You announced earlier this week that Cloudwater will stop producing cask beer this year. Tell me about the rationale behind this decision?
We will be phasing out production of the rest of our cask lines over the coming couple of months. Cask beer is an absolutely wonderful way to present certain recipes and definitely some of the beers that we’ve produced in our short history, where we’ve put the same recipe into cask and keg we have on occasion better results out of cask. But on the whole I’m not convinced that the future looks particularly good for modern breweries making cask beer. I think it looks fine for traditional breweries and fine for regional breweries, be they large or small, but I think in terms of forward-thinking breweries I’m really not sure.
How financially motivated was the decision?
When breweries like ourselves come along and make cask and enjoy for some time making cask but in the end find commercial obstacles that we just can’t overcome with trying to get people happy on price when the flavour that we want to deliver makes achieving that price nigh on impossible, it puts us in too much of a challenging position.
The drinker that’s used to cask being a particular price is invariably referring at least in part to beers with a very different cost in production to the beers we make. We certainly couldn’t see how to overcome that.
If we’ve been criticised for the price of our beer, this is a generalisation but it does tend to be from people that like to pay a certain price that they’ve been used to for many years for cask. Our experience time and time again is that the folk who cheer us on when it comes to making beer don’t tend to be those that also seem quite set on £3-£4 pints of cask.
From my point of view, you’ve got a situation where there are a lot of folk who for years and years have seen cask beer on a bar at a particular price point and they’re very much used to it – and why shouldn’t they be?
What kind of new beer releases can we expect to see from you in 2017?
You can definitely expect to see us continue our journey of making different iterations of double IPA (DIPA). I’m not quite sure we’ll find the end of our journey this year, we don’t know. We keep pushing ourselves to close the gap between what we’re making and some of the beers we occasionally get to sample from the US because, quite frankly, we absolutely love them. If we can make that sort of stuff right here in the UK, we’d be thrilled. We’ve got a lot of work to do to carry the progress that we’ve made through to our session IPA and soon, we hope, a pale ale that we can put to bottle – although by that time it will probably be a can.
You’ll see more mixed fermentation beers – we just started to get our teeth into that late last year and its certainly something we’re very interested in. And, apart from those things, part of the fun that we have in running this brewery is we really just don’t know. So when we catch on to styles and experiments that breweries are running elsewhere in the world, it really gives us an opportunity to take inspiration from just about whatever we see and give it a go. Expect a few surprises.
Your DIPA series has been an unprecedented success. Would you ever consider making a ‘permanent’ DIPA?
I think that would somewhat go against the work we’ve been trying to put into the DIPA series. I could envisage it being possible that we had a particular flavour profile that we were able to maintain for a hop season.
If, for example, at the end of all this year’s work on our DIPAs we were to say “you know what, we’ve really got the base recipe right where we want it, how about if we make a particular iteration for as long as we can until the hops run out?” that might be something we could do.
With such phenomenal hype surrounding your beers, have you struggled to meet demand in the on-trade?
There’s enormous demand that we haven’t been able to satisfy. If you look at a number of other breweries, certainly ones that are slightly larger than us but even similarly sized breweries, it’s maybe a little bit easier to see their beer regularly on the bar.
It may be that by concentrating on regular supply to some of our pub customers that we’d be able to see our IPA on the bar day-in, day-out so that drinkers could choose it regularly. It’s painful to know that customers so infrequently get to stock our beer at this time. We’d love to increase our on-trade presence.
Is there a possibility we could see a Cloudwater pub, or even a few pubs – besides the brewery tap – on the horizon?
I’d love that. I’m not too sure whether we’d need to in Manchester, it’s really quite a small beer scene here and I think if we’re successful in expanding the operation of our brewery tap I’m not sure we’d feel the need to run a second operation here.
I think we’d look at the absolutely massive market that is London. Our beer does very well in London and we certainly get asked all the time where people can track our beer down and I’d be delighted to say “well, you can get a great range of our beers at a Cloudwater pub”.