Pre-2012, the only choice for the beer connoisseur was real ale. It was steady, simple and consumers knew where they stood with it. Skip a few years to 2015 and real ale has a new-age beardy brother called craft beer.
The growth in public demand for cask ale and the ubiquity of specialist beer makers has been a revered feature of the beer industry in the last few years. Recent statistics show that craft brewers now produce 1 in every ten beers sold in the US.
This has also been encouraged in the UK by a 50% discount on duty for those who brew less than 5,000 hectolitres (almost 900,000 pints) a year, leading to an explosion in small batch manufacturers who have flooded the shelves with a varied range of drinks experimenting with 'hop bombs' and forward thinking brewing techniques.
Craft beers are usually fermented under pressure so the CO2 in the final beer occurs naturally from the initial fermentation. The beer is then filtered very lightly (to around 6 Microns which leaves yeast in the beer) and then packaged (without any pasteurization) before shipping.
Where real ale is constrained to cask-conditioned British beer or its bottled brothers, craft beer can be created and served in any which way and as long as it passes the taste test, there are no rules.
The UK has been in awe of American micro-beers and their potent double (yes, double!) India Pale Ale (IPA) for some time. If your business wants to be one step ahead and source from Europe, Polish beers from CK Browar and Irish ales from the Galway Bay Brewery are ahead of the British breed and will allow you to make your stock as internationally diverse as possible.
The Black Stuff
No, not Guinness. Instead, the craft connoisseurs relish the exported, chocolate infused, imperial stylised variations of stout. If you want to be a confident craft supplier, order a batch of black IPA. It's black beer with a big hop and stout embodiment. The barrel-aged process uses spirit-laced rare yeasts, smoky malts to spirit-land porters made with pomegranate and kiwi fruit, brambles and coffee ground experimentation.
The Price Is… How Much?
Modest production and seasonal ingredients mean that craft beer is regarded as a premium product. Bottles start at £3.50/€5.00 and a pint won't be found for less than £6.00/€8.90 in a capital city. Fortunately the craft community appreciates the small batch method and use of high quality ingredients and this should not deter your customers.
If you don’t want to scare off your regulars, make sure you mix up those hop-forward speciality beers with some good old-fashioned cheap ale. Theakstons anyone?
The Craft Keg
Reassuringly, the beer can be stored and served straight from a traditional keg. You can serve craft keg beer colder and fizzier from long-life craft kegs, similar to the bigger brand lagers you may already stock.
Alternatively, the craft can is making a comeback as the ideal packaging. Just as innovation and constant change are the hallmarks of a great business, they are also the hallmarks of a classic independent beer.
If you have any other tips for businesses getting to grips with craft ales, let us know!