It is a tired Friday night. My conditioning tanks are nearly all empty. My fermentation vessels full, a scenario which spells busy! I saw a hand-written letter on a desk in telesales at 7PM and for an hour or so the stresses and strains of the week seemed insignificant. The letter was from a landlord complimenting Sharp’s on our beers and saying how they are the most popular beers on the bar. Competition wins and critical acclaim are great but for most brewers what counts most is the voice of the customer.
Some brewers are able to be philosophical about their beer. They prefer people to like them but aren’t overly worried if some don’t. I’ve never managed this. To me if people like my beers I’m elated and if they don’t, devastated. A former boss said to me "don’t worry it’s only beer". My response did not do a great deal for my prospects of a pay rise.
We once had a landlord who would sell loads of our beer all year with no problems at all. A month away from the price negotiations he would start to pick fault with what we sent him. He would suggest that it had changed and was not the beer it once was. He would also hint that he could slag our beer off to his customers and promote the competition if we did not reduce his prices. When he visited the brewery to negotiate next year’s price it was suggested that I was locked in a cupboard to prevent me from getting near him. They didn’t have to in the end because I was busy elsewhere but put it this way, I’m glad that I didn’t see him (but not as glad as he would have been!).
Making something you love and sending it to a customer feels as if you are laying yourself bare. Like asking the girl you fancy for a dance at the school disco. Approval is food for the soul, rejection is insult and heartbreak. Sounds a bit dramatic but when you care about what you do that’s how it is. It doesn’t make for a contented life because the lows are felt more acutely than the highs. The highs however are so fantastically intoxicating that it’s addictive. When I worked at the Berkshire Brewery making Fosters and Kronenbourg I missed the highs so much that I only stayed for three months. The fact that the flavour panels were a chore also contributed.
Spare a thought for brewers like me when you are sampling beer but most of all be honest and constructive with them. Some of the most important improvements I have made to my techniques have been wrought from criticism. The most profound betrayal of a brewer is to slag his beers off behind his back.
Bier met liefde gebrouwen drink je met verstand. If ever a phrase had been brutally raped it is this one!