Brewmeister – the shame of British brewing
Where do you begin, with Brewmeister? The self-styled ‘Supersonic Scientists Delivering you to Drunksville?’ Where to start? With the recent re-brand, that was widely mistaken for a parody of BrewDog? With the flyer sent to bars, claiming an entitlement to widen the margins to customers due to Brewmeister being ‘craft’? Or with the more recent fact that founder Lewis Shand openly admitted to me that Armageddon – the beer that catapulted Brewmeister to the pages of national media – was not, in fact, 65%abv as claimed. The truth, seemingly, was that nobody at Brewmeister actually knew how strong it was, at all. Yet it was sent out as 65%, and their name was made. It’s all false. All of it.
That doesn’t even come as a surprise to me. I bought a bottle of Armageddon in June last year, and had it tested. It came back at 16%abv. You only have to look at the reviews on RateBeer to read page after page of people questioning the alcohol content. To my knowledge, none of the mainstream media confirmed the 65% claims, they just ran with it. The guys at Brewmeister defended their beer, as you’d expect; but by stating things related to the specifics of these independent tests, possible errors of calibration or interpretation. Maybe that’s true, and the brewing QA specialist who did me a favour by testing the beer used the wrong specification, but I doubt it.
I’m done with Brewmeister, to be frank. Even as they are coming round to a better way of thinking; holding events, hiring sales staff (six of them, some of whom had never tasted any of their beers until Friday). You see a Brewmeister staffer handing out samples, explaining the beer to potential converts, and you think that’s the way it should be done. And then you speak to the guy in charge, and he tells you that some of their earlier beers were “absolutely shocking.” Why were they bad? Because they didn’t have conditioning tanks. Because they cleaned with a pressure washer and homebrew steriliser, not Peracetic, or caustic.
This was largely down to the struggle with money, in the early days – like practically every new brewery. Not everyone can do what Alaskan Brewing Company did; pouring away their first sixteen batches, before they got to a level they felt comfortable selling to the public. Not every brewery has the luxury of starting out that way, with bills piling up. That’s why I think you have to give new producers a grace period, as they work through teething problems with equipment, recipes, and learn on the job. It’s only fair. But new breweries have a responsibility to be fair to their customers, by the same token. Release a beer you might not be 100% happy with. Don’t release a beer you know is 100% awful.
Armageddon has been quietly dropped, the chest freezers that purport to freeze it down to 65% now produce Snake Venom instead. The new World’s Strongest Beer; another raft of headlines from the Metro to the Huffington Post. Brewmeister have said that each batch of Snake Venom is tested, although I’ve yet to see any of the results anywhere. Early reviews mention a significantly harsh alcohol burn on the taste. How do you make a beer 67.5% if a 65% beer never even got close? I can think of one, quick way, right off the bat. One that would yield a huge alcohol hit on the finish. Difficult to prove, however.
Regarding the re-brand, this was apparently down to the investors who came on board towards the end of last year – in Lewis’s words, surprising even him that they felt the look of the beers to take priority over how they tasted. When design agency CP and Co came back from a brief to be similar to Stone Brewing Co (yes, that was the intention), he admitted being almost angry at the resemblance to BrewDog – although the designs were then signed off and used. There was even initial concern that they might be sued by the Ellon brewery, such was the similarity.*
*For the record, I have actually asked James Watt his opinion of Brewmeister; he just smiled.
When you speak with someone from Brewmeister, one of many elephants in the room is how they are seen, and treated, on social media. To a wide section of the beer Twitterati, they have become something of a running joke. Lewis hopes that eventually, the beer community will get back on their side – although he acknowledges it will take some degree of time. As I understand it, they are now being advised by a PR Company (the Edinburgh Meet the Brewer was an event at their PR’s suggestion, in part to address the concerns of the beer fans in the city). I can only imagine they weren’t involved with this particular tweet, sent the other week in relation to ‘that’ flyer on costings.
@h_doody @BeerOClockShow It's a fact, craft beer does cost more than cheap corporate lager! It costs more to make. Muppet!
— Brewmeister (@BrewmeisterBeer) April 15, 2014
You can almost sympathise when Lewis states, with remarkable candor, that he finds Brewmeister’s RateBeer reviews “embarrassing” (their highest-scoring beer yields an average of only 3.10 out of 5). Yet, you can’t really sympathise. They export 90% of their production abroad for two reasons – firstly, because there’s no duty payable on export – and secondly, because “the overseas markets aren’t aware of our bad publicity.” Well, lucky them. What happens to the rest of the beer industry when new markets take delivery of beers that are made in this way? Shifted out of the country to bypass the negative connotations of the producers? Where does ‘craft’ beer go, then?
