Outlining Siren Craft Brew's plans for the year ahead on its blog, the Berkshire brewery’s Andy Nowlan wrote: “We’ve been asked a few times about our plans for the format. We’re pleased to say that cask is still part of our plans for this year.
“It’s no secret that this isn’t an easy decision to make. On one hand, as has been widely discussed, the margins of cask beer are extremely tight, owing to the prices that most landlords traditionally expect to pay for beer, and that some punters expect to pay on the bar.”
But, he said: “Part of the reason we exist is to introduce as many people as possible to different styles of beer, different types of ingredients and different approaches to drinking.
“Turning our back on cask beer would, to an extent, be turning our back on this raison d’être. Putting our beer in casks has already enabled us to reach completely different audiences and set people on a journey through our range, across formats and styles.”
When Cloudwater announced it would cease cask production earlier this month, many in the beer community expressed concern that the small-but-influential Manchester brewery’s move could spur a wider disengagement with cask among brewers.
Speaking to The Morning Advertiser at the time, Cloudwater MD Paul Jones said he was not convinced that the future looked particularly good for modern breweries making cask beer.
He said: “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.
“When breweries like ourselves make cask and enjoy making cask but then find commercial obstacles they just can’t overcome – such as trying to keep 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.”
Siren took a different position, with Nowlan writing that instead of abandoning cask, it was better to improve the product that people are drinking and “educate the market as to where the extra cost comes from”.
Cask ale has suffered somewhat of an image crisis of late. As well as Cloudwater, high-profile brewers such as Buxton and Beavertown have abandoned the format over the past five years.
One worry is that younger breweries, for whom the likes of Cloudwater and Beavertown provide inspiration, will eschew cask from the beginning.
Prominent beer writer Pete Brown sparked controversy earlier this week when he confessed to turning his back on pubs that serve poor-quality cask ale thanks to what he saw as many pubs’ inability to correctly store and serve it.
He wrote: “I’ve had enough of bar staff agreeing with me that a pint is sub-par, that they wouldn’t drink it themselves, and then refusing to take it off sale.”
Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) national chairman Colin Valentine criticised Brown’s post, saying it was “a shame that such a high-profile and respected beer writer such as Pete has come to this conclusion”.
CAMRA has released long-awaited proposals for its revitalisation, signalling an historic change in attitude when it comes to the promotion and advocacy of keg beers and well as cask.