Looking Back Whilst Pushing Forward
I’d like to run over quite a lot in this post, to fill you in as much as I can on where we are up to as a brewery and a business, and to look ahead a bit at some of the opportunities and challenges we think we face in 2017. I’ll tie up this post by answering the questions we got from an open call we put out on twitter some weeks back.
From day one we’ve tried to be as open and transparent as we could as a new brewery (even when the most shareable data doesn’t yet float to the top in the quickest fashion), and in that spirit I’d like to share some pretty simple facts and figures with you. The backstory here is that I think we’re ready in the UK to take another step forward together, and talk ever more straight to you, our customers. Contrary to rhetoric and fear, the world isn’t entirely post-fact, yet.
We’ve been brewing for a little over 22 months, and in that time we’ve brewed 240 gyles using 145 different recipes and 24 different yeast strains.
The chart below shows our weekly and annual production numbers from when we started brewing on the 14th of February 2015, totals for last year, and our projection for this year.
The growth we expect to see though this year is very exciting for us indeed (for context, if our predictions are accurate we’ll get somewhere near Magic Rock’s 2016 annual production). To date we’ve not been able to keep our IPAs, IPLs, Session IPAs or any other beer on taps or shelves with any regularity. Sure, selling out so quickly is great for freshness, and is something we’ll work very hard on promoting this year, but it’s a shame when we know some people only get to enjoy our beer fortnightly or even monthly.
The growth in production volume we anticipate delivering in 2017 we owe to consumer demand (most potent in the UK, ever increasing across the EU, and developing in the USA, Asia, and Australasia). One of our most exciting yet challenging experiences last year was transitioning from having enough beer to go round in 2015, to having just about every batch from mid 2016 onwards sell out ever more rapidly. Admittedly this an excellent problem to have, but we’re grateful for how patient and understanding some of our wholesale and retail customers have been as we grew and adapted (and continue to do so) to this new norm.
In the short time since we’ve been operational, everything from market demands, our ambition as a brewery, to consumer preferences have evolved. We set out during our planning stages in 2014, with the knowledge that we wanted to produce some small pack beer, and plumped for a Meheen M6 330ml bottle filling machine over similarly priced canning lines available at the time. We weren’t sure how our then undefined, and unrestrained range of sometimes yeast, and other times malt, or hop lead beers would be received in cans. We also weren’t impressed with entry level canning lines (suitable for our then modest packaging aims) that looked like they introduced significant risk of oxygen pick up or worse (infections from difficult to clean filling lines, or from bacteria floating in the air). A couple of years later, with advances in filler specs, and several mobile canning and in house lines in operation canning everything from imperial stouts to sour beers, consumer comfort and industry confidence in canned beer grows with each passing week.
Our ABE Lincan 60 canning line is currently set for delivery mid January. We’re hoping to run trials immediately, likely with a Pale Ale, to ensure we’re at least matching the dissolved oxygen levels we currently see in bottle, before we ramp up the proportion of beer we put into can over the course of 2017.
The charts below show packaging splits from 2015 (where our records are not as searchable as the time I’ve set aside to write this post allow for 100% accuracy), through to our initial target for 2017.
The keen eyed amongst you will quickly notice two trends. The first is that we’re planning on growing the proportion of beer we put into small pack. The second is that 2017 will see us cease production of cask beer – a decision we have not taken lightly, and one I’ll go into in as much detail as I can later on in this post.
Specifically regarding production and packaging of our DIPAs, which total 8.5% of all the beer we’ve made so far, we lose on average 22.19% of each batch to yeast growth and dry hopping. We have, miraculously, managed to lose as little as 12%, but we’ve also managed a shameful loss of 39% on one occasion. Having spoken to brewers out on both the West and East coasts of the US last year, we’re pretty keen to give centrifugation a spin this year. Whilst a centrifuge can be used to throw out a very high percentage of particulate matter and make a murky beer a lot brighter, breweries that turn out some of the USA’s finest, tastiest hazy beer gain great success in reducing losses, stabilising their beer a little more for package, whist preserving the flavour and mouthfeel they’re most interested in through considered use of a centrifuge.
