Category: Beer

| AB InBev, Beer

Brahma: Hindu God or Bloke from Barnsley?

The latest farrago of bullshit and utter confusion to emanate from the world’s largest brewer centres on a dispute around a Brazilian brand offending the Hindu religion by linking a holy deity to a beer that still uses sexist tropes in its marketing. But that’s not the best part…

An interfaith coalition including representatives of the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Jain faiths is calling on Anheuser-Busch InBev to rename Brahma, one of its biggest brands, because it is the name of the Hindu god of creation.

The coalition particularly objects to the deity’s name being associated with marketing that frequently uses sexual imagery to sell beer (the pic above, of Megan Fox, is from a campaign in which she appears to strip her top off. I deliberately chose it as one of the, ah, milder images that came up on a Google search.)

I don’t want to get into the sexism, and I don’t want to get into any “Why now?” or “Political/religious correctness gone mad!” debates here. What fascinates me in particular about the story is AB InBev’s response, which is just… so AB InBev:

“Lucas Rossi, head of communications for Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Latin America subsidiary, said Tuesday the beers were named in tribute to Joseph Bramah — an Englishman who invented the draft pump valve — and not for the Hindu deity. The spelling was changed, he said, to make the name work better in the Portuguese language.”

OK, so let’s start from the top and work down from there.

Firstly, at face value, I’ve heard more believable stories from kids trying to explain where their homework is. I’m amazed anyone can say anything like this and keep a straight face. It’s obviously not true.

To check, I did some digging around the history of the brand. This claim about Joseph Bramah doesn’t seem to exist anywhere before Lucas Rossi and his team obviously made it up.

Villiger & Cia, Companhia Cerverjaria Brahma was founded in 1888 by a Swiss national called Joseph Villiger. I’ve been trying to put myself in his mindset and imagine why would a Swiss national working in Brazil would name his beer company after an engineer from Barnsley, but I have to tell you, I’m coming up blank.

The giant that would become AB-InBev acquired Brahma in 1999. When they acquired Whitbread around the same time, they destroyed its archive, so I’m guessing they didn’t spend too long sifting through any old documents they found in the brewery in Sao Paulo to carefully research the brand’s origins. In the mid-noughties I actually helped an ad agency work on a pitch for Brahma (we didn’t win) and not a single fact about the brand’s history was ever mentioned. In truth, they have absolutely no idea where the name came from.

But that’s still not the best bit.

(By the way, in case this looks a bit weirdly obsessive, I’ve done a lot of research about Joseph Bramah over the years since I learned that he was born and raised in Stainborough in Barnsley, and married a woman from Mapplewell, the former pit village just outside Barnsley, where I grew up.)

Joseph Bramah didn’t invent ‘the draft pump valve’, largely because there is no such thing.

There are pump valves, and there are draft pumps, which have certain aspects in common, but are two quite different things.

Bramah does have a connection to both. He patented a new type of valve for the flushing toilet (which was in fact invented by his boss) in 1778.

But I think what Rossi was attempting to claim was that Joseph Bramah invented the ‘draft pump’ beer engine, the system of beer dispense that is today still used to pull cask ales from the cellar through a swan-necked tap to dispense cask ale. Famously, AB-InBev executives are easily confused when it comes to the details of the products they make, and ‘draft pump valve’ was probably a mangled attempt to describe something they should know a lot about, but evidently don’t.

The problem is: Bramah didn’t invent the beer engine either – although it is widely claimed that he did.

The first beer engine was developed in 1691 by John Lofting, a Dutch inventor, merchant and manufacturer. The London Gazette dated 17th March that year states:

“the patentee hath also projected a very useful engine for starting of beers and other liquors which will deliver from 20 to 30 barrels an hour which are completely fixed with brass joints and screws at reasonable rates.”

A century later, Bramah, attempted to improve upon Lofting’s design, and in 1797 patented a manually operated beer pump which he believed would have tremendous advantages for “the masters of families and publicans”.  

Unfortunately Bramah’s handpump was rubbish.  

Whereas hand pumps depend on pressure from the beer engine on the bar to create a vacuum that draws the beer up the line from the cask, Bramah’s sketches show a system of pistons inside casks, weighted with heavy bags of sand. The piston pushes the beer down inside the cask, through an opening in the bottom, and up the pipe to a simple tap at the bar.  It would never have worked, because it failed to take account of both the dimensions of casks, which are bowed, and the height of cellars, which were too low for his pistons.  Bramah’s idea never poured a single pint.  

So: a made-up story, that doesn’t make any sense and has no foundation in historical records, falsely claims a Swiss brewer working in Brazil named his business after a bloke from Barnsley, on the grounds that he invented something that doesn’t exist, because it was getting confused with something he is often credited with inventing, but in fact never did.

AB InBev’s skill in layering bullshit upon falsehood upon ignorance upon misunderstanding is almost admirable.

(H/T to Laurent Mousson for posting about this on Facebook and picking out the key paragraph posted above.)

| Beer, Brewing, Media bollocks, Pubs

An update on TOTAL lockdown beer sales

In May I debunked misleading media stories implying that people were turning to drink during lockdown. I only had data up to the end of March. Now I have it to the end of May. Here’s a brief summary, followed by some comments.

