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

Pig & Apple

 

What do you do when a great opportunity presents itself? The people who answer “Go for it”, are the people who get things done. So why not pack your job in, begin a start-up business and run a café. That’s what former chef at Monmouth School, Jake, and his partner Jess are up to and they have set up shop for their first enterprise together at Monmouthshire rural skills hub Humble by Nature.

Pig and Apple, cafe, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, credit, WyeDean Deli Confidential, Humble by Nature, food and drink, new cafe, small business, Monmouthshire, Penalt,
The Pig & Apple cafe

Jake, who had already been in his catering career for several years at the flagship Monmouth Boys, felt gifted to be able to set up their own business in what was effectively a mothballed café ready to go. “Kate and her team have been so good with us”, says Jake. “They’ve just said use whatever you can. It’s been so helpful to us as a start-up”.

menu, Pig and Apple, cafe, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, credit, WyeDean Deli Confidential, Humble by Nature, food and drink, new cafe, small business, Monmouthshire, Penalt,
The Pig & Apple cafe
Pig and Apple, cafe, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, credit, WyeDean Deli Confidential, Humble by Nature, food and drink, new cafe, small business, Monmouthshire, Penalt,
The Pig & Apple cafe

Jess, by an elegantly circuitous turn of fate, used to be an apprentice chef (and later also the Boys School) at Humble by Nature and so knew the sites potential. All it needed was a good clean up to clear the months absence of café hubbub, to throw open the entire opening side wall to the farm yard and kitchen garden and let the light and fresh air flood in. Next, sort out the logistics of your everyday electrical certificates and reinstate your food hygiene rating (a lot more time consuming than you might think) and hey presto – The Pig & Apple Café!!

Pig and Apple, cafe, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, credit, WyeDean Deli Confidential, Humble by Nature, food and drink, new cafe, small business, Monmouthshire, Penalt,
The Pig & Apple cafe

Here’s a young couple (20 and 25) working hard and making it on their own. A sensibly simple menu that just the two of them can cook short order and serve on time even to a full house. Café food that’s good, easy to eat, warm (in a cwtching sort of way) comfort food that nails it. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be excellent. Far from it.

In our “celebrity”, “super food” world it sometimes feels like it’s ingredients that have the bragging rights. In food, good food at any rate, we have a rule. Don’t ask yourself what you are adding, ask yourself why.

Pig and Apple, cafe, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, credit, WyeDean Deli Confidential, Humble by Nature, food and drink, new cafe, small business, Monmouthshire, Penalt,
The Pig & Apple cafe

So, for Jake and Jess the “Pig & Apple Burger” was a no brainer starting point for a signature plate. Great for lunch but also great to feed the party at their evening opening and entertaining shenanigans.

Our chosen religion is.. If you are going to put bacon on a burger it had better be well done, it had better be streaky and it had better be crisp. Otherwise what does it bring to a burger. If you have got a great burger nailed, and Jake has – home ground beef from Neil Powell butchers (doesn’t get much better on the supplier front), mixed, rolled and ready to rock. Add the secret seasoning, press and cook out on the hot plate to achieve flavoursome caramelised brown bits wrapped around fantastic quality local beef.

Pig and Apple, cafe, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, credit, WyeDean Deli Confidential, Humble by Nature, food and drink, new cafe, small business, Monmouthshire, Penalt,
The Pig & Apple cafe

Our bacon argument goes like this; well done in lower heat with a bacon iron or topping pan keeps the bacon flat and it renders out the pork fat to a sweet and crumbly texture, streaky because you want that rendered pork fat to add a little flavour and additional saltiness to the stack and crisp to add a different texture to the whole thing. So, there you go. Bacon because it adds flavour, texture (crumbly and robust), salt and sweetness. Theory justified!

Wedge the aforementioned into a toasted sesame and seed bun, hit the bun base with a really, really good deliciously sweet apple relish, don’t fuss too much on the leaves – just something ultra-fresh, green and crispy, put it on the pass and call “service” on another Pig & Apple burger.

