Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Style over substance?

An 11% abv Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, described as the UK’s most expensive beer, was launched last week, selling for a staggering £1,000 per 330ml bottle. The brewery behind the beer, are Leeds-based Northern Monk Brewery.

What makes the beer unusual, if not unique, is the fact it was brewed at the summit of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. Somewhat unimaginatively,  the beer is called “Ben Nevis,” and Northern Monk believe it qualifies for the title of “highest altitude brew” in British history.

Few would argue with that claim, but I’m sure many would ask why did four members of Northern Monk’s staff, including founder, Russell Bisset, hike all the way to the summit of  the 4,000ft peak, carrying the 90 Kg of equipment and ingredients necessary for this unique brew? The initial brewing stages of mashing and boiling were presumably performed at high altitude, and the brew was then carried back down from the mountain, to undergo primary fermentation.

The beer then underwent two months ageing in a whisky barrel, donated by the Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William. As if all this was not enough, the beer includes ingredients foraged from the mountain, such as blaeberries (also known as bilberries) and "Dew of Ben Nevis" water, which is also used in the production of Ben Nevis Whisky.

Although there are only 50 bottles of this heavily hyped beer available, are there sufficient people,  prepared to fork out a grand each, for a small bottle of beer -  BA Imperial Stout or not? Given the hype and all-round, one-upmanship surrounding much of the craft-beer industry, there probably are enough people with more money than sense beer connoisseurs, who will snap up this limited edition brew; even at such a ludicrously inflated price! 

None of this sells the beer for me, (certainly not at that price!), and where does this glorified PR stunt leave the ordinary drinker?  Northern Monk brew a wide range of excellent beers, which are generally well-received by an increasingly discerning audience, so what were they trying to prove with this one?

The short answer is they were raising money for a charitable foundation, so as well as the opportunity of owning a unique and limited edition beer, there is an added incentive for anyone looking to make a purchase. All proceeds from the sale will be donated to the “For the North Foundation,” a grant scheme created by Northern Monk back in September, in support of projects that are “designed to benefit the North, its people and its communities.”

The first bottles of Ben Nevis beer were auctioned off earlier this month, at an event held at  Northern Monk's  Manchester outlet. In keeping with their monastic theme, the brewery refer to this taproom as the "Refractory,"  and have a similar establishment in Leeds.  More than £7,000 was raised on the night ensuring funding for the first project.

Northern Monk Founder, Russell Bisset, said: “This has been a groundbreaking project to be a part of. "When we launched the For the North Foundation, our intention was to create pieces of high-impact activity that will raise awareness and encourage donations. Brewing the UK’s highest altitude beer at the summit of Ben Nevis seemed like a pretty good place to start!”

Make of this, what you will. Is this altruism of the highest order, is it just an over-blown publicity stunt, or is it something in between?  One thing's for certain, even if I'd just won the lottery, I wouldn't be buying a bottle!


ElectricPics said...

A cynic might suggest that the charity angle is just a tactic to deflect criticism from the publicity stunt that has created what must be the most inaccessible beer ever brewed. If they want to attract cash to their charitable foundation there are more effective methods that would gain support from a much wider range of participants, like a much more accessible limited edition beer sold in much greater volumes.

Paul Bailey said...

ElectricPics, when first drafting this post I was tempted to describe the whole Ben Nevis stunt as a “glorified d*ck waving contest.” I drew back from this, particularly in view of the charity angle underlying the beer and its “provenance.” (An over-used word, if ever there was one!)

However, the exercises still smacks of a group of brewery workers deciding, after a beer-fuelled get-together, to come up with a headline grabbing idea, which they could then use to raise money from their charitable foundation. Nothing wrong with any of this, of course, but your suggestion of a more affordable, limited edition beer, sold in far greater numbers, sounds far more sensible.

Perhaps I am just getting old, but stunts like this fail to impress me, and if we look at the whole thing logically, brewing on top of a 4,000 foot adds nothing in the way of flavour or character to the beer, that could not have been achieved or created in the relative comfort of Northern Monk’s own brew-house.