Big Beer Buyouts (again)

‘I’m never drinking their beer again’

A phrase I have seen banded about a lot in the last twenty four hours since the news that Camden Town Brewery has been sold to international brewing giant AB InBev.

To publicly state that you’ll never let a drop of beer pass your lips that they have brewed smacks of cutting of your nose to spite your face. In many pubs (Youngs, M&B, Nicholsons and Spirit spring to mind) Meantime and Camden still make up the only quality offerings on the bar. Will I still drink their beer? Absolutely. Will I call them out if quality slips or the quality of ingredients changes? Absolutely. It is fine to have mixed feelings about the sale of a brewery. The craft brewing industry is an odd one in that there is lots of dialogue between punter and brewer. People feel loyalty and identity with a brand and the way that they are perceived for liking those brands.

I feel uniquely placed to comment on the round of sales that have happened recently in the UK. I was at Meantime while the SAB buyout happened, before Meantime I worked at Camden Town Brewery. I know people at both breweries and the fact that they have sold isn’t really a surprise. Meantime nailed their colours to the mast that they would be growing the brand to sell the moment that Nick Miller was made CEO. He was the guy they needed with the experience of big beer to get the infrastructure in place to grow the brand. And expand they have, in 2009 they brewed 14,000hl in total, I believe the target volume for this year was around 100,000hl. Bear in mind 70% of what they brew stays inside the M25. Camden similarly have grown hugely. In five years they have grown from nothing to producing around 35,000hl at their London facility and contracting further volume out in Belgium. It was reported that AB were sniffing round Camden six months ago and the buyout will allow Camden to buy a huge production facility and make the jump to the size they want rather than the size that crowdfunding and bank loans would have permitted.

None of that growth comes easily. There are people at both breweries who have worked twelve hour night shifts, cursed at slow filtration runs, sweated buckets filling kegs and stacking them on pallets, battled through shitty London traffic in vans to deliver beer, replace cooling systems and walked hundreds of miles with heavy bags full of POS and samples for bars, cafes and pubs.  To tell those people who have worked so hard that you aren’t drinking their beer anymore after a decision that was beyond their power to do anything about is a real slap in the face. Both Camden and Meantime employ brilliant, hardworking, passionate people who, for the most part, will benefit from the company having deeper pockets and a more secure backer.

For those who were senior enough to make the decision to sell, consider them. They too have worked incredibly hard. This is their reward. If their aspirations are for a truly global brand then I very much doubt that without a big brewery backer that would ever become a feasible reality. I can’t see any evidence from any of the buyouts that have happened that big beer is looking to strip craft breweries of quality and hike up profit. As I have said before, big beer can’t do craft, so acquisition is the only way they can have a slice of that market. They still don’t fully get it, Budweiser had a fairly spectacular marketing gaffe at the Superbowl this year. Most big brewer’s brands are in decline in the domestic market and the only real areas of growth for them are South America, China and Africa. AB InBev bought SAB to have a slice of those markets. It makes sense that it will snap up craft brewers to increase it’s domestic share. Both big beer and craft have put their hands up at the point where their knowledge ends to ask for help.

As for the ‘I don’t drink macro beer’. Don’t tell me you haven’t ever eaten at Pizza Express, Byron, or, in fact any chain restaurant, drunk a macro lager at party or pub where nothing else was on offer. Drunk just about any spirit owned by Diagio or Pernod Ricard, which is pretty much all of them, including some of the very best Scottish whisky distillers (that nobody ever seems to fuss about the ownership of), drunk Coca Cola or one of it’s subsidiaries, used one of Kraft’s food products in the kitchen, filled up your car with petrol at Esso, shopped at Tesco etc, etc because you have, unless of course you are Swampy. You’ll probably keep on drinking Camden and Meantime’s beer too.

Homebrew fermentation temperature conundrum. Help!

I am a man of many skills. However, control electronics are not one of them and I’m after some help.

I need to brew a hell of a lot of beer for August as I have somewhat foolishly shot my mouth off and said I’ll make all the beer for my wedding. This means making ~200l on my little homebrewing kit. I’ve ordered a 60l fermenter so that I can double brew and speed things up a bit. However a 60l fermenter is a right pain to lug in and out of a fridge to try and control the fermentation temperature and, to crash chill.

What I want to do is to be able to submerge a stainless cooling coil which I already have, in the fermenting beer and connect it to the cold water recirc of a Maxi 210 chiller that I also already have. However I am going to need some sort of PLC unit and a temperature probe to to talk to each other so that I can set a high and low value for the temperature and some sort of switch that I can wire into the recirc pump’s power supply to turn it on and off.

Anyone built anything similar or have a cheaper, easier, more elegant way of doing it? Below is a rough sketch of what I want it to do….


Why breweries need to be more like The Clash and less like The Sex Pistols

The Clash buying beer

Every generation rebels against the one before them, be it with the music they listen to, the clothes they wear or the values they have. Most recently musically this has been jazz, rock and roll, the hippy movement, heavy metal, punk. Every ten years or so young people sweep in and reject the old way of doing things. Blow out the cobwebs of the past and say ‘everything that has gone before is wrong, this is our time, and our way of doing things.’

