Saturday 13 August 2011

Does Size Matter?

I was recently introduced by someone I have a lot of respect for as Stuart Howe, a brewer who used to make great beer at Sharp’s in Cornwall. I asked him what had changed and he said “well, you work for Molson Coors now”. Molson Coors have made a few changes since acquiring Sharp’s but one of them has not been to put up posters saying “Make Shit Beer”. They have also not changed any of the brewing team, raw materials, recipes or anything which has an impact on the flavour of the beer. Nor do they want to and nor shall they on my watch.

I can see to a degree where he was coming from. I have known a few brands which have been commercialised into banality. Chimay beers, in my opinion, are now good when once they were once great. That said historical precedents do not provide a crystal ball into the future.

To dismiss a beer because it is not brewed by a small brewery or because it not felt to be a craft beer is to me as obscene as going into a brewpub and dismissing the opportunity to try sample their wares in favour of a major brand, while defending this choice with “I only drink lager”. Any form of closed mind when it comes to food or drink is objectionable. Is there anyone on the blogosphere who is up for a row and wants to defend dismissing all beers brewed above a small scale? As always my mind is open but my convictions strong.

All organisations that make beer do so to make money, some are more honest about this than others. This is done in the context of the market. If you want to sell beer you need a market for it. In the last 10 years the market for drinks has become much more sophisticated. Beer writers, CAMRA, and bloggers should feel proud that their enthusiasm for and promotion of a great drink has changed what the market is looking for in a beer. Supermarkets and multimedia have also been instrumental. People who run large global brewers are clever. They understand that a sophisticated market where people seek exciting flavour and provenance in a beer isn’t going to fall for mass produced soulless brands, with a nice story and fancy branding. They realise that they need to make sophisticated drinks to sell beer to people with sophisticated palates.

So I am not Stuart Howe who used to make great beer in Cornwall, I am Stuart Howe the brewer who strives to make the best beer possible in Cornwall and will do for a good many years, with the support of Molson Coors.      

This brings me nicely on to a bit of exciting insider information for you on some new bottled beers Sharp’s have on the horizon. A couple of the beers which under the last management I had to brew at the weekend and bottle after work, are making their first appearance at a full commercial scale. Massive Ale and Honey Spice Tripel will finally be brewed at a scale which means everyone who wants the beer will be able to get it. I hope to include an apology on the label to all the people who have asked for Massive and Honey Spice only to be disappointed. Also Sharp’s imperial double IPA and a single hop varietal strong golden ale will become a reality this year. None of this is official yet (and Ms McCready will probably punch me for revealing it) but they are firmly on my brewing programme.

If there are people who will, with closed mind, reject my beers because I work for the UK's biggest brewer I am not overly concerned, bigots like this don’t deserve it anyway!   


arn said...

That's good news on the new bottles, especially the honey spice. The guy in your shop teased me by showing a bottle, declaring it the best beer EVER and then told me he had none left to sell me!

As for that guy, what an arse. Whatever he believes to say it to your face is just plain rude.

Kristy said...

*sighs* there are few job as thankless as PR.

Given you've just publicly blown my next headline grabber I would suggest punching is the least of your worries.......

Zak Avery said...


big col the brewer said...

Be very careful stuart
the men in black have a track record of putting to death great beers. Global brands need volume and volume requires lower cost, what suffers is quality, and in the end the customers walk away. Toyota have found this to their cost.

The bigger you get the less control you will have and the product will suffer.

We have all seen it before.

I really hope that you at sharp's are able to handle the pressure that will come as rock produces great beer.

Ps any idea if a great 2.8 abv% beer can be produced.

beer duty drops 50% from 1 oct.
My customers are asking if I am able to get some for my pub, shrewd lot, they are looking to save 50p a pint

A challenge for the autumn then,brew a 2.8% special beer that is a world beater!.

big col

Anonymous said...

I recall hearing some folk in our pub declaring that Thornbridge Jaipur and Lord Marples (after pints of both) just weren't the same now that we'd gone from our small brewery to the bigger brewery. I was fortuitously behind the bar at the time, so could let them know that both batches were in fact brewed at the original brewery.

Interestingly, their opinions changed straight away and the beers tasted a lot better to the both of them.

How strange...


BeerReviewsAndy said...

Awesome news, loved both of those beers!

as for the dickheads that reject your beers because of MC then stuff them, they dont know what they are missing.

Stuart Howe said...

Thanks Arn and Zak,

A great tasting 2.8% beer is quite an easy one Col. You have to play around with fermentables through using special malts and high mash temp and also be generous with hops. When I worked for Brakspear we brewed a 2.5% beer which tasted great but didn't sell because strangely it didn't get people drunk. We only sold half a brew in cask and half of that came back as ullage. Two pallets of bottles also needed to be destroyed as it went out of date.

I may be wrong but I can't see the 2.8% ABV category catching fire especially on cask as beer under 3% does not tolerate the unsympathetic handling or being broached for more than a couple of days (I'm sure your cellar is a paragon of cleanliness and good management). If it does I'll be glad to proven wrong and get brewing!

I have had a similar experience with perception with an old boss Kelly. I changed malt supply and he said that he had tasted a difference in the beer so I sent him home with two samples of the beer brewed from the old malt. He came back the next day and told me to throw the sacks of new malt away because one of the samples was nearly undrinkable. He was even less pleased when I told him the truth!

Stuart Howe said...

I am glad you said that so I didn't have to Andy!

Alistair Reece said...

Entirely off topic question - how did the Imperial Dampfrauchbier turn out?

big col the brewer said...

HI stuart
Thanks for the feedback and advice.
The only beer I can think of at that strength is manns brown ale!

May be I will give it a go only have a small brewery 3 bbls so not much will be lost. I like a challenge. I presume the brakspear run was considerably more.

ps I thank the sharps' rep for the deal, I can now sell more of sharps wonderful beer!

Stuart Howe said...

Velky hi, The Imperial Dampfrauchbier like a lot of the 52 brews towards the end of the year are still in cask awaiting me getting the time to bottle. It was "interesting" when it was racked is all I will say. When I've got it bottled I'll send you some.

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