You know what? The beers I tried on Friday (all on draught) were actually alright. Apart from the acrid barnyard of Neon Blonde, that is (Lewis described it as “a boring beer for CAMRA types”). Supersonic IPA was pretty decent; softly fruity. The Kaiser wheat beer was even better. But I can’t bring myself to actually like any of them – I certainly can’t bring myself to support them. The reason is very simple. If you cast yourself under the ‘craft’ umbrella, you have to abide by one of the major (unwritten) cornerstones – integrity. Brewmeister have none. I thought they were clueless, naïve – but now I know them to be even lower than that.
The turning point in my attitude goes back to the Armageddon. I paid £50 for my bottle. £50. For something that the brewery knew, all-along, was not as advertised. They released bad beer, to stay in production – but they also misled the public about the alcoholic content of a subsequent beer sold entirely on the premise that it was high-strength. And when I told Lewis that a lot of people spent a lot of money on Armageddon – that I spent a lot of money on Armageddon, you know what he said? What his response was? “Yeah, I know.”
That was it. No apology. No contrition as to how their big break came about. It’s disgusting. I always got the sense that they were making it up as they went along – and this seems to have been exactly the case. And now, they have £250,000 of backing, they are building a new brewery, and they have hugely expanded on staff. All of it built on a lie. When you’re openly blasé about new customers wasting their money on your products, what does that say about you? Brewmeister are cockroaches. They should be cast aside, and boycotted from every bar and bottle shop in the country.
UPDATE May 2016
To close this story off, in late 2015 the original owners were bought out by a consortium of venture capitalists from Dundee, and re-branded as the Keith Brewery.
NorrieApril 28, 2014
Good on you, Rich. Bold and honest – only 50% of which Brewmeister can claim.
I think under Trading Standards you are due your £50 back.
CalumApril 28, 2014
Well said Rich. Not like you to get critical of a brewery but you are quite right in this. Integrity is everything and if you do not have that you do not deserve to succeed.
RonaApril 28, 2014
Lewis was at the CAMRA festival at Pittodrie last year with a few of their beers, all of which were infected to the point of being vinegar. When Dan questioned him about it his only response was “yeah, they’re f*cking sh*t.” Why would you bring beers that you know to be terrible to your first public outing like that, where you should be aiming to build up your local customer base? Just smacks of laziness and entitlement, and pretty much sums up the attitude they projected with that flyer – they want to make more money without putting in any of the blood sweat and tears that have built up the rest of us in the craft beer industry. Shame on them, and thanks for posting such an eloquent post. It’s about time someone gave them a fair shot to prove themselves, and the fact that they’ve screwed it up once and for all, whilst not being exactly a surprise, does at least give some closure on the matter.
Lewis ShandApril 28, 2014
Well that was a lot of lies Rich!
Jon K (out of Stringers)April 28, 2014
Us little brewers should remember that a false trade description is a criminal offense. Not just grounds for a refund. And those of us who happen to be SIBA members should remember that we sign up for a code of practice. But worse than that, sh*t beer is an crime against humanity.
RichardApril 28, 2014
Lewis – where were the lies, exactly?
JoeApril 28, 2014
Brilliant piece. In my experience the only way to deal with cockroaches is to call in pest control. This kind of piece is great for outing skullduggery, but is anybody willing to blow the whistle and call HMRC or Trading Standards?
FyneJamieApril 28, 2014
Well said Rich – There are a lot people working really hard to build up a craft beer industry with honesty and integrity as key to why people should choose craft beer over the mass produced. This kind of business does the reputation of the industry no good at all and it’s good to see people who are undermining what we are all trying to achieve being called on it.
PatApril 28, 2014
I didn’t know any of this – though I did read the blog piece you wrote Rich about the rebrand at the time – anyway…shit!…
So, unaware of this back story I was in Taproom on Friday on the way uptown and I really liked the Supersonic…I even went back on my way home to Leith and had another one…however one of my worries as a drinker is the ever rising prices for good beer…one of my hopes has been that as ‘better beer’ becomes more widespread the production cost and following on from that the price will go down (as a self employed musician with a young family I have limited resources)…so to read about the leaflet and the widening of profit margins pisses me off…
As far as I can tell the new breweries that have been appearing in the last 6 years since I’ve been here in Edinburgh have a sense of camaraderie and support between them – certainly it seems that way from the outside and it’s one of the main things I love about them – yes there’s quality in the products but also there’s the feeling that they’re staffed with good people with motives that are not just based around money…that in turn engenders trust from customers like me in their favourite brewers…we trust that if something costs a little bit more then that’s because there were extra costs in production…to then have that trust jeopardised could end up being a dangerous thing for the brewing industry…
Anyway, thanks for bringing this to my attention Rich…
…and Lewis, you should recognise that this is not something that necessarily has to cause you personal offence and get upset by…everyone makes mistakes…why not use this as an opportunity to try and see this situation from another point of view and look to change your approach?…Try and make what you’re doing more inkeeping with your brewing competitors as customers like me are pretty well informed these days (especially after reading this blog post) – plus you can still make a profit, noone would have a problem with that…just don’t think that doing it cynically will actually profit your business in the medium to long term…best of luck changing your approach…
RobApril 28, 2014
I would happily boycott their beers if I could find anywhere to boycott them. Sadly though, I don’t have the option of ignoring them as I walk past in the aisle….
