Friday, 14 October 2016



I've decided to jot down a few of my thoughts about my first visit to IMBC (Indy Man Beer Convention) 

I was asked by the lovely Matt Gorecki to talk about various topics on a very grown up panel type thing. Think Question Time but with lesser well known people who have been consuming beer for several hours and you get the gist.

The beer festival itself was a marvelous affair. Housed as it was in a gorgeous venue, The Victoria Baths, it was one of the most beautiful beer festival homes I have ever been in ( apart from St George's Hall in Liverpool have to say).

Having started with beer from Rob at Blackjack, with what was my beer of the festival, and possibly the year - (no idea what it was called but it was a saison, and I generally have a huge dislike for them!) I then had a good sample of various delights from around and about, including a great beer from the guys at Mad Hatter. Later in the evening I had Brewdog beer from a very disinterested bar staff member, who really did look like she would rather be sticking very sharp pins in her actual eyes than serve me beer. I did tweet Mr Watt who 'liked' my tweet, not sure what to make of that but a response none the less.

 A quick bit of judging of the cuckoo brewers, and beers from those of small equipment size (no bloody innuendo managed in the actual debate, but bingo!) was next up and I got to meet the others on the debate panel, to discuss the merits of the three finalists. I disagreed with most with regards the winner, but took a great deal of interest in what Jenn from Beavertown had to say and found her a very lovely person. Respect to the fellow female brewer!

On to the debate, behind a curtain......

Looking back, the atmosphere was pretty lively from the off. To be honest, I don't like a dull and boring debate, so for me it was a good start. There were various subjects I was keen to discuss - sexism in the brewing/beer industry being one, as I have encountered none, and have actually found that in the circles I move in, it is one of the least sexist industries I have had the pleasure of working in. As things turned out, and even with Matt's constant attempts to move it on, the talk stayed firmly attached to the What is Craft Beer and Where is it going, Money, Big Brewers blah blah blah type of thing. 

The one point that was being held on to and shaken like a tiny terrier would with a half dead rabbit, was the subject of bigger breweries with more money than smaller or poorer breweries spoiling things for the little guys, stomp stomp, quivering bottom lip.  Whilst this could be a case of small breweries feeling a jealousy for larger brewers, it is not quite that simple. 

While I will not deny that I am jealous of Jopen in Haarlem, a brewery that we visited  to brew a fantastic collaboration, and their ridiculous brew kit, absurdly amazing bars and generally annoying greatness, I also now hold them in the highest regard, and thank them for all they are doing for the European beer scene. Some of the best people I have met since starting commercial brewing seven years ago. If it were a straight forward jealousy of those with more, they would be top of my hit list. No, more it is about the issues the small brewers are facing more recently with the flooded market becoming more flooded. 

We are faced with a situation where, not only are pubs and bars being offered 'buy six get one free', but 'buy three and get one free' at around £50 a go. That in turn is not only squeezing out the rest of us, who use hops in our beer and good quality malts, but taking the offering back to bland, uninteresting beer, with a shed load of marketing behind it, because even at this lower level there are many people starting up breweries with lots of money and not a lot else. This is a fact at the local level that the likes of myself and numerous other breweries I talk to work at.  

Take it up a level to the wider market, and you get a similar situation but on a bigger scale. Breweries who can come in, spend a large amount on brew kit, to get themselves in a position to kick out volumes, get the hype out there before the beers hit the shelves, ride the early months with a back up of cash, open a bar here and there, and make half decent beer, are in a great position from the off. The smaller brewer, without that cash at the beginning has had to plough all available cash made (a brewer makes money?!) straight back in to grow, streamline, meet demand, hopefully open and kit out a bar, which can be a slow process,  even if they do make amazing beer. Add to that the fact that they are often doing pretty much every job in the brewery themselves, with maybe a part time person here and there, rather than having an accounts person, a sales person, a driver etc, it is near-impossible to get traction quickly enough to compete.

Now, that could be deemed as life. I could be told to like it or lump it and just get over it, but I think I do have the right to be a little irked by the situation. For us, no amount of hard work and brewing of great national award winning beers, that appeared in some of the best craft beer houses all over the UK, was ever going to be enough in the last couple of years, with the influx of the money-laden start up 'hipster' brewers. I in no way aim that at anyone in particular in reality but a lot of us have seen it many times. 

To finish this little piece off,  I'd like to thank all the amazing people I have had the pleasure of working with over the years in the brewing world, and will continue to do so hopefully for many years to come. The great people are still great, they are all still there, just getting a little overlooked in the pit while the new kids on the block dance in the footlights. I hope you all get your moment to shine before you decide this theater is no longer the place to perform.

If you are in Cardiff, pay a visit to our bar and bottle shop The Gravity Station in Womanby Street (oldest street in Cardiff apparently) and Hopbunker in Queen Street, the Hopcraft brewery bar - support us little guys hey? And find us on Twitter - @thewaenbrewery @thegravitystn -  let's try and get this brewing lark back to the friendly place it once was. 

