number to Marstons, creating “North”, “Central” and “South” pub divisions would incur not unreasonable costs if it means they can avoid the legislation and safeguard their tied house revenue streams.  Industry experts predict a significant number of pubs will fall into the “managed pub” or “franchise” category when tenancies expire, something I’d not disagree with.  Pub company rent reviews are typically every five years, so we will have to wait until 2020 until the first full cycle across all of their estates takes place.  This gives PubCo’s above the limit time to manage their tied tenancy pub numbers downwards, via various methods, with the target of hitting 499 pubs.

When the Beer Orders 1989 came in the Big 6 brewers got around it with PubCo’s, the same companies will probably avoid this again, hopefully I am wrong, but I fear not.

Pubpaper 801 – The Streets (and Pubs) of London

Posted: 28th March 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last week I had the pleasure of spending 3 nights in London, giving me plenty of time to explore the city and its pubs.  A few points for the uninitiated, you very quickly get used to the fact when you order a pint of a decent ale or beer, you will get very little change from a fiver, if that covers it at all.  It is however very easy to find a decent beer by the sheer number of pubs.  The second thing you realise is the point of an integrated mass public transport system.  I was staying out in Welling, about 11 miles outside of the heart of London, to get there or back, it takes at least 2 trains and a bus, followed by a short walk.  This takes about an hour, tube trains are every 3-4 minutes and buses every 10 minutes.  Imagine this is Calderdale, you’d be waiting for an eternity for connections, and the Oyster Card is a godsend if you ever visit for more than a couple of days.

The size of the centre of London seems quite daunting initially, but you soon get used to it and learn rough bearings to most areas, both on foot and by tube.  It makes for an interest nights drinking, the varied scenery being a big bonus after dark.  The first night I did a pub walk via Parliament Square, Soho, Covent Garden, Embankment and London Eye.  The second ended up being a pub crawl back in Soho, with the third night involving some very good food and drink in the Tower Bridge area.

deanswiftStarting with the last night, me and my host went to the Dean Swift, a craft beer bar on a side street off the river.  The beers were excellent, with a good selection from our local breweries such Summer Wine and Magic Rock and nice collection from the capitals many breweries.  The food was as good, with the jerk chicken being as good a meal as I had in the city.  The service was excellent and I’d not hesitate to recommend you visit if you are ever down there, with beers typically between £4.50 and £6 for a good real ale and craft beer.  The walk back to London Bridge station along the river gave amazing views past Tower Bridge and onto the distinctive office buildings which are dominate the skyline.

The_clarence_pub_london_may2005The first night, I started my night with a pint of Camden Hell at the Clarence just off Trafalgar Square (part of the 35 strong Geronimo Chain in the Capital).  The ale selection was also good with 4 pumps, with some solid local brews as well as a number of respectable craft keg taps.   The bar is your typical modern pub, stripped wood, but it has kept the original dark marbled frontage from 150 years ago.  The food offerings looked good as well, but my dinner that night was at a Lebanese restaurant down near St Martins in the Field where the national beer which came with the meal being pleasant but not very interesting.

dog-duck-pub-soho-london-photosThe second bar was the Dog and Duck in Soho.  I returned to this pub for dinner and a number of drinks the following night to meet up with the friend who I was staying with.  This is part of the Nicholsons chain who have 45 pubs in London (and operate 3 pubs in Leeds including the Scarborough Hotel near the station).   The first night, the beer was very average there, with the My Generation Session Pale Ale, not really standing out.  The second night there I moved onto their craft beer range and had some nice beers, although my drinking colleagues were on the real ales and seemed to have no problems with their beers.  The Ultimate Chicken Burger also hit the spot nicely for dinner, with the rest of the menu typical chain pub fare. Beers were £4.50 to £5.00 similar to the Clarence.

phot499On the way back to hotel at Old Country Hall I popped into Gordons Wine Bar (the oldest in London) on the embankment on recommendation of Hugh at Cross Keys, the inside of the bar is small, but the drinking space entirely honed out of low rounded vaults.  The wine is not cheap starting at about £6 per glass and going up to silly money.  Sadly the inside was full, so I enjoyed a glass of the “house red” on their long outside terrace area.  I’m no expert but if you enjoy your wine, sherry or madeiras , the range on offer would more than keep you happy.

The second21156640 night started at the aforementioned Dog and Duck before taking a diversion into O’Neills, the craft beer I had doing the job, before finding ourselves in Crobar.  This pub really takes it rock and metal seriously and I loved the place, the beer was a mix of decent session ales and a range of mainstream and craft beers, with slightly more reasonable prices than other pubs I visited.  A totally different atmosphere, but friendly never the less, and one I’d recommend if that is your thing.

Back to good old Calderdale next week, but for now Happy Supping..



Pubpaper 800 – Will Craft Keg exist in 10 years?