Pig and Apple, cafe, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, credit, WyeDean Deli Confidential, Humble by Nature, food and drink, new cafe, small business, Monmouthshire, Penalt,
The Pig & Apple Burger

As anyone will know who has tried to find Humble by Nature, Kates rural skills and farm HQ, for the first time without the assistance or an orbiting satellite, there isn’t a stampede of footfall along this leafy lane. But build it and they will come. This location just gets busier and busier.

Already the Pig & Apple are making sausages from the farm pork produced by Tim and Sarah (agricultural heroes who run the 117-acre farm) as well as herbs from the kitchen garden and the intention is to source as much as possible from the farm itself.

Pig and Apple, cafe, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, credit, WyeDean Deli Confidential, Humble by Nature, food and drink, new cafe, small business, Monmouthshire, Penalt,
Tomato & basil on the hob – Soup of the day

It is one of the significant and founding principles of the slow food movement that is often all too conveniently forgotten – the food miles issue. Great, to be supporting local farmers to grow seasonal produce in order to support themselves and their families. But if the reason for doing that is to exploit market forces and the labour markets for profit before that food is then flown half way around the globe to the consumer, it kind of defeats the object.

“Where does it come from” is something we are all now more willing to ask, we do it all the time. But, it’s not that often that we are simply asked to look out of the window for the answer. This is about as close to “farm gate” as food gets.

Pig and Apple, cafe, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, credit, WyeDean Deli Confidential, Humble by Nature, food and drink, new cafe, small business, Monmouthshire, Penalt,
The Pig & Apple cafe

Keep an eye on these guys, it’s down to earth, it’s no nonsense, it’s honest, it’s local and it’s tasty with a hint of fun. And the burgers are as good as any we’ve tasty, however many guys were involved in making them. Well worth meandering down the leafy lane.

Pig and Apple, cafe, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, credit, WyeDean Deli Confidential, Humble by Nature, food and drink, new cafe, small business, Monmouthshire, Penalt,
Jake and Jess

Stuff you need to know

Upper Meend Farm, Monmouth NP25 4RP Wales

Jake & Jess +44 7868 138286

https://www.instagram.com/thepigandapple/

https://www.facebook.com/thepigandapple/

Pig and Apple, cafe, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, credit, WyeDean Deli Confidential, Humble by Nature, food and drink, new cafe, small business, Monmouthshire, Penalt,
The Pig & Apple cafe

Quatermass and the Mothers Ruin of Invention

gin, drinks, Foxtail gin, spirit, Summerhouse Studios, David Broadbent Photography,
Foxtail Gin

In the back of a house in deepest Herefordshire there is a small room with a small but ominous looking 22nd century modern day equivalent of the machine age that Professor Bernard Quatermass himself would be in awe of. It sits on a laboratory bench quietly and seemingly innocuous but, once awake it starts to bubble, heat, cool and drip all at the same time using the power of it’s bluetooth brain, the sum of its work far exceeding the value of its individual parts.

gin, drinks, Foxtail gin, spirit, Summerhouse Studios, David Broadbent Photography,

When a scientist and an auditor make gin together, this is what it looks like. The mechanics and the science of distillation are well understood by this couple, Ross and Leigh, who share an analytical background and a love of gin. The creation of the essential parts of gin making are therefore easily and repeatably obtained and stored beside the Quatermass machine by them. But that is just the thing with gin as any Victorian Mother worth her sorry salt would have told you – making gin is easy, making good gin, that’s the tough part.

gin, drinks, Foxtail gin, spirit, Summerhouse Studios, David Broadbent Photography,
The Machine

Ross and Leigh are the team couple behind this newest of gin makers. For a hobby Ross is an extreme runner which seems odd because in every other respect he seems like a sensible and level-headed fella. Leigh, is the shy and retiring one who prefers to tend to the garden where many of the botanical ingredients come from and dream up ever more inventive botanicals. You definitely get the the feeling that somewhere near the lab there is a secret chalkboard full of equations…

gin, drinks, Foxtail gin, spirit, Summerhouse Studios, David Broadbent Photography,
Ross of Foxtail Gin

If this were all it took to make great gin then everyone would be doing it. But it is far more complicated than that. Things that you think would add great and unusual flavours when you find them don’t always translate in the distillation process and some things, you imagine routine and ordinary, knock your socks off in the distillate! It gets even more complicated when you start on the ruinous path of the dark art of blending for this is where the mystery exists. This is where the passion, the experience and the vision becomes reality.

