Sunday, 3 August 2014

Missing the Point


There I was in Crouch End's The Harringay Arms with my friend Peter drinking lukewarm bottles of Harviestoun Schiehallion out of dirty glass tumblers. While the rest of the world lumbered forward in time The Harringay Arms has stayed noticeably static, that's part of its charm though. It's not terribly busy on this sunny Saturday afternoon but in the evening it'll be pumping because it's got vibe.

Disappointed by the choice of beers at our current location Peter and I decide to mosey onwards. The nearest pub happens to be The Devonshire House, a Wetherspoons that when I first moved to the area was an All Bar One. I used to quite like it when it was an All Bar One, it was pretty sterile and always empty but they sold bottles of Sierra Nevada pale ale which I used to enjoy immensely even before I'd put the words 'craft' and 'beer' together. Inevitably it closed down and in went bright lights, soft carpets and cheap wallpaper. Every ounce of soul was sucked out of this buildings interior, it became the pub equivalent of Voldemort. 

Still, we venture inside knowing that if there's nothing decent on draught then we can at least turn to reliable cans of Sixpoint Bengali Tiger. I get as far as the first hand pump when I see it, the familiar 'American Craft Brewers Showcase' attachment that indicates the beer on tap is a collaboration between an English and an American brewer. Occasionally the folks behind J. D. Wetherspoon bring a load of well regarded brewers over from the rest of the world who brew 'versions' of their beers with some of Britains larger brewers such as Adnams or Thwaites. Occasionally a gem appears and people make the extra effort to seek it out. Me? I'd rather the brewers in question were bringing their actual beers over, rather than the often poor imitations that end up on the pumps at Wetherspoons.

I look at the pump clip and my eyes immediately land on the name John Kimmich. I imagine 99.9% of Wetherspoons customers have never heard the name John Kimmich before but I had, and I imagine many of you have. For those that don't know Kimmich owns a brewery in the US state of Vermont called The Alchemist. They've brewed a few different beers since their inception in 2003 but in 2011 Kimmich, after their brewpub was demolished by Hurricane Irene, opened a 15 barrel brewery and canning line for the production of a single beer, Heady Topper. 

Heady Topper is a double IPA, in fact it's a really, really good double IPA that I've had the fortune to try in the past. If it was readily available it's probably the sort of thing I'd have in my fridge all the time. I don't think it's actually any better than something like Kernel Citra or Magic Rock Cannonball but it has a mystique about it that drives people crazy. In November 2013 The Alchemist had to close their brewery to the public because the queues leading to the tap room and shop were causing huge traffic problems. The sleepy town of Waterbury simply didn't have the infrastructure to sustain the chaos. The Alchemist brew 12 batches of Heady Topper a week and are currently expanding so that they can make more. When cans hit stores they sell out in days if not hours. This is in a country that has an immeasurably more advanced craft beer scene than our own with a gargantuan amount of great beer being readily available. Yet despite this hardcore geeks still lose their shit over this one beer. 

Hop perverts in the UK would more than likely happily part with £10 for a can (It sells for about $12 a four-pack over in Vermont.) Hell they'd probably beg, borrow or steal just to taste a thimble-full. So with this in mind why has Kimmich come to the UK and brewed a beer with Adnams to an almost minimal fuss. Well it's not Heady Topper, that's why. That and the lumbering Wetherspoons beast have a mailing list populated with people looking for cheap meal deals and low priced pints. They couldn't give a flying fuck who John Kimmich or The Alchemist is. Can they buy four pints for less than a tenner is a more important fact (you can.)

So Peter and I settle in with our pints of Enraptured, a 5.5% American brown ale that cost £2.35 each. The aroma is a bit like walking through a coniferous forest on a late summers evening when suddenly a masked rogue runs at you and smashes a grapefruit into your face before disappearing, laughing into the distance. It feels chewy and resinous. Globs of sweet malt are covered with chunks of mango, lychee and more grapefruit. It's huge, bitter, slightly astringent and I imagine for your average beer drinker this might be a little bit challenging. It's a crime to see a beer such as this on cask, even though it's in very good condition there's not enough carbon dioxide present to stop it from being a little cloying and it's not cold enough to be refreshing. However it is completely delicious and incredibly accomplished yet here it is languishing in a family orientated hell-hole of a bar where know one really gives two shits about craft beer. 

