Speaking at The Brewers Congress in London yesterday (27 November), Williams bemoaned a number of UK breweries for turning their backs on the style, and outlined ways in which he believes cask can remain profitable.
“Cask beer is a major part of our business and has been since day one,” he said. “We don't make as much money on it, but it isn't about that. It's about brewing what we love.
“We are very picky about who we sell cask beer to,” he continued. “When you first start a business everyone jumps on you, all trying to knock you down on price; they don't even ask how much you are selling for.
“As a new business growing it is very enticing but we stuck to our guns big time. If you want our cask beer, you will pay what we want for it, as long as it’s reasonable. I think that has paid dividends for the business.”
Charging a premium
On the subject of cask pricing, Williams added: “We didn't enter this business to be millionaires. Yes the GPs on cask are lower, but we do charge a premium on cask, we charge around £80to £85 a firkin, and around £90 to £95 for an experimental beer in cask, and we are currently selling around 500 casks a week.”
Williams’ comments come after Northern Monk’s Russell Bisset told The Morning Advertiser the brewery could not sustain its business making cask beer. Williams accepted there were challenges, but suggested breweries could boost profitability by owning their own outlets in which to serve cask.
“I know not every start-up business can afford a bar, but you could have a taproom or make an affiliation with a business starting up a bar in your local area who maybe don't know a lot about craft beer,” he suggested. “Having your own venue is a great way of putting your cask out there and teaching the consumer why they are paying £3.50 to £4 a pint, and what is going into your beer that makes it more expensive than the £1.99 pint in Wetherspoons.
“You control everything when you have your own outlets. You also get to control the quality and ensure your cask is not mistreated, which is another of the big issues with cask.”
Smart brewing for cask
Williams also suggested breweries needed to be smarter about the kinds of beers they put into cask. “You can't keep going hop crazy when brewing cask beer, because they are so expensive,” he said. “It doesn't work sometimes, and sometimes less is more to be honest.
“Price is a race to the bottom, and flavour is a race to the top, but either way you'll still go bust.”
Elsewhere at The Brewers Congress, Wild Card head brewer Jaega Wise told attendees that beers featuring sexist imagery on their pump clips or labels should be banned from entering competitions at beer festivals organised by The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).