I took a break from beer, books and bad acting over a recent weekend, so it seems only fair that I offer you some time out too. My diversion took the form of an event that I had been looking forward to since I first experienced it exactly one year ago. It promised fabulous music, lovely food, great weather and plenty of delicious beers (doh – that didn’t last long, did it?). The End of the Road festival has everything that Glastonbury has mostly lost, and is the antidote to corporate events like Reading, V and T in the Park. The headline acts were David Byrne, Sigur Ros and Belle & Sebastian, but I was looking forward to some of the more intimate sets by the likes of Allo Darlin’, El Perro del Mar and The Staves. As if all of that wasn’t enough, my mate Kiwi Dave and I would be traveling down (and sleeping) in dear old Brian.
The Thursday evening was very chilled, with an atmosphere like a private view before the hordes descend on the exhibition. The food, beer and weather were all present and correct, and the smallest venue (none of them are very big) featured a pretty cool line-up of previously unannounced bands. I love it when you get something extra that wasn’t on the menu and this looked like a very tasty amuse bouche (oreilles?). Sadly, our earlier shenanigans of squeezing Brian down a single-track road where everyone else was going in the other direction meant that we missed the excellent opening act, the superbly named Evans the Death. This was however more than made up for later on by a face-melting Deap Vally live performance in the tiny Tipi Tent. To steal the words from my muso mate Mark’s description, having seen them on YouTube:
“Foxy looking girl musicians? Check
White Stripes vs The Donnas musical vibe? Check
Cool “Fender” style font on bass drum? Check
Sassy proto-glam music video? Check”
So, it was with a broad smile across our melted faces that we continued our research into the mind-boggling real ale selection on offer that night, before crashing out in Brian in the happy knowledge that the festival hadn’t even properly started yet…
No sooner had I returned to London than it was time to attend my first ever, proper, London Brewers’ Alliance meeting. This was held in the back of a pub run by Ed Mason, owner of Five Points brewery and our host for this evening. The meeting reminded me a little of those I used to attend in my working days, as there were minutes, matters arising and an agenda. Like in any meeting there were strong voices and quiet folk, but having the most to say wasn’t always correlated to making the most sense. Where this meeting differed most however was in the plentiful supply of delicious, free beer and the friendly, collegiate atmosphere: incredible given that we’re all in direct competition.
So, I learned a lot, met a few new people, and left feeling both invigourated and scared. The meeting had refreshed my will to be part of this world, as well as refreshing my palate, but I had found out about yet more new breweries being born, or at least conceived, to add to the burgeoning population – a brewery boom, Generation 4X perhaps. I’m getting used to these swings of mood and have learned to respect them. I wouldn’t be doing this at all if I didn’t feel excited about it and I would probably be doing it horribly wrong if I didn’t feel scared about it.
I needed help. Luckily help was now on hand, as I had my first meeting with Paul up in Knutsford, near Macclesfield. Knutsford is a pleasant little place from where many folk make the commute to Manchester for work. Manchester is of course home to the biggest football team on the planet, while Knutsford hosts an international three-hour endurance race for penny-farthing bicycles every ten years. I wasn’t here for that sporting oddity though; I was here for the beer – or at least an education in beer. Here’s some of what I learned:
- I could make lager without breaking the bank
- I’d be better to contract out my bottling
- I should definitely have an off licence
- I should use fresh hop flowers, but dried yeast
- Paul makes a decent cup of tea
With my card having been suitably marked I now felt ready to embark on a proper business plan where I could capture my dreams together with the host of realities that surround them. I now knew much better how the beer game worked, my strategy for playing that game and the tactics for entering the game. I also had a much better idea of the table stakes and had to hope that I’d be dealt a decent hand, so that I could grab my share of the money on the table. I’ve always been rubbish at cards though…
To keep my brain from addling in a vat of beer, I make sure I return to the world of writing on frequent occasions. Sales of the TLP continue to be slow but I have been busy planting seeds for future growth. I’ve sent 21 books to lucky Scottish brewers, one to the media bloke at CAMRA North London, one to the nice lady at the Camping & Caravanning Club and one to the CEO of VisitScotland. There are, no doubt, many more people and places to whom/where I could tactically lob a book, but I felt quite pleased that these last three neatly covered beer, campervans and Scotland. The CAMRA bloke even promised a review in the London Drinkers’ magazine and gave me an intro to his national equivalent who showed an interest in making TLP available on their website. Not sure that Amazon will welcome the competition though.
Reviews of the book are trickling onto Amazon and slowly seeping into double figures. These consist of three mates, one relative, one brewer, three strangers and two on the .com site that could be any of the above. All have awarded five stars except for one bloke who gave it four. I think he’s closest to the truth frankly but I’m grateful for everyone’s support, faith and unfettered generosity. I’ll never achieve the 5,000 or so sales needed to break even on Brian’s diesel bills, but I’ve probably earned enough to cover all the macaroni cheese pies I ate.
More on the Orbit business plan next time, but let me leave you with this thought. Based on some initial numbers, raw assumptions and optimistic arithmetic, I reckon that just to break even I would have to sell 32 30-litre kegs each week. Doesn’t sound too bad, but that’s the same as nearly 3,000 bottles of beer just to cover expenses, ignoring depreciation and paying nil salary to me! Maybe I should make macaroni cheese pies instead.