How to turn a great idea into a complete train smash in one easy lesson.

 

Like many other people I got one of these in the bulging bag of presents Santa Clause left behind. I must have been a very good chap in the preceding year! A machine! That dispenses draught beer on demand! Sounds too good to be true.

I don’t know about you but I’m a sucker for a great idea and a good sales person. I like to be sold to, I really enjoy watching someone do it well and yes, it gives me a great feeling even though I know, and can see the techniques well demonstrated.

We used to call this service “The Pub” before Covid struck and we all had to bunker in to survive. In the process we all came together as a nation. And, tried to give the supermarket delivery guys and girls a bad back humping the heavy weight bottle and can filled baskets and a tin of beans to our front door. Recyclers have never had it so good as door step collections of glass and aluminium went through the roof.

The SUB beer machine seems like a Krupps idea and product. Essentially a chiller unit with a beer tap, it stores beer under pressure so that you can pour yourself a cold glass of draught beer right after that particularly difficult zoom meeting. The beer, in a limited variety of flavours, comes in sealed bottles called TORPS – because they look like torpedoes? The TORP itself ships with a single use plastic tap and it all slots into the machine very easily and quickly. Once emptied can just give the empty bottle to your friendly neighbourhood recycler for disposal.

We haven’t researched it but we are guessing that the whole system is wrapped up tighter than a ducks ….. in patents and intellectual copyright.

So, SUB’s and other similar machines sound like a great idea don’t they. And, how quick off the mark to see the potential market explosion for home drinkers have these start-ups been? The thing is it’s not as simple as the romantic tradition of independent entrepreneur, has great idea and defies the naysayers by taking it to market. We think that there is, in part, skulduggery here behind the scenes.

When you want to buy a refill, all roads lead to Beerwulf. A Netherlands based start-up whose global ambition is to be the world’s biggest supplier of craft beer to your door. If, like us, you like continental style beers, La Chouffe is a particular favourite, as much as home grown craft, the beer list has some attractions. Kegs are all 2 litres in size and prices start at around £9 and up delivered to the door, sounds OK.

If you search for an alternative Sub keg supplier in the UK you can find one, we did. On further investigation though they are on re-direct to Beerwulf and their email is shut down (thesub.co.uk). So, it seems that Beerwulf is slowly sneaking up on a monopoly or at least being the major player in the TORP resupply market. Big brand beer deliveries are also available from www.beerhawk.co.uk but not TORPS.

Problem is, that in our experience Beerwulf customer service is woeful. Our order took a month to be partly fulfilled. They just couldn’t seem to get anything right. The details of the transaction read like an exam question in how not to value your customers. Everyone can have a bad day, so we tested the system by ordering from a different email. at the time of going to press that still hadn’t arrived either. One major frustration is the (now obviously) over optimistic delivery date displayed with your order. If you know that your systems are suspect, why would you make a promise that it’s unlikely you’ll deliver on?

Don’t just take our word for it. Read the latest couple of pages of reviews on Trustpilot. Be sure to have a read of the two five star reviews (AGD Ltd – 5 reviews one for poor service on a previous “keg” delivery and Nath Andrews – just the one review in the back catalogue) as well. Two glowing reviews from happy customers in a landscape of negativity with a very similar message don’t you think?

At this point it may be important to point out that the money behind Beerwulf is brewing giant Heineken. In a business article published on line in Digital Business News in early 2019 Beerwulf, then CMO Marc Scholten, played down contact with the brewing giant Heineken to allay any suspicion that they might be pulling the strings on this nascent market. On the business website LinkedIn, he now lists his current position as urm…..Marketing Manager at the Heineken Company.

So far, so what. Brewing giant sees a business opportunity to grab a large chunk of a potentially huge new market utilising its own core product (many of the Beerwulf offer beers are brewed by…Heineken). Then, seeks to recover R&D investment by licensing the innovation,

Big companies, have big numbers, big collaborations and big resources. They became big in the first place for a reason. Do we imagine that they have written off the competition of whatever size as irrelevant? To the bigger players, independent breweries are a sign. A sign that things are changing. That their own stronghold is under attack, there is a movement afoot that threatens their monopoly and they need to innovate and take back control.

As consumers and as craft drinks diversify, this is not the time to be giving an existing monopoly player the upper hand again.  TORPS are a great idea; we’d just recommend, swerving the current big company hook-up with Beerwulf and waiting until TORPS are available at all good supermarkets and beer outlets. Will that happen? C’mon, Heineken et al are volume companies. They are about size and how much volume they can shift. The most efficient way of achieving that is a licensing deal with the supermarkets – yes, it’s going to happen and probably sooner (when the sales target for Subs is looking good) rather than later.