When we were looking at March data for beer sales versus the same period last year, we had to bear in mind that we were looking at half a month where people were starting to avoid pubs because of fears of Covid, and half a month where pubs, restaurants, hotel bars etc. were on mandatory lockdown. The figures didn’t represent a full month of lockdown. Now we can see what that looks like.

In April and May, on-trade sales were obviously down -100% versus 2019.

Off-trade, sales were up by +39% in April, lowering to +25% in May.

That adds up to TOTAL beer sales being down -24% in April and -30% in May.

Add up total beer sales in March to May and compare it to the same period in 2019, and volume sales are down 22% overall.

So just in case you see any further reports trying to claim that we were boozing our way through lockdown, if we were, we weren’t doing it on beer. 

Breaking it down, ale fared far worse than lager: total (i.e. on-trade plus off-trade) ale sales were down 31% in March, -58% in April and -59% in May, whereas total lager sales were down -10% March, -15% in April, and -22% in May. 

Some observations on this…

One, as lockdown progressed, we drank less.

It’s worth noting that weather is a key factor in beers sales, particularly for lager. April was unseasonably warm and sunny, but May was a scorcher, officially the sunniest calendar month on record. Yet beer sales were lower in May than in April. One possible reason for this is that panic-buying early on in lockdown meant we bought less as it went on. Another is that we simply started getting out of the habit of drinking beer in the absence of the on-trade. But based on the weather, we should have expected sales to be better in May than in April.

Two, Lockdown has hit small, independent craft brewers and cask ale brewers far harder than Big Beer

Ale fared so much worse than lager because ale skews far more to the on-trade than lager does. Before lockdown*, supermarkets and off-licenses already accounted for around 55% of the lager we drank, whereas with ale, we were still drinking 70% of it in pubs, and only 30% at home. In volume terms, if my sums are correct, while ale had an 18% share of total beer sales before lockdown, it has accounted for 38%% of the total beer market volume loss during lockdown.+ Stout is counted separately. Together, ale and stout used to account for 22% of total market volume, and have taken 48% of the total volume loss.

This is the most worrying aspect for fans of craft beer and cask ale. Ale is far more skewed to small, independent brewers than lager is. The vast majority of lager is brewed by giant multinationals. So here is incontrovertible proof that while all brewers have suffered due to the closure of pubs, and while Britain is drinking significantly less overall, lockdown has hit craft and cask ale brewers far harder than it has Big Beer.

SIBA’s survey of their membership during lockdown was based on a smallish sample of their members and didn’t use audited data, so I always thought (or rather hoped?) that their claim that, on average, SIBA member brewers’ sales were down 82% was overly pessimistic. Having looked at total market data and broken it down like this, I now suspect it’s pretty close to the mark.

Now lockdown is easing, things don’t look much better. It seems that, despite predictable media sensationalism about “Super Saturday”, only half of pubs have reopened so far. Those that did reopen are seeing trade pan out at half its normal level. 25% of pubs cannot open viably even with social distancing reduced to one metre. These are smaller pubs, particularly micropubs, which are more skewed towards ale and craft beer than the average pub.

To really rub salt into the wounds, smaller and wet-led pubs got nothing from the chancellor’s mini-budget that reduced VAT on food sales and incentivised eating out, but provided nothing to support beer.

So please, if this upsets or concerns you, why not get online, or go to the pub if you feel safe doing so, and buy some beer from your local craft/cask ale brewer? They need our custom now more than ever.

For more detailed insight on the future of post-pandemic craft beer, with some light at the end of this long tunnel, check out this summary of my report on Craft Beer After Covid.

*For “before lockdown,” I’ve used figures for total beer sales for the calendar year to December 2019.

+ Calculated by working out total beer volumes March to May 2019 and comparing it with total beer volumes March to May 2020.

Data taken from BBPA sales audit.

| Beer, Craft - An Argument, Patreon, Pubs, Uncategorised

Craft Beer after Covid: Glass half-empty, glass half-full

Last month I set up a Patreon in the hope that a modest regular income would allow me to spend time researching key stories in much greater depth than I normally can unless I’m being paid a consultancy fee. In the first of these deep dives, I’ve looked at the future of craft beer post-lockdown – from the perspective of being fresh from “Craft: An Argument” – and tried to draw some conclusions. This is a summary of that work, with a fuller report with stats and detail available to Patrons.

Seeing both sides of an argument is different from sitting on the fence. 

There’s no point trying to play down the huge negative impact of Coronavirus and the lockdown it necessitated. The hospitality sector has been hit worse than most, and within that, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest the craft sector, consisting mainly of small, independent businesses, will end up faring worse than the mainstream:

  • – Small pubs and micropubs will find it more difficult to reopen than larger chains.
  • – While some small, independent brewers have done well with online sales and (free) local delivery, overall small brewers suffered an 80% drop in volume during lockdown and 65% had to close.
  • – The lack of sufficient notice that 4th July would definitely be the reopening date did not give small brewers enough time to prepare.
  • – With lower capacity, pubs are likely to reduce the number of lines on the bar – in fact they’d be wise to.
  • – Big brewers are giving huge support to pubs, including thousands of pints of free beer. Helpful to pubs, yes, but likely to pressure small brewers off the bar even further.