There was also that rather lovely twitter spat with Chris from the Hanging Bat. Together with a link to a tripadvisor post written by a new user called “Beerbasher” containing potentially libelous statements. Coincidence? Hmmm, doubt it.
BarmApril 28, 2014
Well, Lewis, all you have to do to prove Richard is a liar is to publish the accredited lab results showing that Armageddon and Snake Venom are as strong as you claimed they were. You told me on Twitter a couple of months ago they were nearly ready. Where are they?
thebeermonkeyApril 28, 2014
Good article, Rich.
The claims of the 65% abv are serious enough that Trading Standards should be asked to investigate them. My wife is ex trading standards and she was appalled reading your piece.Have you considered sending the article off to them? It is something that they take very, very seriously.
The50FTQueenieApril 28, 2014
I’ve never had a Brewmeister beer, but everything I’ve seen about / by them so far makes me think of them as the Ratners of the brewing world. So I’ll pass. They do have a nice owl in their logo though, which is a shame as I do like a nice owl.
krispnApril 28, 2014
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of publicity and ‘pushing the boundaries’ in persuit of market share. Brewdog courted controversy but they have some good beers to back all the tounge in cheek advertising. Hell if a marketing company want to make good beer go for it as long as the product is good!
I shall resreve comment on brewmeister beer until I taste it but their full on marketing seems to have crossed a boundary with many people and rightly so if the well written piece above is anything to go by. Coupled with the news of knowingly selling sub par beer, misleading punters and then mis-representing abv it begins to look like the class jokers have found themselves struggling in the big leagues.
Craft beer seems like an ripe market which is growing in publicity and popularity. With all new ventures and markets there are entrepreneurs who are savvy and in for the quick buck and those who are in for the long game. Not every new brewery can afford to ditch bad runs and I know all too well from home bewing sometimes brews can just taste bad. If Brewmeister ‘had to sell bad beer and ship internationally to make a profit they should really have held off on the UK market until they felt proud of their product. In attempting to gain market share in a burgeoning UK industry where the target market is knowledgable, passionate and accutely aware what they are paying for their efforts seem to have backfired.
I await Lewis’s response eagerly while drinking a Top Out beer!
Ed LaceyApril 28, 2014
I went to the meet the brewer event at Jeremiah’s Taproom last Thursday. I personally liked the Kaiser wheat beer and Black Hawk dunkle but found the Supersonic a little under whelming but that’s possibly because I read the description first which mentions “hops are added 3 times during the brewing process” yet you wouldn’t know that when drinking it.
And despite all the hype and posters there didn’t appear to be even 1 bottle of Snake Venom available
Dave 'DemonBrew'April 28, 2014
Ha! So many aspects I was about to comment on but this sums it up:
Like most breweries and businesses, DemonBrew certainly likes to make a profit if at all possible. Not that having spent a year out of brewing has helped our profit margin 🙂
Most people can’t afford to work for free after all.
Much of the cost of beer goes to the Govt and other costs are on the rise, especially in hoppy beer. Have you seen the price of the NZ hops I ‘try’ to get hold of!! FFS!
If I had to send a batch down the drain, I would be inconsolable.
Anyway, DemonBrew like to think not in craft vs Camra or any of that but only on beer quality.
By this I don’t necessarily mean ‘Good beer’ as that is a subjective thing.
Our motto is; if you like our beer, thanks and drink more. If you can’t find it, ask the pub/bottle shop to get it in, then drink more. Tell your Twitter followers etc etc etc. And thanks again.
BUT….everyone knows what ‘Bad beer’ is. It is off, rank, on the turn puke. There is such a thing and it should NOT be sold. At the very least you look like an idiot but you are also kicking your customers where it hurts.
They will NOT be loyal, they will NOT drink it again, they will NOT tell their mates to buy more and in this Blogged up world, you will piss off people like Rich, who it has to be said is the most nicest bloke and even puts up with my drunken pish!
We don’t need this sort of stuff in what is a healthy and friendly brewing industry.
We help each other out when we can, doesn’t mean we aren’t rivals but business can be fun, turn a profit and make customers happy.
That’s how we like it anyway.
Dave, DemonBrew, frae ‘Old Leith’, where pubs had no women’s toilets 😉
GurthnarApril 29, 2014
Never, EVER will there be a satisfactory justification for blatant lying to customers in pursuit of publicity and profit.