John Kimmich probably thought it would be great to build a relationship with a British brewer, a really good one at that. Coincidentally one that is also masterfully handling the Lagunitas import operation (despite a minor setback due to the changing of keg sizes) but I'm missing the point here. Why is it worth bringing over one of the most revered brewers in the world to brew a 5.5% brown ale, albeit a very good one and then sell it into a massive pub chain thats modus operandi is to bonk out as much cheap food and beer as possible whilst simultaneously conveying a completed skewed pricing structure that's designed to bury local pubs that simply cannot compete. It makes me sick. Meanwhile, Kimmich is probably over the moon that his beer is being showcased in 'British Pubs'. It's not the beer that we want though John, it's not the beer that we want. 

I thought about going back the next day to see if it was still on, it really was that good but one glance into the window of that soulless pit was enough to put me off. Judging by how it tasted, it can't have been on for more than a few hours when we drank it. In my imagination it dwindled on the pumps for days while every beautiful molecule of hop oil was slowly being annihilated by oxygen one mote at a time before finally the last sickly-sweet dregs were drained and at only two thirty-five a pint. 

68 comments:

  1. I'm not sure I get your point to be honest. The beer was delicious but should have been kegged, and it's wasted on the plebs in Wetherspoons, he should be brewing for big spending beer geeks?

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    1. You're the second person to indicate the drinkers in Spoons are 'plebs' but I made no comment to the financial or social background of any of its customers in the post at any point.

      I do state that the average customer doesn't give two shits about a revered brewer making something quite special. It's just another ever changing beer on the pumps, it'll be forgotten by their regulars by now. This is a beer that needed attention, that needed a platform to sing from, this was a beer brewed by John fucking Kimmich! The guy that brews heady topper! Half an hour in the Devonshire Arms would be enough for you to realise what motivated me to write this.

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    2. So it's not just me who thinks you're being a snob. It's a good thing to see great beer in 'Spoons.

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    3. I won't deny that or disagree with you there but if a force as large of Spoons can bring a brewer like Kimmich over to the UK and get beer like that in their bars then they damn well have a responsibility to market it so that like minded people actually know about it.

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  2. I think the issue is Spoons. They thrust so much beer at the public and just expect everyone to appreciate them and come to Spoons especially for them without training staff or even printing good tasting notes. They need to do more that simply stick the beers on, yell "CRAFT BEER! REAL ALE! FROM £2.15!!!!" and hope.

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    1. I actually think they're much, much cleverer than that. They chose the brewers they collaborate with carefully, they're usually ones that have little or no distribution in the UK and are very, very highly regarded in the UK such as Bells, The Alchemist, Stone etc. It's an active operation to try and poach customers from specialist bars, wow them with selection and pricing that on the surface appears good but if a rival pub matched them they'd go out of business in weeks. Thankfully the scene is large and diverse enough now to mean it's not working but this means these beers go largely unnoticed, or at least in my view they do.

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  3. So, let me see, those uneducated patrons won't stand in awe, revering a name they've likely never heard of (as if they should), instead prefer to only drink good beer at a good price, which seems to be what they are getting.

    And your problem is? That this Kimmich bloke chose to make a beer that would appeal to a wider audience (and a good one at that, as I gather by your opinion), instead of doing a collaboration with a trendy craft brewery that would result in some over priced, gimmicky, imperial or double something that only a few loud people would be willing to buy? I just don't get it.

    Or maybe I do. You are really missing the point, entirely. You see, there are many people (a large majority, I'd wager) who can't afford/isn't willing to go to a craft beer bar and pay through the nose for a half pint of something whose price is often inflated by buzz words or names printed on a label, and they are happy they have somewhere decent to go have a couple well-priced pints, without having to think too much about it.

    There might be more than a few reasons to dislike companies like Wetherspoons, but offering good value to their clients shouldn't be one of them.

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    1. I don't think that Wetherspoon patrons are uneducated, at no point did I say that. I do think that most of them don't give a shit about what's on the pumps and that they're more interested in the perceived good value.

      This was not a beer designed for a wider audience and I feel that I made that pretty clear too. It was the kind of out and out hop dynamite that The Alchemist are famous for.

      Personally, I don't think I'm paying through the nose when I go to a 'craft beer bar' and have 'a half of something' I'm paying good money for the kind of great quality beers I like to drink. I think in this case this a really, really good beer that has been sold to bars that don't reach out to the kind of customers that would drain that cask dry in less than an hour which is what should happen to this type of beer if its to be enjoyed at its best. If you spent ten minutes in the pub I cite as an example you would soon know that wouldn't happen which is not good for this beer or any cask beer.

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    2. Well, as I see it, if someone is interested in perceived good value, then they're giving a shit about what's on the pumps, and, if your opinion is anything to go by, then that beer was pretty good value.

      As for how fast the cask may have been drained. Well, we don't that, do we? You didn't want to go in the next day to see if it was still on, and you didn't ask the tapster how well that beer was selling, so as far as we know, they could have sold out the cask that very evening, or it could still be there.

      So, I don't see any problem here. JWD is likely making money out that beer, brewery and brewer have made money out of that beer, and patrons can get good stuff at a good price. That sounds pretty good, really. Unless you don't like going to JWD, which is perfectly understandable, but I'm sure you have plenty of places to choose from to get the beers you like to bother about what others are drinking or not.

      Could it be that your problem is that Kimmich came to England without making any fuss about it, shunning self promotion in favor of making good beer that will be sold to a wide audience for a good price, and that he's really happy with that deal? I hope you won't take offense, but after reading your post a couple of times, and the above comment, I can't help but getting the impression that you might be disappointed in Kimmich for not making the local geekdom part of this, as other brewers would have done.

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    3. You know what, you're bang on. I did want to be told about this and to be involved. Of course I did, I love beer, I'm obsessed with it, especially the kind that The Alchemist brew and I write this blog so that I can immerse myself in beer culture so that it can further enrich my existence. Lucky for me I just happened to wanter into the Devonshire Arms the one time this beer would have ever been sold there. Serendipity.

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    4. I'm actually taking credit for this :-)

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  4. Maybe the hype around HT is what really misses the point. Perhaps Kimmich wanted to do something different. I imagine brewing with a decent family brewer and distributed nationwide at a decent price is exactly what he wanted.

    I'm sure he could do a collaboration with the likes of beavertown that would be drooled over by beer geeks. But he hasn't, and chosen spoons instead. Probably pretty liberating in its own way.

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    1. He didn't do something that different though, he took a mid strength brown ale and hopped the living daylights out of it just like he does with HT. I think Adnams are great for the record, the knowledge that both they and The Alchemist would've gleaned from this collaboration would be worth many times more the tiny margin they probably made jobbing this beer out to Wetherspoon.

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    2. I didn't mean different in terms of the beer itself, but the market it was playing in and who it was with.

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    3. Well, hope it was worth his while!

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    4. As a metaphor for what I'm talking about: I'm a (hopefully decent) amateur musician. Most of the time concerts I play in are to people who know about music and can appreciate the intricacies involved. Now and again I play in last night of the proms style concerts where people eat a picnic, listen to well known songs and watch the fireworks.

      We might stick in something not that well known to broaden it out a bit. But at the end all that matters is they've had a good time. It's not the best environment for pure appreciation of the music but that doesn't matter.

      I wouldn't say that one was better than the other necessarily, just different. As a performer I learn something from it.

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    5. I'm also a musician (although less so these days) so totally understand where you're coming from. I also work for a supplier of well known synthesisers that are pretty difficult to use straight out of the box, they're very expensive and customer need specialist advice to make sure they get the product that's right for them and get the most out of it. A very, very large internet based company want to stock all of them and turn them into a SKU that they can sell lots of but at the moment we're standing our ground and selling only through well trained specialist retailers that we have invested a lot of time and money in. It's tough to say no to massive orders the profits that result, even at reduced margins but at the end of the day not every product is right for every outlet.

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  5. I have mixed feelings about this; on one hand its great that Wetherspoons have been able to support getting a exciting US brewer to come over and brew a collaboration with Adnams, a traditional, yet forward looking and progressive British brewer, but on the other I'm left confused at who this was aimed at. Certainly none of our local 'Spoons advertised it (they barely advertised having the Sixpoint cans) and they are pretty unwelcoming at the best of times, the South London equivalent of the Mos Eisley Cantina, filled with those sections of society that don't really give a toss about the condition and flavour of great cask ale, they just want to get drunk on the tasteless, fizzy yellow piss. Maybe that's not entirely fair as one (the Crown and Sceptre) isn't half bad and the cask beers are usually in half decent nick but for the time it takes to get there, we can go to Brewdog Shepherd's Bush and have great beer in excellent condition every time, rather than hoping we'll find something good that's in decent condition.

    For me, Wetherspoons needs to decide what they are trying to do; are they trying to offer beer at reasonable prices, leveraging their size as a business to benefit from negotiating discount for buying in bulk, or are they trying to compete with the rise of the craft beer bar?

    For me, they are definitely doing the first but they've tried to attempt the second and fallen woefully short. I recall the American collab 'festival' they did in 2013, when a range of top notch US breweries (including Stone) did a series of beers with more 'traditional' British brewers. We went to the Crossed Keys in the City of London to try a few of them. The pub itself looks impressive inside but it has all the soul of Hell's waiting room. Full of bankers knocking back pints of lager and American tourists drinking bottles of Budweiser, it just felt depressing. The collab beers that were on were in poor condition and we soon sacked off drinking there and went somewhere else where we could have a decent beer. Best not to mention the bar staff as the manager had to turn pump clips around to identify which beer was which.

    Personally, as a brewer (ok homebrewer, aspiring brewer) if I travelled across the Atlantic to brew a collaboration with a well known US brewer (oh, let's say Firestone Walker), I'd want to know something about where the beer is likely to be distributed, mainly so I could tell people where they could find it. I'd probably want to visit a few of them while I was there. If I went into a bar that was anything like my local 'Spoons, I'd have serious reservations about the whole venture.

    Before anyone slates me for being down on Wetherspoons; yes, I know there are a few good Wetherspoons out there that are good places to drink in and genuinely care for their beer. Sadly, in my experience this is the exception not the norm. And yes, living in London provides us with an unfair advantage with all the great places to drink beer compared to the regions.

    And so it comes back around to my original point, who was the beer aimed at? Certainly not the local 'Spoons drinkers near me, you'd be lucky if half a cask was sold, which is an absolute crying shame.

    Chris

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    1. I think you're right about London 'Spoons specifically being either soulless banker pits or The Beehive Where You Drink Guinness Extra Cold All Day Err Day by and large. I have had the pleasure of being in a Spoons outside London, and the beer was good (if unexciting, this was before the Craft Brewers' Showcase) and well-kept. And amazingly priced.

      Apparently the Spoons I last visited had a hard time shifting the Sixpoint cans they'd got in and were doing them for £1.95 which to me is a damn steal, on- or off-trade.

      About the distribution and wanting knowledge question, I linked to this on twitter but Mitch Steele's insights of brewing in the UK are interesting: http://hoptripper.com/uk-brewing-part-1-the-traditional-breweries/ (and, generally, the England tag is relevant to this). The ethoses are different across the pond. The equipment is different. It's a revelation and a show of collegiality to come and brew from the States in established traditional British breweries.

      Whether those breweries then do it justice in terms of distribution, marketing, whatnot, is another discussion entirely. But the brewers themselves, I'm sure, do not want to simply replicate their core beers from home.

      I don't know what I'm saying, really. Just continuing a wordy discussion I guess.

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    2. <3 You guys. That rings true with my many London Spoons experiences too.

      I drew an interesting conclusion (after a few halves of craft of course) today. Sixpoint just redesigned and rebranded Bengali (nee Bengali Tiger) what better way to get rid of an entire batch than to dump it out to Wetherspoons on the cheap. The new version came out the same month as the Wetherspoon deal. What a coincidence.

      I think Sixpoint have used Spoons to test the market (and make money, those cans sure ain't on sale or return!) but they'll be coming in through other channels soon.

