The BeerCast’s Claim Challenged

Posted by on Aug 15, 2013 in Scottish Beer | 19 Comments


So, the enjoyable back and forth became personal. Last Thursday I wrote this post relating to the claims of Arran Brewery Managing Director Gerald Michaluk, where I questioned his claim that Arran Blonde was the ‘best selling craft beer in Scotland’. That followed the aforementioned period of emailing between the two of us, where we eventually agreed to disagree on those claims. Being someone who writes about beer, I thought it was an interesting thing to query – essentially it all boils down to semantics and that oft-used c-word. That was that. Until the start of this week, when this further press release landed in my inbox, and the inboxes of plenty of other beer, drinks industry and business writers. I’m not going to publish any of the emails, as they were private correspondence, but seeing as this was a publicly-issued release – here it is…


Arran’s Claim Challenged

The claim made by the Arran Brewery that Arran Blonde is the best selling bottled craft beer in Scotland has been challenged by a blogger Richard Taylor and the Arran Brewery’s Gerald Michaluk is not taking this lying down.

– You can imagine the sneer curling the lips there, can’t you? ‘an impertinent blogger dares challenge ME?’ (Alan Rickman, as Sherriff of Nottingham style). I am a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers, Gerald. Now now.

Gerald Michaluk writes:

We stand by our claim because of the following three facts:

FACT: 1. AC Nielson research provided the top 10 selling brands of bottled ale in Scotland and listed Arran Blonde as the tenth best selling ale.

– I not only agreed with this fact in my post, I stated how impressive it was that Arran have managed to drive sales over the £500,000 mark for the first time, given their size and location.

FACT 2: Wikipedia defines a Crafty Brewery as “small, independent and traditional, and gives a production size of less than 700,000,000 litres a year and can not be more than 24% owned by another alcoholic beverage company that is not itself a craft brewery.

– Being named in a press release which relies on Wikipedia to back up its position. It doesn’t get any better than that, does it? (Actually it does, later). I don’t know if Gerald is deliberately referring to the ‘Craft v Crafty‘ brewery debate, or if it was just a typo (more of those later, too), but Wikipedia does indeed state those things about a craft brewery – albeit over the course of a few sentences that have been joined together. It also, however, says that these definitions apply to ‘American craft breweries’. Not breweries from the Isle of Arran. Or anywhere else. And this, reader, was my point. You may have noted it from the previous post I wrote, where I explained, at length, the term ‘craft beer’, ‘craft brewer’ etc etc has no simply defined, quantifiable designation in this country. It means nothing.

FACT 3: No other brewery listed above Arran in the top 10 best selling bottled ales in Scotland list meets this criteria.

– The criteria that don’t apply in Scotland, you mean? None of them meet it, not Arran or anyone else. But, for the record (and this could be FACT 4, if you like), the report states quite clearly that they believe Deuchars IPA to be the best-selling craft beer in Scotland. The report that is being used, by Gerald, as evidence to back up that Arran Blonde is. Of course, Deuchars isn’t made in America, and they aren’t a craft brewery by the definition of the Brewers’ Association either. They don’t meet criteria that don’t apply in this country, then. A craft double negative.

Conclusion: Arran Blonde is the best selling craft beer in Scotland.

I am therefore standing by our claim.

– Translation: I like the sound of the term ‘craft beer’, as it implies provenance. So I shall be sticking to it, thank you very much.

Arran Blonde won the title of Europe’s Best All Gain Wheat beer in the World Beer Awards in 2010 and our Dark won the title of the World’s Best Dark Brown Beer in 2012 and is the current reining champion. We make exceptionally good beers with all grain and whole hops with no artificial additives by hand in a traditional craft brewery. Our provenance is sound and claims we make about our beers are true.

– Right, here we diverge a bit. Firstly, I had no idea Arran Blonde was a wheat beer – it lost its title of Europe’s Best All Grain Wheat Beer in 2011 to Primator Weizenbier – but AB contains wheat malt, so I learned something there. Secondly, it’s good to hear that Arran have progressed from using malt extract and stovetop mashing, and have graduated into the ranks of the few British brewers that have bravely decided to go with all grain and those troublesome whole hops. Good to hear indeed. Oh, and that all their claims are true.

Some bloggers are paid by large brewers and I would not be surprised if there was a connection to them and to others claiming “our beer are expensive” being made recently as we move into the keg market and challenge some household names.