New Friends Near and Far
One of the greatest pleasures last year was the chance to present our beer at many excellent festivals, and in some of the best bars and pubs in their respective cities. We’ve made some great new friends along the way. I won’t try to thank everyone here (but seriously, thank you to everyone who worked behind the scenes to get us to each and every festival from Tilquin’s English Beer Festival to Modern Times’ Festival of Dankness and Shelton Brothers The Festival, all the meet the brewers, and tap takeovers up and down the country and as far away as Hong Kong), but I’ll make a few notable thanks.
Firstly, thanks to all the folks at BrewDog for inviting us up to Aberdeen to be a guest brewery at your AGM last year. Without a doubt it was the biggest and best chance we’d had to showcase our beer to thousands of craft beer lovers. It was inspiring to see just what years of focus and dedication can do to bring together so many people under one roof in the name of delicious modern beer.
I’d like to thank a couple of lovely guys over the pond, Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting, and Kevin Shields of Shelton Brothers, for some excellent time hanging out, chewing the fat, and for their generous introductions to some wonderful people in beer during my time over in Philadelphia at CBC. It was some of the most fun, insightful, and productive hanging and networking time I think I’ve had the pleasure of. Despite feeling like a charlatan at the time, I really felt welcomed, through their kind introductions, into a world of brewing professionals.
In August we were invited to pour our beer at Modern Times’ Festival of Dankness in San Diego. Gosh, another invitation we just couldn’t believe we were worthy of! Jacob and his team set us up to present our beer at a festival alongside the who’s who of hoppy beer brewers in the US. It was terrifying (would our beer fly over in good shape, would it get though customs ok, would it taste anything close to decent next to all those amazing US breweries?!), but also one of the most enjoyable festivals we’ve been to. The Modern Times team continues to inspire us with their generous openness, and downright infectious friendliness.
Though there were many more festivals, events, tap takeovers, and meet the brewers than the three I’ve mentioned above, I look back now and see just how many doors opened to us as a result of such incredible opportunities in only our second year of brewing. We’re so incredibly excited for some of the events we’ve got lined up this year, where we’ll get the chance to head to the US several times, and make appearances in Europe and Asia too.
Last year we also enjoyed fantastic collaborations with: JW Lees; Magic Rock; Harbour; Siren; Yeastie Boys; Forest & Maine; Bluejacket; 6ºNorth; Modern Times; Fourpure; Wylam; Brouwerij Kees; Port Street Beer House; Against The Grain; Jester King; To Øl; La Brasserie du Mont Salève; Lost & Grounded; and Dugges. We’ve already got some incredible collaborations lined up for this year, so watch our for some really exciting announcements!
That concludes my look back at 2016, now for a look ahead.
In a recent presentation I gave (at the Brewer’s Journal Lectures) I highlighted opportunities and challenges we’ve faced thus far. I’ll go over what I can in these following sections, and will go some way to explain how we’ll work this year to make even more progress than we did last year.
Tradition Versus Innovation
Those of you dismayed at our decision to drop cask beer early into 2017 should know that there are many reasons behind a course we’d neither predicted or planned even a few months ago. Whilst there has been great appetite for our cask beer in bars and pubs up and down the country, traditional price points remain an increasingly compromising norm. When we started out in 2015, we initially priced all our beer the same per litre, regardless of packaging format. Wholesalers, retailers, and beer buyers baulked and protested, insisting that our keg beer was a little cheap, and our cask beer too expensive. Though reluctant at the time, we switched to market pricing.