There will be a colossal short-term impact. Businesses are going bust and people are losing their jobs. They’ll continue to do so.

But that’s only half the story. 

While I wrote “Craft” during lockdown, I deliberately avoided speculating on what lockdown might mean for the craft beer movement, because that would have dated it quickly. In the book, I look beyond the issues of ownership and independence that have come to dominate the debate over what is and isn’t ‘craft’. 

The recent boom in craft – in beer and beyond – is a reaction to a mix of factors including the 2008 global financial crash, the spread of superfast, handheld mobile computing and communications, open plan office culture, the growing degree to which algorithms dictate our decisions and behaviours, the arrival of Artificial Intelligence, and the ongoing creep of corporate dominance and homogenisation in all aspects of our lives.

These factors combine to create two separate but related themes that drive craft. One, the personal need to do more with our hands than tap or swipe; to engage with the world around us in a more meaningful, physical way, and two, the desire to escape the corporate rat race, to live better, to be better, to be more fulfilled. 

If we can’t do these things personally, we console ourselves with actively choosing products from people whom we believe have done it on our behalf, and live vicariously through them. 

There have been many changes in lockdown, and we see some of them as positive. Almost all the positive ones feed directly into this narrative around the broader idea of craft. If, before lockdown, we wanted to reject a bland, boring mainstream, to slow down, to experience life more vividly and personally, to support local businesses, to be kinder and more compassionate, to reject the open-plan, “computer says no” office environment, lockdown has not only heightened those desires – it’s shown that it is possible for all of us to act on at least some of them.

Those craft brewers that survive the short-term hit will face an environment that, while remaining subdued, will be far more in tune with the principles that motivate the brewers, retailers and drinkers of craft beer than it was pre-Covid. At the moment, it seems that the underlying motivations and themes that make craft beer so appealing to an ever-increasing number of people are being strengthened by people’s experiences. For all its negative effects, for all the death and hurt the virus has caused and for all the economic hardship to come, lockdown was time-out, a chance to reflect. 

Stripped of the daily commute, the constant travel, the endless crowds, the noise and spectacle with which we usually fill our lives, we’ve had the chance to discover – or re-discover – what really matters to us. We’ve realised that, while this state of affairs is far from ideal, there are some good bits. 

Craft brewers – rightly or wrongly – are generally perceived as, among other things,  smaller and more independently-minded, more progressive in their attitudes, kinder, friendlier and more collaborative than their corporate, industrialised rivals, more face-to-face in their communications, more physically engaged with both the nature of their work and the communities they exist within and do business with. All of this has become more appealing as a result of lockdown. 

The future – eventually – will be bright. 

The full report is available on Patreon to anyone who signs on at the £3 tier or above. (While it’s a regular monthly subscription, you’re perfectly free to sign just for a month and then cancel.)

Craft: An Argument is available here on Kindle and here as a print-on-demand version. The audiobook will be ready as soon as the drilling stops outside my house.

| Beer, Beer Books, Beer Writing, Craft - An Argument

The future of “craft beer” depends upon us changing the arguments around it.

My new book, Craft: An Argument is published today. Written and self-published in the last thirteen weeks, it’s an argument at least ten years in the making.

Does anyone still care about the meaning of the term “craft beer”?

I’m afraid I do – passionately.

Debates – sometimes furious arguments – have been going on for at least fifteen years now. I often hear craft beer dismissed as a “meaningless marketing term”, both by people who think it’s been co-opted by big brewers, and by people who think it never meant anything in the first place, on the grounds that it lacks a tight, technical definition.

Attempts by industry bodies to create such a definition have been fighting an orderly retreat since 2005: they began as multi-faceted lists of all the attributes many of us visualise when we think of craft beer. Thanks to both the growth and diversification of craft brewers and the attempts by Big Beer to co-opt craft, from an industry point of view, the only meaningful aspect of “craft beer” is that it is produced by an independent brewery. Brewer’s Associations around the world are steadily rebranding as associations of independent brewers, and seem to be quietly retiring the word “craft” from use, just as they did “microbrewery” a decade ago.

So “craft beer” is in all kinds of problems. If we say craft = independent, like the US Brewers Association currently does, then Yuengling Light – a cheap, adjunct-filled mass-market lager made by a massive corporation – is officially a craft beer. Meanwhile, Goose Island Bourbon County Barrel-aged stout – regarded by many as the best barrel-aged stout in the world – is not a craft beer, on the grounds that Goose Island is now owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. In this warped reality, it’s hardly surprising if people think “craft beer” has lost its usefulness.

The thing is, millions of people around the world are really into something they call “craft beer”. To many of them – particularly the early adopters and the people who are really engaged whit the industry, independent ownership is a really important part of what they’re buying into. But to people who are already happy drinking beer owned by large corporations, and just getting into craft, telling them they “should” be drinking independent beer is a bigger task.

So this book is an attempt to separate craft beer from independence, and express its meaning in a way that works for any beer or brewery.

I argue that small, independent breweries not only need protection from rapacious Big Beer for their own sake, but also because they give the whole beer market the energy and dynamism that keep it healthy.