PostscriptI excelled myself by asking the young trendy DJ playing up on the balcony on the Thursday night (very hipster) if he had any Smiths, and when told no, responding 'but we're in bloody Manchester! What dya mean you have no Smiths? One of my finer attempts at getting Mosser played at inappropriate venues 


  1. Disappointed you didn't name names!

    Interestingly footnote touches on something that bugs me. Why do brew tap events always have to have soundtracks of ambient jazz or laid back album tracks by forgotten 60s singers. Does the hipster bible say if thou wishes good beer, thou shall forsake the cheesy pop hits you grew up with?

    1. oh god yes, now if I was put in charge of beer festival tunes, THAT would be a great beer fest!!

  2. Bloody well said.
    It's primarily the 'little uns' like yourself who help the more discerning punters expand their (our) beer horizons.

  3. An excellent article. I too enjoyed the IMBC on trade day. Unfortunately the Brewdog bar looked completely out of place and was generally avoided. Wylam, Northern Monk and War Pigs really stood out for me.
    I see a saturated market these days which seems completely unsustainable. I saw this three years ago and buried my own dreams. Let's see how the post brexit finance crunch works on the craft scene.

    1. Thanks Andy - yup, will be interesting times me thinks.

  4. It is amazing how when people talk about successful craft breweries they always bang on about 'passion' but never hefty finanical backing. As far as I can see all of the 'usual suspects' that get the beer geeks going have a lot of money behind them.

  5. indeedy, does seem to be going that way

  6. There certainly are some with serious cash from the outset but there are others who have grown from minnows, some of whom predated "craft beer" but got with it when it came along - Moor being obvious one.

    Ultimately I respect the ones who started small more because they got big by being good at being a little brewer first (along with the usual share of good luck, right place, right time). Same way I respect a band that worked their way through the pubs and clubs to Wembley more than One Direction.

  7. You cover a couple of distinct problems here:

    1. Brewers stealing the show with their flashy breweries. Obvious names being Magic Rock, Cloudwater, Beavertown, bleedin'-edge Lost & Grounded etc - a well capitalised elite in the beer scene. Some of these aren't exactly new mind... and none of them came out of nowhere from nothing, and none are ventures without risk.

    2. Breweries selling casks to pubs for the equivalent of £50.

    I'd say it is important to highlight that these are not the same breweries. The well capitalised ones are certainly not selling cheap.

    Alas what this means is you're being crushed from both directions. Your local market by the cheap stuff, your craft/city market by the latest hot brands. The craft/city type places want the hot stuff, and alas this unavoidably guides the focus for folk like myself - and I do bring "2nd tier" great breweries in, but it shifts harder & slower and we have only so much physical capacity... (And of course a lot of ticker distrib volume is also mopped up by anything cheap... I am not unfamiliar with being offered beer below £50. Not interested. And it'll show up on the list of some gimp with a shed a couple of weeks later.)

    I ponder... is there also a raft of new not-great breweries using cash reserves to flood their local markets and block out competition? I'd believe it... but have not seen or heard evidence of it... and it sounds pretty scary for small breweries... folk who can afford to lose money for a bit to ensure the competition can't get a foothold or to yank their foothold out from under them. (I sometimes think I am seeing it in my own bit of the industry with bigger distribs selling key beers at prices that are hard to believe make any sense. We even had one regional distrib buying a headline beer through a 3rd party yet selling cheap causing several minds to boggle... evil tactics or "just business" (...if you're an arsehole, but there's no cure for arseholes & plenty of supply.) - thankfully the brewery put a stop to this one.)

    I also ponder geographic factors: a majority of struggling breweries I know are more remote than the ones that are going well. And hell, there are some pretty damn average city breweries seeming to do very well too. Quite simply: they are better located to have solid core local trade. Whilst also keeping their finger on the pulse, per se, and having a presence in person within key "hot" beer markets. (Leeds, Manchester, London, Bristol...) Suffering a bit from this myself... it's all far too "few and far between" out my way, I'd not the underlying business raft of one of these dense beer cities as some do.

    There are outliers geographically... BrewDog... but well, they're their own special phenomenon. Moor, but they moved to Bristol. And there's another point - investment. We struggle to get by, we strive, but at small scale there's not any money in this industry it seems. It appears the solution might be to attract investment to reach the "next level" per se. Surely that could have been an option for Waen? Given your reputation, brand recognition?

    Anyway... I hope your beers live on well through Hopcraft, certainly in good hands there... and hope the bar/shop does well.

    I came to realise some time ago that retail (on- or off-) is the best place to be in this industry... but of course brewery taps (or even "distributor taps") seem to need a certain population density to work as well... if only "if you build it, they will come" was more than just glib bollocks.

  8. Got to love when someone in the industry says they have no marketing budget! They need to check the difference between marketing and advertising!