Posted: 14th March 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

As a big fan of craft beer, this seems a strange question, but it comes off the back of a bet I’ve had with a local real ale pub landlord. I’ve been bet that “Craft Keg will not exist in 10 years”, that it’s fad will have passed. It is only a small wager, £10 increasing with inflation, probably enough to buy 3 pints of the stuff when it comes to pay day, but it shows that keg beer still splits some parts of the beer world.

It started with a chat about my day out in Leeds as detailed in last weeks column, and I got asked a simple question “Is Craft Keg just Keg Beer”. The answer when you take away all the branding is yes, it is beer dispensed from a keg with CO2 or 70/30 added, that is a fact we cannot deny. Is the term “Keg Beer” avoided now by modern keg beers due to its links with the late 60’s to mid 80’s homogenisation of the brewing industry and the resultant set of bland keg bitters, ales and mild beers, along with the decimation of dozens of local beer brands who were primarily cask ale producers.

12PageIMG92-5Possibly so, lets take an example, of those who have heard the “Watneys Red Barrel” or “Watneys Party Seven”, how many have actually drank it. Probably a minority percentage, but these names are well known among the beer world as what was bad about keg beer at the time. There was probably dozens of others just as bad, but Watneys is the usual sacrificial lamb for the period. Lets not forget that the 1970’s necessitated the need for CAMRA to be formed to help campaign for a stop of the decline of real ale production and pubs selling cask beer.

John_Smiths_Extra_Smooth-1368011287Keg beer was what was killing cask, so there is a historical feud going back over 40 years and still existing today with the CAMRA leadership. If you look at the mainstream keg beers in our pubs today with brands such as John Smiths Smooth, Tetleys Smoothflow, Worthington’s Creamflow and Boddingtons Draughtflow, you can see their point. These are the direct descendants of those 1970’s bland mass produced beers. There is the older generation, probably the one before myself, who went through this era and it has probably put some of them off keg beer for life and frankly I don’t blame them one iota if the current mainstream face of keg beer are the brands above.

This is where I stop agreeing with a certain pub landlord. My thoughts are that in 10 years craft keg beer will still exist and be a healthy sector of the market on trade. However a lot brands we now call craft beer or craft keg will be far more widely available across the pub estate of this country thus losing their craft tag and will just become another premium beer offering on the bar. Like now, there will of course be a large number of small craft breweries who produce small batches of beer and will be mainly available in the local / more specialist bars and shops and more will join them over the next decade although the growth we have seen in the last 10 years in brewery numbers will slow down. Such a boom cannot last forever and it will start to reach saturation point eventually.

LogoA number of brands will move into the ranks of national producers of good quality keg dispensed beer (I’m deliberately dropping the craft tag here). A prime candidate being Brewdog who are arguably the largest craft keg producer in the country at the moment and are building an ever expanding bar empire. Their beer is available across most of the Wetherspoons estate with “This is Lager”, there beer is also in most, if not all, major supermarkets. They have plans to grow even more, but the management will come to a point in their growth where they have to choose the path between remaining a craft brewery (abet a very big one) or expanding and risking becoming the mainstream.

GooseIslandLogoThe other danger to the sector is that the major volume producers will try to penetrate the Craft market and dilute the term enough to render it no value in differentiating genuine beers in that sector. Look at where Craft Keg started, in the USA the craft breweries were formed to fight against generic national brands like Coors and Budweiser. Over time they took a chunk of market share from the majors, so the big brands started to buy up the bigger players in the craft market quietly (ABInBev buying Goose Island), and are now forming separate “craft” breweries. However the regional craft keg scene is going from strength to strength still, and several players (such as Samuel Adams) are now national brands in the USA.

To see where the future might head, look to a country 10 years ahead on the craft beer path.

Pubpaper 799 – Leeds Beer Haunts

Posted: 10th March 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last week, I had the pleasure of a day visiting various drinking establishments around Leeds instead of sitting at my desk for the day.  I’ve not been over in the city drinking for a while, so was pleased to see it is still keeping up its real ale and craft beer credentials.  A couple of the venues I’d visited before, whilst one was new to me and found totally by accident whilst rain dodging.  The latter was Whitelocks, located in a long narrow alleyway off Briggate.

A long narrow room stretching the length of Turks Head Yard, it has been in business since 1715.  The bar is best described is traditional with a nod to the modern, with the acres of varnished wood you come to expect along with alcoves seating the drinkers, but with the spit and sawdust removed.   The old stained glass windows and original Whitelocks branded tables, warmed by the open fire makes you feel at home, and in better weather the substantial amount of outdoor seating would make an excellent place to spend an afternoon.