Today we make just about sufficient margin in our keg and bottled beer, though we are occasionally frustrated that buyers look to style and ABV to gauge whether the price of our beer is fair, even when style and ABV speak nothing of disparate costs of ingredients and production. We worry that cask beer has backed itself into a corner that risks becoming unattractive to modern breweries. Where we can just about tolerate today’s market pricing for our keg and bottled beer (in light of Brexit’s devaluating effect on the pound), we see little sense in continuing to accept the labour of racking, handling, and collecting casks whilst we make insufficient margin.
The price we can charge for cask beer isn’t our only issue, even if it makes a convincing case for the cessation of cask production to us on its own. When we take into consideration the sort of beer the cask market laps up we see high demands for traditional beer, albeit with a modern twist. In comparison, the keg and bottle market demands our most innovative and progressive beer. If we want to continue growing and developing as a brewery, we have to put our time, energy, and resources into the beers that help us progress our skills, finesse, and flavour explorations the most.
A related point to make is that we think our cask beer is good, sometimes really good, but it doesn’t thrill us anywhere near as much as our (keg) SIPAs, IPLs, Grisettes, etc. The attention we have given to progressing the quality and flavour impact in our keg and bottled beer could have gone into making our cask beer even better, but we don’t think we’d be playing to our strengths by diverting our attention away from some of our most celebrated work yet.
There’s another often encountered set of issues we face with the cask beer market – if cask beer isn’t bright the quality is often questioned (and in some cases our slightly hazy casks are flatly refused, regardless of flavour), but if casks are still conditioning out, and because of that, or because of inadequate VDK reabsorption at the end of fermentation, tasting of diacetyl, then it’s all too often good to go. Cask beer should take pride of place in every bar and pub, and the subtle nuances that make cask beer so incredibly drinkable shouldn’t be competing with easy to eradicate off flavours. Cask beer requires not just the same skill and discipline as keg beer to brew, but also requires excellent cellar stewardship to be pulled into a glass in a way that best represents the establishment, the brewer, and the rich and varied heritage of cask beer in the UK.
Looking ahead to very uncertain times, when our margins are likely to be squeezed even further as global politics lurches threateningly to the right (for the record, fuck this guy, this guy, this lady, and this guy too), and drags the costs of our production up we have to make good decisions that protect our still young, almost profitable business as much as we can. Cask beer can only travel within the UK in good condition, so prioritising beer that is fit for travel (whether to the furthest reaches in the UK, to Europe, the USA, or beyond) is a decision we’ll try to take as much comfort in as we can, as the world changes quickly, and sometimes ominously around us.
Whilst we’re sad that 2017 will mark a turning point in our production that will see us drop cask beer altogether, we’re confident we’ll be putting our best foot forward, and we might even contribute in our own way to much needed conversations about how to modernise cask beers goals, and help create a much needed look again, with fresh and forward looking eyes, at what cask beer can and should be. Regardless of the path we take, we’ll channel every bit of our quest for refreshing drinkability that shaped our cask beers into our keg and bottled beer.
As a team we have benefitted greatly over the years from imported beer, whether from excellent style defining traditional brewers, or from breweries pushing the boundaries and expectations of modern beer. Whilst what lies ahead of us are undoubtedly many more life changing experiences from imported beer, a few current and potential challenges exist for us to overcome.
Along with many other breweries in the UK, and indeed all over Europe, we face challenges to meet price expectations with our lager beers, with the price point buyers and drinkers alike expect set prohibitively low for breweries as small as us. Good quality lager beers imported from established brewers in Europe have set a price point that very few British (and indeed smaller, or younger continental) brewers can match. Without the scale, local ingredients, tied lines, and estates that many larger established continental breweries enjoy we’re left without an option to present our lager beer to even our local most customers. We’re determined to find ways to champion our lagers this year, whilst looking for opportunities to showcase our larger beer at a price that supports us and is approachable in the market too. Time will tell whether we can succeed in presenting a small batch, local alternative that the both beer buyers and consumers will value.