But that’s no longer quite the same thing as craft, because big breweries and craft breweries change as they affect one another. So to find a new understanding of and relevance for the idea of craft beer, I’ve looked at the much older idea of craft as it applies beyond beer.

Firstly, there’s this nonsensical idea, which many craft beer fans are reluctant to acknowledge, that craft beer has to be from a newish brewer rather an a traditional, long-established firm, and that it has to come with cool, funky packaging and design. There is no other area of craft where these factors are even considered. But every time someone argues that traditional British cask ale, which is produced in small batches by a master craftsperson, marketed locally, using established techniques and ingredients to create a product that is more flavourful and complex than mainstream beer, is not a craft beer, they expose the fact that for them, craft is more about image than the beer itself.

Looking closer at the broader idea of craft puts real ale at the heart of craft beer. And maybe that’s why these are the beers that directly inspired the US craft beer movement the first place.

In addition, I found that independence and ownership are never mentioned in discussions of “craft” outside beer. Craftspeople always had wealthy patrons, sponsors or customers. What really matters is that craftspeople have some independence of action – that they are in charge of how they work, and can feel some degree of ownership over the tools they use, and a say in how the work turns out. It is far, far more likely that this will happen in a small, independent organisation than a large corporation, but not exclusively so.

Another important point to note is that we assume crafted products will be higher quality than mainstream, mass-manufactured products, and that the person making them will have a higher than average degree of skill. We expect this in craft beer and take it for granted. But it is absolutely not guaranteed. Craftspeople in other areas serve long apprenticeships before they can adopt that title. While there are apprenticeships and qualifications in craft brewing, no one is under any obligation to take them before buying a brew kit and calling themselves a craft brewer. Problems of quality and consistency in craft brewing are a threat to its integrity.

Finally, craft is as much an emotional idea as it is a practical one. It’s a rejection of the values of a mainstream that enforces homogeneity and conformity. When you can buy a cheap, perfectly made thing of reliable quality, even if it’s a bit dull – be that an IKEA chair, a Big Mac or a can of Budweiser – you’re making a statement by spending more money on a crafted alternative. You’re buying into a set of ethics and values as well as buying a thing.

Again, it’s far more likely that small, independent brewers will embody all of these aspects, but it’s not guaranteed that a big brewer never will or a small craft brewer always will. So there’s a crucial difference between small and independent, and craft.

This doesn’t get us to a tight, measurable definition of a craft beer or a craft brewer. But tight, measurable definitions go against what craft is all about. Craft is the embodiment of innate knowledge and skill, to the extent that many people who possess this skill cannot begin to put it into words. Craft beer is a concept that is full of meaning, far richer than any attempt to pin it down to a tight definition has ever captured. The lack of such a definition doesn’t really diminish that meaning. For craft beer to survive and flourish, we need to hold any brewery to account on the skills and behaviours that truly make it craft – or not. Because this is what any craft beer drinker – be they a passionate flag-bearer for independence or a mainstream drinker looking for a change from Bud – is expecting when they buy the product.

Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential,is available now in e-book format on nearly all major platforms around the world.(Links in this post are to amazon.co.uk but the book is also available on your local Amazon site, Kobo, Nook, and Google Play. It will be on Apple iBooks as soon as we figure out their Kafkaesque bugginess.) The book will also be available in a print-on-demand version by the end of the week, and an audiobook as soon as the incessant fucking drilling outside our house allows us to finish recording it.

Advance Reviews of Craft: An Argument

“One of the leading beer thinkers of our time, Pete delivers up well crafted, important insights into the nature of modern brewing. A must-read for brewers wanting to find their sense of place amongst the shifting sands of marketing, business, consumers and trends.”
Matt Kirkegaard, Brews News

“In 2009’s Hops and Glory, Pete Brown took a cask to India in order to reveal the true nature of India pale ale. In 2020’s Craft: An Argument, he does the metaphorical equivalent to arrive at the meaning of ‘craft’ as it pertains to beer. While the journey is certainly shorter, it is no less rigorous, compelling, or splendidly entertaining.”
Stephen Beaumont, co-author, The World Atlas of Beer

“Exciting and exuberant, this is a fascinating and fantastically articulate argument and polemic that heads straight to the heart of craft beer, written by a master craftsman at the height of his literary powers.”
Adrian Tierney-Jones, 1001 Beers: You Must Try Before You Die

| Books, Craft - An Argument, Craft Beer

Lockdown Book Project Week 12: One Week Till Launch!

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: final edits, hopeful uploads, and pre-launch marketing.

free to use stock image from pixels.com

This week, the learning curve is at its steepest. My main learning: if you’re going to do a project like this, allow as much time for editing and production as you do for writing. I finished the first draft weeks ago. We’re still working on the text with a week to go. I now understand why my publishers in the past have allowed as much as a year between me submitting first draft and publication date. The work has split into three streams – it might be useful to summarise them as such.