End of story for me. They might as well shut down.
GeoffApril 29, 2014
World’s Strongest Beer 65% Brewmeister Armageddon…: http://youtu.be/1Csh4PpcXjY
“had a big chat with the head brewer and he did say I would be surprised at how drinkable it is…. Oh god I’m feeling the alcohol burn now though!” poor guy
poorpussApril 29, 2014
Disgraceful behaviour from a clearly uneducated, greedy, selfish and parasitic “brewery”. Yuk.
Judging_JesterApril 30, 2014
Wow £50 on an unknown beer is crazy. As a business they’re pulling a blinder, why bother creating any type of reputation when people will blindly open their wallets and hand over £50 for a beer from a new brewery?
Garrett OliverMay 1, 2014
Whoa. I must admit that although I’ve spent a lot of time drinking craft beer in the UK the past few years (and 20+ years before that), I have never heard of Brewmeister. Nor have I tasted their beer or knowingly spoken to anyone who works for them. So, essentially, I know nothing about them. However, if the “charges” made are true, they are simply the latest of a new breed of brewers that we’ve seen here in the U.S. all too often lately.
Welcome, then, to the age of the “clown brewery”. I won’t name names – you know who they are. Instead of making beer to be delicious, instead of making public statements and representations that will lift all our boats, instead of standing ready at all hours to assist their fellow brewers….they put on the clown show. “Our beer is the strongest in the world.” “We have higher IBUs than any beer ever produced.” “We made a beer at the botttom of the ocean, in a cage filled with snakes.”
So let me be 100% clear. Not only do such people laugh at us beer fans, all day, every day….these people don’t even LIKE you. Do you understand? They think you’re a dupe. And like every con artist, they have nothing but contempt for their “marks”. They want fame, and they want money, plain and simple. And there’s always someone who’ll give them both. As Kurosawa said in his film title, “the bad sleep well”. Are you surprised at a lack of apology?
The current hot climate of craft beer breeds a lot of weeds. Craft brewers who speak ill of other craft brewers. Brewers whose beers are heavily flawed or have no consistency, not because the brewerrs are uneducated, but because they think that quality doesn’t matter, and we’ll drink anything with a cool or shocking name, story or label. Even better if it’s “rare”. A lot of them will say “hey, we’re just lke punk rockers, we do things our way.” No, you’re not a punk rocker, you’re a leech and a poseur. I took the Ramones bowling. No one can tell me anything about punk – I was there and lived it. And the Ramones could PLAY. I know – I produced shows with them. So no, there are no excuses, and these people are not “punk”. There’s a big difference between artistic freedom and narcissistic cynicism.
At this year’s Craft Brewers Conference, there were 9,600 attendees. Last year there were just over 6,000. We have, in the US, 1,800 firms that have filed for federal brewer’s licenses and plan to open in the next year. From the stage, Paul Gatza, head of the Brewer”s Association, told the crowd that our culture was being threatened by new brewers who had a greater commitment to themselves than to their customers. As he pointed out, we’ve built a great thing in craft beer. Finishing his statement, he said ‘Guys…don’t fuck it up.” Here here, Paul. Only you, the beer fans, can make sure that the newbies, who we welcome with open arms, come correct.
There are also great newbies out there. Wonderful people making wonderful beer. Each one of them has left an easier and more secure path of life, leapt into thin air, and tried their best to make beers worthy of your table. I have nothing but mad respect for them. Support them, each day, every day. If they’re local, buy a pint of their beer before my beer, as a matter of principle. I hope you buy our beer too, but the new good brewers need you. The clown brewers detest you. Understand that. You know what to do.
I have no idea who the “Richard” is who posted here, but while I cannot speak to the veracity of his specific statements, I can certainly see the tide of crappiness, both organoleptic and spiritual, that some people hope to bring us. It’s dangerous to speak out these days, and some people may well take isolated quotes from this post and try to hang them around my neck. But yes, there are bad people abroad in the land. Thankfully, their ranks are small, measured in dozens, if that. They are no match for you. Send the bad ones back whence they came, plain and simple.
The Brooklyn Brewery
Garrett OliverMay 1, 2014
Actually, that’s “hear hear, Paul”. I blame jet lag. And a few pints.
NorrieMay 1, 2014
Wow. A great response from a legend.
I must be naive, even though I have been drinking good beer since long before it became known as ‘craft’, as this is the first time I have come across a ‘clown’ brewery. I have seen many struggle to get going and then thrive or fall by the wayside – some great beer, some average, some not very memorable.
I have not seen the ‘weeds’ in the UK that Garret Oliver has noted, although maybe I am lucky as the brewers here that I come in contact with are usually very complimentary about rivals and not given to nasty comments in my hearing.
