real ale

The Value of A Cask

Whitbread beer keg.

Call us naive (“You’re naive!”) but we hadn’t given a moment’s thought to where a brewery gets its casks and how it keeps hold of them until the last year or so. Maybe we thought there was a cask fairy?

Twitter gives an insight into what valuable assets they are. Brewers coo over their new acquisitions and show off photos of casks with custom colour schemes. They beg for casks to be returned safely as if they were kidnapped children. They rage at pub chains who return casks months late covered in bird droppings or painted to decorate a beer festival. It’s an emotional business.

Roger Ryman, head brewer at St Austell, told us that casks are a constant headache: fetching them back from the corners of the country is an expensive and time-consuming business. The last we heard, St Austell weren’t sending any of their own casks out of Cornwall, instead using rented casks for UK-wide distribution, at a small additional cost.

That’s a keg in the picture. At least we think it is. Hmmm: we need to do some bar work.

9 replies on “The Value of A Cask”

Funny you mention casks; I popped along to Golden Triangle brewery on Saturday with Kev and commented on the lovely casks. The ones he has were advertised as gold but they look more bronze. Still lovely, but not blingalicious.

Guinness in Dublin used to employ an army of men to log each (numbered) cask out and back in again. Until someone worked out that the cost of the odd lost cask was much less than the company was paying to track them all …

At any time over the last few centuries, get 2 or 3 brewers together and they’ll soon start talking about how difficult it is to get trade customers to return empty casks promptly………

I was once at a function at a beer comp where it suddenly got tense when one brewer eyed one of his kegs with another brewers beer in it.

I recently interviewed Wold Top Brewery for a project I’m involved in, and they have an interesting take on this.
Early on, they invested in their own bottling line because they felt that by sending bottles around the country for pubs/bars to sell was cheaper, more efficient than ‘chasing casks’ around the country. I asked them whether they felt that diluted their cask profile in the UK, to which they said they would rather people come to them (ie Yorkshire) for their cask, which will inevitably taste better. so, cask at home, nottles further afield. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense when starting out.
They now also contract bottle – which creates another revenue stream. Hurrah!

The landlord of the pub I live next door to is always whinging about the amount of casks that are filling up his (extremely small) car park, because the distributors aren’t picking them up!

When a less-than-honest licensee of a certain freehold I freuqented did a runner without paying rent or settling money owed to small UK breweries, it wasn’t their lost beer money the brewers were concerned about, it was their precious casks, which had been dumped in the pub’s garden.

Unfortunately the landlord of the property was equally flippant and called in Kegwatch without even attempting to get said casks to their rightful homes. Kegwatch are, from what I can gather, effectively an ‘impound’ for discarded casks and kegs and the cost for breweries to reclaim lost units from these crooks is eye-watering.

Easy to tell the difference. Kegs are cylindrical and have one orifice placed centrally at one end. Casks are, well, barrel-shaped and have an orifice on the side for filling and another for hammering a tap into on the end, off-centre and near the edge.

That’s except for the really big kegs which are the same shape as casks but hold a different amount.

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