Final Edits

I mentioned before that there are two main edits: the structural edit and the copy edit. In reality there are many more. I’ve read the “finished” text from start to finish maybe eight times now. Liz, my wife and editor, has done the same. In addition our friend Marian very kindly did a professional edit, and several friends and colleagues I gave copies to have also given feedback. And EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. someone has picked up at least one typo, or a word left hanging in the wrong place after some text has been cut and pasted, or a sentence that made sense on the first seven readings but suddenly doesn’t on the eighth.

The detail of the edit intensifies, the scale becomes smaller, and that’s when, to me, it starts to feel like gently sanding and adding another layer of varnish to the book. You go from writing new chapters, shifting sections of text around and doing extensive rewrites, to discussions on English spellings and whether you should keep US spellings if they’re quoted from American books, making sure the line space between quotes is consistent across all quotes, and my personal blind spot: deciding whether a close quotation mark goes “before or after a full stop”. Each time you do, the book develops a patina of professionalism. It now scarcely resembles the first draft that we all thought was pretty good on a first read-through.

Uploads to publishing platforms

We aim to publish the book in three formats: ebook, audiobook, and print-on-demand.

EBOOK

The quickest way to get distribution and awareness for a self-published book. Getting the advance listing on Amazon across all global sites, and on Barnes & Noble, was fairly straightforward, if onerous. There are then two steps: choosing an ebook platform to format and publish, and uploading it to sales outlets. We chose Jutoh to format and publish, because it had the best reviews and was far cheaper than options that hadn’t reviewed as well. It took Liz about two days to feel comfortable with it, and another two to finish all the formatting. Needless to say, while doing this she was still picking up the odd typo and formatting glitch.

We’re then selling through Amazon Kindle, Apple Books and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. The Jutoh file has to be uploaded to each one separately, and each has its own formatting quirks. It takes another couple of days, and quite a lot of patience. But when it’s done, your ebook is available for sale anywhere in the world!

This is an important point for a book like this one: the topic is far too niche for any publisher I’ve approached, but publishers have to make something work on a territory-by territory basis. Publish this way, and you’re looking at one publication for a global niche, which starts to look far more financially viable.

AUDIOBOOK

Quite a few people seem to enjoy my books as audiobooks but they often ask why I don’t read them myself. Well, I’d love to and now’s my chance! We’re recording it on GarageBand, which comes as standard with MacBooks. I’ve spent £60 on a good studio-quality mic, and will be rigging up a makeshift studio with duvets and clothes driers to deaden the ambient noise. We’re starting tomorrow, and after a bit of mixing and editing, we should be uploading for sale before launch date. More on this next week when we’ve figured it out.

PRINT-ON-DEMAND

Because the book is currently only listed as an ebook, I’ve had a lot of enquiries about a print version. We cannot finance a full print run ourselves: fortunately we don’t have to. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer a print-on-demand service. You can’t make this available for pre-order until you’re in a position to upload your final text, so it’s going to be a tight squeeze on this one.

Marketing and Promotion

Writing a book is one thing. Publishing is another kettle of fish entirely. And then there’s trying to spread the word.

ADVANCE READERS

I’ve sent early drafts out to a few people in each key territory: UK, North America, Australia/NZ, and South Africa. Hopefully they will like it, and if they do they will hopefully spread the word.

PATREON

I launched my Patreon a couple of weeks ago. The timing was key: I’ve put some special offers in to encourage sign-up, including a £10 tier that gets you a free copy of the book and your name listed in the back. I’ve also done advance previews, access to deleted content, and first dibs on tickets to…

LAUNCH PARTY

I’m doing a Zoom launch on the evening of the 25th. I’m keeping it to 30 people so there’s a reasonable chance to interact. The chance to join went out to my Patreon yesterday, and if there are any spaces left, we’ll open it on a first-come-first-served basis on Monday. All of these give talking points to help raise awareness of the book without resorting to simple repetition.

PRESS RELEASE

Later on this than I would like to be, I’ve compiled a ‘trade’ and a ‘public’ mailing list. Liz used to work in PR so we’re fairly confident about writing a good press release. The trade one will major on the debate over the meaning of craft beer, while in the public one we’ll focus a bit more on the story of our challenge as a couple to write and self-publish this book in 13 weeks during Lockdown.

Those are my ideas – obviously all amplified via social media channels. If you’ve done this before or have any ideas of your own that aren’t listed here, please feel free to comment!

My new book Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. The ebook is available for pre-order now. (Links in this post are to amazon.co.uk but the book is also available on your local Amazon site.)

| Art of Beer, Beer, Beer Books, Beer Marketing, Beer Writing, Books, Writing

Brewers! Design agencies! I want YOU for my next book project.

You wait ages for a book and then two come along at once. Here’s a new project I’m delighted to be working on with CAMRA Books: “The Art of Beer”.

In a perfect world, as a full-time writer of books you should be promoting the book that just came out, finishing off the next one, and planning the one after that, all at the same time. Lead-times are long in publishing, and a years gap between finishing one project and starting the next can easily turn into a three-year gap between the publication of one book and the next.

It never works out like that in reality. Timelines get stretched in some places and compressed in others. Coronavirus has really exacerbated this.

So: the paperback of my last book, Pie Fidelity, was published on 23rd April but thanks to warehousing and distribution issues related to lockdown it is only available this week. I’ll come back to that later in the week.