Quite a bit to digest and certainly thought-provoking. Am I just not hearing things around here? Have others in the UK experienced this before now?
NorrieMay 1, 2014
I meant to add that it was an interesting reference to another local brewery. 😉 And no pints or jet-lag.
LouiseMay 1, 2014
ThomasMay 1, 2014
I first found out about them through media and saw their distinct tacky marketing and misunderstanding of what craft beer is and how it should be sold. They clearly have no care for their customers. Not even an apology blog. I know another reputable brewery which I can’t name whom also wasted new beer during their new site progression. Guess what? it does not always go to plan as brewing is fabulously inconsistent.
However if you do have a product range which is just awful homebrew don’t even bother asking people to invest. However unfortunately beer is seen as a commodity and a cool asset without the knowledge of what it actually is. Investors are there now wanting a fast buck because it is seen as cool and trendy. This is very exciting but also extremely dangerous! Do i want to drink infected beer? No I don’t. Will the investor know they are investing into infected beer? Probably not. Are the investors at the brewery week-in week-out tasting the product? I doubt that entirely. All dangerous for us passionate beer drinking people.
The Company featured here are clearly intent on generating as much cash as possible with cheap ripped-off branding; silly prices; gimmicks and a lack of humour. I don’t think the beer scene needs this and I don’t think they will last as people will grow sick of it. I fear that breweries charging silly money for beer which is supposed to be a cheap product for the working man/women and for everybody is seriously undermining the industry and all the hard-working people in it. Me included. It’s exciting times but also worrying times as well.
Garrett OliverMay 1, 2014
I cannot quite agree with Thomas’ assertion that beer “is supposed to be a cheap product for the working man/women”. Beer has always been both “high” and “low”. Wine is exactly the same. Most wine drunk in wine-producing countries is very cheap and always has been. The beer and wine markets are actually identical in the U.S. – it’s 10% at the top (craft beers, wine in nice bottles with corks, etc) and 90% at the bottom (industrial beer, “cheap ‘n’ cheerful” plonk wine). The difference is that when people think about wine, they think of the 10% at the top. When they think of beer, they think of the 90% at the bottom.
I make no apologies for making some beer that is very expensive. It takes sometimes over a year to make, it involves a lot of rigorous handwork, and I think that the proof is in the glass. We also make beer that is more gently priced and we do our damnedest to bring the highest level of quality to our customers at all times – period, end of story. If ever the customer feels we’ve failed in that regard, we want to know about it.
As I said earlier, most new breweries have their hearts in the right place. And yes, they do deserve some time to get on their feet. But that’s not the same as slinging garbage and not caring about your customers. We are seeing more of that sort of thing here than we used to, and it’s not good for anyone. Hopefully consumers will put paid to breweries who don’t care about their own customers.
RichardMay 1, 2014
Garrett – thanks for commenting – is there a precedent in the US for the public actively trying to disprove the claims of “clown breweries”? Or is it better for drinkers to just vote with their wallets and hope the support for these breweries dwindles? How much ‘direct action’ is needed, or justified?
ThomasMay 1, 2014
Unfortunately Governments have taxed beer too heavily so it is far more expensive than it should be. The Belgain faro beer is an example of beer being a cheap product for working people. English bitter and milds are produced cheaply to quench the thirst of working people. I strongly believe that beer is supposed to be cheap. Wine can be cheap but the value has been increased by demand and greed. The same for coffee which is worth 15p but cups sell for £2.20????
I don’t think beer should be expensive but there is also the argument that good expensive breweries; expensive ingredients and other factors make beer expensive. I just believe beer should be an everyday drink and therefore affordable for everyone.
Garrett OliverMay 1, 2014
Thomas, to me saying that “beer should be cheap” is rather like saying “food should be cheap.” I would agree that we need good affordable food, and I think we’d all agree about that. But I also believe that some dinners are actually very much worth over £100, and I’m happy to pay up….just not every day. So yes, I do make some beers that cost £20 per 750 ml bottle, and people seem quite happy to pay it. But if that beer’s not for you, we have about 25 others!
I don’t know whether anyone has actively looked to disprove outlandish claims, though some people have independently sent beers in for testing and found that they weren’t what they claimed. Many breweries boast of the IBU (bitterness) numbers, but actually have never had their beer tested, and therefore have no idea what they’re talking about.
Look, I think it’s great that we have a sense of humour – there’s no need for us all to walking around stiff-backed and grim. We are more fun than the wine people, much as I love some of them. But when you see a “stunt beer” from a clown brewery and literally cannot imagine any wine company doing the same, that’s a pretty good sign that this is a brewery who couldn’t care less about craft brewers. Ever heard of a winery claiming that their wine has the highest ABV ever? Ever heard of a winery bragging about their tannin numbers (“are you man enough to take this much tannin?”)? No, of course not. We’re fun, sure, but we’re not a bunch of 8 yr olds.