There is no such thing as a short conversation with an expert or an enthusiast and Ross and Leigh are both. Ross waxes lyrical on the process of gin production and their story of how they got here is a fascinating one. All of this delivered in the soft Dublin brogue that tends to make everything seem grand.

gin, drinks, Foxtail gin, spirit, Summerhouse Studios, David Broadbent Photography,
Foxtail Gin

The recent explosion in UK gin making is due in large part to the case of Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs v Sipsmiths.

Sipsmiths of London forged the way for small craft distillers in the UK and, perhaps unknowingly at the time, were instrumental in giving birth to the small-scale gin making industry. HMRC, with a waft of a derogatory hand, assessed this nascent distillery as nothing more than a “moonshine” producer. HMRC where up to that point used only to dealing with large conglomerate distillers, a very convenient situation indeed for both an easy life and tight control on the market and its revenue. They saw this small London operation as a threat and far too time consuming and troublesome to waste their time with. I wonder if those mandarins are still in a job as Sipsmiths slowly took over the London gin scene?

gin, drinks, Foxtail gin, spirit, Summerhouse Studios, David Broadbent Photography,
Foxtail Gin

It took a change in legislation to achieve the granting of their licence in 2009 and nothing was ever the same again. Only a year before our own Chase Distillery had been denied a licence initially which forced them down the road of developing a much bigger operation.

But the renaissance of gin making has opened our eyes to the potential quality of this delightful and refreshing tipple. None more so than in the hands of Ross and Leigh. Their own gin collection (kept only for reference of course) has the volume capacity to keep a London borough of mothers ruined for a long time alone. But it’s what the two gin geniuses do next that is so exciting. They are creative in their blending. Don’t mistake this for random. The blending process is just as scientifically documented as everything else they do but whilst they document their experiments – they do experiment.

gin, drinks, Foxtail gin, spirit, Summerhouse Studios, David Broadbent Photography,
Rosa Gertrude Jekyll – Foxtail Gin

For example, inspiration came from the famous rose – Gertrude Jekyll – just outside the distillery door and so the petals of this legendary rose are now distilled into a jar in the laboratory shelf.

With three gins currently in the product range, nostalgia drove my first tasting choice inevitably to Rhubarb & Custard. I tasted neat gin first to savour the complex flavours and then with just a splash of a good quality tonic such as Fever Tree (a small amount of tonic will develop and enhance the flavours). And there I was, sat back down at my Nan’s kitchen table with my favourite pudding!! So good we put our money where our keyboard is and bought a bottle on the spot! The other two – Premium and Thai inspired are none too shabby either!

gin, drinks, Foxtail gin, spirit, Summerhouse Studios, David Broadbent Photography,
Foxtail Gin with frozen rhubarb ice cubes

With plans for gin tasting days and gin making courses this quiet backwater of the Herefordshire countryside will be a little better known in future.

To find out more about what Ross and Leigh get up to in the “lab” or to book your own gin experience visit their website and follow them on Facebook.

http://foxtaildistillery.co.uk/contact/

https://www.facebook.com/foxtailgin/

gin, drinks, Foxtail gin, spirit, Summerhouse Studios, David Broadbent Photography,
Foxtail Gin

Gin Guild map https://www.theginguild.com/interactive-gin-distilleries-map/

The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire” – Winston Churchill

Stockists

Woods of Whitchurch

https://www.facebook.com/woodsofwhitchurch/