Friday, 10 October 2014

Keg beer and exporting

I was in Stockholm last weekend. I had a chance to visit a few bars around the city. There was cask beer, but not very much of it. Mostly, the draught beer is keg. Even if there was a big market for British cask beer out there, it wouldn't be particularly practical to send cask beer long distances where the journey might take over a week and where temperature control isn't particularly good. On top of that, getting empties back would be problematic.

There is quite a bit of beer imported into the UK. I think this is OK, and I'm responsible to some extent as I like to try different beers from time-to-time. Distributing new styles and ideas makes the beer world more vibrant. Personally, I'd like to see the foreign stuff made by more UK breweries, as it seems daft to transport large amounts of beer around the world. However, it does happen, and as a UK beer producer, if beer is imported into the UK I'd like a slice of that global beer market. I don't think that's unreasonable.

To be able to export beer it is almost essential to be able to put it into keg. When doing so it is also important to develop keg products through local domestic markets. How else can solid and dependable quality be tested and assured?

The above is a key reason for majoring in keg at Hardknott OnTrack. We have one cask line, and most of our customers don't really care so long as the beer is good.

But is does get a little irritating when a few people, you know the type, have to make a big deal out of it. Hardknott is moving forward without the constraints of preconceived ideas about cask beer. I think this is very important for any progressive craft brewery.

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Phil said...

Is 'progressive' the new 'passionate'? It seems equally meaningless.

You're doing what you think is best for your business, and that's fair enough. But, if it means moving away from cask beer, people who really like cask beer are never going to be happy about it - and calling them nasty names (or calling yourself nice names) isn't going to shut them up.

StringersBeer said...

Maybe "progressive" means non-traditional. FWIW I spotted "traditional keg ales" (in contrast to the new wave of cask) just the other day. Funny old world isn't it?

Ed said...

If there's a demand for cask beer why not meet it? You won't have any of the problems that make keg beer more exportable in your own bar.

Paul Bailey said...

How much is a pint/half litre in Stockholm? I ask because I'm thinking on going there next year.

Unknown said...

Phil, I'm not sure I called anyone names. Neither have I ever said I'm moving away from cask. I just use the container that I think is most appropriate for the situation, that's all. I shouldn't be beaten up by a small minority for that.

Stringers, I think that is a good point. All breweries, whatever their chosen direction, need to try to communicate their aims. "traditional keg ales" seems slightly contradictory and confusing, but gets across a concept that might not be totally bizarre. It's not what we do, but I can see it might be a future for some.

Ed, the demand for cask beer, amongst a broad demographic of the general drinking public, is far less pronounced that you seem to think. People want good beer, consistently good. Most care much more about that than what container the beer is transported in.

In our bar we are developing a core customer base that understands what we do and love us for it, and in turn we love them right back. They are mostly not hung up on container type. Interestingly they are exactly that broad demographic we want; importantly, age and gender independent.

But, there are some very key considerations that are helping in having our own bar to trial keg through. Yes, there are some issues, like the effects of transportation and the temperatures that might effect the stability of our unfiltered keg beer. But there are some key things we need to be sure are right before it goes out into trade, whether that be locally, UK wide or internationally. First and foremost is carbonation levels.

We are a small brewery. We don't have the capital investment to spend many tens of thousands of pounds on hi-tech carbonation units etc. We carbonate in tank using temperature, pressure and time using charts as reference, but there is a variability that we need to get right. Also, by experience, some beers react differently to different carbonation levels.

The only way we can be sure it is where we want it for every product and in a consistent and repeatable fashion is to try a keg out of every batch we do. Because of our size, the impact on costs of selecting just one keg out of every batch to test in the brewery simply isn't economically viable. We cannot afford full laboratory facilities or other layers of complexity that bigger breweries benefit from.

Our tap, in the form of Hardknott OnTrack, is a great way of doing it. We have control over every keg that gets served. We make sure it is served just right, and we learn from the experience.

And of course there are other issues with unfiltered keg that can be monitored through the tap. Serve temperature, clarity, effects of settlement of any suspended solids and effects of chill haze, although might change in transportation, can at least be given a t=0 reference point.

Not only does this help us to get the product right when we package, it also helps us to advise on best cellar set-up out in trade.

Yes, we will also need to monitor out in trade and where that is in another country we need to work with our agent out there. Something we know we need to get better at. I am hopeful, in Sweden, that we have engaged people who are just right for what we need, but it's early days yet.

Unknown said...


Beer seems to be typically SEK70 per 40-50cl glass in bars in Stockholm. Some a little less, some perhaps more. Taking into account exchange rates, and converting to imperial, that seems to be around £8.52 a pint.

On the plus side, "esoteric craft" beers, you know, the sort you might find in London for £4.50 a half, are not that much more expensive in Stockholm. Either way, it's not a budget drinking experience.

There are some very interesting bars. If you'd like a few pointers I'm happy to help. email me; dave at the normal Hardknott domain.

Phil said...

Interesting! Another time, can we have the enthusiastic and genuinely informative comments as the blog post & the grumpy rant as the comments?

Ed said...

It was you that said people were demanding cask, not me!

Paul Bailey said...

Ouch! Thanks Dave, I'll start saving now!

Unknown said...


Thanks for the feedback. I guess it's an interesting thing getting the "voice" right. Long, considerate and honest blog posts don't seem to work that well either, it seems. I do have one such post in the pipeline, but I'm not convinced it is best for my all important brewery image.


Firstly, people were not demanding cask, simply making a bit point out of the fit we also have keg. And either way, saying as it is doesn't constitute calling people names.

StringersBeer said...

The bar prices people seem happy to pay in Sweden, eh? It's not the duty (which is lower than ours, I think). Course, the social costs are higher (what with them being more civilised than us). And it's an affluent person's hobby, going out drinking there. But blimey, who wouldn't want some of that money?

J Mark Dodds said...

I love Stokholm