I swear I'm not doing this on purpose. Today's advent calendar beer is another one you can't get this year, but there's an interesting story to it so that makes it okay... right?
There are breweries and there are microbreweries, but one of the buzzwords in the world of beerdom these past few years is nanobrewery. I reckon Hoggleys counts as one of those. Your average microbrewery will probably operate on something like a 30 or 60 barrel system, but Hoggleys started as a half barrel (that's one keg, or about 160 12oz bottles) operation before expanding to 1.5 barrels, and has since grown to (hang on to your hairpiece) a mind boggling eight barrels! You know what, though? This is nothing to poke fun at. I'm all for small scale industry, because when someone is doing it for themselves as much as for their customers, they care about the finished product and take a greater pride in it.
Roy Crutchley and his partner Julie Hogg are the beginning and the end of Hoggleys, at least for now. Roy set up on his own in 2003, turning a hobby into a business as so many brewers do, in Northamptonshire, England. He started off with just one beer which was for sale in just one pub nearby. Roy has slowly expanded the lineup and the distribution of the brewery to ten beers which you buy in bottles or polypins. "What's a polypin" you ask? Let's go off-piste for a moment or two.
A polypin is to cask-conditioned beer what wine in a box is to wine, but with a bit less snobbishness and derision from the experts. It's a 4.5 gallon plastic container with a tap, which is itself inside a heavy duty cardboard box. The polypin (a pin is an official measurement of beer - 4.5 gallons, or half a firkin) is filled by a brewery with cask-conditioned beer which you take home a couple of days before you want to start drinking it so that the yeast in the beer has time to settle, or "drop bright" to use some industry jargon. Then you invite a bunch of friends over to your place and drink yourselves silly... or rather, indulge in some educated tasting of the same draught beer you would drink at the pub, but at home! It's kind of a glorified growler, but much bigger and with a tap. Sadly, you can't do this in Texas because breweries aren't allowed to sell directly to the end user - you and me, and no brewpubs (who can sell direct to the customer) that I know of have so far jumped on the polypin train, and then it would have to be for a brewpub that makes cask beer because this type of container is probably not suitable for filling with keg beer.
Let's return to the story. One of Hoggleys beers is a Christmas ale called Yuletide, and very popular it's been since they started brewing it as a seasonal five or six years ago. The only problem with it is that being relatively high in ABV it's also relatively expensive, because in the UK higher alcohol beers have a higher duty imposed upon them by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise than beers of a lower ABV, and what with times being a bit hard right now and Hoggleys having another, less alcoholic (and therefore cheaper) Christmas beer in their portfolio, their wholesale customers advised them that they probably wouldn't be buying too much Yuletide because they weren't sure they'd be able to sell it, so Roy reluctantly decided not to brew any this year.
And that was bad timing, because Yuletide was included in a list of ten best Christmas beers from around the world in a popular British beer blog. With publicity like that they'd almost certainly have sold the entire run (1200 bottles of the stuff last year) of Yuletide. And even if they hadn't made a great deal of money from it they'd have got some fantastic exposure for the brewery, and that's a damn shame for a couple of people who are pursuing a dream and producing some excellent beer. Perhaps next year they'll stand up to the economic naysayers and doom-mongers, and just do it. I'd buy some in a heartbeat if I could.