This what we like to call the Budgerigar effect. Budgies can live for 10 years in captivity. If the pet shop sells you a budgie at cost or below, they may also sell you the cage and toys to keep the little chap happy. They can then look forward to ten long years of seed sales. If Heineken can sell enough Subs and they also control the TORP market (via a proxy) ….. it’s all happy days for the brewing giant. Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

The real point for beer lovers everywhere is that recent times have seen a resurgence of great beers from innovative small producers. Local brewers, making small batch great craft beers. For the first time in years new pub openings have been spawned from just this demand for great beers and often opened by independent beer lovers or small breweries. The most difficult part of the job for small producers isn’t the making, it’s how you get your product to market. Independent pubs, beer shops and off sales perform this vital role. During Covid local brewers have worked hard on click and collect and local delivery schemes – give them a chance, do your research and make the effort and don’t torpedo the small local business – support local, support independent.

Research and background.

https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/beerwulf.com

https://www.digital-business-news.com/e-commerce/retail/1240-beerwulf-takes-their-saga-further-into-europe

The Monmouthshire Food Festival 2017

 

Food Festivals are great fun and, quite rightly, big and very good news. Especially in this fabulous area in which we live, stuffed full as it is with great produce, makers and eateries. So don’t miss The Monmouthshire Food Festival on 20th to 21st May 2017 at Caldicot Castle. Monmouthshire has some outstanding producers and makers (many of which have featured in this magazine) and so The Monmouthshire Food Festival is definitely an unmissable food event. There’s a full programme of demonstrations, talks, tastings and lots of food and drink to try and buy.

The Chef’s Theatre always features many of the finest chefs from across Monmouthshire. They will showcase the finest food the county has to offer in dishes that show both flair and imagination, a positive treat for the taste buds. The Look and Learn Theatre features master classes, tutored tastings and demonstrations on a wide range of food and drinks. Meet the people who really know about the food on offer, the producers.

Bring the kids too. The Children’s Quarter will have lots of activities for our young foodies to enjoy with one or two surprises! Browse the Producers Market which will have stalls with many different products to try and buy. Come and taste beer brewed just a mile from the festival or take home locally made preserves made from foraged fruit.

 

This year the supported charity Guides Dogs for the Blind. Staff and dogs from the charity will be on hand offering visitors a chance to get up close to a guide dog or puppy and find out more about their vital work – and of course help out with a small donation. So don’t miss this event. A food event packed with great tasting food, top tips and help with “how to” sessions it’s going to be fab! All set in the glorious surroundings of Caldicot Castle and grounds.

How about a family picnic in the glorious Caldicot Castle Country Park with delicious food and drink from the food festival? So why not take an empty picnic basket with you and buy your picnic at the show, find yourself a great spot in the castel grounds and dine like Lords and Ladies?  

 

The Marches Delicatessen – Nevill Street, Abergavenny.

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenny, cheese,

 

We aren’t experts! Let’s get that cleared up straight away, but, and this is just our opinion, there are several key elements to running a cheese shop! First, one needs a shop and some cheese – self evidently and preferably, it should be very good cheese. Next, one needs a person – but not just any person! A person who truly knows about cheese (not gained from an in-house training course or gleaned via product notes) , but whose passion  about cheese … well … over flows. There is a type of knowledge you only get when you hit the buffers and realise that you don’t know something. This spurs you on to investigate and to research and learn, as well as appreciate and test. This type of enlightenment is what we like to call “bicycle knowledge”. Bicycle knowledge, once obtained, never leaves you, it never grows old or out of date, it’s even immune from the cruel ravages of ages.  Like great cheese itself, this knowledge matures.

Bankers in general, or anyone who “worked in the city”, often get a bad press. Gordon, Fred and the crew have a lot to answer for I’m sure! But that in no way speaks about the men and women, like you and I, whose occupation happened to be in the biggest and best financial centre in the world. However, there comes a time though when people want more.

How do you get “more”? – that’s the tough one.

Not for Tom Lewis, he just followed his dream and passion to one day own a deli. And now he does – The Marches Delicatessen – and it’s a very fine deli indeed, in a Welsh country town that really needs one.

The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.
The Marches Delicatessen window, Abergavenny.