– I’m not sure about you, but I consider this to be defamatory and potentially libellous. If you are implying, or directly accusing me, Mr Michaluk, of being paid by a large brewery for this, then you are utterly out of order. This accusation was not levelled in any of the emails we exchanged, as a question, so why print it in a press release sent to the national media, eh? If you think I’m a shill for Heineken, to right grievous wrongs on behalf of Deuchars IPA, then you obviously haven’t read this post (title: The trouble with Deuchars), or this one (title: Scotland’s most over-rated beers).

Well our beers as are not cheap and cheap people don’t buy them, that much is true.

Our ales are considered by Wetherspoons to be Super Premium and they are, but most importantly they offergreat value for money when you consider the ingredients,( All gain, whole hops, Arran water, no artificial ingredients), and the care, pride and skill our brewers display. They have provenance.

– I hate to be a killjoy, but the rest of this rambling release goes on about things that I didn’t even mention – namely, the cost of Arran’s beers. It was mentioned on two of the comments on my original blog post, from drinkers who had both seen Arran’s products in pubs (one keg, one cask in ‘Spoons), and decided that for them, they were too expensive. I don’t often see Arran beers on cask in Edinburgh, and on the occasions I do I haven’t really been looking out for the price. I will do from now on, however – you can be sure of that. Publicans, let me know your thoughts. In the meantime, if Gerald wishes to claim that Arran Blonde is the best-selling Super Premium beer in Scotland, he has my blessing.

The Arran Brewery has no control over the prices publicans charge for our beers, but they have to make a profit to stay in business and if the price they charge does not represent good value for money then consumers will walk to another establishment, so they are not over charging by enlarge. There is a good correlation between what you pay and the quality of the beer you get. The competition is too fierce for it to be otherwise.

Writers like Tony Naylor writing in this months Restaurant magazine are complaining about the price of Craft Beer in general and goes as far as to state “….if people start savouring two five pound pints on a Saturdaynight as opposed to necking four at £3.00, how will pubs make any money?”

– If someone savours their drinking experience, they are more likely to return? Just a thought.

Craft beer customers, in my view, are not people who want to “neck down beer” at any price. They do want to enjoy their pint and are prepared to pay a premium for quality. They are quite capable of determining whether a beer represents value for money be it at £2.00 or £10.00 a pint. While the bars that are doing well nowadays are quite capable of making a profit on premium ales, it is no longer a volume game it’s a quality one and the big boys are going to have to realise that stack it high and sell it cheap and to hell with the consequences is no longer the game.”

– I mean, we’re clearly onto a far different issue here from the one raised by ‘a blogger Richard Taylor’. If other brewers are undercutting the market by pricing their casks at an unsustainable level, then that’s none of my doing? I note the other month a once-famous brewer and pub chain in Liverpool, that had allegedly been doing just that, went under. Maybe it isn’t sustainable in the long run? I do agree with his point that value varies depending on the drinker. It will be different for every person – unlike definitions, that can be applied rigidly to everything. Oh, right.

Arran Beers are available from as little as £2.50 a pint around city centres and where a premium is charged it will be for safe, convivial atmosphere that makes enjoying your pint one of life’s few remaining legal pleasures.

– Ladies and gentleman, I give you this. When you’re out on Friday night, enjoying a pint of Arran beer on cask, just make sure it’s over £2.50, or your life may be in mortal danger from your fellow pub-goers. It seems – and this is something I never appreciated – the higher the price of your beer, the safer you will be whilst drinking it. Is this, finally, a definition of ‘craft beer’ we can all agree on?


  1. Tom
    August 15, 2013

    Looks like it’s all mainly about the money and not that much about the beer. Shame.

  2. nick
    August 15, 2013

    He can say what he likes – his beer is dull dull dull.

    His press release smacks of desperation to be considered “craft” whatever that (as you rightly point out) means in the UK. Tell a lie many times and people might just believe it.

    Should just get on doing what he’s obviously been successfully doing for years – making staple ales that sell well. He does his legacy a disservice by trying to sex it up.

  3. Grahamf4
    August 15, 2013

    Bandwagon jumping onto the “c” scene. As there is no defintion of “craft” in the UK, their claim is pointless. It doesn’t matter whether he used wikipedia or not. It does seem to be a big display of willie waving on Arran’s behalf and it appears to be a wee one with ambitions of emlargement.