My self-published book, Craft: An Argument, is almost finished and will be published on 25th June.

And now I’m starting work on my next one. The Art of Beer will be a lavishly illustrated book about beer design and packaging, published by CAMRA Books in October 2020.

I came into beer from marketing and still occasionally get involved in consultancy on packaging design. As Chair of the Beer and Cider Marketing Awards, I’ve had the job of overseeing the judging of best beer packaging design sat a time when designers have thrown the rulebook out of the window. Now I get to celebrate all of this in book form.

It would be very, very easy to gather together images of the coolest craft beer labels and cans around at the moment, and fill a book with wonderful designs like these:

Magic Rock, by Richard Norgate

Black Iris, by Kev Grey

 

Siren, by voyagebrand.co.uk

 

And we will certainly be doing a lot of that. This is book to be gazed at with longing.

But I wouldn’t be able to think of myself a a writer if that was all it did.

So while the book will major on beautify craft beer designs, it will also tell the story of beer design, labelling and packaging from when it really took off as a discipline in the late nineteenth century until the present day.

We’ll start with why brands became so important, looking in particular at why the UK’s first ever registered trade mark was for Bass Pale Ale:

The first UK trade mark

We’ll look at the theory of how branding is supposed to work, and the tricks designers use to make a product stand out from the competition, and make you desire it.

We’ll explore the how and why of beer logos:

Since 1964, the ‘e’ n Heineken has been tilted so it ‘smiles’.

Milton Glaser’s original sketches for the Brooklyn logo

We’ll talk about why some brewers prefer typographical designs, and how that works:

Devastatingly simple, universally admired, and much copied: The Kernel

And we’ll look at why certain picture-led routes are enduringly popular:

Local history is enduringly popular for cask ale

We’ll also  be looking at the history of bottles and cans, the clever use of different bottle shapes, crown cap designs, and secondary packaging such as gift boxes, six-pack holders and so on. 

If you are a brewer or design agency that is really proud of your design work, and you’d like it to feature in the book, please drop us a line on petebrownsemail@gmail.com. We have only two rules:

  1. 1. While we’re not limiting this to British beers only, any beer featured must be readily available on sale in the UK.

2. Whole there’s a lot to be written about poor or questionable design, this book will only feature designs that the team think are beautiful or are otherwise important in the history and evolution of beer design. 

So please – sen us your beers! And if you’re a beer fan rather than a brewer and you think there’s a beer we should definitely feature, let me know. (And thanks to everyone who did so when I asked this question on Twitter and Facebook last week.)

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| Beer, Beer Writing, Books, Craft - An Argument, Craft Beer

Lockdown Book Project Week 7: “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”?

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: a major milestone, and my experience of combining drinking and writing.

If it looks a little thin, that’s because (a) it’s printed double-sided, and (b) it’s a bit thin – compared to my previous books.

Final word count, Tuesday night: 53,572

I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT!

Ten days later than scheduled when I started, I reached the delicious moment of printing out the first iteration of the book. There’s still a long way to go: I reckon 8,000 to 10,000 of those words need to come out. There’s a lot of repetition, and a lot of digressions, some of which help, and some that don’t.

Even though most editors I work with now work online using Microsoft Word’s ‘Track changes’ tools, I like to start with a physical copy. A few weeks ago I talked about Stephen King’s book, On Writing. One of my favourite bits is his advice on what to do when you finally reach this point. He suggests a total change of pace – “Go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle.”

Jigsaw puzzle it is then. I spent most of yesterday putting together a painting of Padstow Harbour.

But here’s the best part:

“How long you let your book rest – sort of like bread dough between kneadings – is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, ageing and (one hopes) mellowing.”

I don’t have six weeks. I’ll be leaving it for about four days. But it’s a lovely image, with wonderful results:

“If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange and often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognise it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own.”

That phrase is King’s analogy for the hardest bit you will face if you write something book length: there will be a sentence or paragraph that you love, the best thing you’ve written. And it won’t belong in this book and you must cut it out. But that’s still to come…

To get to this point, I had to play with the famous quote in the title above. Like most great snappy quotes, it was never said by the person to whom it is commonly attributed. Ernest Hemingway was, if anything, a vocal opponent of trying to do good work while drunk.

But Hemingway wasn’t a drinks writer.

I’m not necessarily recommending writing drunk, but I thought it might be worth sharing my experiments and experience with it.

I normally write completely sober, in the mornings. But when I’m travelling, or covering beer events, my note-taking usually happens when I’m not. I wrote many of the notes for Three Sheets to the Wind while living up to the book’s title. It’s hilarious to go back through those old notebooks and see how my handwriting deteriorates as the day wears on:

Notes written in Dublin, around opening time.

Notes in the same notebook from Madrid, written around 2am.

The thing is, if you can decipher the writing, there’s some good stuff there. This went on to become one of my favourite passages in the book, because I managed to capture the giddy joy of closing down a bar in a strange city at 3am. Often, when we wake the next morning after a boozy night and can vaguely remember laughing till we were fit to burst, we know we had a good time but we assume whatever we are laughing at can’t really have been that funny – it was just because we were drunk. My experience of trying to record drunken nights revealed to me that when we are drunk, often we really are funnier – a lot of these notes made it into the final book, and it is without doubt the funniest of all my books.

