The cask project

Four cask beers craft brewer Verdant is putting faith in

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Craft brewer Verdant talks about its new cask beer range

Related tags Cask ale Craft beer Beer Cellar management

When people go into a pub or bar that serves craft kegged beer, often they are looking for beers from smaller brands such as The Kernel, Wylam and Deya.

Verdant is another that those in the know seek out because it produces great beer but the Cornwall-based brewer recently announced it has moved into the cask market for the first time in its existence – which began in founders James Heffron and Adam Robertson’s kitchen in 2014.

Known best for its wide range of craft kegged and can favourites such as Neal Gets Things Done 6.5% ABV IPA, Headband 5.5% ABV pale ale and Lightbulb 4.5% ABV extra pale ale, it has produced four core cask beers for commercial sale.

The new beers, which are available at the brewery’s taproom and available across its UK-wide distribution network are Argal 4.4% ABV golden ale, Penpol 3.8% ABV pale ale, Lamanva 4% ABV best bitter and Burnthouse 4.6% porter. All the names, noticeably shorter than Verdant’s usual craft names (see the likes of Fruit Car Sight Exhibition and Even Sharks Need Water), are taken from local place names near its Penryn base on the south coast of Cornwall.

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Verdant Brewing Co head of sales Billy Marshall (pictured above on right) and marketing manager Timothé Duquenne (pictured above on left) told The Morning Advertiser​ about the move into cask production and why the dispense method is so important to the UK on-trade way of life.

Marshall says: “This year is the first time we’ve ever produced cask commercially. The core range of four beers have been in the works in various iterations since probably February or March.

“We brought up two of the 20-hectolitre (HL) tanks from our old site and used them as almost pilot kits where we would brew 20HL of wort and started off by making a 4% pale ale and a 4% best better and poured them in the taproom pretty much exclusively for about two or three months.”

He adds a couple of collaborations with Jamie Delap of Fyne Ales followed and advice was forthcoming from brewers such as Burning Sky and Track.

“When we explore a new style, we want to collaborate with the best so it made sense to talk to Jamie because we were playing around with cask.” Marshall explains. “He came down here and we made a 3.8% citra pale ale and a 4.5% golden ale – these were the first commercial releases of cask beer from Verdant.”

Trials of these beers were rebrewed after positive feedback and the small-scale initiative has turned into something more substantial with production increasing at the business’s new brewery that opened at the start of 2020 and a taproom opening in January 2021 that has 16 keg lines, a fridge full of cans and four cask lines.

Duquenne adds: “We are really happy with the way [the cask beers] tastes as do trade customers and the pubs we work with.

“We have a lot of locals coming in and especially so in Cornwall because this is a place where cask is still very important. It was amazing to have feedback from locals about the cask we’re doing, which is a bit different from the classic hazy juicy IPAs, pale ales and double IPAs.”

Its beer distribution lines ensure the UK is covered for selling the new cask range and, of course, the craft kegs and cans it has become so well known for.

Big demand

Demand has always far outstripped capacity at Verdant but cask was always “something we thought we’d play around with but I don’t think we ever thought we’d go into it quite as much as we have” says Marshall.

“These are the beers that are exciting us at the moment. If you speak to the staff here, when they go for a drink in the taproom after a shift on a Friday, the majority of them are drinking cask.

“They’re different to anything we’ve ever done before but we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel – we’re just trying to be the best we possibly can be at every style we have a crack at.”

Duquenne warns fans of Verdant not to expect hazy, juicy beers from its cask output. It’s a “nice, clear pint of pale ale, golden ale, bitter and porter”.

The move to cask has also provided the brewer with a return to its roots because its cask has been well received locally and goes hand in hand with fellow businesses in the county such as St Austell and Sharp’s.

“Everyone here enjoys a pint of Tribute or Proper Job. Those beers definitely inspire us and there’s a really strong hotbed of great breweries down here. There’s Treen’s making some really great cask beer and you’ve also got Driftwood Spars in St Agnes too,” says Marshall.

“We get excited by that kind of range being available. And being Cornish, it was exciting to be a part of that and bring ourselves more to the fore in Cornwall.”

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The production methods of cask and craft kegged are somewhat different with both requiring a lot of skill. Making New England-style beers is “a lot harder than people give credit for” but the main difference is that kegged beer is safer in terms of a pub being able to keep and serve it.

Duquenne says: “With cask, you have to trust the venues are going to be able to keep your cask well because once a keg leaves our facility, we know what the beer tastes like whereas with cask there’s that moment where you know what it tastes like now what about when it goes to the other side of the country or even just in Cornwall?”

Marshall adds: “You put a lot more faith into the publicans but we’re comfortable with that. We tend to work with trusted venues and trusted distributors. So that’s not an issue for us but there is definitely a bit more exposure in terms of risk to the quality after it leaves the brewery.”

Verdant’s kegged and craft beers are some of the more expensive beers available and its cask ales are not going to be priced as low as some others in the on-trade but it expects its margins to be below its normal level.

“Cask pricing has been artificially low for quite a long time and, at some point, that’s going to have to change, especially with the challenges breweries are going to face in the next 12 to 18 months and beyond,” Marshall states. “But equally, cask should be accessible and it should be the everyman’s drink so it’s about striking a balance and although we are very young and new to this market, I feel like we have found that combination of trying to make accessible yet still make it feel premium.”

Number of quality brewers grows

Verdant expects its move to be a good thing for the industry and cites the fact more quality brewers producing quality cask will prove to be positive into what it sees as a quite congested market.

There are a lot of good cask products on offer the business believes and has always been the subject of questioning along the lines of ‘when will Verdant start making cask?’.

Marshall explains: “After the lockdowns and when people were going back to the pub, the first thing I bought was a pint of Tribute. Cask not something you can have at home, it really is a treat. Canned beer is pretty close to keg whereas cask is so unique and it’s something that’s so intrinsically linked to being in the pub.”

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Having a fresh company come into a market that has often been derisorily seen as a drink for old men is certainly not going to hurt its current image.

Duquenne says the age range for its social media followers is surprising wide and “a nice balance” but adds the market is still very male orientated but that is changing slowly.

The taproom, which also serves wood-fired pizzas and DJs on a regular basis, has “the most broad selection of people” from families to solo drinkers to students from the local halls of residence.

Cask production has reached 5% of Verdant’s total this year with a reach target of 20%. Marshall says: “We’re letting the market lead it really. We’ve got a great range of beers that we’re really excited about showcasing and we will feel our way into it.”

There are no plans to expand the core cask range just yet but expect to see seasonal brews come into play in the future.

Every business has been hit by the pandemic and Verdant is no exception. “We’re under no illusions the next few months are going to be pretty rough for everybody,” laments Marshall. “We’re very fortunate that we’ve had a pretty good year.

“The margins have been squeezed with the energy hikes, our raw material costs going up because we get a lot of our hops from the US and the strength of the pound against the dollar has been a real factor and continues to be but we’re looking to 2023 with cautious optimism.”

He summarises: “Cask is really exciting. It’s a whole sector of the market we’ve never really touched. We’re going into it without any expectations and I don’t think anyone’s expecting us to walk in and go ‘well, we’re Verdant’ but we’re excited and confident in the beers and hopefully we can get other people interested in us.

“It’s nice that people seem to be getting excited about us making cask because there’s always that worry we may be received as us trying to be a ‘jack of all trades’ but we are genuinely putting every ounce of effort into making our cask as good as anything else we’ve ever done.”

Related topics The Cask Project

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