Saturday 9 July 2011

Why write, and then leave me cold?

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!


Anonymous said...

It's good that you give so much of a shit - if you didn't then you wouldn't keep creating such quality beer for us to enjoy. You've inspired my friend and I to try all grain brewing ourselves (specifically the Atlantic IPA did ..) and to try and understand more about the beer both of us enjoy. The Christmas Porter we brewed on Thursday topped out at 10 malts, not 69 mind you ...

I'm in Rock for the next couple of days - I popped up to the shop to stock up and (hopefully) say hello, but you apparently were only in this morning. No doubt I'll need to buy more tomorrow (and maybe even Monday for more to take back to Bristol)

(just finished a Monsieur Rock in the scorching heat in the garden whilst looking out over the estuary - exactly what I needed. Keep it up chap!

Stuart Howe said...

Mr Holmes you are too kind! I wasn't fishing for compliments(honest). I am in tomorrow although I may be stuck playing with vessels so can't promise I'll make it to the shop. I hope you have a great break and enjoy all that the North Coast has to offer.

Stuart Ross said...

I like this post.

Topping66 said...

Come up to Liverpool, take in the Magritte exhibition at Liverpool Tate and then tour some of the micro breweries. Would be glad to help.


Anonymous said...

Nice. Couldn't have said it better myself!

Jamie said...


MartinG said...

The first time I saw Doom Bar in a bar was relatively recently and I put off trying it thinking it might be an over-fragrant beer like some of it's Cornish cousins. Not mentioning any names St.Austell.

I have to say how wrong I was and how glad I now am to have been proved wrong. Doom bar and Sharps are right up there with the likes of Fullers, Caledonian, Everards and a few other elite brands that are gorgeous to drink and travel well.

I know you weren't fishing for compliments but I do so much enjoy the output from your brewery and use your quality as the yardstick by which I measure my own beers.

Keep it up young man, keep it up.

C B said...

Doom Bar is one of the best beers in the country.

When I heard Sharp's were aligning with Coors I feared the worst. Reading your blog and seeing the passion of an artist at work, I feel assured that it will remain a noble drink.

Thankfully, it's the beer in our local.

All the best.

Stuart Howe said...

Gents I am filling up. I honestly wasn't fishing for compliments. It's especially great to see Doom praised on the blogosphere. A brewer is nothing without discerning drinkers so please accept my gratitude and admiration!

Van Dieman Brewing said...

Love it. Hit the nail on the head without a doubt. It'd be great to envisage that every drinker would have this mentality when enjoying a craft beer, slowly they changing there perception down under, drinking for the taste of it, not the sake of it.

MartinG said...

Drinking for the sake of it works for me.... so long as the taste is right. ;-)

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