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Friday, May 07, 2010

Your Friday "Hmmmm"

In comments to my "Cask Underground" post below, Chris asks an interesting question:
I'm not in a position to pull this off (though I'd like to), but do you guys think a "cask-only" or at least "cask-focused" pub could survive in this town? Say 5-10 beer engines and a firkin or two on the bar?

Given a greater selection I'd like to think it could, but sadly I don't think there's enough choices to keep the tap list rotating and interesting...
Funny you should ask, Chris. Beginning a year or so ago, a friend and I considered this very idea. Our thinking was: this is the place we want to go. We went so far as to rough out a business plan, speak to publicans and a brewery owner to test our assumptions, and then we actually scanned the commercial real estate market. We had some very clever names selected, too (one involving beavers and firs that Sally pointed out had an unfortunate--and to her New England sensibility, appalling--double entendre). In the end, a few issues gave us pause:
  • The limited amount of time a cask stays fresh
  • Cask availability
  • Customer base
I think it is possible to pull off a cask house, but it's risky. You need to have enough turnover that you can get through casks before they turn. Our idea was to start with 2-3 engines and ten or so regular taps and try to build from there, switching the proportion as business grew. You also need to work with breweries. Producing casks takes time and effort, and if the brewery's not already doing it, they have to make a special effort. There's also the issue of food, which is not incidental. I was interested to see Apex open without food--though the adjacent Mexican restaurant is a clever idea. (Food is a bear to mess with and expensive, but people stay and drink more beer if you give them something to nosh on.)

One thing that is a big benefit is social media. Long before you opened the doors, I think you could be banging the drum on Twitter and Facebook to get people excited. You could do a launch with a slate of cask beers you've pre-arranged with breweries so that for the first month or so you always had something new and fresh to promote. With Brewers Union and Block 15, you'd have some solid supply-side support. I know others would be willing to join the party if there was a market there--like Mac's, for example.

So: yes, I do think it's possible, with a few caveats. Anyone who's willing to give it a shot can count on the support of one very enthusiastic blogger. And possibly, a growing membership in the cask underground...


  1. No doubt in my mind it would/could work. Would love to see it.


  2. You would need an additional angle to keep people coming in -- comfortable, pubby atmosphere would be my choice. And 5-10 engines + 2 gravity pours is *way* too many to keep fresh. How many selections are on at a typical Real Ale pub in England? 4 or 5?

  3. Brewers Union has 6 engines in Oakridge, so it shouldn't be too hard in Portland.

  4. Bill, I agree. That's how we got off on the name, riffing on English-style pub names. "Fir" and "Beaver" are local natural features, which is how we started down that road. Then we thought, well, as an homage to the '39 ducks, it could be "tall firs." It fell to Sally to point out the weeds in which we had wandered when combining tall firs and beavers. But yeah, lots of wood, that type of thing.

  5. Oh, we did also hit on a genius idea for food, which I'm keeping in my back pocket in case I ever want to do this thing.

  6. Brewers Union Local 360.

    All I need is cash.

  7. Fir and Beaver!!!??? If you want to go in that realm... Why not call it PubX? ;-) (Say it fast)

  8. Obviously Ted nailed it.


  9. This is what cask ale looks like 1,158 miles from Beervana: