Pub and beer column

THERE were 33 on the voyage, sturdy and reliable individuals every one of them, and they had one purpose: to bring back brilliant beer.

They went out together and they came back together, crossing the Atlantic twice. Now, after a round trip of 7,000 miles they are back home in Malton: 33 casks full of Massachusetts ale.

For Brass Castle Brewery and its owner Phil Saltonstall, this moment has been a year in the making.

Last year, when his wife Harriet Cross was appointed Britain’s Consul General to New England, Phil began considering an import-export beer business to run alongside his regular trips between the UK and US.

York Press:

Phil Saltonstall, pictured in 2016 when The Press revealed his Transatlantic plan

Last autumn, he took the first step, sending a pallet of empty Brass Castle casks to Massachusetts and distributing them between carefully-selected breweries.

And last week, those casks arrived back in the UK, at Liverpool Docks, aboard ACL’s vast cargo vessel Atlantic Sail.

There are 15 different beers, from four breweries: Aeronaut, Lord Hobo, Mayflower and Notch. Of those 15, only Mayflower’s Porter has ever been available in the UK before, says Phil, on the American bar at the Great British Beer Festival.

The novelty value for enthusiasts is obvious, and demand, therefore, is sky high. Kev Jones, Brass Castle’s operations manager, is fielding interest from around the UK, but Phil says a decent proportion will remain in Yorkshire. Local interest includes from Market Town Taverns, whose bars include Brigantes in York, The Old Bell and The Swan on The Stray in Harrogate, and The Mitre in Knaresborough.

But the beers won’t come cheap.

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Some of the beers to look out for

“The US beers that we are importing will be expensive on the UK bar, because of the costs of importation,” says Phil. “We are not making any profit on this project. It’s just a bit of fun to bring British drinkers into contact with rarely seen American breweries in the cask format - in a way that is not being done anywhere else.

“My hunch is that when presented with an interesting one-off high-quality beer experience, discerning drinkers will get over their reluctance to pay the price that good cask beer is worth.”

He will ask pubs not to seek their regular profit margins on the casks, to keep prices as low as possible, but it's inevitable the beers will cost more than most, partly due to the importation cost but also due to the differing attitudes in the UK and US to cask and keg. American brewers he speaks with are incredulous that Brits will pay a premium for keg beers but not for cask, says Phil.

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Brass Castle Brewery in Malton

If Phil has been keen to bring the beers, the Americans have been equally eager to send them.

Drew Brosseau, founder and president of Mayflower, says: “There are several reasons why we are excited about it. First, it’s just cool - there is an obvious link between our brand and English history, and we started the brewery with a focus on English ales, so it’s nice to be able to actually have our beer poured in the UK for UK drinker’s to enjoy.

"Second, we enjoy collaborating with other brewers in various ways, and this presented a unique opportunity to work with Phil. Finally, while we don’t sell our beer in the UK at the moment, it’s certainly a possibility down the road, and we’d love to get some feedback about how much interest UK consumers would have.”

York Press:

The cargo vessel Atlantic Sail, which brought the full casks back to England. Picture: Hummelhummel

Mike Labbe, director of operations at Lord Hobo, says they don’t envisage exporting regularly but says it’s fun to send beer to a new market, to get people’s reaction.

Mike’s involved in the Cask-conditioned Ale Support Campaign, which organised the New England Real Ale Festivals (NERAX), and says the US and UK markets both benefit from increased access to each other’s beers.

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Those first 33 casks went out empty, but casks of Brass Castle’s Cliffhanger, Tail Gunner, Hazelnut Mild and Black Russian were subsequently sent to the NERAX November festival, along with some full casks from Bad Co at Dishforth, and more from both breweries have been sent for this month’s NERAX event.

Those casks, once emptied, will make their way around the US to be filled then shipped back for this year’s Great British Beer Festival, but a lucky few can enjoy the marvellous mashed malt of Massachusetts long before then because, as you read this, those 33 casks are sitting in Malton, about to hit the road.

York Press:

Mayflower Brewing from Plymouth, MA

Phil says: “Mayflower brews relatively traditional beers with roots in the UK - often racked into cask for local watering holes. The story of the Pilgrim Fathers’ arrival in Plymouth on the Mayflower is heavily underlaid with considerations about beer.”

They sent:

  • Two casks of Golden Ale (4.5%)
  • Two casks of Oatmeal Stout (5.4%), one with cocoa nibs and one with toasted oak chips
  • Two casks of Porter (5.2%), one with added light toasted oak chips

Lord Hobo Brewing from Woburn, MA

Phil says: “This brewery is at the cutting edge of the current New England trend for heavily-hopped but well-balanced pale ales. Lord Hobo’s range is very highly regarded and is helping to get the otherwise hard-to-find New England IPA style to many more people than just those who are able to make the pilgrimage to remote New England breweries.”

They sent:

  • Two casks of Hobo Life (4.5%), a session IPA
  • Two casks of Steal This Can (6.5%), a West Coast IPA
  • Two casks of Boom Sauce (8%), a New England IPA

Notch from Salem, MA

Phil says: “Notch have a unique take on beer within the regular US beer scene - as they produce full-flavoured but deliberately ‘session’-strength beers across a range of styles. In this regard, their beer is an ideal fit for the cask format.”

They sent:

  • Nine casks of Table IPA (3.6%), a session IPA

Aeronaut Brewing from Cambridge, MA

Phil says: “The brewery characterises much of what we have come to expect from US brewing: bold brewing of multiple styles, with expressive and colourful branding. They have also been incredibly successful, scoring medals at both the GBBF and GABF with typically eclectic beers types.”

They sent:

  • Three casks of Hop Hop and Away (4.7%) a Session IPA
  • Two casks of Robot Crush (5.6%), a Pilsner
  • Two casks of A Year with Dr Nandu (6.1%) an IPA
  • A cask of Cocoa Sutra (7.1%), a Chocolate Milk Stout
  • A cask of 2 Years with Dr Nandu (7.2%), an Imperial IPA
  • A cask of Intergalaxyc Cirrocumulus (7.3%) an Imperial IPA
  • A cask of King Louie (7.4%), an Imperial IPA
  • A cask of Imperial Stout (7.9%)