The Sex Pistols individually were not good musicians. In fact I’d go so far as to say that they were pretty terrible. Three chords, a ragged 4:4 beat, simple, single note bass lines that directly mirror the chord changes. But, they were critically acclaimed, people sing their praises still and, for a generation they were the angry mouthpiece with the rabble rousing yell in a bad time to be young. Strikes, three day working weeks, power outages, pretentious, noodly prog rock and rampant unemployment are the backdrop to their sound. Their music wasn’t well put together, there was no willingness to progress, and their music has not stood the test of time well. Whilst relevant, irreverent and indeed shocking at the time, a real cultural hammer-blow, they look more like a one dimensional novelty band now.

The Clash on the other hand are a band who felt similarly to the Sex Pistols, they too were angry young men. Formed at the same time in the same city, they hung out with the Pistols as part of ‘Punk’s inner circle’. The Clash were more political if anything, than The Pistols, just as angry, just as loud. The thing was, the Clash were less of a circus. Less novelty shock value, more integrity. They embraced other sounds, other musical styles, ska and reggae in particular. They learned to play their instruments properly and they wrote intelligent songs about stuff that mattered to them. They sung about their lives as young blokes in West London. The Clash did way more to progress music than the Pistols ever did. The Clash were a cultural scalpel cutting sharply, accurately and to the bone, the Pistols were a fired up yobbo smashing you in the face with a sledgehammer.

In the last ten years in the UK and probably the last 20 years in the US we have seen a rejection of the old ways of doing things in the beer industry. Young people have come into the industry and have shaken things up, brought new, innovative ways of doing things. They have questioned, challenged and generally made a nuisance of themselves amongst the old guard. This is good, authority must be challenged. However we have to make sure it is not just challenge for the sake of challenge.

A lot of new ‘craft’ brewers make a lot of noise whilst making edgy, extreme, alienating beer. They have their fans for sure, but the beer often isn’t well put together- it is rough round the edges, the knowledge isn’t there. They are have a go heroes. Image comes before quality, repeatability and longevity. Others are much more willing to learn from others including (gasp!) the older generation, look abroad to other styles for inspiration and to improve their knowledge. They want to improve as they realise it will have a wider, longer lasting, more sustainable effects on the industry.

New breweries: innovate. Be angry about the shit that went before, it wasn’t good enough. Sing about what you are doing, and sing it loudly but remember to be like the Clash, not The Sex Pistols.

Picture credit goes to:

Camden vs. Redwell 2: The Shamen

The Shamen once sang that ‘E’s are good/E’s sublime/E makes you feel fine’. Now I couldn’t possibly publicly endorse the use of illegal recreational drugs, but I can’t help feeling if the addition of the letter ‘E’ was deployed in a current situation, a big problem would just go away. Though, as an aside, a little of the chemically induced empathy would probably grease the wheels too.

I have waited a couple of days after the news broke that Camden are taking Redwell to high court over the use of the term ‘Hells’. I didn’t initially want to write about it as I’m fairly certain Redwell want press out of the situation, nothing else, but I feel like I ought to throw my opinion into the ring. I wrote about the situation here and still stand by what I said, but with the escalation of things I think things have become a little clearer as to who the villians are.

Redwell are sticking by the argument that ‘Hells’ has been in use for a long time, and is a commonly known term. They also state that all you need to do to verify this is to look on Ratebeer. I looked on Ratebeer, and there are two other beers with ‘Hells’ without an apostrophe as part of their name one German, one Swiss. I again asked two German brewer friends of mine and a native German speaker, none of whom had ever heard of ‘Hells’ as a descriptor for pale lager. Hell or Helles are the choices. Hardly a convincing argument to my mind.

Camden have, I’m sure sought some pretty heavyweight advice as to this situation. They have familial links with the vice president of legal affairs for Sony Entertainment and the owner and founder of one of the most highly regarded advertising agencies in the country, if not the world. If it goes to court, I’m pretty certain Redwell won’t get very far.

Putting the legal side of who is wrong, who is right and who owns what for a minute, my biggest issue is how Redwell have dealt with the situation. They have, from the very beginning cast Camden as the bully boy big brewer, throwing their weight and Scrooge McDuck mountains of cash around, which is pretty unfair. Camden isn’t really a big brewery, they are the third largest in London, quite a way behind Meantime and Fullers. Compare them to the multinational and regional family brewers, they are a drop in the ocean. That is part of it, however, the bit that has really upset me is that Redwell, after portraying Camden as the bad guys have set up crowdfunding for their legal costs as, they claim that paying the £30,000 legal fees will jeopardise jobs at the brewery. I can’t get my head round how a right minded person would potentially risk their business and, put the people who work for them at risk too. It is a bit like betting on a horse with the mortgage money then asking your mates to bail you out when the bailiffs come knocking. Hardly responsible or grown up behaviour.