Around our place, the mantra is simple. “Do good work, uplift your people.” And if you’re not doing both of these things, you should go out of business.
BraydenMay 1, 2014
Thanks to Garret Oliver for showing up on what would otherwise be another obscure thread going overlooked on the web. Let’s realize the significance of that and what it means in regards to the situation at hand. Brilliant words per usual, sincere and with experience backing all statements.
To Lewis Shand, I’d love to hear you at least try and refute these claims in a public forum like the one we have here. This is a great time to stand up, if possible, and try and put out a flame that may otherwise horribly hinder your business. I would hate for all of this to be unsubstantiated and you thrown under the bus without at least asking someone to “pump the breaks”.
But if it is true, then do us all a favor and call the spade that you have created just that. There’s always going to be winners and losers, and they win and lose for a reason. Someone like the talented Mr. Oliver is loved and respected because of his record. He’s worked his whole life leading up to the moment the doors opened at his brewery, then twice as hard after. There’s also a reason you and your brewery are now on trial, and that’s because you’ve openly lied, swindled, and came as close to stealing legally as is probably possible in the beer world. Hopefully you won’t repeat the trend, though it seems like there’s more than a 65% chance of that.
ThomasMay 1, 2014
The problem is both beer; food and water are our basic privileges as human beings. They have to be cheap so that we can afford them. I do self-employed stuff and am struggling to find work whilst working on other projects. I can’t afford £20 bottles of beer and can get far better beer for £3. I have fresh ipas for £3 and imperial stouts for £4-6. I don’t need to spend £20 on a beer and I’ve had the Brooklyn bombers and they are good beers but I rarely spend £20. The last time I did it was for a Magic Rock beer and the time before that I think was a rare sour. Black Damnation cost me 12 Euros in a bar in Belgium!
I am very aware of expensive restaurants and expensive lifestyles. I used to work with luxury vessels so I know that lifestyle. I know that as basic human right beer food and water should be as cheap as possible. I have never spent £100 on food for a meal. I am not a fan of upmarket gastropub type food. I understand the margins and everything but it’s just not my thing. I earn less than £100 in a week so for me to warrant that it has to be exceptional and I’ve been to some amazing restaurants in my time and only paid £20!
I think it is very important to make sure that beer is constantly there for everybody to try and everybody to learn about. I think this has to be done by having the product at the right pricepoint. I also locally see a lot of people getting into Brokolyn Lager for their first foray into craft beer and I’ll take this opportunity to thank you for getting that stuff out to my local small City which is full of bland lagers.
Geoff Robbins (@_TheGeoff)May 1, 2014
On the topic of “Clown Brewing”, I’d actually support it in the guise of “experimental brewing”. The super-high ABV stuff is usually just a publicity stunt, but I find the idea of using specialist yeasts or freeze distilling perfectly valid forms of the art. Ditto really low ABVs – if a brewer can come up with a really nice beer that I can have a couple of pints of before driving home then I’d happily pay just as much as I would for a normal pint.
Last year a pubco I work with tried conditioning IPA at sea in wooden casks to test the old stories about the character of the beer changing during export to India, with some fascinating results (lots of aromatic esthers coming to the fore).
It’d be a shame to lose this experimental aspect because of a couple of bad eggs – and misrepresenting ABV is one of the worst things you can do. You’re potentially going to see your main customers and promoters, the publicans and barstaff, going to court and being fined months-worths of wages because they’ve taken your word for it.
To quote the Barenaked Ladies, “You look like an amateur, and that’s the real crime.”
Keith - Imports ScotlandMay 2, 2014
I’ve been distributing beer for around a year and a half now. Being involved in such a wonderful industry is so wonderful on account of the lovely people beer seems to attract. It really is a very different industry to selling and distributing double-glazing for example. Nothing wrong with selling double-glazing – but you get my point… Those of us involved in the beer industry are very lucky – it’s just such fun (most of the time anyway). I also remain a customer and love the interaction involved in buying beer from equally enthusiastic people. I have all the time in the world for passionate people – no matter what their field.
As we started to look at which breweries to distribute it seemed a bit of a no brainer to think about selling beer which was being made locally to where we had spent most of our lives. At that time Brewmeister were still in Kincardine O’Neil.
But as above – it’s about the people. After various emails and phone calls back and forth, we sat down and chatted about whether this was a brewery we really wanted to represent. The answer was a resounding no. The evidence from their Facebook page alone was enough to say that this was not a company we wanted to work with. No explanations as to why peoples’ orders had not been sent and no responses to accusations their products were not as advertised.* Then came through a proposition in the form of a 4 line email with instructions to print, sign and return a clearly hastily thrown together “contract”. Steve (former business partner turned corporate lawyer) took one look at it and laughed.
