Saturday 23 April 2011

No lights, No music, JUST ANGER

Outside was calm. The dawn chorus was tuning up in the half light amidst the stillness of a country morning. Three blackbirds played like children across the dew-kissed lawn. I failed to notice this as I shut my leg in the car door on the way to work this morning and treated my neighbours to my own expletive-strew dawn chorus.

Despite the third ominously flawless flavour panel showing in a row and sales of 751,176 pints of Sharp’s beer, this week left me somewhere between seething and despondent with a side salad of defeated and exhausted. This morning this is replaced by a large helping of angry. My search for a second brewer remains a fruitless one. It has got to the point where I am disappointed that people who represent a massive compromise, decline the job offer. Maybe it's the thought of living close to the sea in the most beautiful part of England? Maybe it's the thought of working for a kind and understanding boss? Maybe the qualified and experienced brewer is an endangered species?

It is difficult to describe to someone who isn’t a commercial brewer what the word brewer means to us. Even those who work in the 10-20 barrel brew length world may struggle to understand. To me a brewer is someone who implicitly understands all aspects of beer production down to the scientific principles which drive it. The brewer knows through science and experience how to brew, how to fault find beer, brewing, packaging and engineering to keep consistent beer flowing out of the brewery gates. The brewer can do this by managing people, engineering and suppliers effectively. His/her decisions and actions are guided by science and experience not what he has read on a ”brewer’s” forum on the internet. The brewer can do all of this within the context of a business which needs to generate profit to survive. The brewer does not concern him/herself with bullshit, science fiction or fantasy. To me great commercial brewers are akin to virtuoso musicians performing to millions of people. It seems today there are plenty of musicians who play their guitar in the bedroom in front of the mirror and those who perform in a covers band in the local pubs but the virtuoso is a dying breed. I suppose the option of doing a brewing course, buying a cheap 10 barrel brewery, declaring yourself god’s gift to brewing while inconsistently copying easy to execute American-style beers is a much faster route to greatness. Shame. By the way, before you assume, I don’t consider myself as a virtuoso. Cage fight anyone?

On to less aggressive matters, I travel up to London on Friday afternoon to get blending with Camden and then I am showing my appreciation for the ladies of the Barley’s Angels next Saturday. At 3:30PM the Doors of the Tower Bridge Draft House will be thrown open to all comers and beers the like of which you will have never seen and will never see again will be on offer. The 2008 Vintage Massive Ale should be the star of the show in my utterly humble opinion.

I leave you with a few maxims:

If you brew without understanding science, everything you make will be subject to luck. You may make good beer for a while but one day your luck will run out (JMR 2010)

In the world of health and safety management, common sense, misfortune and stupidity don’t exist. (Howe 2011)

Never trust a journalist (Cope 2001)

What is love? Baby don’t hurt me (Haddaway 1993)

Trust your doubt. Always fight for your beliefs. That is the path beyond thought (Segal 1997)


BeerReviewsAndy said...

and breathe.....

chin up fella, im sure the right person will come along sooner or later...failing that im available to re locate and learn if the terms are right lol

Matthew Clark said...

The reason you can't find a second brewer is in this post. If you can't see it, no wonder you're angry.

Stuart Howe said...

Please elaborate Lupe

Stuart Howe said...

Thanks again for the offer andy! It is becoming an increasingly attractive option.

Matthew Clark said...

Well, for a start, No-one 'implicitly understands all aspects of brewing production, not Kunze, not Bamforth, not Dredge and certainly not you. If that's what you're looking for in an employee, good luck.

Given the choice, I would rather see an intimate gig where the musician might make the odd mistake but plays with passion and connects with the audience than a virtuoso playing to millions in a bland soulless arena.

I'm glad the virtuoso is a dying breed.

I wish you luck in your endeavours to find a second brewer but I think you could do it without insulting the small but passionately creative microbreweries of Britain, some of whom, I'm sure, look up to you and would give anything to have your resources at their disposal.

