On The Road To Coldchain

 

In my 2018 wrap-up “State of the Jolly Good Nation” post I briefly touched upon the subject of coldchain and stated “I hope that 2019 sees us setting up our first 100% coldchain connections for UK beer.”

 

Well, here we are on the 1st of March 2019 and I’m sat in the passenger seat of our 7 tonne refrigerated Iveco with Rik driving us from Cambridgeshire (home) to Loka Polly brewery in North Wales. We will be collecting about two tonnes of their newly launching “Augment” range in keg and can to take from their own coldstorage to our coldstorage … 4°C all the way! We will then ensure selected venues (those with 4°C coldstorage) we will be covered by refrigerated vehicle deliveries too. Folks participating in the Augment launch at this quality level are: The Stoneworks, Peterborough – Hopmaster General, Rushden – Kilder Bar, Birmingham (plus many other great bars who will be getting this beer super fresh and chilled for most of its short lifespan until the 8th!)

 

Brewery @ 4°C
Transport @ 4°C
Warehouse @ 4°C
Transport @ 4°C
Bar @ 4°C
Consumer (intah mah mouth!!)

 

And that is coldchain. If you remove one of those “4°C” links and replace it with ambient you no longer have a chain. This is why us at Jolly Good Beer rarely use the phrase “coldchain” because it feels dishonest to be using it without some FULL coldchain implemented from brewer to consumer.

 

With the distinct exception of some higher standards for established cask ale distribution, most wholesaler distributed UK beer moves around the UK as follows… and I gratuitously throw in the word “craft” now mainly to draw a distinction between traditional pubs and the new wave of beer retail…

 

Brewery @ 4°C (some!)
Transport @ ambient
Warehouse @ ambient
Transport @ ambient
“Craft” Retailer @ ambient (10°C if lucky)
Consumer (nah, I’ll pass)

 

In 2014 I started Jolly Good Beer and we did this:

 

Brewery @ 4°C (some!)
Transport @ ambient
Warehouse @ 4°C
Transport @ ambient
Craft” Retailer @ ambient (10°C if lucky)
Consumer (umm…? Yeh, OK, go on then)

 

I’m not sure if we were the first to be fully coldstored or not (for all beer not just cask!) – but we were possibly the first to go to 4C and first to really start thinking about real coldchain distro. From this base we’re building up a set of customers who fix the problem at the retail end too, giving us this:

 

Brewery @ 4°C (some!)
Transport @ ambient
⇒ Warehouse @ 4°C
Transport @ ambient
Craft Retailer @ 4°C (wot cares)
Consumer (yeh, this is good)

 

Direct Draw install in Kilder Bar coldroom

Amongst Jolly Good Beer customers these 4°C beer heroes are: The Stoneworks, Hopmaster General, Kilder Bar, The Rusty Bucket, Double Barreled Brewery Tap – and we have more in the works as new bar and bar improvement projects line up for 2019.

 

It’s worth noting that good traditional pubs have reliable ~10°C chilled cellars and this is also pretty great for beer on the assumption that sensible pubs are buying for at most the next fortnight of supply and not keeping stock stashed at 10°C for weeks on end. (Flash coolers and long draw are another problem entirely.) It’s really only with the advent of “craft beer” that this weird low quality make-do standard of kegs sat in ambient spaces and flash cooled for dispense started to become a thing regularly seen. Meanwhile the standard for off-trade is nearly entirely warm beer on warm shelves… albeit slowly the “store cold” message is spreading and at least some shops are deploying refrigeration for stock of the more sensitive beers… but very few are like Hereford Beer House who keep all their stock and back-stock refrigerated. Bear that in mind: you see stock in fridges, hurrah, but how is the “back room” stock being kept?

 

But the take-home (beer) here is: coldstorage at retail (both off- and on-trade) is slowly becoming “a thing” and we must celebrate these folk working to make beer better, not merely running with the grim “it’ll do” status quo. And Jolly Good Beer wants to create the supply chain to match. (Literal quote, I was once told: “But nobody else is doing this, I don’t see any point in bothering” – from a person who doesn’t really like beer at all but thought the “craft beer” sector was the cash-cow they wanted to yoke.)

 

In recent years we have seen some improvements in the import side of the industry – in our case notably for Amundsen, Stillwwater, and Against the Grain the good people at Cask International set up the supply chain to our warehouse at 4°C. Hurrah! And the same for our direct import shipment from Firestone Walker. It seems a bit mad we’re getting foreign beer delivered to warehouse at higher standards than UK breweries use! So for selected imports and selected bars in 2018 we got to:

 

Brewery @ 4°C (some!)
Transport @ 4°C
Warehouse @ 4°C
Transport @ ambient
Retailer @ 4°C
Consumer (yeh, this is good)

 

But this is a tiny fraction of what we do – why doesn’t the UK beer get the frigid love?

 

Anyway – come end of 2018 in our small Jolly Good Beer world to bars “doing it right” we had just these pesky vehicle links to deal with. Not so much a problem in mid-winter, but realistically that’s maybe 2 months of not-so-much-of-a-problem and almost no weeks at all where temperatures actually drop to an average of 4°C or below. And this week we had “record” February warmth… not feeling so chilled now, eh? The worst vehicle link is that one to us from the brewery – where if you’re lucky a PM pallet arrives AM the next day within about 18 hours. But often it arrives more like 24 hours later in the arvo. And in the worst cases something goes wrong (one in ten sorta thing) and it doesn’t arrive until the next day and the pallet has been who-knows-where in transit for 48 hours and arrives warm to the touch. Even in the ideal case of a 12 hour next-day I’ve measured beer shipped from brewery coldstore arriving in smallpack (the most sensitive format) at around 20C in summer.

 

So the next goal of Jolly Good Beer was to fix that transport link and about 9 months ago I applied for my Operators License so I could acquire my first HGV. This week after a complicated 9 month gestation I have given birth to a coldchain by way of our refrigerated 7 tonne Iveco van. We’ve done two outgoing runs with this van – thus solving the least-damage “last mile” problem of the coldchain, but until we have beer arriving chilled we don’t have a chain! Thus today Rik and I find ourselves enroute to North Wales and Loka Polly and our first full coldchain product going to consumers via excellent retailers. It’s just a small start… and a special case of a product/range launch… but over the next few weeks we will be sorting out regular coldchain backhaul routes to key breweries who run by our own coldstorage standards internally and brew the most sensitive beers. Over the course of 2019 we’ll be phasing out all ambient vehicles and moving everything to refrigerated. (Finance offers invited, lol.) We’re connecting the dots – where the dots are our coldstorage and existing brewery and bar coldstorage, and the lines are refrigerated vehicles.

 

THIS IS COLDCHAIN

 

Brewery @ 4°C
Transport @ 4°C
Warehouse @ 4°C
Transport @ 4°C
Bar @ 4°C
Consumer (intah mah mouth!!)

 

It can be the difference between merely “good” beer and outstanding beer — between the “good enough” status quo and being top-of-the game. Especially when it comes to modern hop-forward beer styles.

 

So – see y’all at Stoneworks on the 8th (my nearest Coldchain-Ready bar) – or in spirit at one of the other awesome Loka Polly Augment Range launch venues.

 

Posted from the passenger seat of our refrigerated Iveco on the way to Wales!