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Robinson's new keg offers: demand for cask ales "crashed" during last summer's heatwave

Heatwave summer triggers Robinson’s craft keg launch

A sharp dip in cask ale sales during last summer’s heatwave has prompted Stockport-based brewer Frederic Robinson to accelerate the introduction of a portfolio of craft keg beers.

A helles-style lager and a nitrokeg stout were launched to the brewer’s trade customers at the end of February. Mash Out Pale Ale, from the Robinson’s ‘white label’ bottled range, has gone on trial in keg, and a fourth beer, Hopnik Citra IPA, will join in April.

Director of marketing David Bremner told The Brewery Manual that the company has been looking at the opportunity to enter the craft keg market for “well over a year”, and experiments with yeasts that came with contract brewing for fellow family brewer Everards had inspired work on a Bavarian lager.

“Then came the hottest summer for years,” he said. “Our cask beer sales crashed while demand for chilled, carbonated beers rose, and that accelerated our thinking.

“We’ve also learned, from our Craft Keg Club, that our pubs that offer premium and craft keg sell on average 46 barrels, or 26%, more a year than those that don’t. So, keeping production in the family just makes sense.”

All Robinson’s key cask brands are in “slow decline,” he added, but would not be drawn on whether that means the brewer will continue to move away from the traditional product.

“What I do see happening, as sales go down, is a long-term trend towards smaller containers, whether they’re craft or not. The problem is, we’ve got beers on sale in pubs for longer and longer, and that can only affect quality.”

The new beers, in 30-litre steel kegs, will initially be offered to Robinson’s direct delivery customers, including its 260 tied tenants.

The 4.2% abv stout will completely replace Guinness in some of the company’s managed houses. Bremner believes tenants will be attracted by a price-point 50p cheaper than the brand leader.

“We tried kegging our own stout two years ago but craft wasn’t where it is now, and I think it’s become more acceptable not to have Guinness.”

He hoped the beers would “have legs” beyond the Robinson’s estate, “perhaps in the North West – but we’re not going for world domination here.

“Nor are we taking on brewers such as Marble and Northern Monk. We can make craft beer, we’ve been brewing Old Tom for 120 years, but we’ve not got the funky hipster credentials. If we tried that, it would be like dad-dancing.”

Phil Mellows
6th March 2019

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