Last year we also started to feel the moves of many very well established American breweries as they eye their share of the market here in the UK. Guest lines, freed from the grips of brewing companies from yesteryear, are again being snapped up with deals offered for tied lines by US brand ambassadors keen to showcase imported American beer here in the UK. We’re very much of the belief that this grossly benefits the UK as a whole, as we gain the chance to either celebrate how we’re catching up, and in some cases may be seen to be surpassing the quality of import beer on the bar (largely, I should add, because local beer can be presented a lot fresher than beer fresh off a boat, after weeks on land and sea to reach bars), or learn from breweries making beer of a quality and balance we still dream of achieving ourselves. With divisions and budgets established to break into the UK, we’re curious to see whether British consumers develop anything close to the local, regional, or national loyalty that was clearly so very integral to getting the US beer scene where it is today.
We are doing our bit to start and contribute to conversations around beer freshness as that’s what’s best for the beer, and indeed for everyone in the supply chain too. Whilst we’re keeping half an eye on just how many taps in Manchester get tied to American or other imported breweries, we’re confident that as we help grow appreciation for fresh beer we can avoid any squeeze that may curtail the growth and development of the British brewing industry. From my travels to the US over these past two years I’ve been deeply impressed by the support shown for local breweries, that surpasses anything I’ve seen yet in the UK. I don’t think US breweries got to that point overnight though, and I imagine, without exception, that they have had to work extremely hard to turf both macro import brands and domestic macro breweries from lucrative tied lines, by winning the consumer over with damn good taste.
Despite alluding to it earlier on in this post, when talking over some of our reasons for dropping cask beer, I’ll take a look at why 2017 is the year we’ll work hard to put ourselves in the best possible financial position.
“There’s no money in brewing” is a phrase often uttered in the UK as an defence or even apology to (thankfully very) infrequent consumer criticism, and at times cynicism around the commercial realities of running a company whose business it is to make beer. On several occasions last year I had brewers from the US question how on earth we could make any money without a high percentage of direct retail sales.
The chart below shows our average sales figures per month, including an estimate of where we think we’ll get to this year (although we’ll not start out anywhere near that, we’ll look to surpass it by the end of the year with production around 250hl/week and barrel aged beer releases). We turned over a little over £1.15M last year, and will start 2017 with not much more than pennies to rub together – hopefully it’ll be a very different story at the end of this year, and in the paragraphs below I’ll outline how we'll work to get there.
Consumer culture in the US doesn’t just accept businesses making the profits necessary to survive, but often goes as far as to openly celebrate growth and financial success. Here in the UK most breweries still default to downplaying their size and successes for fear of rejection, but thankfully I see signs of this changing! I had a great chat with David Kleban of Maine Beer Co during Portland Beer Week, and enjoyed very much his straight forward views as we chewed over some pretty basic common commercial goals. For the record, here are ours for 2017:
• Break into profit – we’re not quite there yet, but we’re very close.
• Dramatically improve our cash flow (a source of regular stress since we started) – reign in or close accounts that drift, promote direct retail.
• Share a percentage of our profit with the team (whilst reducing the working week to ≤40 hours).
• Look for opportunities to maximise profits to pursue ever better beer.
There’s another standout commercial difference I noticed on my trips to The States in these past couple of years – many of the breweries we hear and get excited about manage a staggering amount of direct retail, leaving UK breweries lagging way behind. From West Coast breweries turning anything between 50-85% of their beer over in their own tap rooms, to East Coast breweries selling 100% straight off the canning line at retail value, the margins our American peers and friends are making are both impressive and powerful. Growth can be rather more self funded, money can be set aside to dump hop lots and gyles not at their best, in house labs are well developed, businesses are financially strong, and wages could even grow at inflation beating rates (ok so I didn’t see evidence of this at any brewery I visited, but I’d like to think it was true). These are all things I am very committed to see through here at Cloudwater too, yet our margins currently make it near impossible to do so many of the things we need to help us step up to higher quality levels. So it’s without apprehension that I’ll say that by focusing on opportunities we have now, and will work to develop in 2017 to maximise the margin we make, we’ll put ourselves, and every business in our supply chain too, in an ever stronger position next year. I’m convinced there are so many beer lovers out there that know at least from their industries what it takes for a business to survive, let alone thrive. I can honestly state that we’re looking to make better beer than we ever have to date, expressly by taking as good care over our profit margin and cash flow as we do over our wort production, fermentations, and packaging runs.
