Monday, 27 September 2010

Cask on the Up

The Cask Ale Report 2010 has been published. It will take a fair bit of reading before I have fully absorbed its contents, but suffice to say it is good news that cask continues to outperform the market with 3000 more pubs selling it since the last report, an increase in volume of 5% against a market decline of 2% for other beers and a tendency towards it by younger drinkers. All in all good news.

One or two things caught my eye. I was interested, as I always am in regional variations. The fact that 41.8% of all cask is sold in London and the South East is hardly a surprising one given the increasing move to cask by more affluent ABC1 types as mentioned in the report. Somewhat surprisingly given that backdrop, cask volumes in London fell, though not nearly as much as here in the North West, where a 6.2% decline took place. The London drop is surprising given the claims that London is becoming, according to some, firmly on the UK Beer Map once again. (This, by the way, has seemed to possibly have a basis i wishful thinking and may be the subject of a blog post at a later date.)

It was particularly pleasing too to see a piece in the report on beer quality, which is a pet subject of mine. Some practical and useful advice is offered as is advice about where to go for more help on the subject. Cask beer quality is immensely important if we are to consolidate and make further progress. The report recalls that the last surge in cask foundered on quality concerns. (Given that, I was surprised to see on page 22, that the prospect of warm beer wasn't one of the non cask ales drinker's considerations. Aren't they in for surprise in some places?)

One note of slight displeasure is the assertion that cask ale isn't expensive enough; that publicans are missing out on margin; that most drinkers feel they should pay more for cask than Carling. This is a complex argument which couldn't be readily covered in the report I suppose, but I'd suggest that once you add in other factors which affect the price and quality of the pint, the results may be a little different. It's all in the question you ask. Still, that's just a quibble.

So. Do read the report.* It's positive, well put together, contains a lot of fascinating statistics, puts cask beer firmly in the limelight and is a credit to its author Pete Brown.

*One slight black mark. As I finish this at 9.40, the official website doesn't have the report available, but you can get it from the Publican here.


The Beer Nut said...

I, too, was wondering about the implications of the price thing. "Cask landlords are doing themselves out of margin" says Pete on Twitter. Could the case be made equally that the Exchequer is doing itself out of revenue? That if you're going to dip into the drinkers' pockets, the money should be distributed to the NHS and schools rather than pubco shareholders?

The Beer Nut said...

Oh, that's with the implication that maybe everyone should keep their fingers out of the drinkers' pockets, if that wasn't obvious.

Curmudgeon said...

I have in fact noticed a growing number of free houses where cask ales and standard lagers are priced the same. But, as we've discussed before, the stumbling block to premium pricing is consistent quality.

Interesting how the report says that the majority of people who say they drink cask only drink it occasionally. Drinkers don't divide neatly into cask drinkers and keg or lager drinkers, as sometimes seems to be assumed by CAMRA. It needs to be recognised that cask is only one part of a "drinking repertoire".

Pete Brown said...


Appreciate the concern over the price point. Main reason for including it is that lower price, and lower margin, is one if the main reasons cited by publicans and BDMs for not stocking cask. It's a driver of business, and cask drinkers already think it's more expensive. Controversial and possibly highly debatable, but my contention based on research is that if cask were the same price as lager (nit more expensive, but not cheaper) publicans would make mire money from it, they'd stock more of it, and mire beers would be available in more pubs for more drinkers.

Erlangernick said...

I ignore lager when I'm in the UK, so I have no idea how it's priced in pubs. I'd have thought it was cheaper than cask ale though, since the ale must be a more labour- and cost-intensive product to produce and sell.

Then again, here in Franconia, Becks and Warsteiner cost more than übertasty lagers from tiny, family breweries in the countryside --what Yanks would call "craft lager", I suppose-- so what do I know?

Tyson said...

The price issue is a little misleading. For one thing, Greene King (or any other pubco) is unlikely to publish a report that states that their customers are dissatisfied with them in any way. So don’t hold your breath for “Customers demand cheaper beer” headlines.

Also the survey quoted doesn’t actually support higher pricing-perhaps they should have asked how much would you LIKE to pay for your pint?

