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It is when rock breaks its silence that it crumbles to dust

Under a warm southern May sky in 2017, after the greatest sporting moment of my life, I am being swept towards a tube station amongst a throng of 90,000 people. In the search for my party who I've become separated from, I spot a familiar face in celebratory mood - Founder and Managing Director of Magic Rock Brewing, Richard Burhouse

It shouldn't be a surprise - Richard is a huge Huddersfield Town fan - but it was a pleasant reminder of the community value of the football club that I support. A team guided to the promised land under a local chairman and fan in Dean Hoyle has always kept deep ties to the town it exists in. And here, in Magic Rock, is my second favourite Huddersfield based team.   

The machine continues on.

We are almost becoming immune to the issues and discussions occurring each time a multi-national business takes a controlling stake in a British brewery. There is little new to add, though the same arguments are held on social media forums anyway. There had been rumour of this happening until last week it was formally announced that Magic Rock had sold a 100% stake of the company to Lion. 

The aspect that changes each time comes through personal attachment. It has already been suggested to me that northern beer communicators are a little more defensive this time than they have been previously. Whilst I'm not sure I've seen such tactics personally it would make sense that attitudes akin to those adopted by southern writers after the sales of the likes of Camden and Beavertown would play out. 

Whether right or wrong, northern or southern, capitalist or idealist, one thing remains true - you don't get to decide how I feel. You don't get to decide for anybody else what their reaction should be. Inevitably, there are many who consider it their right to dictate to others each time an instance like this occurs. Whether the view point is that it a great positive or that you should never buy their beer again it feels that I am being bullied into feeling a certain way rather than opined at. 

Stop that. 

Local boy comes good. 

I don't know how I feel. 

Magic Rock became such an important pillar of the beer scene nationally it is hard to think of it any other way. Rapture and Cannonball were two beers that had a huge influence on me when I tasted them first in 2011. They've kept that exemplary position on styles ever since. For somebody who is in Huddersfield every other fortnight - and more importantly for the townsfolk that I know - the Tap room brought a huge injection of influence and tourism to the town. 

Then there is the football club in a stadium sponsored and named after a huge Multi-national drinks brand. Still the fans in the little local brew-kit took them on, producing beers dedicated to the team's achievements, knowing that stadium sales were unobtainable. I drink Hat Trick every time I see it. I lovingly rate it 5 stars each time on phone applications. I have a sense of pride every time I drink it. We might not reach the stadium drinks vendors but defiantly we drink it in and around the stadium. 

And, who knows, maybe soon it'll be available at the Magic Rock stadium - home of Huddersfield Town. 

Those are the future possibilities now. That is where we are at. Yet the feelings that separate me from some beer drinkers are the same that separate me from some football fans. We have a local chairman who loves the football club unconditionally who has taken us as far as he can. Some fans are now hoping for that big foreign investment that other clubs have had to take us to the next level. Some want us to have the lucky billionaire placed at Manchester City's doorstep to help create achievements entirely impossible under the current ownership; to create the realities that can only exist once the heart of the club has been replaced by the corporate machine. 

I don't. I'd rather we kept our super fan at the helm. I'd love the club just as much if we were back playing Shrewsbury, Macclesfield and Hartlepool United once more as long as we stayed tied to our roots. Most would consider me a fool but that is the idealist within. That, perhaps, is where I currently stand with Magic Rock. 

I did the football analogy when Beavertown sold on how I could never truly respect a football club whose riches came from elsewhere. That isn't to say that I will shun those pints of Hat Trick. I have to hope this sale leads to increased joint projects between football club and brewery and I will be happy to see it. Though the pride will fade when the faces change.  

 Shaping up for a buy-out

This isn't the time to discuss the hypocritical intricacies of predicting whether a brewery is shaping up for sale (although IF we were we would have some fun screen-shotting every *ahem* communicator who criticised Boak & Bailey's "prediction" about Beavertown but spent the entirety of last week dropping "hints" about Magic Rock - seriously.) 

