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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Brewery News: Proef, Hair of the Dog, and Samuel Smith's

Fascinating developments. First, Yeager with the good news:
For the last five years, much-decorated Belgian brewmaster Dirk Naudts, who develops beer recipes for brewers throughout Holland and Belgium, brings an American brewer over to his village, Lochristi, to collaborate. The chance to work with Naudts at his Na De Proef Brouwerij is much sought.... This year the honor goes to a Portlander, Alan Sprints from Hair of the Dog.

Now to Daily Mail (hat tip BeerNews) for the bad:
A pub landlord and landlady face losing their jobs and their home after brewery bosses accused them of serving too much beer in their pints.

Pete and Debbie Gibson say they were forced to close the Junction Inn pub, on New Year's Eve, following a surprise visit by millionaire Humphrey Smith, owner of brewing firm Samuel Smith, who in front of shocked customers said he was shutting it.

The couple, who have run the pub, in Royton, near Oldham, Greater-Manchester for 12 years, have now been told they owe the company £10,733 in lost stock for topping up people's pints.
Of course, the extremely secretive brewery refused to comment. Having been a close follower and sometimes blogger of politics over the past decade, I have learned to identify coverup spin when I hear it, and there are a few things in this story that just don't add up.

First, while Samuel Smith's has a reputation of treating tenants and employees poorly, they are extremely solicitous to punters. They proudly serve their pints at rock-bottom prices--like, 1970s prices. It seems odd that they'd slam a pub for topping up; that is, after all, a nice service to the punters.

Second, Humphrey Smith is so reclusive I didn't even know his name. During my visit, the brewery would only mention "the family" (la cosa nostra resonances abounding). So why does he show up, on New Year's no less, to shut down the brewery himself? This looks like a case of using the proverbial tank to kill a fly.

My guess--and perhaps the lads across the sea can comment--is that the Gibsons committed some other crime, one so severe it warranted not only sacking, but a public hanging (in the commercial sense) as well. Of course, we'll never know.

I should also add that this is all pure speculation and in the absence of real data, we have to take the case at face value. Maybe the Gibsons had regularly flouted instructions not to top-off the pints (an obscure dictate, but not inconceivable) and the sacking was richly deserved. Another caveat: I have written about the old Victorian brewery and the beer it turns out, which I admire enormously, but that doesn't mean it is exempt from public scrutiny.


  1. Jeff, Linked here is a video someone forwarded to me last night. It's a BBC documentary from 2009 about Samuel Smith business practices and local political muscle. Interesting stuff.

  2. I would think it is far more likely that Smith had had too much to drink on New Year's Eve as assume the tenant had done the mysterious "something else" wrong. But your call to boycott makes sense.

  3. Lee, if you follow that link I have on the words "reputation of treating tenants and employees poorly," it visits one of my posts from last year about that video. I had it in mind when I visited the brewery. (Where, I should say, I was treated beautifully. The brewer, Steve Barrett, was one of the gentlest, nicest head brewers I've ever met.)

  4. "So why does he show up, on New Year's no less, to shut down the pub himself?"

    All better.

  5. Jeff, Ah, I see the link now. I was reading the post on Android reader and missed embedded the link initially.

    I am miffed by all of this. It's news to me.

    Samuel Smith, make some excellent beers. That much, I do know.