Sunday 20 November 2011

Body off Baywatch - Face off Crimewatch

On Friday night I performed my speech to the Penn’s Hall dinner of the BFBI. I rehearsed myself hoarse during the 250 mile drive up the M5 and was word perfect in my hotel room before the event. I arrived at the President’s reception to see the most important people in the British brewing industry assembled, in full evening dress and polite conversation. I was very disappointed at the lack of Ferrero Rocher but didn’t make a fuss.

Through the ropes separating us from the rest of the pre-dinner drinks I could see the Head Brewers and Directors of just about every brewery in the UK sized over 20,000 barrels per year, again in black tie and serious conversation. I began to worry about the content of my speech. I was sat at the top table for the dinner so had to follow the chairman into the dinner to a slow handclap from the assembled guests. All eyes are on you as you progress through the dining hall, tension building with each slap of the hand. At dinner I sat looking around the room at the 250 or so industry VIPs, a lot of whom have been the industry for longer than I have been alive.

The meal was over in an instant and I was being introduced. My legs felt like I had been lifting weights for the last 10 hours and the microphone slipped through my sweating palm. I was expecting the crowd to be sufficiently well oiled to be of relaxed demeanour before I started but all I could see were furrowed brows and serious faces. I began. My voice echoed back at me and I could hear the words trembling off my tongue. I remember thinking all I need is a laugh to settle me down. I progressed to the first joke quickly. It was greeted with a silence and tumbleweed rolling through the middle of the room. I thought to myself work with me for god’s sake (or words to that effect)!

I raced on to the next. This time I heard a giggle from a few separate tables so I slowed up and started to be steadier in my delivery. I was still conscious that I was racing so I paused after the next joke and consoled myself with the fact that conversations were not breaking out. By the end I was at about normal speaking pace for me, which is twice as fast as everyone else.  

The rest of the speech was over in a flash with the nods of agreement and laughter a lot more frequent towards the end than at the start. The professional speaker who followed me fared less well than me which was of some comfort but I was disappointed that I failed to deliver the performance I had planned. After the speech I was complimented on the speech by a lot of kind people and got some good honest feedback James Stevenson from Charles Wells “Nice content shame about the delivery”.  My favourite comment was from my friend at Wye Valley who was disappointed that I was not wearing the outfit displayed in the previous post.

So here, for your judgement is what I said.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen my name is Stuart Howe, Head Brewer at Sharp's Brewery.
I am here in my capacity as All Party Parliamentary Beer Group Brewer of the Year to speak to you about the British Brewing Industry.

I am thrilled, honoured, delighted, exhilarated, elated and generally quite pleased to be here talking about beer and brewing. This speech is a bit like the part of groom’s speech where he dedicates a few words to his new bride because I love the British brewing industry. That of course means you. And looking around the room tonight ladies and gentlemen,” loving you is easy ‘cause you’re beautiful” (in the club singer style). Tumble weed enter stage left

Knowing that you love something and being able to properly articulate why is not always the same thing so writing the speech has been a challenge. I was however given some assistance by a small Scottish microbrewery which is run by brewing’s answer to Jedward. They fairly recently came out with a statement claiming that “British Beer is sick and we are the doctors”. They also used the press release to launch two new beers, an India Pale Ale which they are calling “Bhopal Heat Wave” and a beer brewed according to the trappist tradition called “The Reverend Kiddie Fiddler”. I don’t agree with Jedward. British beer is not sick. The beer we are brewing today is as good if not better than it has ever been. There’s nothing like someone having a pop at something you love to bring home to you what it means. So why do I love British beer and brewing?

British brewing has centuries of rich heritage.  It has given the world some breakthrough scientific knowledge and some of the most important beer styles in the world. Beers like IPA, Stout, Porter, Old Ale, Mild, Tesco Value Lager. Without these beers the US craft brewers wouldn’t have anything in which to put too many ingredients before claiming their versions are more authentic (I love you really).

Every day the people in this room perform a miracle. changing a humble seed and some flowers into a delicious drink. We give millions of people joy and pleasure. Much like the people of Britain, British brewing is modest about its greatness. You always hear about US beers being brilliantly innovative, German beers being precision brewed and the flair and flamboyance of the Belgians. In Britain we choose to call our beers Dogs Bollocks, Old Fart and Rat Sphincter. Ok I made the last one up. As well as being charming I think that this modesty is a weakness and leaves our great brews open to attack from those who wish to commoditise and exploit them. Perhaps it’s time that we started making more noise about what we make and how great it is?

The British brewing industry is wonderfully passionate place. Passion is of course a very fashionable thing. You can’t turn on the TV without a celebrity chef or someone on Masterchef detailing the lengths of their passion. It is tantamount to a penis measuring competition with some of the celebrity chefs. One chef claiming to work 56 hours a day and another showing you the tattoo of a truffle on his left buttock. I think I speak for all the guys in the room when I say that as a brewer I am very happy with the size of my passion but I have no intention of waving it around in public and certainly would not conscience ramming it down people’s throats! I suppose again we are a little too modest about our passion.  Although that shouldn’t be taken as an excuse to any passion exposure later this evening!

The facet about British brewing which endears it most to me is the friendliness and inclusiveness of our industry. Brewers cooperate, collaborate and we share knowledge. As a brewer you feel part of a band of brothers who share the same goal; making great beer. This is not so in other industries. For example the two former directors of Sharp’s were from the food game. When they heard that I have given Roger Ryman from our direct competition a tour of the brewery they burst into my office to demand an explanation. I was so shocked that I nearly dropped the secretary! I explained that brewers work together for the common good of beer, we don’t steal each other’s ideas. Or as Andrew Wall from Moeschle puts it Brewers are arrogant bastards who think only they are right!

So to the future
What do the next 10 years hold for us? The truth is I don’t know. I haven’t got a crystal ball (looks down to check). What I do think is that the best way for the brewing industry to fight the current pressures on us from the competition for share of throat and increasing taxation is to do what we are best at and make drinks which are so good that consumer doesn’t have a choice in what he drinks. If he wants the very best experience he can only turn to beer.

I hope that you have enjoyed my speech and I hope my words tonight have made you proud of who you are and what you do. All that remains for me to do is to ask you to be upstanding and raise a toast to the BFBI!


MartinG said...

A very well thought out and put together speech Stuart. Although I am only a humble home brewer trying to do his best I buy in to your every word about the camaraderie of brewers.

I recently did some grunt work for one of our local brewers at the Potton Brewery in Bedfordshire. Brewers are the most humble, friendly and yet most passionate about what they do. Long may that continue to be the case.

Post a Comment