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Cloudwater MD Paul Jones: gap between keg and cask beer prices has started to close


INTERVIEW: MD Paul Jones on Cloudwater’s return to cask

This autumn trend-setting Manchester brewer Cloudwater announced that it was to start brewing cask beer again, with it having pulled out of the market less than two years ago then citing the low prices it commands along with poor dispense quality.

It’s not alone. BrewDog has also said it’s returning to cask after a longer period of concentrating on keg – though that may be mainly about getting its own beers onto the bars of the Draft House pub chain it bought in March.

Perhaps surprisingly, the move came as the cask category continued to show declining volumes, at the worrying rate of 6.8% in the last 12 months, while the most recent edition of The Cask Report revealed quality issues in the pub are still holding it back.

The Brewery Manual asked Cloudwater’s founder and managing director Paul Jones about the thinking behind the decision to give cask another chance.

Has anything changed that’s led to your decision to brew cask again? 

The market is constantly evolving and changing, so of course we logically reassess our positions on a regular basis. Returning to cask beer means returning to pubs up and down the country that are cask-focused, and some that are operationally restricted by tied or managed keg lines. 

It’s important to us that we’re able to get our beer right into the heart of communities, and with a great deal of pub closures we want to make a contribution to the celebration of cask beer once more in an effort to preserve our unique brewing heritage and build upon it.

And now that we’ve succeeded in growing our production team and completed fundamental and specific in-house training for new team members, we’re confident we can utilise every efficiency we’ve gained over the past year to increase our production output without risking the quality of our beers.

Which beers will be going into cask? Any new recipes?

We have produced two classical beer styles, a Brown Ale, and a Porter - though this has had a modern level of dry-hopping - and our seasonal Pale and DDH Pale, too. 

We aren’t looking to stretch the boundaries of which beers can work well in cask, at least not yet, but instead focusing on serving beers we know will shine in that format. We’re especially excited about our Brown Ale recipe!

Once this first round of releases is underway we’ll get to work on a selection of beers brewed for the run-up to Christmas, and may look then to harness seasonal ingredients in a new recipe or two.

How will you ensure quality in the glass?

Quality in the glass starts with the highest possible quality in package, so we are employing all our experience and know-how to ensure we’re racking our beers into cask with zero off flavours, balance in the recipe and final execution, and a focus on avoiding every possible spoilage or degradation of the beer in cask before it reaches pub cellars.

We have, of course, done our best to select the right venues, and have taken recommendations from distributors, cask enthusiasts and drinkers alike. 

By working with pubs and bars that have the best reputation we hope all our detailed and quality-focused work here at the brewery will carry on through excellent cellaring, dispense preparation, line cleaning and a keen palate that can make sure our beers are poured as they’re reaching their peak.
Cask beer requires skill, discipline and experience to cellar, prepare, and pour well, so we hope that together with the venues we’re working with this time round, our customers will enjoy our beers in excellent condition.

Before the national releases we’re going to take as many of our team as possible to one of our most local, and favourite, pubs, The Magnet in Stockport. We’ll be sure to conduct as much quality testing as we can stand that evening!

It would be absurd to suggest that quality at the bar is something we are able to do directly ourselves, but by working with venues and extending trust based on our own past experiences, or on reputation, we’re confident every drop of our beer will reach the drinker’s glass in the best possible condition. 

We know this is what each of the venues we’re working with will be striving to achieve, but any dispense or cellaring issue should always be tactfully taken up with staff on the bar.

Will you be attempting to close the price gap with craft keg?
We have closed the gap between our current keg beer pricing and the cask prices we felt held to when we last made cask beer, and on our next round of cask releases we may look to close the gap further. 

We are also undertaking the most detailed in-house study yet of the current cost of producing beer in each package format and I hope we’ll have something to share publicly as we enter spring next year.

Phil Mellows
28th November 2018

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