In a day when finding quality beer is of the utmost importance to beer drinkers, delivering quality and being unique are two difficult traits to balance. Hogshead Brewery has completely differentiated itself from nearly every other brewery in the country, and it’s all thanks to their outstanding brewing method.
Cask beer is a style that is most popular in England, however, it has been growing gradually in the United States. It is a style of beer that is unfiltered, unpasteurized, and is served without nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. Hogshead Brewery’s Jacob Gardner defines cask beer as “ale that does a secondary fermentation from the vessel from which it is served, and is served using no auxiliary co2. This makes it naturally carbonated and avoids what consumers sometimes call, ‘co2 bite,’ which is associated with force carbonated/keg beer.” Cask beer is a classic style of brewing and one that Hogshead Brewery is known for.
Originally opening in 2012, Hogshead’s building is located where an old 1950’s gas station used to be in the Highlands area of Denver. Sporting a neighborhood brewery feel, it’s the type of intimate, personal environment many people look for in a brewery these days. Getting the brewery off the ground was a more difficult task for Hogshead than what your average brewery goes through. The main reason for this was because cask beer is different and with that comes a different experience.
“The whole first year was a lot of teaching people about what cask beer is and why they should want to drink it. It was also about getting people to understand that cask beer is temperamental and we just can’t guarantee anything. One firkin might behave one way and another from the same batch of beer may behave a little differently,” Gardner said.
Patrons seemed to pick up on the differences and have quickly become accustomed to what cask beer is. Being in a neighborhood location where people are passionate about craft beer proved to be advantageous for Hogshead. Growth has not been a problem and the brewery grew steadily over the course of its first year.
“In the beginning, we had two handles and there would be one cask handle on always. In the second month, we moved to a third handle where it was two all the time. After eight months of being open, we moved to four permanent handles and now we are up to seven,” Gardner said.
With cask beer being such a fabulous style to enjoy, why don’t we see more cask breweries? One of the biggest reasons why is because cask beer goes bad quicker than keg beer. “I think the biggest thing though is the shelf-life.” With a shorter amount of time before the product spoils, brewers have to move beer in a much shorter time-span. If all of the beer hasn’t been sold and isn’t good anymore, expenses are incurred.
“When you take the time and effort to make a cask product, there’s a little more loss associated with getting it ready than there is with keg beer. Then if people don’t drink it, the beer goes bad and breweries can end up losing money on a firkin. I think some brewers are afraid to try brewing cask beer for the risk of damaging their name,” Gardner said.
These days in the United States, if a person goes into a bar and has a poor tasting beer, the poor experience is usually blamed on the brewery, not the bar. There is a danger in this reaction because often times, the reason a beer tastes bad is not because the brewery didn’t do their job, it’s because the bar sloughed off in one way or another. “Consumer education is still at a point where if they drink a beer that seems warm or flat at a bar, they’re first going to blame the brewer or brewery, not the bar owner, whereas in England people understand [the difference],” Gardner said.
He went on to talk about how in England, patrons who taste a bad beer will associate that experience with the bar, not the brewery. Plenty of pubs in England serve the same beer, so folks will refuse to go back to that pub “because their cask beer is sh*t. Beer drinkers know the bad beer isn’t the brewer’s fault.” Cask beer has been a mainstay in England for a lot longer than it has been in America, so it’s a learning process for many beer drinkers.
Throughout the conversation with Jacob, the support of Hogshead’s surrounding neighborhood had been a major theme. Gardner called the support of the community “phenomenal” and even said when the brewery gets most busy, some regulars will clear tables for the busy staff. “There are people who will notice we’re [busy] and will start picking up glasses for us. The way the brewery operates is very much like a British pub,” Gardner said.
Looking forward, Hogshead Brewery has a bright future, and is one that the people involved want to see continued growth from. From a capacity standpoint, the brewery has plenty of room to grow and increase its reach. “We’ve got 10-barrel fermenters that can all be changed out to 20’s. If all of the 10’s were 20’s, we’d be ninety percent bigger. I know we all want to grow, but it needs to be controlled growth. Steve [Kirby] and I both worked at commercial breweries in the past and that’s fun, but we don’t want to get so big that we can’t have our hands on every part of it. That’s the beauty of small brewing,” Gardner said.
Brewers at Hogshead have dreams of one day opening up a satellite cask beer bar where there are seven or ten all cask beer handles. Reaching that goal is a ways off, but in this industry it is important to have sky-high dreams because when your company hits a ceiling, you need to know where the next ceiling is.