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    3. My understanding after hearing scuttlebutt from recent staff meetings, the Sixpoint beers are going to be moved from can to keg over the coming months. The other rumour is that Bengali Tiger is Bengali inside but they used up their existing can stock by shipping the Tiger tins to the UK The expiry date on the cans seems to back this up.

      The locations where Sixpoint and the other "craft" beers did best are to have a "craft fridge" installed. Most likely this will eventually roll out chain wide. Meantime was approached as a supplier but their price point was deemed too high for the 'spoons customers.

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    4. Aha, that is interesting, although it would mean (SHOCK HORROR) that the ABV on the can would've been out by 0.1% (unsure of the legality of that but can't see it ruffling any feathers).

      Sixpoint contacted me after I blogged about them a few months ago which would indicate that they very much intend to keep up UK export operations. I'm interested to see how this develops.

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    5. Pretty sure 0.1% is in tolerance levels?

      I kind of saw the "craft fridge" coming - it's been on its own page in the menu for a while (Punk, Goose Island, SIxpoint) so makes sense.

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  6. As someone who lives in a town where Wetherspoons is the best chance of drinking something decent, I've enjoyed trying these collabs although I've not yet had the one in question. This post got me thinking, and partially in my response to Chris' well made points above, indeed who is this beer aimed at?

    Well, maybe it's interesting to flip this around a bit. What do those involved get from it?

    - John Kimmich gets a trip to the UK, meets UK brewers and in the case of Adnams some good brewers at a brewery with lots of history to boot. He also gets to visit other breweries (Kernel was one I heard) and get a feel for the 'scene' and maybe a future potential export market (please!)
    - Adnams brewery team get to work with a brewer who produces arguably one of the world's best IPAs which I'm sure resulted in plenty of useful discussion for them
    - Adnams as a company gets guaranteed sale of an entire batch of beer (perhaps at a reduced margin, but see above point, plus they already supply Wetherspoons so are obviously comfortable with the margins)
    - Wetherspoons draws drinkers in who may not have otherwise gone in (I'm thinking in big cities where they actually have other options for drinking good beer) and perhaps expands the horizons of some of their regulars. My local spoons certainly gets through these collab beers quickly when they come on
    - Small towns such as mine have a decent beer on brewed by John Kimmich. John bloody Kimmich, in my local, in spirit at least :)


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    1. It's interesting that Adnams clearly let him loose when it came to the dry hopping schedule which was like nothing I've tasted from Adnams before. Useful skills for them to glean for sure .

      And yeah, great beer in small towns brewed by John fucking Kimmich! I can't understand why more of a fuss wasn't made about this!

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  7. My take is that what 'Spoons are doing here is defensive. They built an empire out of selling well-priced cask / real ale and picked up a solid mix of clientele, both the drink-to-get-drunk crowd and the drink-for-pleasure lot.

    The rise of the expensive, craft-beer bars is a problem, because it distorts the client base. reminds me of the classic "I like Sainsbury's - it keeps the riffraff out of Waitrose", but with Spoons and e.g. Brewdog.

    From JDW's perspective, Craft bars are creaming off the better-off and some of the real-ale-appreciators who lift the tone of the place, and leaving the hardcore boozers who are shopping just for price. And that's a rot JDW need to stop - or they might become just another Yates's.

    So bring in some craftier beer - keep that type of patron coming in - and it keeps the place comfortable for that sort of customer. Get cans - get collabs with people the beer geeks, even beer snobs, will come in for, and it stops the variety of clientele (& the brand) from decaying.

    - A decay, by the way, which is already apparent in several branches, usually mid-city-centre ones - here in Manchester, I would not ever set foot in the Piccadilly Spoons, but the Waterhouse down by the town hall is entirely bearable.

    I don't think it's elitist to want to drink in an environment with people who drink for the same reasons you do; conversely, I remember a couple of times in my 20s when drunk groups of lads in pubs took the piss out of me for ordering ale not lager.

    Back to the point on the 'other brewers' - it's anyone's guess how much they know about JDW, or the distribution chain, but I wouldn't want to assume they aren't making rational decisions, or lack understanding of the market they're starting to tap into. (Though yes, my guess is that most won't realise how badly the cask beer might be kept)

    Maybe they're just evangelising and trying to spread high quality beer in our chain pubs, or maybe they got paid a wodge of cash and sold out. And maybe they're getting lined up for when JDW put more keg lines in - because I can point to at least 2 US 'craft' brewers who've decided this side of the Atlantic is ripe for market growth, so I don't think this is going to stop soon.

