The Cask Ale Report for 2011/12 is out. Well sort of. You can't download it from their site yet, so if you want to know what's in it, you have to rely on its author Pete Brown (who better?) or the good old Morning Advertiser.
The key message is that in a beer market that declined by an overall 7.8%, cask declined by only 2.3%, though there is a complex scene of increasing cask beer drinking (especially among the young), more pubs stocking it and cask now taking 15% of the on trade market, which itself declined by around 7%. Any further number crunching will have to wait until I get my mitts on the report itself.
Crucially Pete Brown, quoted in the MA says; “Cask ale can help pubs to not only survive, but to thrive. It’s attracting new drinkers who spend more in the pub than non-cask drinkers, making them valuable customers," This is a very important point. Cask beer drinkers, by and large aren't sippers of beer. They drink it freely and that means more spend. The attractiveness of cask mirrors my own recent experience. I had two phone calls from landlords asking for my advice recently. One has been now given by his (very small) pub company, freedom to pursue a cask beer policy and wean customers off smooth in an all smooth pub and the other has bought an excellent pub, which had been ruined by Enterprise and wanted advice on how to rebuild the cask ale trade when it re-opens. Optimistic stuff indeed.
There is a host of opportunity here and hopefully more and more pubs will take it. I am not one of those that thinks the future of real ale is assured. It is still a niche product (though a big niche) and still needs to ensure quality is always top notch, but the trends are good. Even family brewers (a particular interest of mine)are upping their game. In this area Thwaites, by sheer power of will and canny marketing, as well as producing beers that people really want to drink, have transformed their image. They have become nationally known and are doing a lot right. Robinsons promise great things and innovative products, from both a new brewery and a new brewing team. Adnams are already well down that path and others are looking for ways in which they can up their game. Staying as you were just isn't an option. What's the point of being vertically integrated, if all your pubs are empty because your products are out of step with the times? Owning a brewery and pubs gives family brewers the opportunity, perhaps not to lead the revolution, but certainly to take great advantage of it.
Cask ale has a bright future and what we need both locally and nationally, is to keep pushing forward with great products, fantastic quality and a touch of innovation. Those that don't, those that rest on their laurels or past glories, be they pubs, PubCos, or breweries, will end up down among the dead men.
I'd have liked an advance copy of this, albeit an embargoed one.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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