Is not having permanent beers the future for craft brewing?
Last night in the White Hart Tap in St Albans, I was drawn straight towards the abstract Mondrianesque artwork on a Cloudwater pump clip. I’d made the decision to order a pint of this beer based on its maker before even scrutinising the style. It was a 3.9 ABV pale ale and like their other offerings, they have the power to beam lucid hop profiles as if through the clarity of a plasma screen.
Regarding the choice to opt for that hand pull based solely on the brewery it’s from is a concession I make to just a handful of British brewers – they’re the usual raved about culprits from Finchampstead, Evercreech, Huddersfield, Bakewell, Bristol and Buxton. There is another “B” I can add to this list – Bermondsey and Kernel – the region’s brewing pioneer. I’m just as drawn towards its cork tile simplicity when I see it on tap. Writing a piece in 2015, I was curious to know how come its Table Beer’s ABV keeps changing:
Thanks for the kind words and glad you enjoy the Table Beer.
The variation in abv on the beer is more a matter of our openness than
anything technical. We don’t vary the grist ingredients by much, but as
brewing (in the manner that we do) is a manual process, we inevitably
have some batch to batch variations (which we enjoy and celebrate), so
the abv will always vary slightly. I would reckon that all breweries of
our scale (and certainly smaller, and probably bigger) would have as
much variation in the abv of their beers as we have in ours. It is just
that technically and legally brewers are permitted a margin for error on
the abv declared on the label/bottle/pumpclip of + or – 0.5%. So if you
have Brewery X Pale Ale at a declared 5% abv, it could (and probably
does) range from 4.5% to 5.5% – but as the labels have all been printed
before hand with 5% abv, they have no need (or way) to mention that any
particular batch of that beer is of a slightly different abv. As I
mentioned before, we like to celebrate the uniqueness of each batch, and
so we print the labels for each batch specifically for that batch, with
the particulars of that batch, including abv, on the label. So the
variation is there in most beers, I would reckon, it is just that we
make it clear.
Let us know if you have any questions.
All the best,
Thus Evin O’Riordain not only brews some of the best beer in the world, but kindly took the time to write that informed reply. My point here is that though Kernel bring out regular styles or single hop varietals, each batch is different. There is no equivalent of a Bishop’s Finger, Doom Bar or Jaipur – titles that are sought out by the public (for good or bad) which are made consistently to a specific recipe.
It’s a question I asked at the White Hart Tap when I saw the pale ale pump clip. Do Cloudwater have any permanents? It doesn’t seem so. I asked them on Twitter:
@cloudwaterbrew Quick question – as a brewery do you have any permanent beers?
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Cloudwater Brew Co
@LathamAlec We have permanent styles, but lots of variation within our range.
So, a similar story. Cloudwater also tie their beers in to reflect seasonality.
There are benefits to not having permanents. Arguably, you make the brewery the focus rather than the beer. Eyeing the brewery name almost becomes a chef’s recommendation – you just trust the expertise whether it’s a Chinook porter or a Columbus IPA.
I also dwell on the acquisition of breweries by brewing giants. How could you ingest a brewery that doesn’t “do” permanents unless you give the head brewer 100% control over production? How could you make business predictions based on shimmering variables where each product is a one-off? If a brewery is successful without a regular portfolio, you can’t homogenise a range except by completely removing the reason people buy its beer and therefore, lose them. Camden Brewery is the opposite – easily taken on as it brews a handful of tried, tested and consistent good beers.
So could this impermanence (I don’t mean it in the Buddhist sense – but then maybe I do) be the future for craft brewing? A situation whereby a business’ fortune is based on its skill and reputation alone?