Not Another Golden Pints | Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Not Another Golden Pints

This post is spurred on and encouraged by the words of Julie O'Grady, co-owner of Neptune Brewery and founder of Liverpool based Ladies That Beer: "I’m not doing a best beers, or brewery for 2020. Why? Because getting beer out has been hard enough for many breweries to survive for lots of reasons from cash flow, staff, closed pubs. If you’ve managed it, to me you’re a winner." Here follows a far more rambling echoed sentiment.

This year has been shit, and we aren't out of the woods yet. I had hopes for late spring, but just yesterday morning Matt Hancock said "we are confident we can get out of this pandemic by spring", and I trust his word about as much as I do the cat telling me he hasn't been fed.

But the spirit of this industry remains strong, if a little downtrodden - there are heaps of gold we can focus on and things that we may be able to retain from this cesspit of a year. Here are just a few that have stood out to me.

Online tastings / Zoom chats / YouTube videos / Live videos

This year has forced the hand of events planners and marketing managers all over the industry, and we saw the traditional beer festival being cancelled completely in the majority of cases - but some were moved online as venues around the country closed.

Virtual Independent Salford Beer Festival - As always Jim and the team absolutely pulled it out of the bag with their beer fest and moving it online this year was no exception. Offering a series of tastings over the course of a weekend, hosted by Melissa Cole, Andy Parker of Elusive Brewing and Charlie Hooson-Sykes who led a cider event. They really retained the community spirit of the festival and even managed to raise an incredible £7000 for charity.

I also co-ran (with Laura) the Abbeydale Brewery Funk Fest At Home, bringing our mixed ferm (including some exclusive festival beers) and collaborations with Little Earth Project and London Beer Factory, hosting conversations and tutored tastings with both of the aforementioned teams. We also worked with Jules at Hop Hideout who organised a fantastic Cider Sunday tasting event with Albert from Ross Cider. Jules has also curated some great virtual events for Hop Hideout's 5th birthday this year, as well as running quiz nights throughout the year and generally helping to bring our community together.

Fyne Ales showed the world their glen over what should have been their festival weekend. And Cloudwater brought together a previously unlikely mix of guests to their webcasts, featuring breweries such as Allagash and Green Cheek from the US. 
Moving events online, while not ideal, has at least allowed for an alternative take on the usual meet the brewer events and tastings. We've been musing that this helps to increase accessibility for many people who may normally not be able to attend, whether that is down to transport, location, or preference. Being able to participate in events from your own home could be a critical tool going forward and could be a great addition to our beer scene longer term. It's made our world seem smaller, and there are positives to be gained from this.

Webshops, online and takeaway.

The move and growth in brewery-led online sales, as well as pubs and bars pivoting to provide online and takeaway services, has been extraordinary. Before *gestures* all of this, for small breweries run by a small team, the time needed to set up and run a shop for a relatively small quantity of beer was not really worth the while. Even if the margins are higher, so increases the workload both in terms of packaging and paperwork. But it became essential as the pandemic struck and pubs were closed - more beer was moved to can, minicask and keg for sales of beer direct from breweries, and more crowler machines entered bars, as did the simple milk carton for off sales. While these are not perfect imitations of draught beer from keg, and especially cask, they certainly fill a hole for people wanting beer and also help their local survive. Also a polite request to the boffins at NASA - could you do something useful like focus on an Angram and sparkler attachment for 2l milk containers, or a Czech side pour for 946ml growlers? Ta. 

While minikegs are a large part of the current sales. After having filled literally 1000s of them I can safely say I will not be sad to see the back of them. (Just to point out firmly here that this is entirely a personal view, cos Laura said I had to).

Voices, writing, and long-term projects.

It has been great seeing a few projects appear, and some grow.

Burum Collective is a new initiative established by Helen Anne Smith in an effort to bring a greater mix of voices to the beer, wine and cider scene. Spaces such as this with an emphasis on equality of representation is a vital part of how the UK will develop its independent drink scene. 

Emma Inch who has been in the beer scene for a while with projects like Ferment Radio has taken that idea on the road, and recently with hosting the Beer Nation podcast too - a roundup of the year featuring a selection of UK podcasts, organised by the Beer O'Clock Show. It's great to see people coming together in collaborative work like this and it's the sort of thing that will hopefully continue.
One of our absolute favourite writers, Katie Mather, has somehow managed to not just produce some stunning work this year but also open Corto - currently a REAL LIFE SHOP, soon to be bar, when it's allowed - with her husband Tom. We are very excited for when we are able to travel to Clitheroe to visit.

And Cloudwater have launched their Wayfinder residencies, to provide a platform to help drive change within the industry.

So to sum up - our industry has undoubtedly lost so much this year. We have worked so hard for comparatively less, we have been scapegoated and have taken more than our fair shame of the "blame". It will take a long time to recover and some of the repercussions are yet to be seen. But we have also found so much this year too. We have adapted, we have shown care, compassion, and resilience, we have maintained relationships and built new ones. And we have stood firm at the heart of our communities. And for that, this is an industry I am very proud to be a part of.



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