As the craft beer market burgeons – often in the form of US hops used in kegged beers – the brewery supervisor from Hook Norton in Oxfordshire says brewers from across The Pond believe cask to be best form of beer and transferring the craft trend into cask is one UK brewers can take on and capitalise from.
Thomas recently reached a HIT Training Untapped final for brewers with his 5.2% ABV beer called Millhop, seeing off many other recipes and tastings to reach the final three.
He described his beer as an English IPA with a twist because it uses an English hop called Harlequin, which came out of the Charles Faram breeding programme a few years ago.
“People are going for beers that are not very bitter at the moment,” Thomas begins. “They want that smooth, juicy feel that probably does work better in a keg but I want to show you can do these interesting things with these hops with these malts in cask.
“What a lot of good craft breweries are doing currently is brewing a beer in cask and putting it on in their taproom to show there is that solidarity for cask beer. If you speak to most brewers, they love cask beer – it’s the thing that makes England what it is, in my eyes.”
Cask is the ‘big thing’
He explains on a recent trip to the US for three weeks, he visited hop farms in Yakima, Washington state, and also went over to New York and Boston to look at what’s is going on in beer there.
“Even over there, they’re trying to do a bit of cask beer – and when you get it right, cask beer is one of the best things you can have but it’s about making sure it is right,” he states.
“For a brewer in America – and I spoke to quite a few of them – to have a cask beer is the ‘big thing’, it’s incredible. The moment a US brewer comes over to England, the first thing they want to do is try a beer on cask.
“We’ve had a couple of American brewers over this year where we do Wetherspoon brews with them. We had Will Meyers from Cambridge Brewing Co (in Massachusetts) and we had Mitch Steele from New Realm Brewing (which has breweries in Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina and Alabama) brew their beer at Hook Norton.
“It then went into cask so we were brewing their American beers that are normally in keg in cask for the JD Wetherspoon festivals – they have two beer festivals, one in the spring and another in the autumn.
“They were West Coast and East Coast IPAs and we got some really good results on it on Untapped.
“They tasted great when I tried them on keg in the US but it also tasted great in cask over here.
“I think because the Americans don’t get [cask] very often, they appreciate it a bit more.”
Forgotten about a little bit
Thomas laments the general view of cask beer in the UK currently and says from a customer’s point of view, they walk into a pub and expect there to be a hand pump or a couple of hand pumps and expect it to be good.
He explains: “Unfortunately, over the past few years, it’s been like ‘let’s concentrate on the keg’ and it seems cask has been forgotten about a little bit.
“It’s just about remembering it’s still there. When you walk into a bar, remember those beers are there and they are great beers when they’re done right.
“When I go into a pub, I’m looking at what cask beers they have. You see the legendary ones like Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and St Austell’s Tribute – your eye goes straight to it and you say ‘right. I’m going to have that’.
“So, for me, it’s about getting people to walk into that pub not just look at the keg products, it’s to get them to go towards those cask products again. That’s the kind of goal I want to try to get to at Hook Norton and to do so in cask too.
“Pete Brown the writer is an amazing guy for what he’s doing with it and we fully support what he does. And if I can also do a little bit to help push cask in my own way, that’s a big thing for me.”