Dispense with the Gimmicks | Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog

Monday, 31 August 2015

Dispense with the Gimmicks

Earlier this week, Buxton Brewery announced they will no longer be producing cask beer unless it's for their brewery tap house, citing concerns over cask loss and quality control, and overall a market that doesn't take kindly to more expensive casks of beer. This is a big step for a brewery to make and an interesting statement, to cut out what is traditionally the backbone of pretty much every UK brewery in terms of sales.

There are other breweries taking similar steps although not as far as disregarding casks altogether, but selling beer through different dispense such as keg, bottle and more recently can. The most notable of these is probably Beavertown, but with Magic Rock equipping their new brewery in Huddersfield with a canning line they don't seem to be far off the pace. Whilst these techniques of dispense can be all well and good, I am starting to struggle justifying them as the best thing for the beer (which is at the end of the day what really matters). For myself, whilst initially I was dismayed at the concept of drinking from a can, my discountenance soon dissipated after a can of Roosters Baby Faced Assassin, which is now one of my favourite beers. After my gateway Assassin I quickly drank through Beavertowns, with on the whole positive results, 8 Ball Rye and Neck Oil being the standout options. But... then there is Smog Rocket, a beer which I know should be a tremendous beer in taste, but for me everything else was lacking. The body was a little thin and a lot of what should've been a big smoke element was amiss. This is in contrast to the all round bolder experience gained from drinking this beer on cask (sadly a much rarer opportunity) which is surely the way the brewery intended it to taste... why, then, produce a poorer alternative of the same beer by canning it? Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad in can, just not quite right.

There are reportedly three new breweries opening every week in the UK at the moment and because of this each has to do their utmost to stand out from the continually growing roster of newbies. A new offering to the Sheffield market, North Union, has taken the decision to produce only keg and bottle, recognising that in producing cask beer in a city with coming up to twenty breweries it would be difficult to offer anything new to the market. This for me is a good example of a brewery unwilling to take part in what Buxton have highlighted as another factor in their caskless operation, "a depressed cask market place flooded with poor to average cask beer, sold cheap." Breweries desperate to sell their beer often offer much lower prices for their casks, causing some publicans to set unrealistic price boundaries for their cask purchases, ultimately resulting in poorer choice and lower quality for the drinker at the bar. As well as this, a landlord or cellar manager needs no qualifications, experience or knowledge to run a pub. You can get a pint of poorly kept cask beer that is in no way representative of how the product left the brewery stores. This lack of control over cask is also cited by Buxton as a factor in their recent decision, whilst keg beer leaves the brewery in much the same condition as it is served. But a well maintained cellar and competently kept casks for me will almost always outstrip that of the quality of other dispense methods.

The US is a big part of both the craft keg and canning market - in both respects they are at least 20 years ahead of us, and therefore can consistently rely on their own techniques and experience. By contrast, jumping in head first into the premise of canning and keg will not always end with success. As we see more breweries trying to break into the market, we are going to see hits and I fear a lot more misses in terms of how beer is provided to the consumer. Let's also not forget that all this is against the decree of CAMRA, still a powerful driver of opinion for a good portion of beer drinkers. I just hope that we can work through what could be a tumultuous time for the industry and iron out some of the lower quality canning techniques before it becomes too unreliable, which may lead to consumer mistrust. But still at the heart of everything we need to be looking at what is best for each beer, rather than a blanket approach to an entire range.

But for now, I'm going to retire with a Northern Monk Strannik... in bottle... at room temperature.

Slainte,


Jim

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