* As an important aside – why have they not been investigated by HMRC? I mean seriously, why not? If I bought a bottle of Vodka or Whisky and it was either below a standard safe for human consumption or not nearly EXACTLY as advertised, questions would be asked. Why has this not happened?
Did we like the way the interactions had gone until that point? … actually yes. Lewis seemed a nice enough bloke and the emails and phone calls had been a friendly interaction between ourselves and someone else who seemed excited about being involved in the beer industry.
But how customers are treated and the overall attitude of a business is important. Brewmeister failed the test on both counts as far as we were concerned. There’s a way to do things – especially as a new business trying to make your way in a market you do not necessarily fully understand.
More recently, as the article above documents succinctly; they clearly don’t give a shit about how they go about things and how they interact with the rest of an exciting, friendly and (most importantly of all) enjoyable industry. Their blatant disregard for the end consumer is part of this.
I hope their business fails and they stop tarnishing the rest of the industry – particularly in Scotland where it’s so tiny – with their dross being slung around no matter what’s in it.
Keith – Imports Scotland
Nick RosserMay 2, 2014
Let me start by saying what a disgrace Brewmeister are and I hope they do not last too long as they clearly don’t care about the customer! Marketing is more important to them than the products- some of which sound horrific. However, on the marketing note and the non named ‘clown brewery’ I have to say that I see nothing wrong with aggressive marketing tactics as long as the beer tastes good. Also, as for the claims- This beer has more IBUs than your tongue can take or whatever – is actually one of my fave beers. The strong ABV beers from this non named brewery also taste great, pricey but if you only get one bottle a year then that’s ok. Ok, so they get carried away sometimes but the beer speaks for it self. As long as the beer is good I don’t really mind how each brewery goes about marketing it! There are a lot of great brews out there at the moment- unfortunately Brewmeister are trying to undo a lot of hard work by some great UK craft breweries. Shame on them!
Also, Thomas- I think you answered your own question really- you buy what you are happy with. No need to complain about expensive beer, wine or food. if it’s not for you, then it’s not for you. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be out there!
HobanMay 2, 2014
Speaking as someone who enjoys lots of beer and whisky, I think as a startup, you can go a couple of ways with crazy experimental beer. If you are 100% sure that one of your really interesting, but slightly off the wall beers that you have brewed many times as a home brew, is of good quality, then absolutely release it into the market. It will grab your startup a good bit of attention, and if it is good enough, and does what it says on the tin (being the correct abv is always good) then I think you will gain followers.
I think though that there is a difference between releasing something a little unusual/experimental and releasing something extreme. I think if you are releasing an extreme, like the highest abv, or most peaty (sorry my whisky coming through), then you need to have a bit of history. Maybe a few years on the market producing good reliable beer, gaining a following, creating a community of customers and fans who trust that you care about your beer. Then, when everyone is enjoying your £3 IPA or your £4 stout, you can can release a double IPA, or a Barley wine at £12/£14. With the trust you have built up, some people will splurge. I can’t afford this kind of beer all the time, but if I trust the brewer, I will treat myself. Then in a bit of time, you can release a bottle that is 40/50 quid. All that trust you have built up will persuade some customers to part with that kind of cash.
As Garrett was saying, make every beer, at whichever level (your cheap beer, your medium beer, your expensive beer) high quality and tasty. Then, if I don’t want to spend 20/30 quid on a special edition, I can still enjoy the entry level 2/4 quid beer.
If I hear that a brewery I respect is doing an experimental beer (like Brooklyn) then I know they are doing that experiment for a flavour based reason eg they think they can produce something that tastes amazing, by doing something that sounds crazy, rather than doing something that grabs attention, but doesn’t follow through on the flavour side.
niallthomasMay 2, 2014
Following on from Richard’s questions:
“is there a precedent in the US for the public actively trying to disprove the claims of “clown breweries”? Or is it better for drinkers to just vote with their wallets and hope the support for these breweries dwindles? How much ‘direct action’ is needed, or justified?”
Does this call for a definition of “clown breweries” in the same way that we have been debating in the UK over a definition of “craft” beer in recent months? I’m sick to death of that debate, but perhaps “clown” breweries would be easier to define.
If so, where would a company like BrewDog come? They produce some fabulous beers, but others such as Ghost Deer (£10 for 35ml) are below standards in terms of flavour and sell because of gimmicks, in this case being poured through a taxidermy stag head.
BrewDog are also famous for their publicity beers, on both sides of the ABV spectrum – the highs of Tactical Nuclear Penguin and the lows of Nanny State. Aren’t they just as guilty, but have played the game better and come out with favourable results?
Does one clown beer make you a clown brewery? Does it need to be a majority of products? Or is it the attitude of the brewer?
