Friday, 11 May 2012

Booze: A Love Letter from Norfolk...


A few days ago, Boak & Bailey posted a blog entitled “Four Beers, Three Write-offs” in which they said that a friend had recently returned from their holiday in Norfolk and with them they brought back some bottle conditioned real ales from Norfolk.
                                                                                                                 
Three of these beers were “absolutely foul” and one was “just about drinkable”.

“One was just about drinkable — an unassertive yeast and some pithy hops made it bland but faintly aromatic — but more by luck than intent, we suspect. Another was an accidental, gushing lambic; yet another smelled like pickled lemons rotting in a drainage ditch and tasted like unfermented wort; the fourth had the aroma of blue cheese and tasted like alcohol-free wheat beer — chewy, grainy water.”

They described these beers as “These were exploitative, gift-shop, tourist-trap beers.”

Boak and Bailey did not mention the names of beers so one commenter raised the question “Why don’t you name them?” and the reasoning behind not naming them was fair, the owners of these small micro-breweries have a hell of a lot more at stake than a blogger does, they don’t want to do any harm.

The way I see it is, you can say you’ve had some bad beers but I think before publicly naming and shaming these beers you should at least email these brewers and give them some feedback. If they don’t reply after say, a week, then I think it would be fair to warn the good people of the internet. Brewers should welcome feedback, not ignore it, regardless of whether they disagree. It’s about customer service.

An example of great customer service that I’ve experience from a brewery: Last summer I had waited ages to get a bottle of Jiggle Juice from the now closed NorthcoteBrewery in Norwich. I had heard such good things about it so I was excited. I got home with the bottle, opened it, poured it into my glass and it just wasn’t right. It smelled bad. Tasted even worse, it was sour, almost medicinal so I sent them a DM on twitter and the lovely Jen replied saying “Wow, that sounds like it was oxidised... really sorry. Give me your address and I will send you another bottle”. And so she did along with a bottle of Sunshine Jiggle as an apology. Because their brewery was only a 5 minute drive from my house, Jen personally dropped them off at my door. That’s customer service. That’s a brewer who really cares.

Ok, so maybe you’re not going to get treated as well as that by some breweries but you need to at least give them feedback and quite frankly, if they don’t even reply that’s a bit bitchy.

We’ve all had bad experiences with beer, be it bottle, cask, can or keg and the problem is that most of us don’t bother giving feedback.

Now, being from Norfolk I was particularly interested to know what the beers Boak & Bailey had so they sent me a DM on twitter with the names of these beers. I’d never had any of them bottled before but I had two of them on cask this previous weekend at Dragon Hall Beer Festival and none of them were as described. Completely different dispense method. Maybe it’s their bottling that’s not up to scratch but the thing is, as Boak and Bailey points out: Are they delusional and think that they’re genuinely sending out really good beer or are they bottling it knowing that it’s not working for them and sending it out anyway?

Now obviously, no brewer is going to give the latter answer so that’s something we have to answer for ourselves. Which is impossible really. All we can do after an experience like that is avoid beers from that particular brewery just in case all of their beers are in the same terrible condition or just terrible.

Now the thing that made me really angry was one commenter on the post who claimed that Boak & Bailey were attacking Norfolk beers and telling people not to drink Norfolk beers because they’re all crap. This commenter is an absolute fool. This spawned a rather wonderful blogpost from Jen from Northcote brewery saying how wonderful Norfolk beer is and there are some cracking ones on there.

Generally, living in Norfolk, I don’t really drink many bottled conditioned ales from Norfolk as the vast majority of them are available on cask in The Fat Cat at some point in time but I feel that I need to drink more so I can get more of an opinion.

Right, so the conversations continued all throughout the day and night on twitter when it got to a point where a local brewery jumped in:

“Really interesting comments about the merits and demerits of Norfolk bottle-cond beer”

MISSING THE POINT AGAIN.

When I expressed my anger at this they said they phrased it poorly to be within the character limit. I think they could’ve left out Norfolk as although these particular beers were from Norfolk, it WAS NOT AN ATTACK ON NORFOLK BEERS! If a friend had come back from Yorkshire or some other place and brought back some truly terrible beers we’d still be seeing this kind of blog post.

The same brewery also asked another local brewery who owns a shop in Norwich “So what % of beers from your shop would you avoid?” now this pissed me off. I called this unfair. I don’t think you should publicly ask that kind of question. I don’t want to know that there are X amounts of beers in this guy’s shop that he wouldn’t drink personally. He replied saying there are a lot he has bought for himself that he has poured down the drain so I asked “Is that because you don’t like them or because they are genuinely bad beers?” and I never got a straight answer. The best I got was “Some people like them”. Fair enough, you’re going to sell beers that you don’t like but if you know that there are beers in your shop that are genuinely bad beers WHY THE F**K ARE YOU SELLING THEM?