From casual conversations with friends and peers here in the UK brewing industry, even the busiest breweries are only managing to turn a maximum of 15% of what they produce through their own tap rooms (including take out sales), with many turning considerably less. So whilst our US peers are bringing about vast barrel programs (that won’t profit for years, and will eat up vast amounts of start up capital), retail sites, self funding growth, brewing recipes using hopping rates that may make our beer prohibitively expensive on the bar here, and using fruit additions at doses we couldn’t dream of, we’re left figuring out what on earth we can do to keep up whilst our turnover is up to 15 times less at similar annual production volumes. Ouch!
You’ll see us do everything we can next year to continue to work with our existing retail and wholesale partners, taking on new accounts where our production capacity and demands allow, whilst growing beer sales direct from our brewery. As we make an effort to catch up to some of our British peers in direct sales, not only will we be making even fresher, cold stored beer available as fast as we can direct from the brewery, we’ll be making our business an ever stronger platform upon which we can grow, develop, and progress (in pursuit of ever more excellent beer).
Steady now! I’m not going to lay out all of our ambitions and ideas just yet, but I will go into some of what I think will be rather more popular this year than last.
1. A distinct lack of off flavours.
I think we’re all ready for a new era, where off flavour perception steps up a notch, and everyone from beer buyers to bartenders to consumers picks out those rather off putting and nuance covering notes of butter, cardboard, baby vomit, green apples, corn, and more. Sour beers without baby vomit, cask beers without butter, imported beers without cardboard – bring it on. For the record, if you’re local to Manchester, and either work in the industry, home brew, or just do your bit to support good beer, and would like to join us at the brewery for off flavour training, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. All the juice.
I know there are plenty of bitter, high IBU beer lovers out there, but when I take a look at the depth of support still found in the US today, years after fruity, juicy IPAs became the norm in some regions, it’s pretty clear to me that fruity, juicy, low bitterness beers are going to still be a big hit here in 2017. The IBU arms race of yesteryear was a very niche endeavour, hooking what seemed like few new drinkers into modern hoppy beer. Strip the bitterness back, and put fruity aromas from hops front and centre and IPAs suddenly become super approachable to non beer drinkers, and dangerously crushable to beer lovers.
3. Mixed ferm.
Saisons are pretty cool, but saisons from Burning Sky, and mixed ferm saisons from BBNo are next level. We were thrilled with Cosweisse, our Biere Brut series, and are pretty damn happy with some of the beer we have in barrel right now. I think we’ll see a lot more mixed ferm(entation) beers hitting bars and shelves this year. Vermont yeast fermented IPA finished on Brett C, and then dry hopped anyone?
4. Summer crushers.
3% mixed ferm dry hopped Berliner Weisses, 2% Peach Kombucha Radlers, 3.5% Pale Ales with all the mouthfeel and hoppiness of 2016’s IPAs. I think we’ll see a renewed interest in lower ABV beer with all the complexity we love when strength is unrestrained, but in beers that will get you (and everyone in throwing distance of you) round the disc golf course in one piece.
What is is you’re desperate to see next year, from us or anyone else in the industry?
I asked our followers on Twitter some weeks ago whether they had any lingering questions they’d like covered in this round up. Here they are below. If you have any questions that arise from this blog, please reply in response to our social media posts and I’ll add them in as soon as I can.
• Will you be going for printed cans, labels or shrink wrap sleeves?
