Today we’ll be chatting to Freddy Bulmer (aka @Freddy) , our buyer for English wine, beer, accessories, Eastern Europe and Austria! You’ve been sending your questions in advance, and we’ll start by answering those.
Who’s here? Feel free to say hello and ask any last-minute questions!
There is definitely a big shift towards the champagne varieties for sparkling wines in the UK.
Nyetimber was the first English winery to be dedicated to making just sparkling wine from the Champagne varieties, way back at the end of the 80s/early 90s and now pretty much all of the sparkling wine which is making waves and winning the awards is made from these varieties.
The more traditional in the UKl, germanic varieties, were used more for their ability to ripen than for the style or quality of wine they would make and now that many vineyard managers are much more clued-up in this country than they may have been in previous decades, modern viticulture practice means it’s easier than it once was to ripen Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Climate change apparently helps too however while on one hand climate change brings warmth, it also brings unpredictability so doesnt make anything any easier.
I have tasted a couple of passable English reds but none which I feel offer any sort of value. The important thing is remembering to benchmark them against reds from around the world and not giving them a free pass to not be up to scratch, just because they are English.
If an English red comes along which is world-class and also offers value enough to put it alongside similar quality wines from other parts of the world, then I would be well and truly behind it. I have tasted a couple of pinot noirs which have been perfectly OK but which would retail at around £16 a bottle and if you want pinot at that price you’re much better off looking elsewhere!
2018 by all accounts is the year for English red, if ever there has been one. Apparently pinot noir has ripeness of sugar and acidity leading up to harvest but the flavour ripeness is lagging, so it’s still too early to tell.
IPA has been the big thing of the last 12 months, especially double and triple IPAs with huge flavour profiles and high alcohol. I think though this started to decline a few months ago now and there has been a big swing of the pendulum in the other direction.
I hate to break it to you but i dont think that Belgian quads are the next big thing (they’re a timeless classic though and i love them!) rather small beers - low alcohol pale ales which still have an impressive hop profile but with a lighter body.
Beer trends often seem to go from one extreme to the other. My money is on both low alcohol pales and really good quality artisanal lagers. Braybrooke Brewery is a new one focussing purely on really delicious lager and they are one to watch. Maybe quads will be the hot topic in 18 months from now!
The rationale for the beer selection is to provide really excellent quality beers to the fantastic audience of engaged drinkers which make up our membership. We will never have a massive selection, capping it at about 25 different beers at a time and the focus for us will, naturally, always be on the wine.
The idea is to make members’ lives easier by giving the option to also buy some delicious beers from us while ordering wines saving everyone more time to actually drink the stuff! We have done some experimenting since launching a beer range last year and we will now be looking to have a core range of a handful of beers with a rotating selection around that which will regularly change, allowing us to showcase all sorts of fascinating styles and breweries.
I am going to stick with UK breweries for the most part because we are spoilt for choice in this country and also more easily able to guarantee a fresher product. A bit like with wine buying, it’s about having your ear to the ground and knowing who is doing what and where the quality is.
Supply is a challenge though as many of the most exciting and best quality breweries (who really pay attention to their ingredients) are fairly new and are still expanding and this puts pressure on their distribution and bottling lines, so there have been a few teething problems along the way. Like with wine, i buy the beers on the quality alone. Some breweries such as Northern Monk just make such wonderful beers that i could almost work with all of them if i had the space!
Since I don’t have all the space though, i have worked with a couple of theirs at a time on a rotating basis. The Thornbridge beer offered remarkable value and was the perfect session pale ale. Sadly though it is unavailable for the foreseeable.
Some of the breweries only make one beer, such as Braybrooke, who are only just rolling out beer number two now. It really depends. There is no reduction in cost when you buy a solid case for two reasons - 1. we have a tiny margin anyway and so we are already giving you as much of a saving as possible on the single units. 2.
We want members to explore lots of different things, hence why we have the option for people to mix their own cases of whatever they like. Because we are more focussed on people finding something new and delicious and experimenting than we are on shifting volumes, there is no incentive for a standard soli- case discount because we dont want to essentially penalise those members who want to put their own cases together. Treating everyone fairly, regardless of how they order is key!
I never say never! It’s a good wine. I have no immediate plans though but I will make the most of an opportunity to re-list that wine if it comes up. Hungary is one of the most exciting "emerging" wine regions in the world, unquestionably.
I was on a trip to Hungary a few weeks back and made all sorts of amazing discoveries. We have a very special email going out to members of 3 wines from St Andrea, one of which is only normally sold in their restaurant at the winery (we had to ask them very nicely for a few cases!).
