I think the Title of this post should really be “Brewers, Pubco Distros, and the unspoken problem with beer distribution in the UK”
The Cask Mountain in Pub’s yards and Cellars…
When bought new:
1 Plastic Beer Cask costs between £30-£40 each
1 Metal Beer Cask costs between £55-£70 each
Each of these casks is an investment by the brewery so unless they make it back to the brewery after distribution it is basically a lost investment, lost profit or you move passed lost profit and it turns into minus figures so you are out of pocket on the sale.
A lost cask is instant lost profit and also that cask cannot generate future profit for the brewer!
We deliver our own casks and track where they go so we can get them back and send them back out in this continual cycle, sometime casks disappear from Pubs so you have to think there are a number of scenarios for their disappearance:
- Casks collected by other brewery by mistake
- Casks stolen (Homebrewers, Metal Thieves even other brewers)
- Keg Watch uplift (They then charge you to bring back your property)
- Pubco Distribution teams uplifting casks they don’t own (Even though we periodically check with these big distributors, Carlsberg, Heineken, KNDL, Tradeteam etc etc I think we are mostly just fobbed off)
I’m sure this list could be added to.
Wholesalers & Brewers Wholesaling…
We use Wholesalers and Brewers that we wholesale to who then distribute our casks to their customers, we are then stuck with the same risks of the list above but with the added uncertainty that we no longer know where our casks go to and have to rely on what is basically a Gentleman’s Agreement that they will bring our casks back.
Those brewery-owned Casks, which we send to Wholesalers, remain the property of the brewery and we send those in Good Faith trusting the wholesaler to be diligent and collect them all back in.
We know of one wholesaler who has at least a 40 foot shipping container stuffed full of pallet loads of empty brewers casks that they cannot really be arsed to get back to the brewers, there is no money in taking casks back… only money in selling beer!
Lets say you could get 400 Metal Beer casks in a Shipping container each costing £55 each, thats £22’000 worth of brewers property just leisurely sat there doing nothing for the brewer/owners. Multiply that by 10 wholesalers/brewer-wholesalers and you can see its a massive issue!
Pubs suffer and really struggle with cask-mountains.
If we deliver to a far away pub it sometimes means we can’t get back to that pub in a reasonable timeframe so there will always be the odd 1 or 2 casks that stay out in trade for longer than we want. Thankfully our own list of far-away casks is literally about 2 casks that we have delivered ourselves, a diligent delivery driver helps loads mopping up the empty casks to be filled with more ‘tasty beer’ 😉
Though think of the pubs and landlords stressed out that all the casks that brewers and wholesalers won’t / can’t collect, think of the rental casks (Ecasks) delivered by wholesalers that linger in yards and cellars too. Its not surprising that some bars and pubs say stuff it and call in KegWatch and clear out casks from yards with a broad brush stroke.
The average pub probably has 20 empty casks and some many many more, that could be £1000 per pub-worth of brewers casks… how many Free House pubs are there in the UK? lots, ok, and the rise of the Micropub with little to no storage space is growing! Micropubs & small bars have the hardest time with empty casks and will get the most grief from councils if they leave empties on the street.
The Brewery Trade as a whole need some sort of Wholesaler/Cask/Pub Amnesty.
SIBA, the Society of Interdependent Brewers could possibly help along with Keg Watch and the big-boy distributors.
Mind you, brewers mostly feel that paying KegWatch for their own property back is a form of Blackmail… I guess we should all try to appreciate the logistics, transport and storage that goes into what KegWatch do… though that is not to say that KegWatch don’t always get it right and will uplift a brewers casks that the owning brewer was on their way to collect, this can usually be resolved with a phone call. KegWatch will be called in when a Pub shuts down and clear all the empties off site, mistakes are bound to happen.
Back to the Amnesty!
ALL Pubs and bars, Brewery & Wholesaler’s Yards need clearing out.
A database of brewers casks built.
Brewers given the chance to get their property back.
Even Ecasks (Casks to be used Once and sent into Wholesale Only), ‘Close Brewery Rentals’, could have their own Amnesty of sorts, they could allow brewers to collect empty ecasks and get them filled with beer and back into the Wholesale Trade for a limited time period, this could clear a quarter of some pubs cellars, and be a short term benefit to brewers and a slightly longer term benefit to ‘Close Brewery Rentals’ as they too would start seeing their long-outstanding casks returning to base.
The bit that will smart some brewers eyes! Some brewers take the piss with their use of Ecasks, filling them many times, delivering them to customers directly rather than the instructed way of selling into wholesale only! The amount of Ecasks you see some brewers deliver direct to pubs make you think that they wouldn’t have a business if they can’t actually afford their own casks, so a big Cask Amnesty would help with this.
I guess you could say that it pisses me off seeing other brewers using Ecasks like their own casks when we use them the official way. So suck that up!
The long and short of it…
- Casks = Brewer’s Property.
- Brewers-Wholesaling/Wholesalers distributing our casks = Responsible for their Return? Have some respect for your fellow brewers casks.
- Cask Mountains in Pubs, Wholesalers and Brewers yards = Massive tied up brewers investments that could be making money.
- Probably some naming and shaming of bad Ecask users 😉 After an Amnesty period.Surely its that simple? (probably a mahoosive logistical nightmare to be honest)
All of the above is an industry wide issue, we should all do something about!
- Brewers! Pick up your local brewers casks and TAKE them back to them.
- Wholesalers! Actually uplift ALL empties, with exceptions to casks not being where you sent them.
- Pubs/Bars! Make an Empties List & tell brewers they must collect.
- Homebrewers! Stop stealing brewers investments! Take those casks back.
- Pubco / Distros! Publish an Open List of all Independent Brewers Casks you hold.
One of our brewing friends in West Yorkshire was collecting 3 of theirs from K & L Wakefield today – reckons there must be 4-500 casks from small micros like us just sitting there – with
15-20 more EACH from the slightly larger micros Acorn / Abbeydale / Ossett
and the like, plus more than that from the big regionals.
That’s just 1 K & L yard!
And lets not even think about Kegwatch in Doncaster – 20,000 or more we’re
told – and so many arriving they can’t keep on top of the admin. to know
what they have.
When you are told this sort of thing you can see how much of a problem the Big Distributors are causing by uplifting casks that don’t belong to them making the Independent Microbrewing sector really suffer due to their cask uplifting policy, I dare say this is the biggest problem for those Microbrewers using the SIBA Beerflex system to sell into tied pubco pubs.
That probably all sounds like a whinging rant but small businesses like ourselves feel it when casks go missing.