I’ve been meaning to eat this particular slice of humble pie for some time now, as a recent trip to Cornwall reminded me. If you’ve been reading this blog for long enough you may remember a rather negative piece I wrote following the acquisition of Sharps by international brewer Molson Coors. At the time I could only see this meaning the end for the Rock brewery, and the innovative fruits of head brewer Stuart Howe’s exploits, with a wholesale transfer of Doom Bar production to Burton, or somewhere else better connected than Rock (which, let’s face it, wouldn’t be a tall order). How wrong I was.
At a welcome to the Beer Bloggers conference in May, a man (whose name and position I ashamedly can’t recall) from Molson Coors, the major sponsor of the event, stood up and talked about celebrating beer’s diversity. His point (or my interpretation of it) was that there is a sort of symbiotic relationship between the major brewer and the micro. The major brewers have the marketing power and the mass appeal to bring new drinkers in to the cask ale market. A vital role when you look at the tough time the cask ale market has been having at holding share in recent years. The micro, or craft brewer is then able to innovate and take seasoned ale drinkers to new levels with more unusual and sometimes challenging tastes. Thus the major brewers bridge the gap between the newly converted and experimental drinker and ensure a steady influx of willing guinea pigs.
The problem with being a self-pronounced beer connoisseur is that you can sometimes inadvertantly become a beer snob. This was the point at which I realised I was guilty of this. In a world where small breweries are springing up all over the place and producing new and exciting beers it is easy to forget that regional and national brewers have in fact been doing this for hundreds of years, and clearly doing it rather well to have stayed the course. We never actually lose our love for the classic beers that first got us into the style. But they become a bit like a favourite toy – still played with often, but not the shiny new one we want to shout about and show off to our friends.
And so back to my humble pie. Coors announced two weeks ago that they would be spending £5m tripling the capacity of the Sharps brewery in Rock with a shiny new brewing plant. In the interim, a couple of additional fermenting vessels will be added to accommodate the rapid growth (currently tracking at over 50%) that has followed the financial backing and logistical support from Coors. Hardly the action of someone who places no value on heritage, and sees their product only as a commodity. So perhaps shame on me for my cynicism, but I’ve never been happier to be proved wrong.