Saturday, 5 August 2017

Craft Beer FUBU - or - Why People Get Upset When Breweries Get Sold

I haven't blogged properly in a while (ha! "a while"), largely because I haven't had anything constructive to say. That doesn't stop many bloggers, but I really got to a point where I felt I'd said everything useful. And of course, once you have a financial interest in the game, everyone should take anything you say with a pinch of salt, so what's the point in blogging if people are just going to argue with or ignore you?

But the recent spate of takeovers and reactions to them makes me want to say something. I'm not sure where to start, so lets talk about the most recent - Anchor being bought by Sapporo. It isn't the first time in its history that the brewery has been bought out. The heroic stewardship of Fritz Maytag was of course the result of a buyout, albeit of a company that was by all accounts on its arse.

People get emotionally invested in stuff, to an extent that seems irrational to some. When a brewery is sold, I think it's natural to re-evaluate how you feel about that. I totally get that some breweries need to sell when the owner gets older, or gets bored with the grind of running a business, or just wants to cash out, but it's important that everyone looks at what has happened and asks if they feel differently now.

It's important that people do this because it matters where you spend you money, and who you decide to finance. Arguably, as political power is ceded to a global elite, how you spend your money is your last source of political influence. If you want to give your money to someone who is making beer with great determination but little critical acclaim, that's fine, it's your money. If you want to give your money to local breweries because they are local to you, even if they aren't world beaters, that's fine, it's your money. If you want to give your money to breweries that are the flavour of the month, killing it on Ratebeer, that's fine, it's your money. But it's important to think about it. All of these choices are subjective, driven by the same sort of irrational notions that drive me to buy bright yellow New Balance trainers, or to make people queue for hours outside breweries for limited releases.

So when Sapporo buy Anchor, I'm pleased to see people ask how we should feel about it. When Lagunitas sell 50% to Heineken, it's good to question how we feel about it. And then when Lagunitas sell the other half, we should at least think again, because your money is the only thing that will make a difference. And Ballast Point. And Camden. And Meantime. And who next?

It's fine to change your mind about how you feel based on new information, that's what grown-ups do. It would be a shame if you didn't let things change you, or at least make you re-evaluate things. Is your favourite brewery the same if someone new owns it? I don't know the answer to that, but at least ask yourself the question.

The reason I feel strongly about this is because, of course, it's my livelihood, and I've spent the last 17 years following the FUBU principle - I can't define craft beer, but as far as I'm concerned, it's For Us, By Us. So every time ABInBev, or SABMiller, or Constellation, or some faceless group of investors buy another independent bit of the industry (and it's happening at production, distribution and retail levels) and pass it into consortium ownership, I stop and have a long look at it. I might even solicit opinion online if I don't understand it, but the important thing is at least to stop and question it.

Monday, 17 April 2017

@IlkleyBrewery tasting at @BeerRitzLeeds - Notorious F.I.G. and Lotus IPA

Our latest Saturday tasting was a few weeks ago - we're a bit slow at getting this video up owing to various bits of lurgy and absence - but we were very pleased to welcome Ilkley Brewery to the shop for the afternoon, They brought two beers, Notorious F.I.G., which is a 7.5% fig dubbel designed to pair with cheese, and the brilliant Lotus IPA, which is a burst of pithy grapefruit freshness delivered in a very clean, crisp golden IPA.

Notorious F.I.G. is certainly the more complex beer, realistically needing a slab of cheese to play against, but the Lotus IPA was probably the star of the show, providing a big explosion of grapefruity hop character against a simple pale malt background. There's something incredibly satisfying about the burst of pithy citrus being delivered in a cheeky little cold can too - I sneaked a sip at the start of the video, and the clean, zesty coolness took me by surprise.

If you can't get to the BeerRitz shop in Leeds, you can buy their beers here.