I’d be very interested to hear your opinion, Garrett, though I know you probably won’t feel comfortable talking about other breweries in this critical way. However, it is a question worth asking seeing as BrewDog are the self-styled leaders of Britain’s “craft beer revolution”.
Garrett OliverMay 3, 2014
The last few folks ask some good questions, so let me clarify. First, one of my favourite quotes from “Spinal Tap”: “It’s a fine line between clever and stupid.” A secondly, one of my favourite sayings: “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.”
There’s certainly some truth to both of those, which is why they make me chuckle. And we have done many beers at which someone could point at and make an accusation that we were just trying to be “wild and crazy”. I mean, we invented “collaborative brewing” in the mid-90s. We were the first brewery to make beers based on cocktails. A year and a half ago I made a beer based on sugar cane; together with the Wals Brewery, we got machetes and chopped down 700 KG of sugar cane, got a cane crusher, and crushed the cane juice straight into the kettle to make a beer called Saison de Caipira.
Clever or stupid? You know my answer, of course, but you’ll have to judge. But here is the difference – in every case, I was trying to make something beautiful that was worthy to sit with you, your family and your friends at the table. There’s nothing wrong with trimming a topiary hedge into the shape of a dinosaur – it can be clever, it’s cool-looking, and it makes us smile. There’s nothing cynical about it.
I did saison de caipira because my father taught me how to make caipirinhas almost 30 years ago, and I love cachaca, especially the really rustic ones. I love that beer, and Wals are great brewers and great friends. I made a beer based on the Manhattan because Dave Wondrich, the world’s leading cocktail expert, is my friend and neighbor, and we’d get a chance to make a cool beer together. Was it a “stunt”? Maybe, in a “topiary” sense. But it was also delicious and it astounded even experienced bartenders.
Our collaborations are not photo ops. We have turned down some of the world’s top chefs because they weren’t serious about what they wanted to do with us. In a few weeks I will be on holiday in Italy with my family and friends and two other families with whom I’ve done brewing collaborations. These beers are a direct expression of my life, so it’s up to you to decide whether they’re worth drinking. What I can tell you is that they’re 100% real.
Is a beer with “the most IBUs ever” a form of art? I say no, absolutely not. I can make you “the world’s saltiest scrambled eggs”, and you’d think me an idiot. Sorry, but “the most IBUs ever” is EXACTLY the same thing. No attempt at beauty, just an attempt at a headline. The difference is that the clown brewery wants your money and your chatter, but they don’t really care whether the beer is wonderful. There will be a magazine, and a reality show, and shampoo and branded washing-up liquid, and an endless line line of stunts. And things for you to spend money on. And when you say, “wait, the stuff on the label isn’t true, and this beer tastes terrible”, they’ll just smile and say “whatever”. If, of course, they say anything at all.
ThomasMay 3, 2014
Garrett if you are visiting Rome my favourite bar there – Beer and Food has had a new keg-line installed! If you can visit Tocalmatto or Loverbeer or Birrificio Italiano then they are making some amazing beers! I’m mental on sasions and they require so much sugar! It’s definitely not crazy or stupid!
Your ability to pair food and beer is astounding. I’m a massive fan of your book.
niallthomasMay 4, 2014
I wrote about the arguments over the definition of “craft” beer and I came to the same conclusion you seem to be expressing there Garrett – I know it when I see it. Or to amend that for the beer world: I know it when I taste it.
FrancisMckMay 7, 2014
You know your article is non to shabby when Garret Oliver has a few words to say. Mind you being Brooklyn Brewery daft, he could tell me the Clyde taste’s like a fine Russian Imperial and I wouldn’t argue.
I’m not going to bring anything intellectual to the argument, other than the growing Scottish craft beer scene does not need clowns like this giving its ever growing culture a bad name. I seen their stuff ages ago and automatically thought it was a joke and admittedly thought it was a poke at Brewdog with their whole “punk” attitude.
Hopefully articles like this proving to them their stuff is not up to the standard of other Scottish Breweries will make them change their ways to produce a better standard of beer, seeing as really that’s what all craft beer lovers really ask for. I won’t rule them out to be fair, but I won’t be running to try any of there stuff real quick.
Brewmeister: a grande farsa da cerveja mais alcoólica do mundo - || Bebendo Bem - por Fabian Ponzi || | || Bebendo Bem - por Fabian Ponzi ||May 29, 2014
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RiceyDecember 20, 2014
I know I’m months late commenting on this subject.
Chivas Brothers Distillers has a lab & tech centre RIGHT NEXT DOOR to Brewmeister.
The strength of Armageddon could have been proved in minutes by them and more importantly, to any potential paying customers.
Of course, unless your intention is instant publicity from the lazy MSM.
Make friends and prosper. How difficult can it be?