We bought our pub in February 2004. It had been closed over the winter, we realised that being located, at the top of a remote Lake District valley, winter opening was unlikely to be profitable. As we eagerly relished the challenge of dusting off the cobwebs and filling the cellar we realised there were a number of empty casks and kegs which had not been collected by breweries. They were a little in the way but we knew they belonged to someone. Sure, some were owned by big multinational brewers, and there is a temptation to disregard the value of these containers. None the less, they all have value and the owners deserve care to be taken with their property.
During this time I became aware of Keg Watch. It had been suggested that I could call them in and all the containers would be taken away, as if by magic, and repatriated with their owners. I’m not naive and I enquired about the funding for the Keg Watch scheme. Apparently, once Keg Watch have the containers, they are at liberty to charge the brewery for the service, apparently without any checks on the necessity for Keg Watch to be involved. If the brewer does not agree to the charge he doesn't get his casks back - that sounds a little bit like theft to me.
I decided that I owed it to the brewers to continue to look after the casks for around 6 months. In that time many breweries did drop by and collect their casks. Some other breweries we contacted and gave them the opportunity to collect. I believe some indicated that they were happy for Keg Watch to clear up the matter. The remainder of unclaimed casks amounted to around a third of the original number. We eventually called in Keg Watch who removed what was left.
We recently made a delivery of beer to a rural pub in Kent. Being the other side of London to our brewery this was quite a trek, as London is already a very long way from Cumbria. However, we had arranged a full van to go to the capital and it was a nice little trip out for us Northern country folk to get into the city and try some great beers; you see, places like Euston Tap, The Rake Bar and many other places in the smoke are still something special to us. A beery trip to London with the excuse of delivering just about makes it viable.
It was all getting quite interesting. The pub in question had asked us to do a meet the brewer night for which we would send a whole pallet down ahead of time, a much more financially viable option. We would then fill the van with more beer for London, dropping off on the way to the meet the brewer night. We were even on the point of arranging a further pallet to be delivered north of London. We could bring many more empties back in the van at a later date and the whole arrangement was looking very viable.
Sadly, the tenant of the pub we were due to attend for the meet the brewer left very suddenly. The pub closed with very little notice just as we were about to send the pallet of beer. We were very fortunate that the beer twitter world alerted us to this fact very quickly indeed. Of course we did not send the beer and quickly rearranged the trip to London so that we could maximise on deliveries already arranged with other very good customers.
We delivered to The White Horse at Parsons Green and the Utobeer warehouse for The Rake as well as The Southampton Arms in Kentish Town and The Land of Liberty Peace and Plenty in Rickmansworth. A diverse and spread-out collection of some of our favourite outlets. They are all very good to us and take very special care of our casks.
We knew that we had casks in
On arrival the pub was a hive of activity but the beer garden was strangely empty of any casks whatsoever. Keg Watch, it seems, had been and scavenged everything completely indiscriminately.
Our journey was wasted. Not only was our journey wasted but Keg Watch had taken our casks and we would, it seemed, have to travel some distance to recover them.
It seems that the pub owner wanted the backyard clear of casks before the new lessee took up residence but was not prepared to put in any effort finding out if the rightful owners were going to collect themselves. We had spent time trying to find out if our casks were there, who was going to be taking over and what the overall situation was.
We believe that Keg Watch were far too hasty in recovering the containers and those concerned at the pub too lazy to find out who owned what. It isn’t difficult, the casks have the brewery phone number on them.
It has left us with a very bad feeling about both Keg Watch and the pub in question.
I would ask that all pub operators consider the grief that is caused by calling in Keg Watch too soon. I also believe Keg Watch is far too hasty at collecting without allowing breweries to make their own arrangements. My sceptical reaction is to believe that Keg Watch reward their agents too easily for recovering casks that don’t really need to be recovered.
It is difficult for the small brewer as Keg Watch squarely avoid blame. They point the finger at the pub expecting the brewery to be too scared to round on the pub operator in fear of upsetting a potential customer.
I believe Keg Watch do a good job at preventing container stealing when bigger breweries are involved, but I also believe there are insufficient controls in place for avoiding the small brewer like me from facing unnecessary costs and wasted journeys. It has to be remembered that we deliver all our casks and we know exactly where all of our casks are. We know all our customers and their premisses.
The closest Keg Watch originally offered to move our own property was their depot in
Once we pointed out the reality - the fact that the casks were in no significant danger of theft; the property was only under a short closure for refurbishment and was well attended with personnel, it was agreed that the casks should be returned to us at no further charge.
Having talked to many brewers it seems that it is not an unusual practice for pubs to call in Keg Watch as soon as there is a change of ownership, often without any attempt being made to contact the breweries. This practice then entitles Keg Watch to charge for a service which was never required in the first place.
Although Keg Watch have agreed to return my casks without charge I am deeply concerned that the eagerness of Keg Watch is costing small brewers like me a significant amount of money. There are no requirements for Keg Watch to prove that there was a necessity for the containers to be picked up.
I hesitated to publish this post as Keg Watch have cleared up this particular incidence. However, there seems to be no intention of ensuring it does not happen again to me, and it is certainly happening to a number of other breweries I know.
If you are a brewer and are unhappy about the actions of Keg Watch I would be very interested in knowing, I believe action needs to be taken against this money making racket.