Whilst printed cans are superb we simply couldn’t entertain such an option without a core range, and even though shrink wrapped sleeves are great, we’re going to start off with labels. We already have the labeller we need for the job, and are happy with how it works – at least that’s one part of our new canning set up we’re already familiar with, and when the whole system is only as fast and reliable as the weakest link, at least we’ve got part of it down already.
• Besides IPAs/DIPAs/PAs, what beer are you most proud of?
We’re really happy with the beer we’ve been able to package from barrel just before Christmas, so I think between us we’d probably say something barrel aged, if it wasn’t for Cosweisse. We were incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to spend time with a good friend, excellent home brewer, Chris Smith, and bring a beer into being that he’d been dreaming of for years. Life’s always too short folks, far too short for anything but the finest poisons!
• Whats been the most fun beer for the whole team to make?
I think because of how nuts people go for them, and how much we love to drink them too, it has to be our DIPAs!
• Everyone has their own favourite version for the DIPAs you released so far, which is yours?
Version 3 gets so much of the attention, because it was a delicious beer, but also (possibly mostly) because it was something quite new from a UK brewery. My favourite so far is v3 for what it did and still does to our reputation, but from a sensory perspective v10 wins (in bottle, as we managed a little too much suspended yeast in the kegs, which dried out the flavour and increased the bitterness too much for my taste right now).
• What’s the biggest lesson you've learnt last year?
That when we really set our minds to it (and for all sorts of reasons we don’t always manage to set all of our minds to each beer as fully as we’d like), we can make some pretty good beer. We’re always so self critical, which I think is our greatest asset and strength, followed by our ever changing line up, so occasionally raising a glass of beer we’re proud of has taught us a lot about our potential.
• What measures have you taken to stop Jester King's bugs getting into the rest of your brewery?
We have the blow off from that fouder going straight into a bucket of PAA, and we try to keep our CIP standards higher than they need to be, and all our FVs under a little bit of pressure (to make ingress near impossible). Matt and Eric from Jester King did warn us that if we use their bugs in our fouder we’d probably never be able to chase them from the wood. Nightmare! ;-)
• With the rapid growth and support you have achieved last year, would you ever consider opening a tap house in the future?
If we had the money at our disposal to we would love to open a few neighbourhood bars in Greater Manchester, as well as a bar in London too. As we’ve put everything we possibly can into the brewery itself instead we’re working with our landlord to help make our brewery tap as good as it can be (space, time, and existing restrictions notwithstanding).
• What was the thought process of moving to cans over bottles and the relevant advantages?
We wrote a bit of a blog post here about that.
• Are there any beers you wish you could do again?
Not really. I mean we are planning re-brews of certain recipes where we can next year, because we all seemed to get what we wanted out of some beers, but what we wish we could have again is the same impact we had the first time around. That’s our challenge when we bring back any recipe (say if we manage to do a Bergamot Hopfenweisse again next spring), to take all the thrill of the new and deliver something that will work for people a year on, with all the extra anticipation and critique that comes with an even more educated, expectant (both things we’re actively encouraging!) customer base.
• Whilst your mantra is 'modern seasonal' beer. Do you have any plans for a permanent/year round beer?
Not at this stage, but we aren’t seasonal because we’re opposed to year round beers. I think if we were confident that we had the ability to repeat say a yeast or malt led beer year round, and have it work in our minds as the weather and drinking habits changed, we’d go for it. Right now, at least, we’re far too hop centric for us to get to grips with anything like that, but that may eventually change. I should add that there is remarkable research happening behind the scenes into how quickly aroma compounds in hop pellets decay and transform over time. If we thought we could get the impact we wanted from a particular hop we’d probably stretch out its season some more than we feel is sensible right now.
• Really enjoyed the barrel store tastings for @mcrbeerweek. Any plans for something like that regularity? Also any interesting 750 bottles soon?
We’re still working on opening up our barrel store regularly, but with our crazy workload at the brewery always taking all our time, attention, and money, we think we’re still some months off. There’s plenty more to come out of barrel in the coming months, so keep an eye out (though we will make sure to shout a bit about it at the time).