That was the tipping point for me. It pissed me off.

What’s your take on all of this?

Now, as for bottle conditioned Norfolk beers I like and you should definitely seek out:

Panther Black Panther – A nice dark, chocolatey stout with hints of vanilla. Very sweet and roasty.

Tipples Hanged Monk – A Traditional Mild. Quite nutty and roasty with a hint of chocolate.

Northcote El Salvador – Coffee IPA. Coffee bitterness, with some citrusy and roastyness. (There are barely any bottles of this in existence so if you want one get in contact and I will send one to you)

This has been a very long post. I was quite angry last night. I shouldn’t get so angry over beer conversations but I can’t help it.

It all boils down to two things:

Boak & Bailey’s post WAS NOT an attack on Norfolk Breweries.

And

You should ALWAYS give breweries feedback if their beers are really that bad. If they don’t bother replying, openly tell the world and maybe they’ll notice and get back to you.

1,200 words and it’s all out of my system.

Peace.

Nate

9 comments:

  1. I saw the post and know my initial reaction was "aww go on,go on,go on,tell us!!!" but I quickly realised I was only interested because it was primarily a local thing and I stand far more chance of encountering the same beers from the same shop (or similar), actually Ive probably drunk the same beers and made my own conclusions already. If these had been Yorkshire beers/Welsh beers, anywhere else Id have taken the emphasis on the point of bottling BCBs more, though there is I think sometimes an issue in general about the quality of some beer cask or bottled at smaller breweries, for all the good beer out there, some of it is still hit and miss, or it just doesnt travel well.

    but though I have reservations with the whole beer review thing,Im not sure a beer reviewer would have given as much second chance/right to respond or fix, as your suggesting should be our natural commentary position to begin with.

    personally I just chalk bad bcbs upto experience and move on, whilst there are certainly one or two breweries I dont avoid as such but are very low down on the list of beers Id like to drink from, but thats from consistently bad experiences, not from a one off bottle.

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    1. Why would you put more emphasis on BCBs from elsewhere? Is it because you're from Norfolk and you're offended at what someone's saying about beers from your home county?

      I think beer reviewers matter (and not because I am becoming one). As was said in B&Bs comments and on twitter yesterday (if you were following), breweries read beer reviews. They may not comment but they certainly read and they may even take note of what's being said and see what they can do to improve.

      I'm sure B&B aren't going to dwell on this bad experience and I'm sure that they're not going to purposely avoid these breweries, they're just not gonna seek their beers out!

      Nate
      http://www.twitter.com/NateDawg27

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  2. There are WAYS of giving feedback too. For instance I would say, hey, I had a pint of XXX recently and it was nice as usual, good grapefruity aroma and nice bitter finish, but you know, it didn't really have much condition, was a bit flat, and that took away a bit from the pleasure. Rather than just say it was flat.

    Part of giving feedback is also to be as specific as possible about the issues - whether it's a lack of integration in the beer's taste profile, whether it's a particular aroma or taste that is 'wrong' or dislikable. A brewer can work with feedback like that and can usually guess what's wrong from the description, if it is something actually wrong in the process.

    So the more we educate people not just to drink, but to talk about and discuss and judge and blog about beer, the more helpful we're being to brewers.

    That said it's always nice to be able to say to a brewer hey, your beers were on absolutely terrific form. I had the chance to say that to Stephen George from Humpty Dumpty and to John from Ole Slewfoot at Dragon Hall. (Since I didn't see Mark or Allan, can I give a shoutout here to Beeston and Elmtree too?)

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    1. Yes, it's all about constructive feedback. As B&B said in their post, they didn't just say "Oh these beers were crap" they explained what was wrong.

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  3. I am a regular visitor to Norfolk as my parents live in Beccles,and while in Suffolk, is right on the edge. I regularly buy bottled beers and I am constantly impressed with the quality and quantity produced in the county. I was surprised by one of the beers included as I have had nothing but the highest quality from that brewery, and no experience of the others. The reason for my enquiry, very kindly answered, was that I had just returned home with a good many bottles. This is all a digression however, as my understanding is that not every brewery gets it spot on everytime and constructive feedback is better than pompous criticism. This is why B&B didn't slam those concerned but were willing to share the names with those who enquired to possibly warn them of a few bottles that may not be up to standard.
    I'm lucky to have picked up a bottle of the Northcote El-Salvador Coffee IPA a few weeks ago, and after your recommendation Nate, am looking forward to it a lot.

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    1. Enjoy the El Salvador, it's a great beer. Apparently there are still some floating around so I'm going to try grab some...

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  4. Oh wow... that is great customer service! Happy to find out there are still people like that out there...

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    1. Indeed. It's awesome. I don't know any other brewer that would do that kind of thing!

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