Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Cloudy balls

At the turn of the year, many people offer their predictions for the year to come. At the beginning of this year, I did so too, although the results were, to say the least, mixed. Mind you, how many economists predicted the collapse in the oil price?

  • Beer duty will rise by the rate of inflation. The duty escalator will continue to apply to all other drinks categories. Wrong – Osborne slightly cut beer duty, froze cider and spirits duty, and removed the escalator from all other drinks categories. A rare example of entirely positive news – cheers George!

  • Craft keg ales will not make a significant breakthrough into mainstream pubs, but there will be a modest expansion of British-brewed “craft lager”. Again wrong – I’ve seen craft keg ales in pubco pubs in trendy locations such as Didsbury, and indeed New World Pale Ale in mainstream outlets with a Marston’s loan tie. Plus Spoons are now serving Devils Backbone. Still not seen in standard pubco houses, though.

  • Beer sales in the on-trade will decline by about 5%, those in the off-trade by slightly less, but still showing a negative figure. Nope, on-trade sales fell by a mere 0.7%, with the off-trade rising by 3.6% and the overall figure rising by 1.4%. Surely a result of the two-year cut in beer duty.

  • Overall per capita alcohol consumption will continue to fall. Indeed, and bears continued to shit in the woods.

  • There will be more breweries in the UK at the end of the year than at the beginning. And there were. It must peak some time, but not yet, although there seem to be more grumbles from brewers about erosion of margins

  • At least one popular beer brand currently sold at 4.8% ABV will have its strength reduced to 4.5%. “The taste will be unaffected”, its makers will claim. No – there have been numerous strength reductions, but the idea of draught Stella or whatever being cut is still to come. Indeed Tuborg in Spoons was restored to 4.6% from 4.0% following customer complaints.

  • A prominent pub in the Stockport MBC area that nobody had imagined was vulnerable will close its doors for the last time. Not really so – the most prominent was the Adswood Hotel, which had been thought to be under threat for some time. We also lost the Tiviot and Imperial/Petersgate Tavern.

  • Some bizarre concept of which I cannot even dream will become the “next big thing” amongst railway arch brewers and gushing bloggers will claim that “everyone is brewing XXXX”. Saison is so last year. So was it sour beer, or Gose?

  • England will not progress beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup (if that), thus denying a boost to the brewing industry and pub trade. That wasn’t exactly the most difficult prediction to make.
So perhaps I’d better steer clear of making any predictions for 2015 – although I’d say it’s odds-on that Osborne won’t increase alcohol duties in the pre-election budget.

36 comments:

  1. Oh go on, give us some predictions for 2015, it's the fun of beer bloggery. Some pessimistic ones, please.

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  2. Sorry to be a pedant, but there is no apostrophe in Devils Backbone.

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  3. Duly corrected - apologies for failing to make allowances for other people's illiteracy :p

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  4. The Armoury is still open - or have I misread your comment?

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  5. Yes, I did mean the Adswood Hotel, now duly corrected. And I can't blame that one on drink ;-)

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  6. Re trending beer styles I think 2012 was IPA, 2013 Saison and 2014 "sours" of varying styles, notably Berliner Weiss and Gose. I think the sour beer style still has some way to run but the next big trend? Well, perhaps a straw in the wind but I read that about a half of this year's UK hop crop headed Stateside. And what the US craft brewers take up one year, ours do the next. Is good old Best Bitter about to make a comeback?

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  7. Martin, Cambridge30 December 2014 at 16:04

    I still think you were right on your 2nd prediction, I see craft keg in no more than a handful of the pubs I visit, even stretching that definition to Marston's or Greene King (which I doubt many would see as craft). Didsbury, of course, is just a tiny bit of Shoreditch escaped from the smog.

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  8. My 2015 prediction. The new Robbies mild replacer beer to be branded "Old Mudgies BBB" in a tie up with Mudgie himself on a promise of free supplies of the boring brown bitter they knock up. It becomes the beer sensation of 2015 outselling Even trooper and knocking Iron Maiden beer into a cocked hat. All the kids and hipsters embrace it, thinking Mudgie is an ironic statement rather than a genuine miserable old codger, and being a curmudgeon is the hipster trend of 2015. Despite the endless flow of free beer and groupies wanting a bit of Mudgie action, Mudgie finds something to moan about.


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  9. Here's a (non-)prediction: the 'poker dice' approach to beer styles will still be with us in a year's time. I keep thinking it's peaked, but apparently not. A friend is involved in the Chorlton Brewing Company, whose first two production beers were an Amarillo sour with dry hopping and marigold flowers and an imperial black gose with puffed wheat. (Either that or there's a talented wind-up merchant behind the CBC Twitter account.) What always bugs me about 'styles' like that is, how do you know when you've got it right?

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  10. Forgive my further pedantry, but the apostrophe was deliberately omitted so as not to suggest any relationship with fallen angels, this is the South remember.

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  11. "Cloudy Balls"? I'd assumed this was a post about the microbreweries of South East London. I feel cheated.

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  12. I don't know of many pubs in Cambridge that DON'T have craft beer now. Even the bogstandard greene king chain pubs in the city have massive "CRAFT BEER" signs in the windows.

    and Nottingham and Lincoln are very much the same. New craft beer pubs keep opening to replace all the non-craft beer pubs that can no longer compete for obvious reasons.