Mark said...

You'd certainly scare me off fella!

Perfection does not exist - I'd recommend that you set your sights a little lower and maybe avoid disrespecting those who do not meet up to your lofty ideals.

arn said...

I'm surprised with Molson Coors reaches into the industry they've not been able to supply someone suitable?

Tandleman said...

I think what Stuart is pointing out, however put, is that there is no point in turning up to a vacancy for a commercial large brewery like Sharps, without even the basics in the end to end production processes that a big brewery requires.

One of the things I always admired Giles Dennis of Lees for, was not his ability to brew as such, but his ability to reconstruct the brewery end to end and oversee a million commercial decisions as well, from forward buying malt and hops, to leading Lees export drive to the US, as well as knowing every licensee and pub in the Lees estate end to end. All done with a degree of amiability and fun too. It is a big ask.

So I for one see where Stuart is coming from. (But I doubt if Giles fancies it. I bumped into him yesterday and retirement suits him.)
I like demanding bosses personally, though Stuart wouldn't get me in a cage to fight him! Tough looking bugger. Him and Ted Tuppen in a cage fight though - I'd pay good money to see that.

Pity too I can't come to London next week. I'd love to try these beers or some of them and the Draft House is 10 mins walk from our flat.

Stuart Howe said...

Lupe hi, I am sorry if I came across as being anti micro. Most of my favourite beers are microbrewed. I fully appreciate the challenges and stifling constraints which come with small scale brewing. 8 years ago I was running a 10 barrel plant with no lab. I have nothing but respect and admiration for microbrewers making great beer and certainly don't want them to be offended.

The point I was trying to make was that they don't appreciate the challenges of brewing at scale. Not because they are retards but because they are yet to experience it.

If you are a microbrewer who thinks he is god's gift to brewing then I hope you are still offended.

I don't claim to be the best brewer in the world or this country for that matter but I do feel that I have a comprehensive working knowledge of the extant science and engineering of commercial brewing. And I am confident that I can solve any brewing problem with adequate resources. If you will I have an implicit understanding or my trade.

Microbrewers have a vital part to play in brewing and innovation but I stand by my conviction that a well made consistent commercial beer with plenty of character is the best thing known to man.

Sorry again for any distress. If we ever meet I'll but you a micro-brewed pint!

Stuart Howe said...

Alas Arn, Molson Coors are short of technical brewers to the tune of 5. As I said a dying breed.

Thank you for your support Tandleman. You are a gent!

Anonymous said...

You're completely right Stuart, of course. Production brewing is indeed completely different to starting a new day with a blank brewsheet. I find both equally challenging and enjoyable. Don't let it get you down though! Have you put an advert in the B.G. or the IBD? I'm sure there's plenty of brewers who'd like to live by the seaside.


Matthew Clark said...

Thanks for explaining yourself and replying so succinctly, you could have just called me a twat and told me to fuck off.

I don't think I'm god's gift to brewing but I have moved up from homebrewing to a 10bbl brewhouse to a 30bbl plant with full laboratory and I feel that any brewer who increases their brewlength, fully understands the challenges that lie ahead of them with regard to increased sales and quality maintenance.

I'm not usually this full on but I get really defensive when I feel that a big boy is picking on the little guy.

I also do not bear any grudges so if we ever meet, I'll gladly introduce myself and share a beer.

I still feel that if you're trying to recruit a brewer by quoting flavour panel results and sales figures, you're barking up the wrong tree.

Please don't be angry, it isn't healthy.

M. Lupe

Mark said...

With more considered reasoning and responses this is actually a very interesting conundrum - firstly facing Mr Howe and Sharps / Molson Coors, but wider for the brewing industry generally, especially those smaller breweries who want to mix it with the big boys.
At that scale of operation, it becomes particularly a case of you are only as strong as your people, with the associated HR issues. If Molson Coors are 5 brewers short of an optimum situation then, in addition to the benefits of aligning with a multinational, one also has to be ready to inherit some problems.