    Hopefully I've missed a few points above, otherwise I missed the point.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! It almost feels to me like Wetherspoon are taking an Amazon like approach - stock as much of everything as possible - without backing this up with the same level of knowledge as a specialist retailer.

      I guess time will tell if it works or not, judging by how busy the multitude of Spoons local to me are something's working.

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  8. Realistically I doubt whether there are many locations where Wetherspoons feel any significant competition from "craft beer bars". I wouldn't say any of my local ones are remotely bothered.

    I'd say it's more a case of seeking to cover all bases of potential trade. Spoons know they get a lot of goodwill from CAMRA and beer enthusiasts in general and would suffer in image terms if they were portrayed as places there was nothing interesting to drink.

    That may come across as a touch cynical, but surely it's simply good business to give customers what they want even if you don't have a quasi-evangelical commitment to it.

    I'm certainly not an uncritical Spoons fan (and find most of their outlets totally devoid of "atmosphere") but you can't knock their success, and they have taken advantage of business opportunities that were open to all, but not taken up.

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    1. I do admire that Wetherspoons are trying to evolve, not just with Sixpoint and the collaboration beers but with other decent regulars such as Punk and Goose Island IPA. My issue is that they had a beer of this immense quality at their disposal but did very little to reach out to a demographic that could potentially have drank all of it within days!

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    2. But as you've freely admitted, you don't know that they didn't. Never let the facts get in the way of a good shoulder chip, eh?

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  9. I keep hearing the word "Soulless" here used against Spoons. I am no fan of the atmosphere and environment myself and tend to frequent places that have "soul". I'm waiting to find a "craft" bar with that elusive quality.

    As far as the point about the denizens of 'Spoons deserving a particular beer, I would make an education analogy. Each child should have access to the best of teaching, not just those children who have parents with the wealth to pick & choose.

    Whilst "they" or many within a' Spoons may indeed be looking for value, that doesn't mean that they shouldn't have the opportunity to have access to great beer.

    If you had restricted your point to one of publicity for the product, I may have been onside, instead of reaching for my BP medication!

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    1. To use a Chris Morris' analogy; it's not a child, it's a drink!

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  10. Having enjoyed a can of Heady Topper brought here to Europe by a Yank Biertourist once, I can easily agree with your assessment of its excellence. I normally don't care for IPA over 5% alcohol or so, since it just gets boozy and that interferes with the hops, this despite me being an ex-pat Oregonian hophead. My Heady Topper was, maybe, the best ultra-strong IPA I've ever had, simply dry, hoppy, and yes boozy, but still somehow just fabulous. Would love to try it on cask!

    I'd have never known the brewer's name, but then I can't be arsed to try to keep up. Got over my fan-boydom through getting to know enough pioneering Oregonian brewers in the 90's. Good on Adnams, Spoons, and the most certainly well-and-fully-wooly-bearded Kimmich for making something interesting and available for the man in the street. 5.5% is a bit over-the-top for me, but colour me jealous of you for finding an excellent American Brown Ale...on cask!

    I've been away from England's cask beer far too long...nearly 2 years now, FWIW!

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    1. And this is my point, I did find an excellent American Brown Ale on cask and they are becoming more commonplace but my ire was caused by neither the two brewers or pub chain involved really shouting about it. This was a beer that deserved being shouted about!

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  11. What my good friend Beers Manchester said. And Pivni Filosif. I'd add that I've never heard of John Kimmitch, or Heady Topper, or Alchemist for that matter, but then even if I had would it have influenced me? Maybe. Maybe not. What would and does influence me is that Wetherspoon tries a lot harder than many and does interesting things that not everyone agrees work, but at least they do try.

    The idea that JDW is full of bottom feeders just looking for a cheap pint and deserving no more is one that I dislike.

    I do like though that you make your points and bring out the arguments. That's the sort of blogging that appeals to me. I don't agree on your main contention, but do in that JDW should make a bit more of their efforts.

