There was a time (not that long ago) when I used to largely dismiss the element in the brewery industry that questioned whether flying brewers were really little more than beer marketers rather than bone fide brewers.
Like many I put such talk down to a case of sour grapes. Sure the established breweries may have done the donkey work before the beer revolution really hit here but what’s wrong with people coming in now, creating exciting new beers and winning prizes?
But then I bought a brewery and since that day my opinion has slowly and radically changed.
The flying brewer debate is a one that has been rumbling on for some years now since Jessica and Stefan kicked things off yet is probably never more relevant than it is right now with the breakthrough of flying brewer Henok Fentie in 2012 who has, by any standards, taken the Swedish beer scene by storm.
The fact one of his beers, the home-brew inspired Nebuchadnezzar, took gold as the best beer of the 2012 Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival illustrates perfectly how high flying brewers are soaring.
For those of you who don’t know what a flying brewer is perhaps I should explain. A flying brewer (also known as a gypsy brewer or nomadic brewer) is a person that doesn’t actually own or operate their own brewery but rather typically ‘buys’ tank time at another brewery where the beer recipe they create is brewed.
Sometimes the flying brewer is present when the beer is actually made but that isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes a Swedish flying brewer’s beers are brewed at a Swedish brewery but they can also be brewed anywhere in the world, De Proef in Belgium is considered the contract brewing capital of Europe and many of the most popular Swedish ‘flying beers’ were sparked into life there, including Nebuchadnezzar.
The finished beer is typically marketed and sold by the flying brewer (via his or her importer/distributor channel) to us, the drinking public.
Those who question the whole flying brewer phenomenon say flying brewers are little more than recipe designers creating ‘mail order beers’. They claim that constructing a recipe in a beer brewing software programme and sending it to someone else to brew does not earn that person the right to be called a brewer.
To earn that right you need to have taken the significant financial risks of starting your own brewery; you need to have endured those ‘2am’ moments when you feel sick wondering how to finance your next bit of stainless steel; you need to have spent the countless hours on the brewery floor following the beer through the line, trying every step along the way to keep that yeast happy.
And then there’s the other way of looking at it.
The staunchest supporters of flying brewers often say they care little where their beers actually come from – just as long as they get to drink them.
They claim flying brewers are able to bring a modern and refreshing dimension to the beer scene. Unshackled as they are to the overheads and routines of running a physical brewery flying brewers are free to create high-risk beers that most commercial breweries couldn’t (or wouldn’t) go near.
Flying brewers, they say, are the guerilla fighters of beer, able to move fast, react to trends and deliver exciting beers in unconventional ways. Sure they break the rules of the conventional beer business model but isn’t breaking rules what revolutions are for?
In part 2: I’ve crudely laid out both sides of the debate but how has buying and building a craft brewery changed my opinion about flying brewers?
Do you think flying brewers are taking shortcuts or taking the Swedish beer scene to new heights? Do you value a beer that is made at a brewery by the people working there more? Let’s get debating!