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The Magic has Run its course



There was a time when the rock was magic.


There was a time that it was at its most magical in its unhuman form.


Never before had a beer release captured the entire community. 


The annual release of Un-Human Cannonball from Magic Rock, in those glorious 660ml bottles, was an unparalleled event in the UK beer calendar for a few years. People set alarms for 7am to make the website release, made reservations with their local beer shops to secure one of the limited bottles, and later would take time off work to travel to the taproom to be amongst the first to taste it before it was released nationwide. Un-Human Cannonball was an event in itself and successfully transitioned into the "Cannonball Run" encompassing three - or four if you could stomach the difference in can size - iterations of a single beer.


It helped that Magic Rock were a beloved UK brewery; part of the 2011/2012 crowd that formed Phase 2 of the modern UK beer scene. High regard helps. When you are well respected then slightly dramatic and different products create excitement and fervour. There were few cynics at the time of this brewery releasing a 10%+ limited release beer in large bottles only.


That regard was lost in the 2019 sale of the brewery to Lion


Those of us who are outspoken and openly against small brewery buy-outs are often criticised for wanting to gatekeep beer or limit those who might show an interest in it.  Some even criticise the stance, calling it a revolt against late-stage capitalism, which it absolutely is and should be.


However, we are mostly against the monster that it creates, especially when the victim is a brewery that we love and admire.


We aren't against brewery buy-outs because we want to keep beer a secret, we are against the inevitable corporate infiltration and interference that will only bring about changes that weaken the elements we loved. 


Interference from corporate brought the horrible branding change to Magic Rock, that nobody who has been drinking their beers for ten years likes. Interference brought an end or reduction to such beloved beers as Rapture  - the favourite beer of original founder Rich - as it was deemed a slow supermarket seller. Interference brought about the 3-year hiatus of the Cannonball Run.


That same Interference brought a name change to one of the beers in the 2022 run; Unhuman Cannonball changed to Super Human Cannonball. It shows that marketers do sometimes know some things best, as this is a much better name and probably should have been the one from the beginning. But it wasn't. It had a name. And changes like this only increased cynicism. When the 2022 version was announced, there were many cries of “It isn’t the same – the beers aren’t even the same!”


I recognised these corporate changes and therefore defended the 2022 Run; especially from the hypocrites who had previously defended the purchase by Lion. They were giving people what they had asked for and the only changes were tweaks to make it more appealing in the eyes of the marketing team. 


Yet, despite this, I still wasn't excited by the return of the Cannonball Run. Absence has not increased want or desire. It is a beer event that belongs to a different time; a different phase of the beer multiverse. It belongs in a world of Thursday night Meet the Brewer events or even being excited by Indy Man. It belongs in a world pulling away from mild rather than the current one that is diving back in. It belongs in a world adapting to canned beer and the different sizes available. Annual beer releases are just not that interesting anymore. 


Presented with the opportunity though, on a pre-match Saturday afternoon at The Grove Huddersfield, I ran with the cannonballs once again, just to see what they had become. 


And they were alright. 


This was the Cannonball Run as imagined by a larger brewing company.


They were accomplished enough. If I closed my eyes and stripped away all the scepticism, all the social media garble, and any knowledge of brewery ownership, I could familiarise myself with the flavours. The lingering taste of the Human Cannonball - something I would probably incorrectly describe as apricoty - took me right back to previous versions of the beer. It is one I remember well.


The world of corporate brewing makes everything cleaner. During lockdown I drank a fair few cans of Magic Rock's Stout 'Dark Arts' from Tesco. The beer had never tasted better. When pubs reopened some of the cask highlights were 'Ringmaster' and 'High Wire.' They were tasting distinctly improved and pintable. 


This doesn't work for everything though. Some fail to understand that many craft beer drinkers like the little flaws in small scale brewing, even if they don't know it. The slight edge to some of the flavours, caused by some of the more casual estimations on brewdays, are minor errors that provide the unique tang. Human Cannonball no longer tastes like being skullfucked by the entire hop store but rather a quick peck on the lips. It isn't a riotous celebration of aggressive bitterness but rather an afternoon hop tea with the grandparents. It is rounded and cleaner and therefore not remotely as intense or tasty. 


This is the Cannonball Run made for your cousin who thinks they share the same passion as you because they bought a 4 pack of Barry Island IPA from the supermarket once. This is the Run made for people who appear on BBC documentaries with brand tattoos and willingly perform raps that they have written about breweries that they like. This is the Run for people that would still queue for a burger from Almost Famous. 


This is not what the majority of people that previously had been excited for these beers are looking for. Maybe we aren't the target audience anymore but is the new audience even interested? Does that audience even exist? 


This is not a victim of people hunting for new ideas. It is people passing beyond something that was a gimmick to begin with. If the brewery were to fall, people would lament the loss of the core beers more than this run of 3 beers. I will talk of Rapture for the rest of my drinking life, boring people at Indy Man Beer Con 2054 of the best Red Ale I ever had. My memories of Un-human will be purely based around the event and the packaging.


The time for Cannonball Runs has passed. I don't know what the future holds for Magic Rock but wherever it goes there is no need to revisit this unnecessary annual event. It isn't just that the brewery needs the change but the niche crowd that swooned for the original beers has moved on. The magic has long gone. 




Stuart Ross said…
I have a couple of comments. Rapture, when we moved the brewery to the current location in 2015, we planned production increase for all the beers, at the old site we had long filled capacity and we brewed the same beers weekly, Ringmaster-Monday, High Wire-Tuesday, Rapture and Dark Arts alternated fortnightly for the Wednesday brew and Cannonball was always Thursday, at some point every month we'd have to drop something to brew special, when production started at the new site with double the capacity we planned to brew twice as much of everything, but Rapture sales didn't increase at all, it was a once a month brew on the new 5000 litre kit, when we put it in cans we thought sales would increase with the extra packaging format but they didn't and we didn't use the printed can fast enough for it to be worth doing, once we used all the cans (nearly two years) we tried to keep the beer alive for cask and keg but with other new beers taking up sales, mainly Inhaler which was about the same abv and cask sales not being fast enough to keep the beer fresh, we couldn't keep it going anymore, not enough customers wanted to buy it, Rapture cans were long gone before any big super market deals had come along.
It is shame that Un-Human Cannonball was dropped, Super Human is a new recipe though, it wasn't just a name change, different techniques and ingredients were used, I went down for the launch day, I though the Human Cannonball was one of the best that's been brewed, closer the clean clear bitter but drinkable West Coast IIPA's that originally inspired it.
The branding has changed but it's still the same designer doing the art work and it had already changed twice before the sale. none of the recipes or ingredients had changed either before I left, the consumers perception of "the magic" has gone but not because the beer has changed.
Mark Johnson said…
Thanks for taking the time to comment Stuart. It seems it is necessary to make it clear that "the magic" being gone refers to the customer's perception of the Cannonball Run, which is what this post is about, and not the taste of any of the other core beers
Stuart Ross said…
aye, it is a shame.

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