  4. Stuart
    August 15, 2013

    As one of the original commenters referred to above, I feel that I have to respond to Mr Michaluk’s comments about Wetherspoons’ pricing of the Arran ales at Super Premium rates. In my local ‘Spoons (the Salt Cot) most regular ales are £2.15, with the premium ales usually at £2.35 or very rarely £2.55. Hence my surprise to find Arran Blond at £2.75. I should also add that I had a Deuchar’s for £1.94 (which was actually in better condition). Even on Arran you can’t buy it for less that £3.00. For his ‘Great Value for Money’ I think you’ll find just about every other Scottish brewery claiming the same values.

    As for his comment that’ Cheap People’ don’t buy his beers, I take offence at that, as will many other drinkers – I have limited spare income and can’t afford many luxuries but I drink real ales when I am out, and they are often cheaper (and better) than many mass-produced products.

    I can think of many superior Scottish ales that are streets ahead of the Arran offerings, and that are always cheaper, and for me I will be sticking to them in the future instead of boosting the egos of Mr Michaluk.

  5. Melissa Cole
    August 15, 2013

    It was an unedifying press release and one that I had personal correspondence with Gerald over which, like you Rich, I won’t share but there’s a real line to be drawn here.

    He had a right to reply on your blog but he chose what I consider to be a bully boy tactic and I am impressed you’ve stood up to it. And I agree it is potentially defamatory and I think he owes you a public apology.

    It’s a real shame he took this route and I think it’s lowered the opinion of his brand for many beer lovers, I understand that in the heat of the moment he might of felt attacked, but to offer such a knee jerk reaction to the wider public and to not apologise to you for perhaps over-reacting was very short-sighted.

    And to insult drinkers of his beer as cheap too – well, that’s another immense own goal.

  6. Richard
    August 15, 2013

    Thanks for the comments, everybody. This isn’t a David v Goliath, ‘plucky blogger standing up for himself’ thing, by any means. Following the series of emails, I published the first post questioning Gerald’s claim – so, in effect starting it. Sending his entitled response to the national media was a low blow, and one I didn’t want to leave as the last word, with me seemingly put back in my place as a result.

    For what it’s worth, to get Arran from where it was to where it is now has been hugely impressive. But using facts for your own benefit has always got on my goat, and when I have an opportunity to call out a brewer on it, I will. I’ve read this post above plenty of times of course, and even now have only just noticed that the report, and the FACTS spelled out by Gerald, refer to Blonde in bottled form, yet this distinction has been dropped for the Arran Blonde is the best-selling craft beer in Scotland claim. I don’t know – as Nielsen only covers the off-trade – but when adding cask/keg sales into the mix, I imagine Deuchars (and others) are even further ahead, craft or not.

  7. John Bowman
    August 15, 2013

    I know I shouldn’t but I found myself gently amused by this blog.

    Gerald Michaluk places undue emphasis on quantity when, for any ‘craft’ product the precursor must be quality. Whenever I see Arran products, either in bottle or cask, it is very much a purchase of last resort. To my taste Blonde is characterised by it’s blandness and it’s this feature which may explain strong off sales. It has strength without body and taste without flavour.

    This blandness seems to stretch across the range so I was intrigued when I saw Dug ‘An American style IPA with attitude, with great aroma and is dry hopped for extra flavour.’ I found another bandwagon beer. Looks good, some alcohol, some sweetness. Malt and hops?? Gone walkabout. No hint of US IPA style.

    If Gerald Michaluk really wants to build a ‘craft’ business he might be better examining his brew sheets rather than scouring the blogosphere for a fight.

  8. Owen Bell
    August 15, 2013

    When I challenged the claim when it was first posted on Twitter I was blocked for my trouble.

    Childish, petty. Less surprising the more dealings I have with the brewery.

  9. GJ Dunbar
    August 16, 2013

    Gerald’s comments smack of naivety and desperation – both in his desperate chase of the spurious yet ubiquitous Craft Beer accolade and in his embrace of Wikipedia to do so.

    Perhaps Gerald was angry and on the defensive when he wrote this, but perhaps if Gerald is going to cut and paste “facts” from the internet he should also use a spell checker for his official Press Releases.

    Ultimately this is an amateurish, negative, petty, needless rebuke written by someone old enough and experienced enough to know better.

    In all honesty I haven’t bought any Arran beers in bottle/cask for a long time, and reading all this has pretty much cemented my future decision to continue not buying their product.

  10. James
    August 16, 2013

    “by enlarge”. Priceless.