There is also a brilliant bargain-price pinot noir which is on it’s way to us; a total cracker of any-day-of-the-week drinking, as well as a new Kadarka, a fascinating white variety called Keknyelu which is completely extinct aside from 40 hectares of vineyards near Lake Balaton. Loads of really exciting stuff on the way so do keep your eyes peeled!!
"Tiny quantities" would, sadly, answer all of your questions there! There really aren’t that many producers in the UK producing enough wine for it to be nationally available. And that being said, all the people who do make enough to be nationally available aren’t necessarily all that good. Also, many smaller merchants will want to work with wines which aren’t in the supermarkets. It’s still a really tiny industry but it’s getting there, slowly but surely.
For someone who doesn’t make very much wine and is able to sell all their stock direct to the consumer, there isn’t much of an incentive for them to sell through a larger distributor because their margin would take a massive hint in order to do so! Thankfully though many wineries are rapidly expanding at the moment so in coming years things will become more available more widely.
We have done a mixed case of English wines on a couple of occasions in the last 18 months and while they have gone okay, they haven’t set the world alight in terms of uptake. I think it’s important to remember that for most people, English wine isn’t something they are overly familiar with and so they would rather buy one bottle at a time in order to have a taste, than to fork out £100+ of their hard earned cash.
Again, slowly, slowly. The demand is still relatively small, as is the supply. It is definitely going in the right direction though! English sparkling costs because nothing is mechanised, everything is hand picked, small-scale production. There is no economy of scale in this country and that means things aren’t cheap. What it does also mean is that any sparkling winery worth its salt in England is able to pay complete and utter attention to detail and make wines which beat those from the Grand Marque champagne houses at the £30 mark, hands-down.
Folks like Ridgeview, Camel Valley, Nyetimber and Hambledon are making wine on a much smaller scale than any of the most famous champagne houses. It’s a boutique product which is still a reflection of a winemaker’s vision and a particular place. Art in a bottle. Proper!
The term "craft" is no different to the word "fine" when used as a prefix to" wine". Not all wineries call themselves makers of fine wine yet their wine may be very good. Some make genuinely fine wine and are proud to tell the world that too while others make bad wine but still call it "fine wine".
We as consumers generally know what fine wine means though, at least at a personal level. Craft beer tends to be a more progressive style of beer, often putting the emphasis on more complex blends of hops, shipped from places like Washington State and New Zealand.
Any "craft brewer" who knows what they are doing is focussing hugely on the ingredients going into their beers and are often making beers which they want to challenge the drinker with. It’s a topic which could be discussed at length for hours. I agree that in some cases it can be a marketing ploy, especially when used by breweries which are actually owned by a much bigger business, such as AB InBev, where they are brewing in vast quantities with less focus on the quality.
I feel though that it is a nice collective term for the smaller, artisanal brewers who treat beer in the same way you would treat a fine wine. There is, of course, an element of "buyer beware" because at the end of the day it only counts if you like what you are drinking. You could call it Fine Beer maybe…
Yeah!! I loved it. I was a little nervous, it has to be said, as it’s the first time we had done anything like that at TWS and so it was a bit of a risk. Luckily though the guys at Northern Monk did an awesome job and it worked out really well! There are plans for future collabs.
It’s something I’m keen on doing plenty of because its a really great point of difference for us to be able to provide members! We just did a great lager with Anspach & Hobday which is online at the moment, although be very quick (that is if there’s still any left!). That was much more under the radar than Patrimoine.
I’ve just this morning talked about doing a citra-heavy brut pale ale with a brilliant London-based brewery. Hopefully if all goes to plan it will be out in January!
Timothy Taylors Landlord on hand pull, with a sprinkler (although you have to be sat in a pub in Yorkshire for the full experience). We will never sell it because it’s available everywhere but my word, it’s a solid pint of beer. (as endorsed by Tim Sykes and Toby Morrhall too…)
Any plans for the Society to explore wines from Crete
Never say never! I visited earlier in the year (albeit only for a day) and tasted some excellent wines. It’s just a matter of having an opportunity to list something. I wish I could list all the fantastic wines I taste but we would outgrow our warehouse in about 5 minutes if I did! (and I would get sacked, which I don’t want…!)
I’m really pleased you have enjoyed the beers! That’s great to hear. I had muttered about doing something like this but I don’t think it’s the right direction for us as a business and realistically we can’t compete with companies like Beer52 just yet.
We have noticed that most members who buy beers like to mix them in to a case with wines and things so we would probably like to keep focussing on giving members the flexibility to dip in and out and try things when they are placing wine orders, rather than rolling out a big scheme like this. Keeping it casual and delicious is the key!
It really depends on whether I plan an IPA feature perhaps. It’s a really cracking beer and I love it. “No immediate plans” is probably the best and most vague answer I can give at the moment. Try the Fantasma IPA if you haven’t already, as that’s a cracker too.