Return of the Cask?


So is cask ale making the comeback that some never thought it would?

I’ve worked with cask ale for many years and can see why many breweries stopped producing it. It is hard work for the brewer not just to produce a product at a good price but it’s also hard work for them to keep an eye on where their casks are. The brewery brings us a great product but sometimes they have to use distribution firms to get their beers to a wider audience.  Why would a brewery in Bristol drive all the way to Newcastle just to deliver one beer?  This is where distribution firms are great for breweries and pubs alike. The firm will buy a fair few from said brewery and then send out a weekly list to all the pubs and bars they supply. That list normally has around 30 breweries on it with not just their cask but keg, bottles and can offerings too. This is when casks may get lost though. The brewery has spent a lot of money on empty casks and then they end up in a pub miles away (which is good for letting people know about your product), but if that pub doesn’t use that certain distribution firm again for a while then that cask, which is sitting empty in a pub cellar, is dead money and as the brewery hasn’t sold direct it’s very hard to keep an eye on where those casks are.

The other downside to using a distribution service is that the brewery doesn’t get to pick who they sell to. This can, in my eyes, have a massive impact on a beer. I have had a beer at a pub and thought that it was, well, just not a good beer. So then what do you remember about it? It’s normally the pump clip.  When you see that clip again you don’t go near the beer, you never think it could be the pub’s fault!
Is the line clean? How long has that beer been on? When was it vented? Then tapped? Is the cellar clean? Do the staff know (or even care) what that beer should taste like? As I’ve said I have had a few beers that I just thought were not good beers, but then trying them somewhere else have been majorly surprised. First impressions do count and with beer social media getting bigger and bigger, with the likes of Untappd, it’s the brewery that gets the bad review. This in turn can hurt sales, as I for one know that if I’m offered to buy a beer for where I work and I don’t know said beer or brewery then I will look at Untappd and Rate Beer to see people’s reviews.

The price of cask ale from more traditional breweries will always be around the same but if a bar wants something with a WOW factor then they have to pay for it. That means that the customer also has to pay for it. It’s business 101.

You can buy a cask at £85 and sell it at £3.60 a pint on a 60% profit margin but if you buy a cask at £130 then sell at £3.60 you make less than 40%. That’s a big difference when running a business. I believe the days of a below £4 pint are coming to an end (I know in some places it already has) but people need to understand why. Don’t use the old “man, that’s London prices” line – it’s old and as bitter as an Old Peculiar. You get what you pay for. People are happy to spend £20-£30 on a bottle of wine and beer should be looked at the same way. It’s a product to be enjoyed.

Some breweries have gone back to producing cask.  Cloudwater said “at this time of year, as the nights start to lengthen and the temperatures drop, a cosy pub is our favourite place to be for a relaxing afternoon pint, or a quiet evening session. We miss our cask Session IPAs, Bitters, and Porters”.   Even though back in production they’re being selective on who they give their beers to and from what I’ve already said,I hope you can see why.

As I’ve said, it’s hard work looking after a cask beer in a pub. It can be done poorly at times. But when it is right, oh my, it is special. I’ve always thought that Cask is King, not only because a great product has been made but the final 15% of getting that product to you is solely on the pub in question. They have to know how long to rest the beer for, when to vent the beer, then when to tap the beer and then when the beer is ready for sale. The longest I have taken between venting and tapping a beer was 4 days. 4 days of the beer bubbling away. Then I knew that even though I had tapped the beer, I couldn’t put it straight on as it still needed to calm down a bit. Also it’s down to the pub to take a beer off if it’s gone bad or it’s not right in some way. Nothing is worse than getting a bad pint and informing the staff to then see the beer still being sold.

So I can see why breweries are becoming more selective with who they supply cask to but I’m really happy that they’re coming back to this service method, as I love walking into a pub and seeing a row of hand pulls all with a pump clip on. It gives me the warm feeling inside that some would call love but I call lust! I’ve wanted them for so long and they were out of my reach…

Hopefully not for much longer!

Cask is King

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