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  13. Interesting that Martin and py both come from Cambridge yet have very different perspectives on the availability of "craft beer" - assuming they are talking about the same thing, i.e. "craft keg" rather than craft-ish cask beers.

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  14. Yes, but we know that py does tend to favour hyperbole over facts at times. But nonetheless two very different takes on the same pub scene.

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  15. Listen to yourselves. You remind me of The People's Front of Judea.

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  16. I actually go out to the pubs in Cambridge and Nottingham city centre and inner cities.

    Yes, there are still a few old struggling pubs who haven't caught up with the times and don't even have a craft bottle selection, let alone a keg offering, but these really are becoming few and far between, the exception rather than the norm. They'll probably be closed soon anyway.

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  17. Martin, Cambridge2 January 2015 at 09:33

    Depends on whether we view GK Noble lager and a few bottles in the fridge as a Craft offer, whatever that means.

    To be fair to py, I've only been to about half of Cambridge pubs in last year, mostly I visit pubs in the real world.

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  18. Because wet led pubs in city centres aren't the "real world".

    Only posh middle class villages featuring pubs that aren't really pubs, but are actually pub themed restaurants, count as "the real world", is that it? Wet led pubs are for midland scum like myself and thus don't count.

    You'll be telling me Nottingham is posh next.

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  19. I have to say my experience is much closer to Martin's. Yes, I have seen craft keg beers in obvious specialist beer pubs, Spoons and pubco pubs aiming to do a bit on the beer front. Purity Longhorn IPA is another I've spotted.

    But in the general run of family brewer tied houses and mainstream pubco outlets - community and food-led pubs - there's no sign.

    There are 12 pubs in my local, fairly prosperous, area of Stockport. I'm not aware there's a single tap for craft keg ale, although there is Kozel lager.

    A few have "craft beers" in the fridge, but I really don't think that a poster proclaiming "We now stock craft beer" and mentioning Punk IPA, Brooklyn Lager and Innis & Gunn is really a sign of revolution.

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  20. considering the % of pubs that explicitly market themselves as selling craft beer has gone from <10% to >90% in less than 2 years, I would say thats a pretty epic revolution. Its changed the beer and pub landscape far faster and more profoundly than anything camra have ever done.

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  21. 90% of pubs market themselves as selling craft beer? Hello from the alternative universe!

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  22. Its entirely true of the wet led pubs I've either visited or walked past over the past 6 months. And not just in Cambridge, all over the place. Even Greene King advertise craft beer as standard. That's a lot of pubs - 10 gk pubs for every spoons.

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  23. Martin, Cambridge4 January 2015 at 00:33

    Greene King would call all their beer "craft", but the only thing I've noticed new is that Noble lager, and that's not common. The Portland Arms seems to have a bit more freedom but I don't see any craft keg in the average city GK (Brook, White Swan, Milton Arms etc)

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  24. I wonder if what we are seeing here is not so much a craft revolution but the start of "craft" evolving into a marketing term. Going much the same way that "traditional" did in the 80s and 90s.

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  25. Craft has always been a marketing term. People do know what to expect from it though, so pubs can't just take the piss and market craft john smiths smooth flow.

    All the GK pubs mentioned sell bottled or kegged punk IPA as a minimum.

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  26. All true - but they can pay it lip service. As Mudgie has said, a few bottles of Punk IPA in the fridge isn't much of a revolution.

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  27. I beg to differ. If you can't see that going from < 10% of pubs selling any form of craft beer to > 90% of pubs selling at least some kind of craft beer, and making a big deal of it, in under 2 years, is a seismic shift in the UK pub industry then you're clearly even more out of touch with the reality of the situation than I had previously conceived.

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  28. Of course, compared to the rise in cider sales and cider brands then the craft beer revolution is as noticeable as a curry fart in a sulphur factory.

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  29. I've just spent Christmas in Oswestry, a small market town in Shropshire. Of the 30ish pubs in the town not a single one (apart from Spoons) stocks any craft beer, not even a few bottle of Punk IPA or Brooklyn Lager. On the other hand the pub I was in last night had 5 flavours of fruit "cider" and 4 flavours of alcoholic ginger beer!

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  30. How many wet led pubs are there in Oswestry? I can't think of many. Most are restaurants. But you're right, it is generally quite crap for beer.

    Stonehouse craft brewery though, you must have seen that somewhere?

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  31. Never been drinking in Oswestry, but it's not really a tourist hot-spot, and I'd expect quite a lot of those 30 pubs to be "wet-led".

    And selling a traditional British-style beer like Stonehouse Station Bitter that happens to be brewed by a micro doesn't really make it craft in the usual sense of the word.

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  32. I'd say almost all are wet led and most don't even serve food.

    I like stonehouse and Station bitter is almost universally available. I wouldn't call it "craft" though.

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  33. I've eaten in most of the pubs in Oswestry. The few wet led ones tend to be quite dumpy and down at heel, its not surprising they're a bit behind the times.

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  34. Martin, Cambridge4 January 2015 at 23:24

    I was also drinking in Oswestry last year. Its a typical pleasant rural market town with a good mix of pubs, not dissimilar to a Newmarket, Thetford or Huntingdon locally. The only real change in recent years will have been the growth in Aspalls, flavoured bottle ciders and possibly a european lager. I'm intrigued to know where these cutting edge craft towns are (apart from Chorlton of course).

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