This week I noticed a similarity between brewers and hermit crabs. I had been studying the 45 or so breweries presently operating in London to pull together a spreadsheet that summarised all the data I was interested in. This task revealed a number of insights. London might be one of this planet’s greatest metropoles (or metropolises if you prefer), but it is chock-full of ‘local’ breweries. Sure, there are a few large players but the norm is represented by the brewing equivalent of corner shops, named after the street/area/town that they’re in and producing about twenty casks per brew. Wonderful. I love that London can still feel like the sum of its villages and that we can indulge in locally brewed beers while also enjoying the fruits of living in a city that has attracted three Olympiads.
My second observation was that ten of the breweries have names beginning with the letter ‘b’. This means that nearly 20% of the names of London breweries start with ‘b’, whereas less than 4% of words in the English language start with this letter. A very rough check around the UK reveals about 190 breweries whose names also begin with ‘b’ (again about 20%), so it’s not just a London thing. We all know that brewers love puns when it comes to naming their beers so maybe they also favour alliteration when naming their breweries?
So what does all this have to do with hermit crabs? Once, while spending a day on a beach in Panama, I noticed a cast (collective noun fans may approve) of hermit crabs beside me. They were investigating a large, empty shell but, as each one tried it, they had to concede it was too large for them. Then, in Cinderella fashion, a larger crab (let’s call him the crabfather) came along, checked it out and in one swift movement, discarded his old one and occupied his new home. The other crabs had watched this transition with awe and fascination, as now there was another spare shell to try out for size. After much shoving, pushing and the odd bout of pincercuffs, the crabfather’s old abode soon had a new tenant. This continued for about half an hour until every crab had a new home and what had started with a large, spare shell, ended with a tiny, spare shell.
The brewer connection is of course the common practice of one brewer wishing to move upscale while another new entrant covets the unwanted smaller kit. Thus, these little beer factories are moved around to meet the present needs of whichever brewer is first to snaffle his snug-fit brew kit. So, if you decide to brew in someone else’s shell does that make you a hermit crab brewer rather than a cuckoo brewer?
Talking of premises, I did manage to find somewhere that at least met my basic criteria. I have no idea if this place would be suitable for brewing or if planning permission would be granted, but one feature of its location put me off further investigation. The location was Wapping, splendid in many ways, but it transpires that there is already a business called Wapping Beers – in Liverpool! That wasn’t what put me off though. Instead it was the discovery, via Google Street View, that across the road from this building is the DASL office. DASL is a London based charity that helps communities to tackle the problems caused by drug and alcohol misuse. Time to look elsewhere.
Life as a newly published author crawls along. I was inducted into the British Guild of Beer Writers this week, which felt like an exciting step. When I say ‘inducted’, perhaps ‘joined’ would be more accurate. My fellow members all seem to have splendid credentials, most are shining examples of the beer bloggerati and some are quite famous. I do feel like a gatecrasher when my own credentials are the sum of this blog and an ebook that presently ranks at number 48,165 on Amazon. With these lame statistics and the probability of running a brewery still a distant dream, I thought that perhaps I should further hedge my bets with a third option. It was with this thought in mind therefore that I signed up with the London Extra Agency. The first job that came up was for handsome men to pose as paparazzi in a Gucci commercial. If ‘handsome’ hadn’t put me off anyway, then the thought of lining up against Gucci models surely did.
So, with acting now occupying third place in my future career list I had better start making something of my first choice, brewing, and stop boring you all here with my second choice. Until next time anyway, when I shall regale you with tales of my field research around Camden’s pubs. Someone’s got to do it!
- How to start your own brewery (guardian.co.uk)