As it is I began to sense that this was coming to Huddersfield nearly 12 months ago. I'm not sure what hints I put onto social media but can recall Martin from the Hopinions podcast asking me at Peakender last year - which coincidentally happened the month that Lion approached Richard Burhouse - "So you think it's Magic Rock next, do you?"

Part of the joking reason for this was my rubber bar runner prediction (called a "Rubber Beer Mat" in my sly work based tweets but thankfully the social media pedants didn't let me get away with it.) I have a collection of runners that I only seem to acquire in the months leading up to a buy-out. Beavertown, Fourpure, then Magic Rock appeared. I just knew it was coming.

Beyond that little silliness, there were other tiny signs; the rebranding, readjustment of the core range including the inclusion of a session IPA that nobody asked for, increased supermarket presence, less experimental specials and the movement of some of the core brewing site. Their name also featured more frequently on Huddersfield Town's business Twitter page. At first i considered this the local community positivity I hoped for but I soon became suspicious. 

Most confusingly was the announcement of a new bar opening in Holmfirth that made local news outlets but wasn't confirmed by the brewery itself, as if something had slipped under the net that shouldn't have. 

None of these are criticisms just extensions of Boak and Bailey's marvellous piece; confirmation that bigger businesses are often looking for something specific. 

The sustainability of beer. 

There are a lot of emotional heads similar to my own within the more experienced Twitter personnel but the reaction from some corners of the "Craft" drinking experience tell another side. "Magic Rock haven't produced anything worth drinking in two years anyway" they say nonsensically. Whilst this utter moonshine should be ignored it speaks of the challenges put forward to independents. The breweries repeatedly spouted as "having taken Magic Rock's place" have barely been operational for three years and produce uniformed portfolios of differing quality. It is an eternal struggle to stay relevant in that sector of the market, one that will become tiresome quickly. Securing income via supermarkets to offset the Hazebros abandonment is shrewd.  

It has already been mentioned that out of the four founding members of the UK based United Craft Brewers, three have been sold to multi-nationals and one is Brewdog (who aren't independent of course.) For me though, it is representative of more movement amongst the old guard (and by old I mean pre-2013) that began with Hardknott falling a year ago. Changes are happening to those prominent before 2013, whether they are closing or being bought out. Thornbridge have already admitted that they are actively seeking investment and rumours have started around another brewery I would consider to be part of the old guard. 

It isn't a pleasant scenario for idealists but we are seeing the capitalist dream play out before us. Sell-out or die. Invest or die. Whichever you find the snazziest catchphrase. 

"I grew the rock from a pebble..."

That capitalist dream is often cited as being an inevitability that we shouldn't fight. Beer enthusiasts can be quick to quantify beer business as somehow different to regular business. It isn't but that includes the positives as well.

What people often fail to articulate accurately when describing their passion for local breweries and sitting in railway arches is the connection between person and product. I went to a local farm shop recently where they fed and watered my dog, introduced me to some of their family, gave me a glass of water and then acted as a personal shopper. On the other side you have the till workers at Aldi who pile a weeks worth of shopping in a square inch of till before you've wet your fingers enough to open the carrier bag. People enjoy the personality behind shopping local. 

So when my friend visited Huddersfield from Scotland a few years ago and Richard Burhouse offered to take us into the brewery it was one of those little moments that creates personality and connections. It is the future fear of what happens when the door is shut by executives that continues to create wariness, 

Ultimately though I remember the faces on that Wembley concourse and the man that built a Magic Rock from a pebble. There is nothing treacherous about being a success story to your family and yourself. A man that loves Huddersfield Town as much as I do, loves Rapture as much as I do and certainly loves Magic Rock as a brewery a lot more than anybody else deserves the opportunities to secure a future. That might just be as exciting as winning promotion.  


BeerCast Rich said…
Fantastic post Mark. Great beer - and more importantly - great breweries become personal. Everything else falls by the wayside
Unknown said…
Nice one Mark.
Beer is a journey. We walk along with breweries for parts of that.
Magic Rock make Magic Beer.
I hope that continues.

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