A•W18 Part 2 – Brewed-All-Season, One-Offs, and Cask Returns
Thanks for such a good reception to our previous post about the changes we’re making to our labels, which you can read here. I promise when we feel like we can share more information with you all again we will do without hesitation.
For now though, I’ll start with a bit of an intro to our Autumn Winter 2018 range...
An incredible amount has changed since we set up the brewery. My ideas for distinct seasonal ranges of beer gradually morphed into rotating styles, an enormous number of one-off releases, a phenomenally successful DIPA ‘v’ series, and recipes and styles brought to the forefront from the history books and the depths of our imagination.
Where we thought the UK beer scene had untapped potential, we worked to demonstrate new markets and appetites for up-to-the-minute modern beer. Three-and-a-half years into brewing, and nearly three years after our first DIPA release, that style has progressed from intermittent releases by a handful of breweries, to what feels like an almost excessive number of DIPAs jostling for attention, shelf space, and the liver capacity of a reasonably small number of beer geeks. And not every cover song hits the high notes of the originals. The same sense of saturation can be felt in the vast number of one-off beers, whether imported for a ‘one time only’ event, or brewed to appeal to the UK’s most fervent and exploratory beer geeks. There’s DDH beers (with little mention as to whether the first D actually stands for double the amount of hops), and New England-style IPAs and Pale Ales on offer from what feels like just about every modern beer focused brewery, old and new, with a few notable exceptions of breweries that stuck to their own rhythm and own path. It has become novel to find a brewery that has an output that genuinely feels unique.
It is a common theme I pick up from brewers, founders and directors, bartenders, and consumers alike, both at home and on my travels, that the pace of change, and number of new beers each and every week is becoming a little less fun and exciting, and more a frantic scramble both behind the scenes and over the bar to make, obtain, and drink the latest, leaving many of the greatest beers in the marketplace today on the sidelines (this is especially true of beer styles that don’t make the headlines, or create the biggest fuss). We should aspire to greater heights, and to make the UK’s scene one of both innovation and depth.
We set our path three-and-a-half years ago because the scene back then was very different, and our output offered a rather smaller modern, and predominantly core-range-focused, beer scene in the UK even more variety, new takes on traditional or modern-classic styles, and another pull into the bar or local bottle shop for new experiences. I’m proud that we made such a potent contribution to the UK beer scene, but we are reaching the edges of the room at the pace of change the scene has now reached, and with the number of one-off and cover-song beers week after week I fear the UK brewing industry may be on course to burn out and fatigue drinkers. Requiring consumers to be excited all the time may eventually work against the natural enthusiasm many feel for innovation and progression. Should fatigue set in, I wonder how successfully we would all be able to sustain craft beer’s word-of-mouth attraction and buzz. For every beer geek there are 10-15 non-modern beer drinkers, the overwhelming majority of whom consider beer is something made by a small number of brands and that has a pretty narrow range of flavour experiences.
Beer is, and always was, what we all reach for to help us relax and unwind, so it’s only right for us to take stock of our place in the market as it is today and for us to respond anew. As brewers, beer buyers, bartenders, and drinkers, we are all going to have to broaden our focus to make the UK’s beer scene stronger, more stable, more locally-rooted, more accessible, and as internationally-respected as we aspire it to be. Our tradition, and its longevity thus far, is built on supremely drinkable everyday beers, and each brewery setting out its own stall.
Our Autumn Winter range for 2018/2019 is going to mark a few changes to how we run our brewery, with the aim of answering calls from both our drinkers and fans, and wholesale customers alike.
Cask – We’re Bringing It Back
We dropped cask beer for a variety of reasons, in a marketplace that couldn’t get enough of our bolder, hoppier beers in bottle, can, and keg. Only just under two years ago, this was a broadly questioned, and bold move. We made more production volume available for more of the beers many of you couldn’t get enough of, and in the process gained accolades no other brewery has gained outside of the USA. But in the process we removed ourselves from conversations about what cask beer could be, and distanced ourselves from drinkers that are wedded to that genre of beer.
And at this time of year, as the nights start to lengthen and the temperatures drop, a cosy pub is our favourite place to be for a relaxing afternoon pint, or a quiet evening session. We miss our cask Session IPAs, Bitters, and Porters, and find ourselves drinking many a pint of cask beer and wondering just how well our Brown Ales, or Stouts, and seasonal Pale would do on cask.
So we’re going to wonder no more, and produce cask beers over the Autumn and Winter for a small number of customers that treat cask conditioned beers with all the expertise and quality focus they deserve. If you’re the sort of establishment that has a cellar that’s maintained between 10.5ºC-12ºC at all times, know to dispense cask when it’s conditioned out past any rise and fall of diacetyl producing VDK, and have enough stillage to serve cask beer when it’s ready and bristling with CO2, and not just when one of your lines is free, please get in touch here to register your interest.