The beer ranges from mainstream ales, to good draft cider and a wide range of local ales and craft beer.   We got there well before lunch on a Monday morning to a mainly empty bar, but once I was on my second pint, a very nice Milk Stout, the first being the excellent 7.4% Great Heck Yakima IPA, the place was filling up nicely with a mix of old and young both drinking and dining.  The food menu is traditional going towards gastropub and looked very nice judging on other peoples plates.  With more time, I’d happily have had a few more beers there as there was plenty more I’d have happily tried, as good a comment as you can make about a pub when it achieves its raison d’etre.

I have to mention Friends of Ham near the railway station also, a well established bar by Leeds standards now, it’s main problem was its popularity and the small top bar limiting capacity.  That is no longer an issue as since my last visit they have expanded the top level bar out to triple the size, it also means they have a lot more bar space, and yes, that means more good beers.  With 10 keg taps and 4 draught pumps, the range is more than enough to keep me happy.    The staff are attentive and happy to talk you through the draught range.  With the downstairs area of the same size, I’m guessing there are many more happy punters now.

I’ve always been impressed with their beer range with a nice mix of styles and strength.  Sadly this was my last stop before catching the train, so only had time for one pint, but the Atom IPA (5.6%) I did have was spot on and the range of boxed ciders was decent.  The bar is airy and open, with modern stripped wood dominating the bar, very much like many other drinking establishments in our big cities.  This is the opposite of Whitelocks, but no lesser a pub for it.  It’s sad to admit I’ve not had the chance of eating there yet as the range of continental meats and cheeses tempting, it is a definite stop if you like your charcuterie.

My mid afternoon stop was at Brewdog behind the Corn Exchange.  I do like my Brewdog beers, and equally like the service at the bar.  Like the other two pubs, the staff are happy to talk you through the beers on the bar.  In this case it was to help me find a beer I hadn’t had before, settling on a guest german wheat beer.  I’ve been here two or three times now, and although small doesn’t seem cramped.   The bar, stripped back walls, metal features, concrete et all is a good match for the ethos of the brewery of the same name.  It feels welcoming like the others as well, something which keeps me coming back.   Sadly I was a day too early for their new beer “Restorative Beverage for Invalids and Convalescents”, an 8.7% beast of a beer, but I’ll return soon to try and catch that or its brethren.    They have purchased another site just on the edge of Leeds city centre, and plan to open a second bar there, the idea being according to the bar manager to run them both in parallel for at least a year before turning the current site into a Bottledog shop…..something which is very welcome from this drinker.

I’m barely scratching the surface when it comes the real ale and craft beer houses in the city and also like Brewery Tap and North Bar from previous visits and thats why having a great local beer scene in Calderdale and easy access to cities like Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield makes this a fantastic place to live as a beer fan.



Pubpaper 798 – The annual CAMRA relevancy question.

Posted: 4th March 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

As long term readers of this column know, I’m not the biggest fan of The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).  The organisation was set up to campaign for the survival of real ale in the face of a massive program of brewery consolidation in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and the then move to keg distribution by these mega breweries.   Over the last 44 years, they have done a good job of contributing towards this, to the point where we have a very healthy brewing industry with the number of breweries increasing every year.  At the last count we have nearly 1300 breweries across the country, with the range of beer available being more than most people will sample in their lifetime.

What is their role now in the modern beer market, real ale is solidly established again and narrowing the gap in sales vs mainstream beers and lagers.  The number of dedicated real ale houses is growing and most other pubs have at least 2 or 3 real ales on pump, the battle has been won and real ale has firmly reclaimed its place on the bar.  Have they moved forward and kept up with modern changes to the ale and beer market or are they still sitting in the 20th Century with the dimpled pint glasses.

The craft beer scene has been with us now since the turn of the 21st century at least.  It is an ever increasing sector of the beer market.  Of the 1300 breweries mentioned earlier, a good number of them, certainly in three figures, are craft breweries who brew keg beer.   Let see if CAMRA embrace these changes in the market which encourage people to support small breweries, visit public houses more regularly (as the beer may not be sold in bottles widely or be short run beers) and to try a wider range of beers, surely all things CAMRA should be pleased with.

To quote “Beer festivals are not to stock or admit for any award, any beer brand which is produced in both cask and keg versions that mislead the drinker into believing that there is little or no difference between the versions.”. So even if you create a cask version of a beer, if it has a keg brother which is gassed at point of service, it is not welcome at the party if you don’t make a distinct point of its method of dispense.   It has been pointed out that this rule is ignored by most local groups, but is still on the books.  The leadership are walking around with blinders on, ignoring a whole sector of the market which has an ethos which isn’t far off their own key campaigns in spirit, although moderate local groups choose a more liberal stance.

