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...