Monday, 26 September 2011

Cask Still Doing the Biz

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.


Cooking Lager said...

It was quite interesting, though dare I mention a lower rate of decline than the sector doesn't equal growth?

Tandleman said...

Indeed which is why I still worry about cask and didn't say that it does.

Saga Of Nails said...

Of course the decline is an average, which means that in some areas and pubs, cask sales are increasing, but in most they are sliding a little. But within the context of our economic difficulties and future uncertainties, that figure seems not too bad.
Real Ale has an advantage over other drinks, in that it is pretty difficult to drink the exact same product at home. Even with bottled conditioned beers, you have to make a bigger effort to exactly replace the experience. (because BC needs to be poured slowly, but ale requires a little bit of energy to unlock it's full potential.)

Erlangernick said...

I'be only skimmed it, so have to ask: are there any statistics about growth or decline based on sparkled or unsparkled?

Sue said...

Cask beer drinkers DO tend to be sippers when faced with beers at the strength and price of those commonly found in places such as Port Street Beer House!

Tandleman said...

Sue - I was of course speaking generally. Circumstances will alter cases.

Birkonian said...

It is good to see more young people drinking cask but they aren't as loyal as we veterans. Repetoire drinking the report calls it and it is something I've been aware of for some time. That's why pubs should offer real choice in their cask beer range to keep the uncommitted drinker onside.

Rob Nicholson said...

The link to download now works.

Discoman said...

I can't help but agree that quality and consistency are the most important factors. A pub that gets a reputation for always serving quality cask ale rarely does badly. Price is a factor although, unlike most niche products, cask ale is rarely more expensive than its mass-produced neighbours, something which suggests a triumph of marketing over taste. Pubs can help by unashamedly promoting cask ale instead of hiding it away and have knowledgeable bar staff who know how to pour a pint and have an idea of what it tastes like. Not all pubs can serve an array of guest beers (many of them very similar in style) and those that serve one or two regular cask ales to a high standard should be praised more often than they are.

One of the problems is that many pubs have changing managers and are being run down either deliberately or not by PubCos who don't care much for service or quality of ale and this undermines the market as a whole.

As the Report suggests (though not absolutely convinces), middle class ABC1s who like quality or want to try something new or just like to appear retro are most likely to drink cask ale. I've never entirely worked out why cask does relatively poorly in less affluent areas. As the report suggests, some of it comes down to disposable income, attitudes to life and education. Maybe also these areas attract less experienced and less committed bar managers who are poorly supported.

Although the explosion of breweries in recent years is something of a triumph and one that has inspired increased diversity in beer styles, many produce uninspiring ranges of beers which are poorly marketed. In a market that continues to decline the growth appears to be unsustainable. Small local micros are only a godsend if they can actually brew a good beer.

Anyhow I'm making it all sound depressing when actually there is a greater diversity and availability of cask ale than there has been for many years. Something to be enjoyed.

Tandleman said...

Discoman - many good points. The PubCo one particularly.

I am surprised though that more haven't picked up on the Family Brewers aspect. Perhaps nobody cares about them any more.Which would be a mistake in my view.

Eddie86 said...

Does anyone know where I can request a printed copy of the report? It's the kind of thing my regulars would read, and with all those coloured backgrounds it'd cost a fortune for me to print.

Rob Nicholson said...

@Eddie86: I've posted a comment on the CAMRA forums asking that they don't send out copies willy nilly (as I got two copies last year) but I'll ask how to request one for a licensee. IMO it would be a great way to promote links between CAMRA and licensees.

Discoman said...

With regard to Family Brewers (and especially larger micros if they are not the same thing?) I can see more of them taking on more of their own pubs in the next few years. More control, better quality, greater profit.

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