“Having spent 6 years in London I was ready to come back to Wales. I was not really enjoying the job I was doing and lacked the drive to push on. I grew up near here and had been looking at opening my own delicatessen. An opportunity presented itself to move to Abergavenny – so I quit my job, moved back from London and opened The Marches”.

Our latest best friend, Tom Lewis – a very bright eyed and cheerful fella, already has some bicycle knowledge about cheese and seemingly there is nothing going to stop him from acquiring more. He is ever present in the shop and at the weekends his girlfriend and mum occasionally help out.

The obvious question of course….Why a cheese shop/deli?

“I’ve always been interested in it since childhood holidays in France. I really got into it whilst at university in Aberystwyth. There is an amazing delicatessen called Ultracomida, which first opened my eyes to some of the great Welsh produce being made. I knew I wanted to do something focusing on local produce and did not want to restrict it to Wales, so hence why I called it The Marches. I focus on produce from Wales, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire”.

Have you ever made cheese?

“Not yet, but there are plans to dabble in making some fresh cheese like ricotta or mozzarella. But having seen how much skill goes into making the cheeses we sell, I fear anything I make would turn out to be an embarrassment by comparison”.

Tom’s favourite cheese (anywhere) – “Mouldy Mabel  is a beautiful creamy blue cheese from Carmarthen & made using Jersey Cows milk or Celtic Promise, a wash rind cheese which although pungent has a that taste is much more a subtle, smooth & buttery”.

Tom on the spot time – Favourite maker and why? “Harry & Sue Ryder of Wye Valley Cheese – not only is their cheese amazing, it is very local and they were the first people I visited when I started to meet the producers. Sitting with Harry and watching him make the cheese was a real privilege”.
Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenney, cheese,
Tom Lewis’ The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

Whilst we were chatting we met Jane, a lovely customer of Tom’s and a regular customer and Abergavenny resident. She popped in intrigued by the “cheese of the week”  billboard outside offering  Rachel (a Somerset goats cheese by Pete Humphries). Jane told us,  “I just love this shop. When I walk in it makes me feel happy. Tom has transformed this place into somewhere you just want to walk into – it’s fantastic that someone would do this for our town. I can’t really say any more than that.” Except, Jane doesn’t like goats cheese, “It’s too strong!” – a woman whose opinion has been tainted by the plethora of goat’s cheese starters!

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavnney, cheese,
Very well stocked deli – The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

Tom says “I get lots of customers who decline even a tasting of anything – goaty. A bit like Jane their palates have been spoilt by mass produced goat’s cheese. It does generally have a tang to it, but some of them are very subtle indeed, not at all what you would expect. It can depend on how you are serving it or what you plan to drink with it. I’m always on hand to advise customers and let them try a little”

Tom stocks lots of great and tantalising deli products, but we really wanted to concentrate on the cheese today. We first met Tom, by luck, back in early December 2014 and he’d been in business for a little over 2 months (Sept 2014). Even then, despite the spartan premises, he had founded something special and had us hooked. For us it was cheese and what he was trying to do with Marches Deli. Well, it took us a few months to return – and in the meantime he seems to have worked wonders on all manner of tasty and different stock in the shop and the cheese counter was bursting with goodness!!

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenney, cheese,
Blue Monk – The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

Everything looked fab, but we singled out a couple for tasting. The health and safety wallers will have you keep your cheese in the fridge , take it out, not put it down anywhere, but eat it straight from the wrapper whilst wearing gloves. But, we aren’t feeding anyone, we aren’t serving it and we absolve anyone in the council from blame – so, if it’s all the same to you, we adopted the French method of cheese management and put it on the passenger seat for the sunny drive home before leaving it out on the kitchen worktop for a few hours. We lived long enough to write this thankfully.

Wye Valley Mellow

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenney, cheese,
Wye Valley Mellow, The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

 

The back story to this farmhouse maker is frankly incredible. The cheese lived up to the back story admirably. It has a nice thick crust that conceals a very creamy coloured, crumbly, but smooth tasting cheese which was just a delight. It has a milky cheesiness with a very pleasant slight hint of chewiness. We got the faint smell of exceedingly fresh shellfish, not fishy, just, well fresh! It’s very creamy to taste with a lovely tangy mature after-taste on the back of the palate. We’ll take some!

Crottin Affine – France

Cute rounded individual cheeses, with a nutty soft white crust from the cave-aging process. Beneath that is a yellow waxy layer and inside a white creamy cheese with a wonderful smell of a classic French camembert. This would be perfect with a soft fruity chutney and a glass of ice wine. Is this a good time to tell you that…  it’s actually a Goats cheese – this is the one Jane!