The East Midlands microbrewery industry is feeling the cost, as thousands of pounds worth of beer casks go missing every year. Nationally, the British Beer and Pub Association estimates the problem costs the UK brewing industry £50 million annually.

Now researchers at The University of Nottingham are stepping in to help microbrewers in the region by trying to discover the best way to keep track of the casks after being invited to study the problem by the Food and Drink iNet (Innovation Network).

The university’s Food and Biofuel Innovation Centre has been commissioned by the iNet to team up with the Derbyshire Brewers’ Collective under the iNet’s Collaborate to Innovate project, which brings together academic experts and industry to solve specific challenges in the food sector.

The university will liaise with the collective in a bid to pinpoint the best approaches for tracking devices for the casks and ways of raising awareness about the problem in the hope that it will save the microbrewery industry thousands of pounds in the future.

Breweries are believed to lose up to 10% of casks per year.

“Some casks can be stolen but more than likely they are lost – just left in yards, pubs and units, and not returned to their rightful owners. They could be there for ages,” said John Baldock, chairman of the Derbyshire Brewers’ Collective and a director at Derventio Brewery near Ashbourne.

“If you pay £74 to buy a cask and it gets left in someone’s back yard, you can’t use. It’s dead money. It’s not working for your brewery. A lot of breweries rent casks, but if these casks go missing then we are paying rent per month for casks that we can’t use. The upshot is that there are a lot of disgruntled small brewers who haven’t got their own casks in their own yards. A lot of it is down to the fact that many wholesalers, landlords and draymen just aren’t aware of the cost to a brewery of not returning casks.”

The major breweries barcode their casks to keep track of them. But even then, a proportion goes missing.

The University of Nottingham will be working with the Derbyshire Brewers’ Collective – made up of 16 breweries in the county – to come up with cost-effective ideas to help solve the problem.

Food and Drink iNet director, Richard Worrall, said: “The iNet is committed to bringing academics and businesses together so that they can work collectively to solve common problems. When we heard how much money was being lost as a result of disappearing beer casks we wanted to do something to help find a solution which will benefit the microbrewery industry.”

The commission by the iNet is one of the first pieces of research work gained by the new Food and Biofuel Innovation Centre, based at The University of Nottingham’s Sutton Bonington site. The centre is a combination of three interconnected areas – one for brewing science, one for food processing and one for bioenergy production. Each area has the plant and equipment to carry out research, development and teaching.

“We are hoping to provide a range of solutions that will help microbrewers increase their profitability because the loss of casks, whether they are rented or owned by the microbrewers, does represent a loss of profit,” said Dr Jerry Avis, project manager at the Food and Biofuel Innovation Centre.

“A small brewer has to have roughly five times the number of casks he’s going to fill at any one time. If we can help reduce that ratio it’s a big improvement.”

The Food and Drink iNet, which is funded by East Midlands Development Agency (emda) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), is one of four regional iNets developed to link academic and private sector expertise and knowledge with local food and drink business innovation needs.

The Food and Drink iNet aims to build on the tradition of innovation in the food and drink industry in the region by helping to create opportunities to develop knowledge and skills, and to help research, develop and implement new products, markets, services and processes. It is managed by a consortium, led by the Food and Drink Forum and including Food Processing Faraday, Nottingham Trent University, the University of Lincoln, and the University of Nottingham. For more information visit

For more information please contact the Food and Drink iNet on

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