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    1. Although I was taught about great cask and bottle beer my Dad from a pretty young age it was in America where it all really clicked and it's the American beer scene that really stokes my fires hence why this part of beer is so ingrained in me. I revere brewers like Kimmich and if there's a chance to sample his work then I bloody well want to know about it. Luckily, fortune led me to his beer on this occasion.

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    1. THIS IS NO PLACE FOR THE PARTY EMOJI

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  13. JDW-bashing aside, I can see why you're annoyed at the missed opportunity to do something that would make UK beer geeks very happy, but I can't see why you're quite so outraged. Does Kimmich have some obligation to do what you want him to rather than something that he - for whatever reason - wants to do himself? Does he somehow owe it to you?

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    1. It's kind of like finding out your favourite band are doing a tiny, intimate show and then only providing enough space/tickets for PR companies that don't care much for the music themselves. It just really struck a nerve with me.

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    2. I'd have thought it was more like finding out your favourite alternative band, who hardly anyone else knows about, is going on x factor.

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    3. Or that they've decided to let Paul McCartney onstage to play their fans favourite song with them. Nightmare.

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  14. I love beer snobbery. keep it up, don't let 'em grind you down.

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  15. I think it's wrong to mistake Matt's concern and frustration for a sense of entitlement.

    When a company as big as JDW, which can help a drinks brand sink or succeed, take notice of which way the wind is blowing and weighs in, it's right to scrutinise its actions closely.

    I think we probably underestimate just how chuffed brewers like Kimmich are to brew with the likes of Adnams anyway. From an American brewer's point of view, JDW is a pub company that sells a shit load of cask ale, and is offering the chance to brew a beer with highly regarded UK brewers. It must sound tempting, even to the most elusive and craftiest of brewers.

    With the Sixpoint can deal, they seemed to win the approval of almost everyone. What was the harm of great beer being widely available at a cheap price? Whilst this collab program might seem similar, it isn't. With Sixpoint, all they need to do is have the cans in the fridge and the glasses to go with them. With a range of collab brewed cask ales, brewed in partnership with people *deliberately* chosen to get the attention of beer geeks, JDW are stating their intention to be craft even more seriously.

    The problem is, I hear *very* mixed opinions on how good JDW are at staff training and the implementation of things like this ("they're the best" "they're the worst" "really well trained" "I was served Bengali with a glass of ice"). So Matt is right to be concerned.

    My biggest fear is that, the handful of truly great JDW pubs aside, there are ones that are truly awful places, which will have just as much of this beer and beers like it as the good ones. My worry is that a curious potential good-beer-convert will consider taking a punt on Enraptured as a change from GK IPA etc and down to poor handling of the beer or staff ignorance, will decide not to be curious again quite so soon.

    In any case, we should all start paying more attention to what the local JDW is serving, if only as way to measure how much stock they are placing in craft beer. As many said when the Sixpoint cans landed, JDW can be a good indicator of the mainstream acceptance of craft beer.

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    1. Well said Chris, and thanks for your support.

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  16. Last time I ventured into a spoons to try one of these american collaboration beers I was told they didn't serve draught beer after 6pm and I would have to settle for a plastic bottle of budweiser or a goldfish bowl same as all the other punters.

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    1. Sounds eminently sensible to me. Any trouble is bound to be down to either the hipsters or beardies. Both at the same time would be carnage. I'm surprised they haven't brought in separate drinking areas for them yet.

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  17. "My worry is that a curious potential good-beer-convert will consider taking a punt on Enraptured as a change from GK IPA etc and down to poor handling of the beer or staff ignorance, will decide not to be curious again quite so soon."

    Chris is right, but that's been the bane of cask beer as long as I've been drinking it. That problem isn't about obscure JDW collaborations. It is generic across the trade.

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  18. I had the beer in Spoons and quite liked it. Especially the fact that it was cask conditioned. How being fizzier could have somehow made it "better" I just don't get.

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    1. Ron, I found this beer to be very oily as a result of what was probably several dry hop additions. I personally find that beers of these nature that have a lot of aroma compounds benefit from the extra CO2 and as that tends to dissolve when beer starts getting warmer its also beneficial to be served colder so that it remains carbonated right the way to the bottom of the glass.