That’s writing while drunk, as in, capturing the experience of drinking. But what about writing up your final draft? What about drinking as an accompaniment to writing, rather than the notes above, which are writing as an accompaniment to drinking?

The first thing to note is that the quote in the title falls into the common trap of treating drunk/sober as binary, when they are in fact two points tethering either end of a scale.

Think of inebriation as a graph, with the x axis as time and the y axis as some measure of how drunk you are. The path of inebriation follows a curve. One reason I’ve always loved beer is that it provides a gentler, more manageable curve than wine or spirits. I find that between one and three pints in, there’s a buzz of inebriation that seems to make the blood flow quicker and opens the synapses. Ideas flow more quickly, inspiration comes more easily. But I’m not drunk. Any more than three pints, and my typing becomes clumsy and my flow starts to become disjointed. It’s harder to focus. I rarely go beyond this point.

On Monday night, I did.

I hadn’t been happy with that day’s work. I was in bed with my eyes wide open, and I decided to get back up and do an experiment. I drank spirits and took the time to write very carefully and slowly, allowing the ideas to come but spending longer clearing up my typing than getting it down in the first place. I wrote till 4.30am.

The next morning, the few paragraphs I had were not nearly as good as I thought they had been when I wrote them. The flash of inspiration I thought I’d had was not nearly as bright as I’d believed. But there was something there, something that I hadn’t been able to reach while sober. More than that, I was in a different place in relation to the book than I had been the day before. Something from the night before had stayed with me. I wrote for the next ten hours straight, finished the first draft, and the last paragraphs I wrote are better than anything else in the book at the moment. Just as I had found my voice, I’d finished. But we still have the edit to go.

Apart from unlocking the inspiration I needed to finish, sometime around 4am I also had the idea to write this blog post. I’ll finish by transcribing the notes I left for myself, written in wonky capitals to ensure they would still be legible:

WRITE SOBER – IS THIS WORD WORKING HARD ENOUGH? IS THERE A BETTER WORD?

EDIT DRUNK – THERE IS NO EDIT DRUNK.

WRITE DRUNK – IS THIS WORD PLAYFUL ENOUGH? MIGHT THIS OTHER WORD TAKE ME SOMEWHERE I DIDN’T EXPECT?

EDIT SOBER – (I think I’m referring to the output of writing drunk here) RESULTS MIGHT BE BETTER THAN YOU THINK.

My new book Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. The ebook is available for pre-order now. (Links in this post are to amazon.co.uk but the book is also available on your local Amazon site.)

| Beer, Beer Writing, Books, Craft - An Argument, The Meanings of Craft Beer, Writing

Lockdown Book Project Week 6: Available for Pre-Order!

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: shit just got real.

Word count at the start of this week: 43,530

Week six: the end of this week will be the halfway point in this project. And after the terrible doubt I wrote about last week, I believe I’m going to hit my completely arbitrary and self-imposed deadline.

There have been many important developments over the past week. The first is that Evan Rail, one of my favourite fellow beer writers, gently reminded me that in 2016 he self-published a short e-book called The Meanings of Craft Beer. I thought I had come up with this title, but clearly I was subconsciously remembering Evan’s. So my book is now called Craft – An Argument. If you are working on a writing project of you own, I strongly suggest doing an Amazon search of your proposed title before settling upon it.

Evan’s book starts off in a similar place to mine but then goes on a quite different journey around the topic – which is a huge relief. If you can’t wait until 25th June to read a thoughtful exploration of craft beer, please buy Evan’s book first.

Up to now, this series of blog posts has covered the process of writing. But alongside that, there’s a whole other work stream going on. My wife Liz normally runs the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. That isn’t happening this year, for obvious reasons, so this project is about giving her some structure as much as me.

She’s been busy.

Liz designed a range of possible book covers using Canva, and we settled on the brilliant design above. It’s free and easy to use, and even has some rights-cleared photography that you can use publicly if you pay a whopping 99p. You can of course use your own photos if you took some good enough ones pre-lockdown, but we didn’t.

This week we also bought ISBNs for each edition of the book: ebook, audiobook, and print-on-demand. You can publish a book without an ISBN, but if you buy one it allows the book to be tracked accurately and greatly increases you chance of third-party sales. In the UK, ISBNs are £89 for one or £164 for a pack of ten.

Having done that, we were able to upload the details of the ebook to Amazon and make it available for pre-order! This was a hugely exciting moment. It always is. It’s the first real manifestation of something that begins life as a thought in your head having a separate, tangible presence of its own in the world. It can now start doing things without you being there, interacting with other people without your knowing. Coming at this stage, just when the writing got so difficult, it’s a massive boost. The writing this week is fast, passionate and joyous. This is why I do it.

People often ask me how I feel about people buying my books through Amazon. We will be exploring other platforms and I’ll share details of these when we sort them. But for all the issues surrounding it, I wouldn’t have a career as a writer without Amazon. We uploaded the book to Amazon.com, and with a few clicks, it’s available anywhere in the world, through every manifestation of the site.

