No man is an island
Manx microbrewery Kaneen's slowly spirals upwards with the passion of one man behind it
Saturday 29 July 2023
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You often hear of people making the transition from finance or IT to brewing – depending on the person, anything from the screen-time to the spreadsheets can motivate the move – but what I rarely encounter is someone as purist about skilled manual work, as Peter Kaneen. Over the last decade, the increased frequency with which cars have been made with plastic parts and built-in computer systems made Peter fall out of love with the motor trade, where he was a mechanic for over forty years. Fed up, he gutted the garage he’d inherited from his father, and who had also been a mechanic on the Isle of Man, relayed the floors and opened a brewery at the age of 59.
Graduating from homebrewer, working with plastic buckets, to the owner of a commercial brewery – albeit with a 1000L kit – in just four years, Peter’s technical ability has combined with the ingrained knowledge that comes with being a life-long beer drinker, to make him a modest, but quietly confident brewer. He’s the first to say that his journey to what Kaneen’s is today, was far from linear, in fact, when he first set out to make his brewery a viable business, he had to rethink his whole approach to beer.
He tells me he’d been drinking cask bitter his whole life, that is, up until quite recently when the quality of what was being imported to the island began to deteriorate, in his view. That his home brew was proving a pleasant alternative to what was commercially available spurred him on, but when it came to selling his produce, he couldn’t ignore the popularity of keg, a category dominated by the likes of Carling and Guinness in the island’s on-trade.
Peter is the first to say that his completely self-funded business doesn't have the marketing or sales budget to compete with the “big boys”, but aside from that, sticking it to the man isn’t exactly why Peter began brewing; “I just want to make some good beer and have a bit of fun with it,” he says, and so balances production between cask and keg – nothing in the Kaneen’s range is canned or bottled – with the same base recipe being used across both categories, to the end of two very different beers being produced. This element of experiment and discovery, not only keeps it interesting for Peter, but it allows Kaneen’s to introduce its keg drinkers to cask and its cask drinkers to keg through recognisable means.
With a playful philosophy driving operations at Kaneen’s, which is now two and a half years old, business continues to move, slowly and steadily, in what Peter sees as an upward spiral. As far as beer and brewing culture on the Isle of Man is concerned, Peter jokes that “it seems whatever happens in America, happens in England ten years later, and whatever happens in England happens on the Isle of Man a further ten years down the line, but being an island, and a little microcosm of our own has some advantages”.
He continues to tell me that because of the island’s relative isolation and independence from mainland UK, the Isle of Man could function much more normally during the COVID years. He says that there were times when the mainland was in total lockdown, but pubs were still open on the island, allowing beer, brewing and pub culture on the Isle of Man, if not to catch up with wider spread trends, then to continue its evolution towards a unique Manx identity.
Kaneen’s beer rarely leaves the island, but maybe someday, if operations grow and Peter feels it’s the right thing to do, mainland UK will be so lucky as to receive regular imports. For now, if you want a taste of artisanal Manx beer, you’ll have to pick up a pint for yourself next time you’re at the TT races.
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