CAMRA’s key campaigns are 1) Stop Tax Killing Beer and Pubs 2) Secure an effective government support package for pubs 3) Encourage more people to try a range of real ales, cider and perries  4) To raise the profile of pub-going and increase the number of people using pubs regularly. Simply add the word “and craft beer”  to campaign 3.  What craft brewers and CAMRA want are now the same.  Craft brewers generally like to have their own brewery taps when the business is mature enough and in the meantime have thriving pubs which sell as much beer as they can make, so all four become common goals.  I don’t see the reason for the divide, apart from pigheadedness from the top people at CAMRA.

However three of these goals are so generic that every trade organisation related to beer and pubs has 1,2 and 4 as core goals.  Not to want this limits the money their members can make. So they are not unique in campaigns, so what about their beer festivals?  They are good at organising these, 40 years of doing it is a lot of practice.  Their branches across the country organise numerous local versions each year.  The Great British Beer Festival in London each year still attracts very good crowds, as does it Winter Beer Festival in Manchester.  However are they the best at this now?  When you have acclaimed independent beer festivals like Independent Manchester Beer Convention, Leeds International Beer Festival, BeerX in Sheffield and Birmingham Beer Bash to name a few, not to mention the other non CAMRA events which take place in the capital and elsewhere.  Will CAMRA be needed in this capacity going forward?

Looking at the local beer festivals, plenty of pubs are now organising their own annual beer festivals, sometimes with 30+ pumps.  As I write, there are no confirmed plans for the traditional Mayfest beer festival in Calderdale this year, normally organised by Calderdale CAMRA who seem to be very quiet as even their Caldercask publication is now outsourced out to an advertising company.

10 years down the line maybe there will not be a need for CAMRA and what will they be good for then, a monthly magazine and Wetherspoons beer vouchers?


Pubpaper 797 – Up Hills, Down Valleys, Drink Beers.

Posted: 1st March 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Sometimes just a couple of beers makes a good afternoon, even if you can have more.  On a chilled sunday afternoon with friends, I had the fortunate luck to be able to sample both Thornbridge St Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout (7.4%) and the Magic Rock / Brewfist collaboration Ryeperbole (5.8%) in one sitting at the Old Gate in Hebden Bridge.  Starting with the St Petersburg, it is a rich deep beer, with plenty of flavour from chocolate to dark malt.  It reminds me of Abbeydale Black Mass (or Black Mess as it is known as at the Cross Keys) and Great Heck Black Jesus (both around 6.5%), two of my favourite dark beers.  It is a meal of a beer, you want to move it around your mouth to make the most of the flavour and you can taste the weight of the stout as you do, but it goes down smoothly and at its strength that is the danger of these beers, they really are quite quaffable.

The Ryeperbole is an Anglo / Italian beer and it is packed with a nice balanced flavour from the citrus grapefruit and good mix of hops leaving a strong pleasant bitter finish, Magic Rock Brewery consistently hits the spot for me beer wise and one of my drinking companions enjoyed their session ale Ringmaster in the same sitting.   The Old Gate is, and has been a since it opened, a place where there is something new to try every time I go in.  The prices for these two beers were around £4 per pint, expensive to some people for an ale, but my experience in other bars in cities like Sheffield and Leeds for beers of their strength and origin brewery is that this is about par for the course.

I was in Sheffield for a drink at the Sheffield Tap a couple of weeks ago enjoying some nice beers from their own brewery Tapped.  I had a couple of their Bullet IPA’s, a nice 5.9% example of the genre, I queried how much a couple of their european craft beers (a 3.6% and a 5.5%) were and was given the answers of just under and just over £6 per pint.  I decided to skip at that point, my ceiling is about £5 per pint on normal occasions.  The place is not cheap to drink at once you hit the keg beers, however it is still one of my favourite bars around for the original decor and range of beer.

To some people, price per pint is important, however I look at it that I have a beer related pot of money, I’d rather drink fewer beers I really like then a great number of average beers with that pot, I’ve gone past the point in my life, being about to enter my 40th year, where quantity is king. It is all down to mood, sometimes I am in the mood for a bit of a world tour, sometimes a good solid session ale is what is called for.  This last week at my local, the Cock and Bottle, I’ve happily been supping Ossett Snowdrop on my various visits without feeling the need to go elsewhere.   There are many drinkers who spend a “pub career” loyal to a handful of beers or less.  There is nothing wrong with either approach, just as long as you enjoy your beer of choice.

Of course you can go to places like the Cross Keys, Siddal and spend no more than £3.20 per pint, even for the strong beers of 6-8% from a range of 6 good ales.  This place is my favourite pub in the Calderdale area and the attention to the beer is part of the reason.  I was drinking a beer there the other weekend, quite happy with it, however halfway through my pint Hugh asked to see my drink, spotted it looked a bit flat and took it off tap straight away after pouring a test pint, insisting on replacing my beer even though I had drank over half of it and would have finished it without complaint.  The fact that a beer which was considered “off” tasted better than a lot of beers I’ve had that were in condition elsewhere says everything.

To welcome back an old, retired closing for this column, Happy Supping.