I picked up a copy of the most recent “London Drinker” CAMRA magazine, whilst at GBBF last week. There’s always plenty of interest amongst it pages, and not all the article are about London.
A particularly sad piece of news from the wilds of Norfolk, caught my eye. It concerned the closure of Buffy’s Brewery, who are throwing in the towel after 25 years of trading. The brewery was based in the village of Tivetshall St Mary, and was founded in 1993. Buffy's beers could be found in several pubs across Norfolk as well as at their own pub, the Cherry Tree at Wicklewood, near Wymondham, which they will continue to run.
The closure was blamed on there being too many breweries in Norfolk, and with over 40 of them all competing for a slice of a diminishing market, something had to give. Like many industry observers, I was more than a little surprised to learn that Buffy’s had gone to the wall, but Roger Abrahams, who founded the brewery, along with Julia Savory, claimed that the micro-brewing sector was close to saturation point, and that competition between brewers “had become very aggressive.”
back in 2012. For the uninitiated "badge brewing" is when a brewery churns out a plethora of different beers, often with silly names which, whilst purporting to be different brews, are just a variation on a handful of basic recipes.
By doing this they are catering primarily for the "tickers" market, and are duping those drinkers foolish enough to believe they are getting something new and different each time. What they are doing of course, is not illegal but at the same time it does push the boundaries with regard to what constitutes a new, different beer, and what doesn’t.
Two companies, in particular were infamous for this practice Cottage Brewing and Archers Ales, both of whom are no longer brewing. The two companies between then produced a staggering amount of supposedly different, “one-off” beers, based around a number of different themes.
Great Western Railway locomotive works in Swindon.
Buffy’s, by way of contrast, concentrated on a core range of traditional-style beers, primarily bitter in flavour and mainly brown in colour. This may have been their downfall, especially within an increasingly fickle licensed trade, which expects something new, or different every time.
However, as the examples of both Cottage and Archer’s illustrate, chasing after this “fickle” trade is wrought with its own problems; especially in a market which is already over saturated and over-competitive.