Craft Beers – Part One

The episode had left a bad taste in the mouth of the Chairman of the Workington Craft Beer Association. It was most unfortunate that this happened during his time as the Chair of the Association. He was not of a mind to carry any responsibility for what was a long-standing problem. There were those sitting around the table who needed to examine their conscience. The very same members who were now looking to him for a solution.

The success of the Workington Association’s Members in Craft Beer had followed from years of small innovations in critical elements of the brewing process.

The Workington Method was developed by three local Craft Breweries who dedicated themselves to the exploration of floral garnishes that both scented and gave weight to the flavour of the beer; and yet which were elements that no competitor could easily discern from analysis of just the final product.

This corner of the world – the corner where the Workington Craft Beer Association was to be found – was now the last successful bastion of beer made with the floral garnish method.  Here also lay the core of the problem. The Association had profited from its unique approach to brewing.

When sales slow the natural response, when in possession of a proven winning formula, is to trust in that formula. The formula cannot be wrong, it is just that the winning formula has not been as strongly implemented as it needs to be.  Change, is not the solution.  The solution is to brew beer that is worthy of the hard-won, and proven, established methodology.

The Chairman had finally decided to address the Association’s Monthly meeting on this grave matter. This was an address that needed to be delivered standing. He rose to his feet.

‘We have suspected for some time that tastes in beer have changed. We have often received warning of the need to make changes to our recipes in response to these developments.  Our largest customers have made it clear to us.  Sales of beer, as brewed by we Members of the Workington Craft Beer Association, have been falling.  The responsibility to understand and reverse these trends lies with all the Members of this Association. If we want to attribute blame for the situation in which we find ourselves, look no further than the Members sitting around this meeting room table.’

He rapped the table with his Rod of Office. It was a satisfying rap.  He waited for the response.  There was none. Perhaps this was going to be easier than he had feared.

The Chairman took pride in the clarity of his delivery. He searched for the words and, as always, they came to him.

‘What we have done, is to turn ever more to the left as the road begins to bend to the right. When the road was bending to the left, this Membership profited from our left leanings. But our complete belief in an ever-more extreme left-turn solution, to what has finally turned out to be a right-bend situation, has caused our industry to crash through a very destructive hedge.’

The news had come through to the Workington Craft Beer Association just a week before.  The Members had lost their craft beer supply to the largest hotel group in this corner of the County.  The floral craft beers, which they had supplied for twenty five years, had held them firmly in position at the centre of that hotels renown beer selection: but no longer.

The Chairman could feel that a storm was brewing.  It was a storm that risked the wrecking of the Workington Craft Beer Association, and worse, could spell the ruin of what the local newspaper had referred to as the ‘Workington beer miracle’.

The monthly meeting of the Members Association, thus far, was a sobering affair.  The meeting had become the inevitable search for every external factor that could be blamed for this terrible situation.

It was the culture that was to blame. Workington – with its back to the sea – was never designed to protect itself from a threat from an inland direction.  It was this sea-facing culture that stopped them seeing the advance of these competitor craft beers along the roads that crossed over the high mountains into Workington.

It was the Craft Beer Association’s Researchers who were to blame.  They should have stood looking out over the gates of this bastion of beer and scrutinised the approaching threat.  Instead they exhausted their time sending out technical reports that nobody ever read.

The exchange of recriminations that the meeting had descended into, continued until everyone was exhausted.  This was the moment the Chairman had been waiting for. I t was the moment when anything, that was at least something, would become acceptable.

‘We must make our peace with George Knight,’ was the Chairman’s next remark.  ‘It is often said that the production of alcohol demands far more discipline than the consumption of it.  The development of the floral beer principle has been that of small and careful steps, taken over many years. We are an industry that is wedded to steady progress.

We now need to be honest with ourselves.  Steady is no longer good enough.  There are Beer Masters who know how to steer the ship in calm and familiar waters. Then there are others who know how to weather the storm. We know George Knight’s methods are extreme, and some of us have suffered the outcome of his extreme schemes. But, Ladies, Gentleman, this is a situation that demands the extreme. We should, we must, call on George Knight.’