I’m hoping to finish the first draft this week. I’m about a week behind where I wanted to be, which is not too bad. Reading through the parts I’ve completed, they need so much more work on them. Bits I agonised over for days are flabby and confused on a first read. But it’s important to ignore that for now and just press on. Once the first draft is complete, I can relax, have a breather, then start again. This time next week, I hope to be able to share the joys of the editing process.

My new book Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. The ebook is available for pre-order now. (Links in this post are to amazon.co.uk but the book is also available on your local Amazon site.)

| Beer, Beer Books, Beer Writing, Books, Craft Beer, The Meanings of Craft Beer, Writing

Lockdown Book Project Week 5: Hitting The Wall

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: what happens when you lose your way.

Word count at the start of this week: 40381

Word count this morning: 38345

There’s a point when you’re running a marathon where you hit a wall – or so I’ve been told. And if writing a feature or blog post is a sprint, writing a book is a marathon. The wall is waiting here too, halfway through. Everything stops. Your confidence runs like piss down your legs. You’re a fucking idiot for even trying this. What were you thinking, you deluded twat. Go home. Get under the covers. Never show your face again.

I try to achieve something different, something more, as a writer with each book I write. I go to different places. I wrestle with how much of myself to put into the text. It’s always difficult – I make sure of that. My last book was my most personal yet, in a subject area I hadn’t really written about before. It got really tough in the middle. At one point I turned to Liz and said, “I don’t think I can do this. I’ve taken too much on. I can’t deliver the book I promised to the publisher. I think I’m going to have to pay back the advance. I’ve reached the limit of what I can do. I’ve never felt like this before.”

She looked at me steadily and said, “Lovely, you’ve said that in the middle of every single book you’ve written.”

This time is different, but of course it always is. This time there’s no advance, and Liz is the publisher. The motivation to keep going has to come entirely from within.

This project was designed to provide structure and purpose to our lives during an indefinite period of lockdown, and also to provide a source of income at some point in the near future. It’s a buttress against the stress we all feel around Covid-19, but yesterday the fear and anxiety got through.

I had a bad day.

I bet every single one of us is having bad days and good days. Yesterday I heard some grim projections about the future for pubs – even grimmer I should say – and became very pessimistic. I compartmentalise as a way of dealing with negative thoughts, and yesterday the bulkheads went and they flooded in.

This happened when I was already struggling with the book itself. Last week I talked about thickets. I’ve been in a really big one. People often say to me, “Ooh, you write just how you talk!” It’s the biggest compliment anyone can give me, because it shows I’ve succeeded in hammering the subject into my style. But because my style is easy and open and readable, people sometimes think it must therefore be easy to write like that. It really isn’t. Especially when you’re dealing with complicated topics that are new to you, and you’re trying to understand academic writing, retain it in your head, put your perspective on it, and then get the whole thing down in your own tone of voice and make it look simple and conversational.

I’m currently writing about the history of work, division of labour, and scientific management. I’m lightening this with reminiscences of going through the round window on Play School, and the enduring popularity of The Good Life, then trying to round it off with the story of a car advert from 1979. At the end of this bit in my notes, there’s 2500 words on tools and machines and their relationship to craft and craftspeople. It doesn’t belong here. It doesn’t belong anywhere. But it’s really important that it goes in somewhere. I can’t find where it fits, but it has to. Whether it goes here or not, I need to link either it or the car ad directly to the meditation on nostalgia that follows, which then jumps to a bit about Colin Wilson’s book The Outsider, before coming back to nostalgia again in a craft beer-specific context via a discussion of pricing. In other words, despite all my careful planning, it’s a fucking mess.

I don’t think I can do this. I’ve taken too much on. I can’t deliver the book I promised. I’ve reached the limit of what I can do. I’ve never felt like this before.

I can of course, because I have nine times before. As a source of – not comfort exactly – but bitter, empty strength, I remember my favourite line from Samuel Beckett: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” I pissed away yesterday afternoon playing Warhammer Total War, drank too much, slept through my alarm this morning, got to my desk two hours late.

And then I sat down, said goodbye to the 2500 words that had been blocking me, and started writing again. It’s going quite well. I wouldn’t have had the energy to stop and procrastinate and write this instead if it wasn’t.

It happens to all of us. The difference between people who want to write a book and the people who have written books is the stamina to get through this wall.

When I was writing Man Walks into a Pub, one Saturday morning I heard the thwack of something heavy hitting the doormat. It was an A4 brown envelope which contained – I think – the fifth round of changes requested by my editor. “I can’t do this,” I said to Liz. I threw the envelope and its contents in the bin. I said “Fuck it. For the first time in six months, I’m going to read something that isn’t about beer. Maybe I’ll try again to be a novelist instead!”

I went to the book shelf and picked up a novel by Chuck Palahniuk. I got as far as the dedication, which said something along the lines of “To my editor, for saying this is not good enough. Again, and again, and again.” I went to the bin, too out the envelope, and got to work.

That stage is still to come – Liz has promised me she will be as tough as she needs to be when she assumes the role of editor. So this is not the last wall. But it is the first. I think I’ve got over it. Or through it. Now I just need to go on.

My new book The Meanings of Craft Beer: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. It really bloody well will.