03 May 2013

So you want to be a brewer?

Session logoNo, me neither. But Chuck is calling the shots for The Session this month and he's looking for "first-hand knowledge of the complexities and pitfalls of starting a commercial brewery". My only first-hand knowledge is what one very specific customer wants, and I think his demands can be boiled down to a single statement: You Have To Love Beer.

Actual beer that is. Not beer as a concept, beer as a market segment, beer as a culture, beer as an icon: you have to love the real fizzy (or not), malty (or not), hoppy (or not) liquid substance. If you can't pinpoint exactly what it is you love about beer and the drinking thereof then you are no good to me as a brewer.

This is an observation from experience. All the best brewers I've met have been beer fans first and producers second. Conversely, brewers with a strong brand focus -- regardless of the size and age of the their breweries -- almost always make a lesser grade of beer. When a professional brewer names one of their own as their favourite beer, they've failed the test. In fact if they can name any beer as their favourite, they're probably not to be trusted. If their social media streams are full of cool quotes and funny stories from The Wacky World Of Beer then the chances are they're making crap. It's the brewers who post pictures of brew kettles and hop pouches that are worth keeping an eye on, as well as the ones who can't be arsed with this social media nonsense in the first place. An infectious joy in the nitty-gritty of beer production and consumption is what's required. If you don't have that, step away from the mash tun and do something else.

No Irish brewery shows the mercurial spirit of beery variety more than White Gypsy. Anything goes here: black to gold; session to imperial; ales and lagers in British, Belgian, American, Scandinavian and German styles, and every combination thereof. It's delightfully random and almost always perfectly executed. White Gypsy Doppelbock is a case in point. I had missed this beer when it was launched last year and I understand it's gone out of production again, but Sally from the brewery kindly donated a nip to me at the Franciscan Well Easter Festival last month.

The colour is a tad on the pale side for the style, I think: more a red-gold than ruby-brown. There's an odd but alluring raspberry balsamic aroma. First bite reveals a straight-up crisp grain husk sweetness buoyed up on a smooth and slightly boozy base with only a faint prickle of fizz. This malt fest is given no more than a sprinkle of herbal noble hops. The overall effect is of a rich, wholesome nutritious beer, one with superb drinkability.

Producing something like this takes more than a fancy logo, clever slogan and some bullshit tweets about Ben Franklin.


  1. This times 1000. I can easily tell the difference between a brewery is serious about their beer and one which was started for the sole purpose of making money (and hopefully be bought out by one of the macros).

    I'm expecting a rush of "me too" craft breweries to enter the Irish market in the next couple of years (though some reckon that this has already started to happen). I think suppliers and consumers have to stand fast and demand quality (always) from anyone claiming to brew craft.

  2. Great post! Hits the spot. I went with a very similar angle. To survive as a start-up commercial brewery you must have passion...passion for all things beer. Totally with you there. Cheers.

    1. Passion is stupidly easy to fake. I don't want passion. I want enjoyment, appreciation: good UX awareness in general.

  3. As a home brewer, most of the work involved in my hobby is real drudgery - bottling, cleaning kit and bottles, bottling, cleaning the flat, bottling, getting chewed out by the OH, and er, yeah, bottling. There is no way you can get passionate about that.

    I know a few pro brewers, and they spend their days on this kind of drudgery as well (pro gear doesn't get rid of this until you hit massive scales). You have to really care about what comes out of the fermenter at the end of the process. If it tastes great and if you are proud to share it.

    In London, the town has gone mental with brewing, but there are some economic factors making it possible (HMRC Progressive Duty Relief, black cabs as distribution network). There are a few 'me too' brewers, taking advantage of the relative ease that you can separate hipsters from their cash.

    Lots of twittering and gimickery. the good ones twitter too, but its usually describing their process, or where they will be next. They have to make money too, and as a business it is not easy.