This is perhaps a bit of a mundane topic, but essential to the running of a real ale brewery is a steady and reliable supply of sundries. That's such a great word - sundries. When used in conjunction with the word "notions", it conjures up imagery of the sorts of shops at the mall that the ladies drift off into while we gents take the straight and narrow to Radio Shack to buy batteries. But prefix it with the word "cask" and we're off into important, yea even critical, territory.
I had written way way back about my difficulties in finding a source for shives. My existing, and diminishing, collection was brought over in a backpack via airplane by Woolpack Dave in December. Now that that bucketful is 3/4 gone, it came down to either a) calling up Dave while he's in the kitchen in his multi-colored chef's trousers wielding a sharp knife, or b) once again trying to get a warm body on the end of the telephone at Plastic Kegs America. With images of sharp knife in mind, I called Plastic Kegs America and got AN ACTUAL RESPONSE. The nice young lady at the other end of Ma Bell sounded a trifle nervous about having to answer questions and take my order, but we got it sorted out that indeed they did now carry shives for CypherCo firkins and that I would be permitted to order some. She wanted to make REAL SURE that I was ordering the big things, not the little things, as she said that many customers get them confused. I assured her that, after brewing 37 batches of real ale in this country, I had a firm grip on the differences between shives and keystones, and that I wanted the big things.
I brew 2 UK BBL per batch, which is 8 firkins, hence 8 shives, keystones and hard spiles in disposable sundries. I can get the keystones and spiles easily enough from UK Brewing Supplies, but for some reason the 52.3 mm shives that work best with the CypherCo firkins are scarce or unavailable. The shives I ordered will cost me $0.55 each, with no volume discount (odd). With shipping, I'm paying $70 for 100. I was told that there would be a 2.5% surcharge for using my debit card over the phone, but that I would be permitted to send a check in advance. This is America - who does that?!
For the record, I had also been courting F.H. Steinbart in Portland for shives, since they had informed me that they could get anything. Anything, I tell you, anything. Given a couple phone calls, and even stopping in twice while in Portland, I remain unable to get any response. Sigh. Such seems to be standard for us small backwater breweries (or shed breweries - a term I've recently seen pop up on some British blogs). I suppose if I were a Full Sail or a Bridgeport I'd get somewhere, but I'll never know.