Jul 07. Prior to this we had sought advice from various people within the trade around Ayrshire, all of which recommended not getting too precious with your own desires. Quote "if lager is what they want give em lager" was preached more than once. With this in mind we continued our fact finding for over a year before taking the plunge into cask/real ale.
In the early days it was simply finding cask ale outlets to find out if it sells. Polite questions usually with explanations were always received well. The same approach to non cask ale outlets worked equally well, the research here to find out why the manager or proprietor chose not to provide it. Within a matter of months we had concluded that:
• Lager is by far the most preferred draught beer in the region – No surprise here
• Keg beer/ale sales are low and in decline
• A high proportion of publicans don't want the additional work associated with looking after real ale
• A surprisingly large proportion of publicans don't know what cask ale is
• Publicans are put off by recommended sell through period once the cask is breached
• There is definitely a market for Real Ale in the area
Having identified a demand for the real stuff we decided to stock a range of bottle conditioned ales to test the water. The problem was to source them at a price that they would sell, achieved by avoiding the main drinks suppliers and sticking to special offers at wholesalers. Bottle beers were sold throughout 2008 with limited impact on turnover. They did however give a strong indication to our customers that we were prepared to offer them greater choice and to ourselves how big the demand was likely to be for cask.
Decision made, you could ponder it forever and a day, but the only way to find out if it will work is do it! So, more research and investigation regarding how and why do it a particular way. My first consideration was length of pipe run from the cellar. I wasn't happy with a 4 pint pipe run traveling through 3 rooms of different temperature. If I don't dispense from the cellar I need an alternative means of cooling the casks, also space and stillage would present problems too. Eventually, I decided to dispense from upright cask under the bar directly below the hand pump. I sourced two cask cooling jackets and a recon beer engine from Colin Farrar Brewery Services and after a little online searching opted for the Cask Widge system (available direct from caskwidge) to draw the ale from the cask. Fortunately for me I had a spare under the counter cooler to circulate cold water round the built in cooling pipes in the cooling jackets. Once the dispense equipment had been ordered (Feb 09) It was time to checkout ale suppliers, a little understanding of the product, the brewing and fining process was very useful here. We spoke to local breweries (Kelburn, Strathaven and Houston) to establish pricing and delivery, and a national supplier for other brews. It made sense to start with the local brews and to that end we offer thanks and appreciation to Derek Moore of the Kelburn Brewing Co for his advice, assistance and of course his rather excellent beer. It all arrived as planned, positioned it, clamped on the beer engine, plumbed water to jackets, put casks in jackets and connected the very short (20 cm)beer line. It took a couple of hours and the beer was pouring well. The advantage of using local ale is the short time it takes to drop (clear) in the cask.
After a few minor tweeks on the cooler thermostat we achieved the ideal temperature with exceptional clarity and excellent condition cask ale. The short pipe run produces almost NO waste and easy cleaning. The Cask Widge is superb, it draws the beer from the top of the ale using a float system not the bottom where the sediment is.
Our first cask (Kelburn- Misty Law) went on sale on Thu 26 Feb 09 at 11:00 am and sold through by 12:00 on Fri 27th. We expected healthy sales initially, dropping off when the novelty wore off. This has not been the case. By 14 Mar we had moved 9 casks, sales had exceeded expectation and all through a single hand pump. Still expecting a decline, we consistently monitored throughput with a view to a second hand pump. As 06 Apr (Cask Ale Week) approached, the thought of a second hand pump was never far away, as luck would have it, Mr Alan Dawson of the Smugglers Inn - Stewarton very generously gifted us a hand pump he no longer required. Cleaned and tested, the pump was fitted and working on Fri 3 Apr, again using Cask Widge to dispense it. We kept two ales on over cask ale week and have continued to do so. Since then, bottled ale simply has not sold.
The gifted hand pump immediately pointed out a massive difference in quality and the requirement for a cooling jacket on the hand pump. We have since purchased another two Angram hand pumps both of which are cooled. Volumes have remained steady at 3.5 – 4 casks (9 gals) per week and hope to grow this over the coming months.
Dec 09 Update
All four beer engines up and running for the Local CAMRA Christmas function, all casks upright and not a single problem from any Cask Widge.
Jan 10 Update
In many ways it's still early days for cask ale at the Millhouse Hotel, but at nearly 12 months in we can say that it has been a great success. The turnover has been significant and many times that of Keg ale. Dispense does not have to involve costly stillage, tilt or dispense equipment. The Cask Widge system is simple, clean, and efficient, and its performance is excellent. Once more, they can be stored easily when not in use, even sterilised & ready to go.
If anyone wishes to see or discuss the equipment in use please visit or call (Ask for Ian).
Pauline and Ian Kernot
Tel 01560 482255
Registered Office: 72 Church Road, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 2BB Registeed in England, Company No. 04012202