Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Nagging Worry

Since the publication of the Cask Report yesterday, there has been a flurry of comment on blogs including this one. My perception is that the overall feeling among commentators is one of cautious optimism, which is I reckon, the overall tone of the report itself. In blogging comment the report has had largely favourable and positive reaction, though some have been keen to push their own interests in bottled and(quality) keg beer, which is not covered by the report at all. (That's what they are complaining about.) The ever practical Cookie did though knock wind out of sails, by pointing out the inconvenient truth, that no matter how well it is doing, at 15% of the on trade, cask pong is still running far behind lout.

The analysis in the Cask Report itself is pretty compelling stuff though, suggesting that good though things are, we are in for better times still, with a shift towards younger and smarter people drinking the real stuff, while (presumably) the less enlightened head for Tesco and Sainsbury for their slabs of yellow fizz. Less reassuring, nay worrying, is the section on "Barriers to Cask Beer Growth" which makes dismal reading really, as does the trend analysis, with 38% of so called cask beer drinkers confessing to "hardly ever drinking it." Not exactly reassuring or a cause for optimism. A red light blinks in the mind too, as we consider the warnings about quality which is still a major trade issue. Nonetheless there is overall a pretty encouraging tale to tell, with more pubs selling it, more younger people and more women drinking it, CAMRA membership booming, real ale becoming a "must have" and increasing sales figures.

The Cask Report is good news, but there remains a worry that any cask beer boom will be followed by a cask beer bust, as quality, already a problem in many places, lags behind expectations and creates a destructive perception of the product. It's what has happened before. It mustn't be allowed to happen again.


ZakAvery said...

I think that Pete is pretty clear in the report in saying that cask has expanded its market share without any volume growth.

As Cookie point outs, cask is essentially a niche product - important to all of us who love beer, but niche nonetheless. My gut feeling (beer gut feeling?) is that cask is going to actually go into volume growth over the next 12-18 months. That really will be somethng to cheer about.

RedNev said...

The emphasis on quality is, I think, pretty obvious, and hardly an original insight: butchers should sell good meat, bakers fresh bread, restaurants good food, etc.

I'm similarly unimpressed by the "revelation" that some drinkers don't always drink real ale. I have known over the years plenty of drinkers who will drink real ale if it's there and if they're in the mood, but often drink smoothflow or lager.

The phrase "money for old rope" springs to mind.

Curmudgeon said...

The other worry of course is that, if total on-trade beer volumes continue to decline by 5-6% a year, cask cannot hold out against that trend indefinitely. Most pubs that serve cask still sell much more non-cask beer, and could be rendered unviable even if cask volumes are unchanged.

Tandleman said...

RedNev: I may not be that insightful, but I think I am right to bang on about quality. Not sure either why you feel so negatively towards the report or its author, but it isn't at all a bad piece of work.

Zak - I think you are right but I'm more worried about boom and bust, hence my returning to quality so often.

Mudgie - Agreed. That's a concern. Not necessarily to individual pubs, but to the overall total.

Eddie86 said...

I think a slow and steady growth is required - with trade papers suggesting that 'cask is the trade's saviour' we could be looking at a serious boom and bust.

If cask can grow slowly, authentically, not forced, then we'll have something to celebrate.

But with consumption dropping at the rate it is, I think those pubs that sell quality cask ale will be the ones to survive - pubs will have to close (there's not enough trade to keep them all open), but those that can sell lager well alongside selling ale well will obviously fare better than those that sell lager alongside poor/no ale.

Jeffrey said...

You make a very good point about cask ale quality lagging behind its greater popularity. Inevitably the latter will be checked by the former.

I haven't read this year's cask ale report (I was sent a copy, but either someone swiped it from the end of the bar) but the last one was very good and the decision to commission Pete Brown to do this was a very good one on behalf of the industry.

Cooking Lager said...

"the less enlightened head for Tesco and Sainsbury for their slabs of yellow fizz"

Before enlightenment a tree is just a tree

Upon enlightenment a tree is no longer a tree.

After enlightenment a tree is once more a tree.

The Buddha said summat like like.

Phil said...

Cookie - I think that comment about the cool young things and the unenlightened proles was meant ironically, on Tandleman's part at least. It was certainly one of the bits of the Report I was least comfortable with, as I said here.