Although overall UK beer sales have dropped in the last few years, there’s still evidence that the popularity of craft beer and real ale is still on the rise.
For instance, almost 3 in 5 small brewers expect their turnover to increase in 2017 and big beer companies like AB InBev and Carlsberg continue to buy smaller breweries to snatch back some of the market share craft beer has nicked from their big brands.
Why then – away from a handful of pubs and bars – is it still so difficult to find decent draught beer?
If you live in the centre of one of the bigger cities or you’re lucky enough to have nearby pubs and bars that are serious about their beer, you’re probably wondering what I’m on about.
Step inside a typical restaurant, hotel or tied pub though and you’ll often just find the usual lagers on offer, supplemented, if you’re fortunate, by a dull cask ale and few bottles or cans of mainstream ales and beers in the fridge. This is despite as many people saying they’d visit places like restaurants more often if they served a range of independent craft beers.
A poor beer selection is understandable when it comes to tied pubs that can only buy from a limited range dictated by the pub’s parent company or brewery.
In the past, when good draught beer was only available in casks, you could also forgive restaurants and hotels for a poor beer selection.
After all, one of the disadvantages of cask beer is that it lasts only a few days after tapping before it spoils. Why would a venue with a low turnover of beer drinkers take a chance on a cask if there’s a risk they won’t sell it all in time?
Nowadays though, even ardent cask beer devotees can accept there are some great craft keg beers. And, I bet many of them would choose a craft ale on keg over a boring, mass-produced lager any time.
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I’m one of those who generally prefers cask over keg when it comes to draught beer. But I can still recognise the advantages of keg over cask, the main one being that keg beer has a longer shelf-life than cask – several weeks as opposed to several days.
Unlike with cask, staff also don’t need any special cellaring skills to look after keg beer. This means we can enjoy keg beer at a consistent quality wherever we drink, whether it be in pubs or in venues where you wouldn’t expect to find beer.
With one-way kegs, there’s no need to organise keg returns either.
The only downside is the small investment needed to modify existing equipment or install keg lines.
This is a massive opportunity for venues that aren’t renowned for their draught beer selection to tap (pun intended) into the craft beer boom, even if the staff lack cellaring skills and they don’t get a high turnover of beer drinkers.
Tied pubs might not be able to take advantage – but restaurants, hotels, cafes and even festivals can. And with an estimated 550 UK breweries now producing keg beer and ale, there’s no shortage of choice.
The cafe’s founder, Chris Evans, says that a good cafe should be a hybrid of a pub and coffee shop, so “offering quality beer is essential”. He adds that people like local products. Supplying draught beer is an effective way to provide something local.
Other non-pubs are also recognising the benefits of offering real ale and draught craft beer. In Southampton, for instance, a handful of cafes and restaurants, including those that serve Italian and Indian food, have craft beer on keg. We’re also seeing more beer-centric restaurants popping up across the UK, such as Bundobust in Leeds and Manchester and Southsea’s Meat and Barrel.
However, the majority of restaurants, cafes and hotels are missing out on the craft beer boom.
And while some do have the skills and the customer turnover to provide cask beer, it’s keg that provides most the awesome opportunity to attract more customers by serving draught craft beer and ale.
I just hope they take advantage – I’ll take a great beer – from cask or keg – over a dull lager any day.
Would you like to see more quality beer in cafes, restaurants and hotels and at festivals? Do you know of any non-pub venues that are taking advantage of kegs to provide draught craft beer?