Our next tasting is for the launch of Roosters Brewing Co's new session IPA, 24/7. It's a brilliantly fruity and pleasingly bitter 4.7% of golden loveliness, which should bring a lot of happiness to a lot of people over the summer. We'll also have the world premier of Highway 51 in cans, a 3.7% riot of Mosaic, Centennial and Rakau hops. Come along to BeerRitz, 14 Weetwood Lane, Headingley, LS16 5LX on Saturday 29th April, 1-4pm for free beer, badges, blather, banter and other things beginning with B.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

@Thornbridge Brewery at @BeerRitzLeeds - The Heart Desires & Bear State

So, the last Saturday of the month is now a fixture for tastings at Beer-Ritz in Leeds. February saw Thornbridge Brewery in attendance, bringing along some of their elegant but still hoptastic west coast-style IPA Bear State, as well as a new release from their Barrel Room series, The Heart Desires.

Although in the video I skate over Bear State a bit, it shouldn't really be dismissed so easily. It's a classic Thornbridge take on a style - precise without being showy, refined without being boring, reliable without the contempt of familiarity. But of course, my inner geek wanted to talk about the next installment of the Barrel Room series, the series that spawned the unprecedented gold and silver medal duo for Thornbridge at the World Beer Cup. With two new beers. At the first time of entering. Really, that's quite an achievement.

The Heart Desires is a complex beer. On the nose, you get the white wine barrel influence immediately - bit of oak, bit of fruit, and it smells zingy, your brain gets excited and starts your mouth watering for what is about to happen. In the mouth, it's medium-bodied, with a clean zip of acidity and fruitiness, unsurprising as the beer is aged on gooseberries for 18 months - green apples, lemons, just crunchy, zippy dry fruitiness.

This is a barrel-aged wild beer, subject to the influence of organisms in the wood of the barrel (pediococcus and lactobacillus being among them - in the video, the only reason I mention them because George didn't want to). It's something of a paradox that a beer that is exposed to all manner of unruly microbial influence should taste so clean, but it does. It's something that it has in common with a lot of American wild ales, notably the wild beers produced at Russian River Brewing in California, which are Thornbridge brewmaster Rob Lovatt's inspiration for this series. The Russian River wild beers are ace, as are the Thornbridge ones.

Next up, Ilkley Brewery will be debuting a new beer and puring samples of their new range - come down to Beer-Ritz on Saturday 25th March - no need to book, it's free, just turn up between 1pm and 4pm.

You can follow @BeerRitzLeeds on Twitter for more updates, and like them on Facebook (and in real life too)

You can follow @BeerRitzByMail on Twitter, and give them the Zuckerberg thumbs-up here, or just ignore all the social media hoopla and head over and start shopping

Monday, 30 January 2017

Tasting @BeerRitzLeeds with @WylamBrewery and @yeastieboysuk

Here's a short video taken at the Leeds launch of the brilliant Wylam vs Yeastie Boys WxY2 an extra-pale IPA made with lots and lots of Antipodean hops. This was Beer-Ritz's first tasting of 2017, and we hope to be making a thing of these. Dave and Ben from Wylam Brewery came down, were utterly lovely, poured beer and said lovely things about the shop. Lots of people came, lots of beer was poured and drunk, lots of laughs had.

You'll have to step lively if you want to catch any of the beer though - there is a small amount left at Beer-Ritz in Leeds, but it's already sold out online (although other very lovely Wylam beers are available)

Our next tasting will be Thornbridge Brewery on Saturday 25th February, where there will be a visitor from Thornbridge pouring their West Coast IPA Bear State, as well as a couple of their world-conquering sour beers (and no, that's not hyperbole - gold and silver at the 2016 World Beer Cup, in the wood and barrel-aged sour beer category, does actually demonstrate mastery of a style)

You can follow @BeerRitzLeeds on Twitter for more updates, and like them on Facebook (and in real life too)

You can follow @BeerRitzByMail on Twitter, and give them the Zuckerberg thumbs-up here, or just ignore all the social media hoopla and head over and start shopping