Moving Forward (and Happy Birthday Steam Machine!)
This summer Steam Machine Brewing Company turned three years old. And what a wonderful three years it’s been! Sometimes I feel like this is the only life I have ever known. Doing something that I love, with the people I love, then sharing our creations with our wonderful unique community on Aycliffe industrial estate. Everything else fades into a distant memory.
Other times it seems like only yesterday Gulen and I (with friends – you know who you are) were brewing – and dumping – our first industrial batches.
Compared to other commercial breweries, we started with very little money. The savings from our previous lives in Guernsey, coupled with a small loan from Virgin, was enough for us to make a start.
There were loads of other breweries in the North East (there still are), but very few focused on brewing beer styles outside of cask English Bitter (English Pale, Golden Ale, Special Bitter etc), and certainly only one or two were producing bold-flavoured unfiltered beer and serving it from craft keg.
Our vision was based off the extremely diverse American craft beer scene, where your average local brewery produces its own lager, a range of IPAs, on top of diverse stouts and porters, and plenty of European-styled beers to boot. This eclectic mix of beers really appealed to us, and we set out to build a strong core range. Before our first year was up we had a list which included:
-San Franciscan Steam 5.2% (a California Common lager)
-IPA 5.2% (an American East Coast style IPA)
-Afternoon Tea 6.5% (an Earl Grey infused hopped amber ale)
-New Age Brown 6.5% (a Citra-hopped American brown)
-Saison Blonde 7.2% (a Belgian farmhouse ale)
-Lapsang Souchong Smoked Porter 7.4% (as it says on the tin)
-Double IPA 9.6% (All the hops!)
-Treacle Toffee Stout 10% (an Imperial Milk Stout)
We had a selection that any tap room could be proud of, and as we moved into our second year we offered these diverse beers to both our trade and retail customers. We maintained this large core range, focusing on repeatability and quality control, infrequently adding new ones to the fold.
To fuel our own experimentation needs we were constantly producing small batches of new and exciting products, most of which were short-lived, but brought us much love from those who were lucky enough to sample them.
The exhilarating thing about the craft beer world is how fast it moves; of how a new style emerges from the constant attention and experimentation from the individuality of the brewers. Since we began, we’ve seen a couple of trends come and go (Black IPA anyone?), and we’ve seen the UK brewing scene as a whole make massive leaps and bounds. When we first started, really great American craft beer crowded most of the shelves of the independent bottle shops, but now you’ll be hard pressed to find much from our American cousins.
The rise of British craft breweries and the amazing beers we’ve created as a whole industry have converted many a macro-drinker to the delightful beverages of the artisan producer, but it’s also led recently to a lessening of choice. I visited one bottle shop the other week and found literally hundreds of NEIPAs and DIPAs, and a handful of stouts. So much for diversity. There are quite a few prominent craft breweries who are churning out a new NEIPA or DIPA almost on a weekly basis, and I can’t help but marvel to the similarities of the average British cask English Bitter brewer, and the subtle nuances between their weekly brews.
This year we almost became guilty of the same ourselves, moving away from our core range and producing six NE / Milkshake IPAs (although in our defence, they were all different in their ingredients, execution and taste), but our saviour came in the form of a recent care package direct from Land Grant brewery in Ohio (cheers Mark!). A diverse collection of Pilsners, American Wheats, IPAs, Double IPAs, sour Berlinerweiss, Baltic Porters, Stouts, and more… Each beer sampled was a delight. It reiterated our firm belief that good craft beer is about exploration of style; but how could we keep up with a moving market that has now been miss-sold the idea that a beer tried once is best not repeated, and that the next best thing is coming tomorrow?
Constant trade phone calls and emails these past twelve months have taken similar forms to: “Hi guys, what do you have available? Oh yeah, that IPA was great, sold it all in a day and a half, but what’s new?”.
It seems that the consumer no longer wants a core range, and why would they with so many great new beers out there?
We’ve had to think long and hard these past few months on how we develop our beers, and how we move forward. We need to marry our love of diversity with the demand for new and wonderful brews. Fortunately we are up to the challenge, and we’ll be developing a new fluid (pun?) range of beers. We always want some form of lager available (so far we’ve had a California Common, a British Pilsner, and a Pan-Continental Helles), something sessionable, an imperial stout, a diversity of IPAs, beers inspired by Belgian brewing techniques etc etc…
So what does all that mean? Well, it means we are sticking to our strength of producing an eclectic mix of beers suitable for a range of taste buds, and that we’ll be continuing to experiment with both new and historic styles with varied ingredients. It also means your favourite beer from us might not be available in can or keg for a while, but we’re sure you’ll find something to love from what we have planned… 😉
So watch this space, and in the meantime, have a beer.
Nick – Co-Founder & Head Brewer