Redwell named their beer ‘Hells’ I don’t doubt in full knowledge that it would raise Camden’s hackles. This is a problem they have created. It is their duty to make it go away. For their reputation, for the reputation of the small brewery business in the UK and, most importantly for the security of their staff. Hells is Camden’s best selling beer, Hells is Redwell’s smallest selling, it wouldn’t harm them to take The Shamen’s advice and pop an E in, I’m sure they’d feel better for it.


The alarm sounded. With trembly fingers he rubbed the crust of sleep away from his greasy, pale lids and slowly peeled opened his eyes like two, reluctant Christmas tangerines with a small whimper. There was a slow, fat, slime shielded slug in his mouth that tasted like it had been exploring the deepest crevices of the bathroom floor since he passed out. The room fell into focus. A sharp stab of pain through the eyes looking at the light rose to an exquisite, shimmering orchestral crescendo of white noise and pain that washed round the swirling plughole in his head. His heart hammered viscous red blood round his veins, every thump a white flash of pain deep in his eyeballs that radiated in waves through every shred of his being. He felt shrivelled inside, arid, demi-sec.

Demi-sec? A flashback to necking a pint of sweet white wine spritzer. Why did that seem like a good idea? His stomach roiled at the thought. His nose started to pick up his funky effluvia. A solid heart note of stale sweat with base notes of slopped, stale beer, heady high notes of other people’s cigarette smoke and smeared burger sauce. Buffetting swells of bilious abhorrence rose from his stomach.

Corvine thoughts swooped in from left and right. A heavy feeling of dread settled on his shoulders. He resolved to close his eyes and never do anything as foolish as opening them for the foreseeable future.

Today was going to be a long day.

Back in the game

I’ve been off the beer recently. Not ‘off’ as in having stopped drinking it, just ‘off’ as in not quite enjoying it as much as normal. In the post-Christmas lull an awful lot of people stop drinking, take to the gym to sweat the kilos of turkey, mince pies and festive booze out of their pores. Not me, my body is a temple – dusty and crumbling into disrepair. Sure, I have cut back a bit and I have been toying with the idea of a turbo trainer for the bike in the shed in an attempt to get fit for the 140 mile bike ride I have signed up for in April but I’ve not done anything drastic yet.

The main reason I’ve not been drinking as much is that I’ve been feeling jaded with beer. My normal wide-eyed zeal for it seems dulled. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps I overindulged at Christmas and my lack of interest is my brain telling me subconsciously to cut back. Perhaps it is that there isn’t any beer I want to drink. I don’t know. Everything I drink at the moment seems sloppy or lacking something. Confronted with a once enticing beer list, nothing appeals. Perhaps I’m just being a ponce.

Anyhow, as of last Friday I can announce I am firmly back in the game. I sat down with a friend and drank one of the best beers I have drunk in a long, long time. I don’t do beer reviews, because, well, if you want to know how something tastes, drink it yourself. Needless to say the bottle of Brooklyn Wild Streak we opened was really special. To accompany it, we watched a documentary ‘Soul of America’ about a guy called Charles Bradley. Kinda apt really, seeing as he lives in New York and gigs around clubs in Brooklyn.

For those of you who haven’t come across Charles Bradley before, he is a sixty six year old funk and soul singer from New York. His story is one of triumph against all odds. Abandoned by his mother aged eight months old, left to grow up with his grandmother, running away from home age fourteen, sleeping rough for two years, almost illiterate, training as a cook and working odd jobs and impersonating James Brown for forty years. He looks after his elderly, frail mother after his brother was shot and killed. Eventually Gabriel Roth, the co-founder of Daptone records, a retro funk and soul label based in New York saw one of Bradley’s ‘Black Velvet’ James Brown tribute nights and offered him the chance to record with the Daptone house band: The Menahan Street Band. They put together a record and released it.

What the documentary really highlights is Bradley’s never ending optimism, enthusiasm and childlike awe that everything, for once, is going his way. There is a particularly poignant moment where he is flyering for the album launch party at a small venue only to see a sign on the door that the show has sold out. He gets upset and suggests it should have been at a bigger venue. Not because that way he’d have made more money, but because perhaps some of the people that have helped him along the way might not be able to come and see his show.  Despite all that the world has thrown at him, he still has an innocent soul.

Something about the combination of that documentary and that beer made everything in my brain click back into place. Stop being so cynical, just get on with it, is isn’t all that bad.

Needless to say, I’m big fan of Charles Bradley, and I urge you to have a listen to his record ‘No Time For Dreaming’

You can also watch ‘Soul of America’ here:

What We Did On Our Holidays

Not a blog post as such, just a few photos from North Wales from new year I thought I’d share.

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The river Dee in Llangollen


Starting the walk up to Castell Dinas Brân


Dinas Brân from the top!

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On New Year’s Eve we decided to do the circular route from the waterfall at Pistyll Rhaedr up to the tarn and back down the other side. The snow got a bit deep in places and it was bitterly cold but, we had a lot of fun

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