All the figures quoted tell us is that younger drinkers are less clued up about the average price of goods. Drinkers in the 35-54 age groups gave the closest figure to the current average price for a pint. Hardly an endorsement for, or expectation of, paying more.

Jeff Pickthall said...

As Tandleman will testify, I've been making PB's point or points about pricing since the early days of online forums.

The prevailing "wisdom", mainly associated with the CAMRA perspective, is that low price is crucial to real ale: higher prices will kill sales; lower prices will enhance sales. I've argued till I'm blue in the face that real life ain't so simple and that campaigning for lower prices is a disservice to pubs and to brewers. I'm chuffed that PB has backed up my arguments in a format that will be widely read in the industry! I wish he'd done it in about 98-02 when I was thoroughly enjoying online argy-bargy with hardore CAMRA-ists.

Tandleman said...

I can indeed testify to Jeff's consistency on this subject. I personally have no problem paying a (within reason)higher price for higher quality, but I'd be interested to know if Jeff reckons the trade is in that "quality guaranteed" zone that would justify such a thing across the board? Those that are, often do charge a higher price, but you can't charge top dollar for warm, soupy beer. Or rather you can. Once.

Cooking Lager said...

As customers, ought beer be as cheap as possible? All beer?

Why make suppliers rich?

Cooking Lager said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coxy said...

Overall quality of Ale in London is poor, I did a mini pub crawl of five pubs in Manchester on saturday night and all the beers I had were in good condition, I would never get that within walking distance in London.
I would gladly pay a little more for a consistently decent pint but if cask ale prices went up it would be across the board and i would just being paying more for the shit companies like Greene King serve up.

RedNev said...

I was going to read that report, until you said who wrote it. As for pricing, I can accept real ale drinkers may view standard lagers as overpriced (which they are), and that real ale is better value pound for pound, but not that they would want to equalise that differential by paying more themselves.

This kind of price snobbery is okay for well-paid beer writers, but not for ordinary people struggling on restricted incomes.

Curmudgeon said...

What's Pete Brown done to get up your nose, Nev?

Tandleman said...

"What's Pete Brown done to get up your nose, Nev?"

Voted for the wrong Millipede?

HardKnott Dave said...

I look at the price thing from the other direction. I believe the constant belief by the industry that cask beer will only sell if kept cheap has resulted in a barrier to standards.

The industry is constantly working to a cost at the detriment of quality.

I will agree that quality could improve in many places and it is the responsibility of the industry, which I am part of, to get standards to a good level.

So I am pleased the whole issue of price is in the open and backed up by sound research. This might well result in a shift in the cost versus quality compromise that every single industry has to get right. Everyone would like perfection but perfection can only come when there is no cost barrier.

I was recently in discussion with a potential customer who's main concern was price of the cask of beer, never mind how good the beer was. I am noticing that the outlets that are concerned about supply price also tend to stock mediocre beer and/or have poor cellar quality. Not universal, I know, but the correlation is definitely there never the less.

RedNev said...

Dave: I accept you have a much greater knowledge of the business than I do, but as a customer (who doesn't limit himself to one pub, or even one town) I don't generally find much of a correlation between price and quality.

Tandleman said...

Nor me RedNev - certainly not in London anyway. Cheap pubs have the sort of cask beer I'd probably not drink anyway. It's a complex business. Not at all straightforward.

Tyson said...


No offence, but obviously you look at matters from the other side of the bar. And sometimes it’s a might wide bar that divides us. As does Mr P, who seems to cherry pick the bits of the free market he likes. He wants us free of the dreaded tie, but doesn’t want the laws of supply and demand applied to beer prices? Hmmm.

The report gives a mention to a very successful retailer of cask ale. Someone who managed to shift 3 million pints in only two weeks. Who is this impressive operator? Wetherspoons. Hardly an advertisment for making beer more expensive.

Ed said...

As a brewer and a piss artist I'm not sure which way to jump on the price thing.

Would I get a pay rise if beer had a bigger margin? Probably not, so lets keep it as cheap as possible.