• When’s the online shop for merch coming!?????
Gosh, I know, right?! This is another side project that keeps getting sidelined again and again as daily and weekly pressures build up and take centre stage. We’re setting ourselves the aim of having our own online shop up and running by April. Wish us luck!
• You’ve done a fair bit of travelling & collaborating in 2016. Who's a new discovery that's most impressed or influenced you?
We still feel like beginners in many respects, so we find ourselves influenced by and open to just about every sensible thing we hear works for other breweries. Of course we talk, think, and research around each new practice before we trial it ourselves, but we actively look to learn something from every conversation, collaboration, and sip of beer.
• Any thoughts to do any dark beers that aren't all over 10%? Don’t really see much of that kind of session range from you guys.
In short, that’s because we’re not very good at it so far. We’ve only ever produced one red beer that hit its colour target (and that went down the drain due to a lactic infection), and plenty of our darker (black) beers have turned out far too acrid and over roasted for our taste. We’re keen to make more sessionable dark beers for sure, so we’ll see what we can turn our hands to before winter is over this year.
• Will you start working with Pubco's - even if it's just on a seasonal slot with M&B in cask format? Great exposure!
With us dropping cask beer production early this year it may be a little unlikely we’ll have the sort of beer Pubco’s would be most interested in, but we did make a keg Session Bitter for M&B this year, which seemed to go down well. When it comes down to it though, we don’t really want exposure, what we want is to get as much of our boldest, most progressive beer out to retailers that just can’t get enough right now.
• When does the barrel store open?
We’ll hopefully have an announcement to make in March about that!
• If you could do a collab with any brewery you haven't already done one with, which would it be and why?
With some of the collaborations we’ve got lined up next year some of our dreams are really starting to come true! There’s always a lot of breweries we’d love to work with, but I’d question what we could bring to the conversation with breweries that are at the absolute top of their game. I feel we’ve still got plenty of work ahead of us before we can approach the likes of Allagash, Tegenseer, Hill Farmstead, and many of the other breweries we’d love to develop a recipe with.
• Kentish hop farmers are making progress with new world varietals. Could an 100% British DIPA be on the cards for 2017?
We’d love to do our bit to showcase UK hops, especially in a DIPA, but we really struggle to get hold of some of the more progressive varieties as it is, and would probably find it near impossible to get hold of as much as we’d currently need to dry hop a batch of DIPA (as we’re currently averaging 135kg in dry hop for a 72hl batch).
• Where’s your cans?
Hoping to have some tests done mid January, so with any luck we’ll have cans out in time for our second birthday (on the 14th of February).
• Will you be sending beers to Australia? (Please?)
We’d love to get our beer out to Hong Kong, Korea, China, Japan, and Australia (where there is already demand in each country for our beer), but it’s tough knowing just how long it takes for our beer to get there, and how less impactful our beer would be after all that time. We’re working on developing some styles that’ll hold up well, and present in a way that’d do us justice 6-8 weeks after packaging.
• Are the latest 750s such as Ardbeg different to those previously released?
Yes indeed. Even where we’ve used the beer we brewed for gyle 100 or 123 we’ve cut it with a fresh brew of the gyle 123 recipe for balance and roundedness.
• How smooth was the lease negotiation?
It’s remarkable the progress that can be made once all parties understand the foundation of concerns or aspirations. I’ve really enjoyed seeing moves from our landlord to understand our position, and to even help us grow our business, so I’m very much more encouraged right now than I was a year ago. As things stand at the minute we think we’ll definitely be in Piccadilly Trading Estate until 2019. But after then, who knows…
• Any chance of a Cloudwater online store so we can order beers direct from yourselves instead of using a third party?
Yes, we’re working on this. Eebria has given us a chance to get beer directly to our customers (albeit through their website) but leaves us yearning for even more control (knowing who our customers are, offering different pack sizes, and also benefitting from the full retail margin without their commission removed). It’s near top of my list for things to work on when we get back to the office in a few days.