When addressing the HR issues, particularly those of recruitment and retention, it's a competitive environment - should you poach other companies employees or create your own? And if quality employees are in high demand then it's not just a case of a good boss and a nice place to live - it's the whole remuneration package, the corporate environment, opportunities for self-development and self-fulfillment.
Or perhaps one could take Heriot Watt graduates and mould them to your outlook, though that takes time and perhaps another company will come and snatch them from you. I'd vouch that these are not necessarily considerations that successful businessmen running smaller breweries have had to consider much before, but as one grows, the skills needed as a brewery CEO are ever more complex, and might include diplomacy! :-)

Stuart Howe said...

Thanks Dominic, I have tried every avenue a couple of times but as you say I can't let it get to me. I must stop using my blog to vent frustration.

Mark, very good points. I suspect that tech brewers will soon start earning footballer's wages and need agents to facilitate their transfers from brewery to brewery. I am exploring a few different options with regard to people now because progress can't wait. Diplomacy is my middle name Mark and I'll punch anyone who says otherwise :-).

Finally to all brewers no matter how small, I do consider you as brothers because you feel the same pain and heartbreak as I do when beer is not right. Nothing written in the post should be taken to negate that.

Mark said...

I for one hope that you will continue to blog on the reality of your lot - once I saw past the irritation of your original post and remembered that you have been there, done it and obtained the "Doom Bar" T-shirt, it highlighted the challenges faced as an organisation grows - particularly to the point whereby the key individuals become reliant on other people for the very thing that has made them successful in the first place.

So actually, it will be very interesting to hear how your recruitment drive goes - and whether you plan to set up a parallel training and development process.

Equally, I can understand that you might be reluctant to divulge further, because if any potential candidates do see your blog, their price will be going up by the minute! Good luck.

Ed said...

What's the pay like?

Stuart Howe said...

Not at liberty to divulge on the blog but if you e-mail me I can tell you Ed. Hint: it's more than you expect!

Anonymous said...

Sucky to hear the search has so far been a fruitless one. Interestingly, many moons ago when Thornbridge were looking for a brewer, there were not many to be found and they had to hire a Kiwi with mainly big brewery experience! Poor buggers...

Start yelling at the government and get brewer on to the skill shortage list... you will likely be inundated with strange-tongued foreign brewers who will be keen as mustard.

Good luck my friend...


PS - would definitely have called that Monsieur Lupe fella a twat ;)

Ed said...

Stuart, you don't have an email address on your profile. Unlike my good self.

Stuart Howe said...

Thanks for the words of consolation Kelly. You always were my rock. Such a shame you got deported! Ed.

Beard Beer Blogger said...

If you are looking for far too many applicants to read through, you could put an ad up on, I think it is mostly americans on there, but that is the go to for american brewers.

Kristy said...

Chin up Stuart, you could always reconsider me for the role.....

C B said...

I'm not in the brewing industry, but a long serving imbiber of fine ales. On moving to Cornwall a few years ago, Doom Bar immediately became one of our favoured beers.......along with many great ales both large and micro brewery. And happily, it is served in our local.

Your blog says it how it is (presumably) and like a fine beer achieves a satisfying balance of bitter and sweet.......soulful aggression and humour/irony in other words. (just in case).

I have played in a few 'pub bands' with soul and feel, and a few bum notes, but also agree that there appears to be a sad demise of the virtuoso and am not offended by your comments. Nor should anyone be.

It is fascinating to witness the insider frothing and it is great entertainment, but from a beer fan's point of view, whatever goes on behind the scenes, it's the taste that reigns supreme.

So, thanks to the lot of you for your heroic efforts and passion, and be friends. That's what its all about.

Keep venting the spume though.

Long live the brewer!

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