There were 12 casks in the cellar at Sharp’s this morning. A monstrously-record pre-Christmas week of sales reduced a stock level of over 17,000 casks to 12 like Christmas piranhas decimating a cow carcass. The buzz you get from a week like this is one of the best feelings in brewing. When I joined Sharp’s we were selling just over this amount in a year.
I was in Germany last weekend. Cologne to be precise. My second time in the vibrant city, home of Kolsch, a pale ale that really wants to be a lager. I tried about 6 different versions of the style and enjoyed their cleanness although none really impressed. Spending the evening before in Brussels meant that these beers were measured with a tight gauge. My judgement may also have been influenced by what I think is the stupidest way to sell beer ever devised.
In Cologne you get beer in a slim cylindrical 200ml glass (less than half a pint). The reason for the small size is to ensure that your beer is fresh. Waiters with a special basket-like tray full of fresh glasses work their way between the tables and will replace your empty glass with a full one unless you cover your glass with a beermat. Great idea, no one likes flat, warm keg beer. What is a great idea in theory becomes a torture of deprivation when there aren’t sufficient waiters to replenish glasses when they are empty.
I spent what felt like half my life waiting for a beer. In the first pub I waited for 10 minutes with a mouth like the Sahara before I finally got a beer. As you would expect 200ml went in two sips and fewer seconds. My empty glass then sat on the table for another 10 minutes (leaving occasionally to be licked clean of beer by a desperate drinker). When the waiter came back I asked for 4 beers. I got one.
If you go to a Brauhaus in Cologne and find forehead-shaped dents in the table you know why! The scene of the red-faced Englishman going from hope to despair via anger and frustration was repeated in another 3 pubs before I gave in and went back to my hotel via the off licence. I wasn’t desperate to get blind drunk I just wanted to drink steadily and not spend all afternoon preoccupied with the likelihood of getting another beer before I needed to catch the train back home.
The first thing I did when back on English soil was to walk up to the bar and order a pint, drink it and order another one. Ah freedom.
So as the year comes to a close it’s time to look back to a year of change and plenty of high points and forward to bigger challenges and rewards. I wish you a great midwinter celebration and a successful and enriching New Year.