      I enjoy both keg and cask beer but will be honest in saying I usually prefer keg. It's simply a matter of taste of course, there's room on every bar for both.

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    2. Yeah, but then it wouldn't be "real" ale and would therefore automatically be inferior, regardless of how much reasoned, well-thought out consideration you give the matter or how many people find it to be a more enjoyable beer.

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  19. Surely it would have been better all round if Adnams had distributed the beer through its own pub network and as guest ales in other beer focused pubs.
    As it is the potential enjoyment of trying an interesting beer is overwhelmed by the experience of having to venture into a wetherscums to find it, somewhere no-one in their right mind would wish to sit and drink.

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    1. There's plenty of argument here to suggest there are many people who regularly visit Wetherspoons to sample their wares. We're lucky that these days that there's more and more choice for every drinker, we shouldn't moan really!

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  20. Interesting what you say about cask v keg. I was sat around and everyone in the group agreed it was better for being in cask as it gave it a certain texture we liked over similar kegged beers. Horses for courses...

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    1. It's just down to taste and is more than likely a generational thing. When I started drinking in pubs 15 years ago EVERYONE drank lager and that's what you become accustomed to. At least it seems that way to me.

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  21. Maybe when someone from JDW called kimmich and said "john, fancy a week in the UK on us and "brewing" a beer with a UK brewer for our pubs?" He probably thought for 5 seconds and then did yes I'd like a free holiday

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    1. Good point, but theres more to it that that. He sounds like he had a good rummage around the UK, he visited Kernel for example so probably has a much better idea of where the UK is at right now. What he does with this experience/information is anyones guess considering he can barely keep up with the demand of his own state.

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    2. Wouldn't you travel to your fellow brewers' places across the pond? I would, if I was a pro brewer. The Grand Tour!

      Matt, didn't you tell me that Firestone Walker have a policy of all staff having to travel to the UK to experience traditional beer? Or maybe it was someone else. Regardless, the worlds are so far apart (having been to "an English pub" in Houston I know) that it's genuinely revelatory to do a bit of poking around.

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    3. When an employee at Odell complete five years of full time service they get send on a trip to the UK to discover the beers that inspired a young Doug Odell to start brewing. The past couple of trips have been mesmerized by how far our scene has come and they are always surprised to see their own beer on our shelves as many of them have no idea that it gets exported.

      I believe New Belgium do a similar thing where they send their staff to Old Belgium after five years of service.

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    4. Stone have also sent their staff over here and i believe Founders plan to.

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  22. Just noticed that Heady Topper is on the Ghent beer list:

    http://www.gentsbierfestival.be/bierlijst

    So I'll be able to check it out when I visit the festival next weekend. Be good to see what all the fuss is about!

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    1. Well that's the first instance I've ever seen it advertised outside of the UK! I wonder if the organisers just went over with an empty suitcase and grabbed as much as they could! It's a really good IPA, clean, juicy, very much like Cannonball in its flavour profile. Enjoy!

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    2. Well maybe that's how they got it but...digging around I came across a list of Heady Topper outlets. All in the USA bar one - and that's the Hopduvel Beer Warehouse in Ghent! Perhaps they got it there. Perhaps they'll have some left next weekend...

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  23. I've brewed beers on behalf of Wetherspoons several times over the last 6 years. And I have introduced their people to a number of great American brewers, including John Kimmich, in an effort to get my brewing firends here an opportunity to go to England to brew. I know the critiques of Wetherspoons very well, so one might question why do I do this. It's because for American brewers, most of whom were initially inspired by British ale brewing, this is a great opportunity to brew with a traditional English Ale brewer, all expenses paid. Brewers here in the US don't make lots of money, so when someone offers you a trip like this, it's hard to say no. And I can attest to the fact that working with brewers like Fergus at Adnams, and Brian at Wadworth are wonderful experiences and have resulted in great friendships. And the beers I've brewed that I've been able to try, I've liked how they came out.

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    1. Hi Mitch, thanks for the comment, this is a great insight!

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  24. Just saw Harringay Arms taking delivery of Flying Dog, Sierra Nevada, and weirdly some NZ beers

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