We are currently proposing to make 6-12 batches of cask beer (making up between 6-16% of our output) over this coming cold season, and promise to deliver exceptional modern and traditionally-inspired cask beers. Cask beer is more than a dispense method, it’s a family of beers that are brewed to offer immense drinkability at sessionable strengths. Whilst we aren’t going to return to cask and compromise on price (indeed we’ll re-adopt our starting strategy of princing our beer per litre, irrespective of packaging format), you can expect incredible drinkability right to the bottom of every glass, and of course all our cask beers will be vegan.
Cask beer is an important part of our cultural and brewing heritage, and we are excited to once again make a direct contribution. We’re working on offering seasonal cask beer at our tap rooms in Unit 9 and 73 Enid Street, and can’t wait to share our in-house cask conditioning, stillage, and serving processes with you all.
A Larger ‘Brewed-All-Season’ Range
We already brew our Helles, Light Lager, and seasonal Pale to offer you a consistent and reliable experience, but we’re going to introduce a range of brewed-all-season recipes (in those funky full-bleed-artwork cans) that you can rely on, whilst we continue experimenting with a separate line of one-off beers (with cropped artwork and a white text background). We’ve had a lot of feedback to know many of our customers despair when they deeply enjoy one of our beers that they’ll not be able to buy ever again. One of the perks of running a small business is that it’s easy to gain such feedback, and even easier to respond. By making a range of brewed-all-season beers we hope to offer our customers a chance they’ve never really had of making recommendations for beers of ours that will definitely be available again.
We are conscious that our constant rotation within DDH Pales and IPAs, Small Beers and DIPAs has meant that some consumers curious about, and new to our beers must have felt like they had to get up to speed incredibly quickly so as not to lose all sense of what’s in their glass. Couple that with our ever-so-slightly changing artwork crops and use of hop varieties in our beer names this past season, and we’ve had many a comment that our beers are confusing, and people don’t know what they’ve managed to try or not, or what to expect flavour wise.
Our route as brewery staff into ever more flavourful and independent beer was paved with reliable offerings, and we are keen to hear the calls out there for reliable beers in the styles above we love so much, and have worked so hard to popularise.
Any changes to recipe or process in our brewed-all season beers will take place only to improve the beer, and not for the sake of change. We’ll make a brewed-all-season Small Beer, Pale, Pilsner, Helles, DDH Pale, IPA, and DIPA, each made with a flavour profile we think suits the climate, and our social drinking patterns best.
Aside from responding as well as we can to your feedback (thanks folks, we really appreciate it when you take the time to let us know the good we plan for and the bad we’ll work against), I’d be remiss not to mention another change in our marketplace that influences our decision to make a bigger line up of brewed-all-season beers.
Big beer, and their marketing, promotion, and positive-spin-writing allies, are rallying to normalise big beer, wash over their shadiest past actions, and help macro breweries catch craft-curious consumers on their way out of their often singularly-focused loyalty to the biggest macro brands. Recent acquisitions in the UK are seeking to enable global industrial macro breweries to offer the next level of flavour experience and variety from their decades-old beers, with an illusion of choice. The branding may be different, but the aim remains the same – to keep hold of the consumer’s attention and loyalty, and prevent independent breweries from winning consumers over to values and flavour experiences that big beer’s never lived by.
If we don’t reach out to a wider range of customers directly, with reliable modern beers, we might wake up one day in the not-too-distant future, to find ourselves walled in, catering to a market sector that’s no longer growing. Gone are the days of worrying about a bubble. We’re entering a new phase where big beer is seeking to blur the lines between craft and macro, independent and corporate, whilst simultaneously seeking to wall us in, and we’ve all got to question what we’re going to do to help consumers know exactly who they’re buying and, what they’re buying into. We hope that some of our brewed-all-season recipes give us, and some of you, a chance to draw people that seek reliable and consistent experiences into our takes on modern beer.
Outside of the upcoming brewed-all-season DDH Pale (etc) we are going to release a number of hoppy, malty, and yeast-led beers that focus their flavour profile on a particular feature ingredient, or a new process or technique we’re trialling. We’ll temper the release cycle of the new beers to a batch size and pace that feels as sustainable as possible, but it’s important to note that in this time of so many cover-song beers, we’re not responsible for other breweries straying from their previous paths, or following our lead. We’ll also bring back some of your most loved recipes because it doesn't make sense to us to look back so fondly ourselves, and resign many of our previous highlights to the history books. Please cast your votes here for beers you’d like us to brew again, and we’ll do our best to meet your requests as fully as possible.
We’re also working on a range of darker beers that we find ourselves craving this time of year, such as Brown Ale, ESB (if Fuller’s are cool with us calling it that), Red Ale, Amber, Stout and more.
I’m happy to say that our barrel programme is really starting to bear fruit, and will see us release many barrel aged beers this season (some small batch and limited release because they’re single barrel, some on national release because there’s plenty to go around), from mixed fermentation beers and low strength Grisettes to spirit barrel aged Barley Wines.
To close, we are really excited to embrace the changes I’ve outlined here in pursuit of not only the best seasonal beer offerings we can make, but also ever higher quality with less focus on new, and more focus on better. Here’s to a season of richer, darker beer, and some of our best barrel-aged, cask conditioned, and up-to the minute modern beers we’ve ever released. We sincerely hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoy making them for you.