Friday, July 10, 2015

Cask ale production in the United States?

Every year for the past eight, a group of brewer's organizations and breweries in the U.K. has released a report on the state of cask ale in Britain. Called, cleverly, The Cask Ale Report, it's a joint project of such organizations as SIBA (Society of Independent Breweries), CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), and Cask Marque, and several breweries. Beer writer Pete Brown authors the report.

This week, here in the the U.S., the Brewers Association released its bi-annual survey of industry benchmarks and brewery operations for America’s 'craft' brewers, a study in which it collects and compiles data on:
  • Salary/benefits information
  • Production and package mix (draught, bottle, cans, etc.)
  • Revenue and COGs data
  • Distribution profiles
But no cask ale data.

Via Twitter, I asked Bart Watson —chief economist for the association— whether he and the BA might consider compiling stats on casks. Here's the exchange.

The "Table 14" of the report deals with "Draught Beer Sales" by barrelage and format (i.e., the size of the keg, etc.). The growth of the miscellaneous formats and sizes (which includes cask and growlers, and I would guess, 51-gallon wooden barrels) was much smaller, by percentage, as compared to 'standard' sizes. This information is proprietary, reserved for members of the Association. But, it's safe to say, there was steady growth, and considering the amount of 'craft' beer produced and sold, not insubstantial (or, as Mr. Watson tweets, "decent.")

Let's assume, for arguments sake, that cask ale production equalled 1% of all 'craft' beer production in the United States, which, in 2014, was 21,775,905 barrels. If so, cask ale production would have equalled 217,759 barrels. (Remember that a barrel is not a keg. It's a measure of beer volume, equal to 31 U.S. gallons).

Doing the math, we could guess production at 625,048 firkins (10.8-gallon casks) produced in 2014. That would have been quite a lot of 'real ale,' but, of course, the figure is only an unsubstantiated guess. (Cask-production shared in the report's 'miscellaneous' growth figure with beer sold in growlers and beer produced in wooden-barrels.) We may find out, for 'real,' in 2017.

Max's bank of beer engines

  • "Real Ale" is a term created by CAMRA to define a specific type of cask-conditioned ale. It's often used interchangeably.
  • Heavy Seas Brewing, in Baltimore, Maryland, lays claim to being the largest producer of cask ale in the United States (est: filling and selling 2,500 firkins in 2014). More, from the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News: here.
  • The Great American Beer Festival (organized annually by the BA) includes several 'style' categories for wood barrel-aged beers. Why not for cask ale?
  • Mr. Watson granted permission to re-post our Twitter exchange.
  • More on the BA's benchmarking survey: here.

  • For more from YFGF:

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