  11. Richard
    August 17, 2013

    I used to work as a manager for Wetherspoon and part of my job was sorting the real ales and dealing with breweries. I had the misfortune of talking with a sales rep from Arran Brewery. After a limp clammy handshake, I was given a price list and to my shock they charged twice what other breweries charged for a cask.

    Arran Brewery seem to think if they charge a premium for their beer, then it automatically becomes ‘Super Premium’.

  12. John Bowman
    August 17, 2013

    Richard said: “Arran Brewery seem to think if they charge a premium for their beer, then it automatically becomes ‘Super Premium’.”

    Reminds me of a marketing study I once read on selling slow moving fur coats. They put the price and the coat sold. Why? The uninformed customer saw price as an indicator of quality. The higher the proce the better the coat must be so they bought it.

  13. Gerald Michaluk
    August 24, 2013

    The problem with critics is they sit in their chair and belittle the achievements of others as they have never really done anything themselves.

    The team at the brewery, through extreme hard work and determination have taken Arran Brewery from administration to where you can criticise my claims in five years. Whether you like it or not no other bottled ale, produced by a microbrewery, sold more than Arran Blonde in Scotland last year. It was the tenth best selling ale brand in Scotland. Those that sold more were owned by
    Wells & Young
    C&C (Magners and Gaymers ciders)
    Greene King
    Wells & Young
    Greene King

    I can safely assume you are not going to claim they are microbreweries. ONLY “CRAFT”

    Regarding price we are a premium because we brew in a fantastic location on an Island, use only whole hops and all grain and use the very best quality ingredients. (Which funnily enough are not in-expensive). This combination means we cannot be the cheapest ale on the market but we are comparable in price to other who have the same philosophy and quality of raw materials.

    My point was “craft” beer is to be savoured not chugged.

    I don’t expect this will make your website!

  14. Richard
    August 24, 2013

    The problem with Marketing types is they sit in their chair and make claims about their products in order to increase sales, and get extremely defensive when someone, legitimately, questions them on these claims.

    They then respond in a hugely offensive way by firing off a poorly-worded late-night rant to the national press, which more than one journalist has approached me over and stated is potentially libellous. I query your claims, because I believe them to be misappropriated. I do not criticise the the brewery, and have never ‘belittled the achievement of others’ – have you read this website? I’d be amazed if you could find another that is more supportive of Scottish brewing.

    I will mention it again, and then leave it there, at it isn’t sinking in, and I think we should all move on. My question on the initial press release that stated Arran Blond to be ‘the best selling craft beer in Scotland’ was that the report used to substantiate this claim stated that another beer was the best selling craft beer in Scotland. That was it. The word, term, definition, aspiration behind the word ‘craft’ was irrelevant. The people who wrote the report said it was Deuchars. Their report, their findings, their words. Misappropriated by you. That was my claim. That.

  15. Malcolm
    August 24, 2013

    Well, this entire debacle has only ensured one thing: that I won’t be buying Arran beers in the future if I can help it. Which is a great shame, as I would like to support any and all Scottish, small, micro, ‘craft’ breweries or whatever you want to call them.

    Oh, and Gerard: you don’t know me, I don’t know you. I’m just a guy who drinks beer. But kicking off with the “you belittle my achievements and you’ve never done anything yourself! Na na na!” and ending with the classic ‘Angry of Tonbridge Wells’ statement that “I doubt you will publish this!” just makes you look like a child.

    I don’t have a dog in this race, but Richard has come out looking like the more level-headed, thoughtful person. You do yourself and your fine brewery a disservice by carrying on like this.

  16. Phil Harmonic
    August 28, 2013

    Best thread EVAH.

    My comment is also brilliant, because it was typed in a fantastic location. On an Island.

  17. Richard
    August 28, 2013

    You mean crafted rather than typed, don’t you, Phil?

  18. alan
    December 13, 2013

    just wondering what you think about the rush for crowd funding ? does anyone think arran can do a brewdog and raise all the money they require? i am very curious about the individual investor and wonder if they realize its a long time before they can receive any returns?

  19. Michael
    May 18, 2014

    I emailed Arran Brewery to ask what hop and grain they use in their Blonde Beer. Silence was the stern reply. But many breweries don’t want to open up their larder. Presumably Arran don’t want to contradict the “local to the isle ” guff. If you want a real laugh view the “tasting notes” associated with Pollinator from the Black Isle Brewery. They must think we just turned over from East Enders. I like brewers like Cromarty who are proud to be clear about their ingredients. It adds to my enjoyment of their ale and it favours my buying..

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