• I’m curious on how much of a switch to canning you'll be doing - canning by default with bottling the exception?
As soon as we’ve completed our trials and are happy with the quality of our cans we’ll sell our Meheen M6 330ml bottling machine and may never return to 330ml bottles. 750ml bottles of our barrel aged beers are here to stay, so expect reasonably regular releases in bottles still over the course of the year.
• Will you do another single hop Citra IPA next year? Any chance of a collaboration similar to Three's Company in 2017?
We actually haven’t made a single hop beer yet (the names of our beers come from the feature hops we use, with secondary and sometimes tertiary hops backing up the feature hop). We have ordered a lot of Citra for 2017, so hopefully we’ll be able to keep IPA Citra going for quite a bit longer next year.
We are definitely hoping to brew with JW Lees yeast a few times next year, so let’s see what we can fit into our schedule.
• Your thoughts on beer culture here vs in the USA where 100's of people queue for can releases for trillium/treehouse etc?
There’s a lot to unpack here, but sure, let’s dive in. I had the pleasure of visiting both breweries late last year, and enjoyed some of the biggest mouthfeel, hoppiest beers I’ve had to date (and brought back as many cans as we physically could to share with the team). Thankfully we visited Trillium (a 25 minute uber from central Boston to a southern suburb) when there were only short queues to buy cans, and really loved their tap and retail space. We were lucky enough to have a wonderful tour around their brewery as well, making our time there an absolute pleasure.
We also visited Treehouse (a 90 minute drive from central Boston, to a pretty rural location), and joined a queue of around 70 people (that grew whilst we were there) to buy 10 cans of beer each. How did it feel? It was dry (not sure I'd be so thrilled to queue in the rain, but then hops!), and the people in the line up were in great spirits, excited as we were to buy beer from a brewery with a solid reputation for some of the hoppiest beer in the US. The line moved quickly, and the team were in a solid groove of making each sale in a cheerful yet efficient manner. Overall we felt lucky to be there when they were selling two different lines, and felt very excited to try such highly rated beer! We also had the pleasure of being toured around their brewery by Dean (one of the co-founders). Yes, it was a little stressful not knowing whether the drive out to Treehouse would see us get our hands on their beer, but once we were there and the cans were in sight it felt pretty good!
We had a similar eye opening experiences at Hill Farmstead, even further out into the countryside in rural Vermont, where hundreds of people came and went for bottles and growlers in the space of an hour or so.
As a customer, these experiences felt just fine to me. I really wanted their beer, so I did what everyone else was doing to get some. As a business owner I was amazed at the draw each brewery had, and totting up just how much money breweries likely make with such a high proportion of direct retail I left wondering whether anything like that could be possible in the UK. I’m not sure I’d like hundreds of people queueing up in our car park in Piccadilly Trading Estate (even if breweries with beautiful rural locations that make the journey almost worth it in itself are extremely rare), but I am very keen to see what we can do to between our own online retail and direct from the brewery sales as time goes by. Why? Because if we’re to catch up to the likes of Treehouse, Trillium, Alchemist, or Hill Farmstead, we’ll need at least some of the financial support and comfort they enjoy in abundance to do so.
• Not a very searching question but is your tap going to be open in January? Got a punter looking for a good beery time!
Yes, we’re open for our extended hours trial until Sunday the 15th, before which time I’m hoping I get permission to carry on the extended hours for another few months.
So there you go folks! We’re thrilled to be where we are in the industry after less than two years brewing, and are currently limbering up (ok, more like slobbing around still dazed and exhausted from 2016) for an even bigger and better 2017. As always, please keep your feedback coming – our job is to stay as many steps ahead of demand and expectation as we can, but we always appreciate your ever helpful words of encouragement and critique.
Here’s to a healthy, happy, fun packed, and successful 2017 for us all. Cheers!