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Archive for June, 2013

A Perpetual Motion Experimentopia

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

Flavour is an intoxicating place to put our attention. It’s where taste and aroma intermingle and the chords of our mind shift from war drums through to fine art appreciation.

That’s kind of why we’re always experimenting with the taste of our mead. We make two very basic types of mead:

  1. Strumpet (apple and cinnamon melomel) named after Richard Morgan’s third partner and ex-convict Catherine Clark
  2. Barn (cyser) named after the historic barn that stands to this day on Richard Morgan’s land at Clarence Plains

But we’re constantly experimenting with flavour and presentation ideas. We ask ourselves what mead could be outside the box, rather than as a wine industry competitor product. Mead has so much more flexibility than wine both in scope of bottle flavour and the broad range of complementary flavours.

A bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey sits in the office right now because we’re plain and simply curious. Cocktails. Alco-pop. We’re looking at experimenting with additions directly into the aging mead so we can glean an idea of what certain flavours do over time. We threw too many spices in at primary and found a winner with our dark cyser. If we’re not taking enough risks then we might miss that niche opportunity that smacks our chops on the way through from here to there.

We’re also constantly looking at and rethinking our process. Experiments like our nutrient deficiency tests in a set of six demijohns over the last year. Yes, we tested the obvious. It’s because black boxes, Internet wisdom and magic are never going to cut it for our ideas of mead. We like to know, to experiment and experience the variances.

And flavour is such an incredible romance that at three in the morning, or at a traffic light, there will be this light bulb moment as synapses connect. POW. What would THAT taste like?

Innovation in the mead industry abounds. Sparkling Green Collar Mead in a can. Carbonated low alcohol meads like Zombie Killer and Funky Monkey (ABV 6%) from B. Nektar Meadery are defining new tastes. And older hybrid drinks are being revived by Dogfish Head Brewery’s collaboration with a biomolecular archaeologist; or, the growing library of flavour combinations being produced by Michael Fairbrother at Moonlight Meadery.

That’s why the perpetual motion experimentopia at Morgan’s Barn Mead. We may not be able to commercialise at this point but we can certainly explore flavour. Perhaps that journey may even lead to investors. Bon apetite.

Craft Beer & the Bubbleless Evolution

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

With talk afoot in the United States about a possible craft beer bubble I thought it might be insightful to share some theory. I’ve touched on this before – Can you be the Best or the Cheapest? – but maybe it’s worth fleshing out the concepts.

Young under-exploited industry sectors where there is room to grow often experience a collegial phase where ideas and resources are openly shared among friendly competitors. There is room for everybody and competition is reasonably relaxed. You can see this collegial phase in action in the contemporary craft brew ethos where I’m located. Collaboration is almost a social event.

However, any business sector that turns a reasonable profit will attract new entrants. As sure as flies are attracted to shit and road kill.

These new entrants, attracted by the opportunity and potential to turn profit, begin to chew into the incumbents’ existing profit margins and eventually that once open prairie landscape becomes more competitive. These new entrants eventually lead to an over-served market and the result is often attrition.

The bad news is that industry attrition often befalls so-so just another brands sitting uncomfortably in the middle. Not the best products; not the cheapest.

This progression from a low competition environment to a more competitive one is worth taking into account when you read anything about a craft beer bubble. I’m neither convinced that the market has left the collegial stage, nor that those in the middle are going to be squeezed out in a hurry.

I don’t think there is a craft beer industry bubble. That statement sounds more like editorial link bait than industry re-evaluation.

It would only be a bubble if massive amounts of consumers stopped buying craft beer; it would be a bubble if the market itself shrank definitively, and; it would be a bubble if with all of that commercial upheaval the populace voted with their wallets for a standard cheap commercial tasteless beer.

The amount of new craft breweries emerging may be a concern, but whether it saturates the existing market or expands to consume the large corporate market share is an open question. At this stage it could go either way depending on public education, effective marketing and consumer choice.

There is clearly a strong future for artisan beers around the World with continued reasonable growth displayed in all the statistics that I’ve seen to date.

I think somebody at the journalistic editorial layer is mixing up the idea of a bubble with the reality that sectors move from collegial towards more competitive environments as new entrants saturate the sector. So, in that context, all I can say is let the best craft beers prosper. And let the rest be absorbed, unified and pushed aside to maintain a healthy evolution of the industry.

Our Products are Strumpet & Barn

Monday, June 10th, 2013

I’m not a wine drinker. Oh I struggle through the odd rubbish red wine at art openings but I can’t say there’s a wine that I think tastes yummy. I can say the same thing about most of the mead I’ve tasted (especially plain mead) – but I’m sure a small kitten in purgatory burned as I struck the keypad to write that statement.

Every mead maker should believe their vision that everybody will love the produce. But the truth is: the vast majority of people won’t. And that’s perfectly fine. I’m not out to convince a beer or wine drinker to do anything different.

What I am interested in developing are two high quality Tasmanian mead products standardised within a tolerable variance. Both are drinks that I enjoy to my own taste. My favourite mead mixer is Morgan’s Barn Strumpet (an apple and cinnamon melomel) and my favourite straight mead is our Barn (cinnamon cyser). We don’t embrace anything outside that variance (by experiment or failure they are automatically pushed aside as seconds).

To explain the concept of seconds: If an artist made 100 paintings and has an exhibition of 15… then there are 85 seconds. That which the public may not judge. Yes, I live in an art household and it shapes my worldview. Are those 85 paintings rubbish? No. They’re just not the artists BEST work.

We don’t hand that variance a trite name for being a little dry or a tad too sweet and label it as quirky vintage. We’re mead producers – we’re mazers, not vintners.

And we follow our tongue on a never-ending experiment of mixing our two developed products with as many different liquids as possible. Cocktails. Alco-pops. We do nutrient deficient experiments like a naughty boy pulls apart an old clock just to see first hand how it all works. We drop in some Irish whiskey or spiced rum. Sometimes an experiment results in revelation. And, seriously, if you aren’t failing then you’re not taking enough risks!

We have loose plans to start working on a Viking Blod next year in honour of my Norwegian (maternal) grandfather who jumped ship in Melbourne in 1890. One of our number does own a cherry orchard.

So all we want is a commercial chance to make high quality Tasmanian product… rather than a faux mead Hermitage Grange. We’re working class people with working class aspirations. Our influences are certainly more focused towards craft brewers and cider makers than any traditional vineyard sensibilities about class, glass and social finery.

We are only concerned about developing the tastiest high quality Tasmanian mead worth drinking tonight. That’s why we do all the experiments!

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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