Tuesday, 2 July 2013
The Rise of The Cuckoo - or - 2013 (What The Fuck Is Going On?)
Part of my job at the moment is saying no to people. Not customers, not drinkers, but producers. Brewery numbers in the UK have topped out around 1000, a high point in our lifetime, even for old gits like Zythophile.
Almost a year on from writing this and this about cuckoo/gypsy brewers, I find myself swamped, besieged, inundated by enquiries from people who have brewed (or are about to brew) beer, and wondering if I would be interested in helping with the distribution of it. Some of it is pretty damn solid, and none of it is actually bad. Some of it is still words on a piece of paper, or images in a thought bubble brought to life by the excited passion of the recently converted.
I'm torn. It started out about nine months ago, saying no to perfectly decent beer purely because we had our next couple of months' listings figured out ahead of time. Then the supply from our favourite breweries started to run short, overcome as they were by demand from the newly-converted drinker. It got ridiculous, with large scale breweries (some of whom I mentioned in this article as people who we had been buying from since year dot) unable to fulfill orders.
Couple to this the fall-off in consumption of more traditional British ales, and it doesn't take much for someone with (say) a 20 barrel plant to suddenly find that they have spare capacity, as the demand for their trad brown starts to wane. What better way of keeping things ticking over than to contract for some eager brand visionary with a sack of hops under one arm, and a sack of money under the other.
So it's good business sense all round. Capacity is filled, drinkers are satisfied, cuckoos sing happily. A new generation of gypsy brewers starts the journey with a single step, following the trail that has been blazed for them by Mikkel. Indeed, so revered is Mikkeller now that it doesn't seem to be a brand - it's a brewery, a person, a story being told in water, malt, hops and yeast.
So why is it all starting to leave me a bit cold? Is it the fact of being sold to before there's a product to buy? Is it that I somehow perceive cuckoo brewing as not being fully committed? Do I perhaps smell a rat in the sense that people are seeing a market to exploit, and creating products to do just that, as Ed points out elegantly in his recent post?
That can't be it, as I have visited breweries who make a virtue of producing commercially accessible, consistent beers with a cutting edge leaning - not very romantic, but solid, tasty beers nonetheless. I feel that's better than the scattergun approach of many breweries who are learning their trade in public, missing the mark they were setting out to hit, but selling the beer anyway.
To paraphrase the KLF: 2013 - What The Fuck Is Going On?
That picture of me was taken at Sharp's Brewery in 2009. I look much older now. Much older.
Posted by Zak Avery at 19:05