Monday, 22 November 2021

Two Bad Ideas

 There's a lot of doom and gloom about cask around these days. "It's all being cut back as nobody is drinking it" type of thing and amid that a suspicion - told me by a very reliable source that "fings aint what they used to be" in a rather unexpected way. My source tells me that some cask beer from some larger independent brewers is actually brewery conditioned, such is the fizz and clarity of the beer, combined with the complete absence of sediment.  There is a suspicion that some who have switched to bottling and canning, now that the pubs have re-opened, and cask demand has returned, to meet this demand, beer held in tank and set aside for canning but no longer needed for such, is put into cask without that bothersome business of cask conditioning it. Now this is all too possible, but hopefully if so, was only to use up stocks. If you know any more about this, do let me know. This is not a clever thing to do at all, for many reasons.

In these all too troubling times, another thing you get from those who should know a lot better, is that cask beer should be saved by premiumising it.  Yes Folks, a perishable product, often kept badly and served in appalling condition, should cost more to save it. Such logic would make a cat laugh.  For the umpteenth time, what you need to do with cask beer is keep it well and turn lots of it over. This increases quality and confidence, which then means more sales. A virtuous circle. Maybe when everyone does that, then we can talk about price. Until this happens, then charging more to make it better, just isn't on. 

And while I'm about it, it isn't more difficult to keep cask beer than any other beer. You just need to know what you are doing, and that can be learned very quickly indeed. Time we stopped pretending on that one too.

I know big brewers have been sending out re-seeded more or less brewery conditioned beer for years, but at least they do ensure a live yeast count.

In my next post, I'll talk about a real ale nirvana.


retiredmartin said...

Spot on. Turnover is king. And increasing the price of a pint will never jncrease turnover.

More posts, please.

Curmudgeon said...

Yes, I've described the argument that you need to charge more for cask before as putting the cart before the horse. If you increase the price but change nothing else, all that will happen is that you sell less of it. By its very nature, it has to be a high-turnover beer.

And looking after it isn't some esoteric craft, as some of its champions sometimes suggest, it's just the consistent application of simple principles.

Edd The Brew said...

Well said Tand ,
It's utterly facile to suggest that to preserve Cask beer it should cost more to the end consumer; one of The most shining examples of woolly thinking I've seen for some time
( With notable exceptions­čśë)
Cheers ­čŹ╗

Barry, Dudley in the West Midlands said...

One thing all pubs should do is sell cobs like we do in the Black Country. Cheap honest and humble. Then more people would go in the pubs and the beer turnover would increase. Have meat raffles. Sports teams etc. I think they had it right years ago. Bring back some of these and the sales go up. Up the Baggies

Ian, boat house bar said...

First hand experience. You must have a good turn over of cask to ensure quality. Staff should be knowledgable in the keeping of cask beer.
Cask should only be purchased from breweries that brew to a quality (not to a price)
Pricing your cask to the market you want to attract. Prices do affect your customer base. Sell it too cheap and it’s a race to the bottom both financially and class of customer. So know your market and price accordingly

Tandleman said...

Ian. Sounds right to me.

Curmudgeon said...

@Ian - price differentials between pubs are a different thing from adjusting the relative price of cask vs keg and lager within the same pub.

Rob Nicholson said...

>And while I'm about it, it isn't more difficult to keep cask beer than any other beer: depends what you mean by difficult? Can show somebody how to connect a keykeg in a very short period of time to an existing set-up. Takes significantly more time with cask. Not difficult but certainly takes more time and effort.

Rob Nicholson said...

We had an afternoon out in Leek last weekend. We will return as we only scratched the surface. We started in the Wilkes Head - perfectly fine Whim Ales. But then we got stuck in the two craft beer bars (Bruce & Spout?) with a mixed male/female group. The ladies loved the keg beers and one said "I'd prefer not to go to a boring beer pub" - so we didn't. Choice is king and *always* has been.

Price was not an issue at any point - not surprisingly considering how much we were paying for "craft". Then again, a reasonably well heeled group.

Rob Nicholson said...

But yes, turnover is probably the most critical part of cask ale closely followed by cellarmanship. And of course, a decent beer to begin with.

The Pub Man said...

Those that advocate higher cask prices appear to do so from one of two perspectives.

Producer self-interest. It should not be a surprise that brewers and publicans would like higher margins on a product. Keg attracts higher margins that account for more than a cost differential in packaging, refrigeration and CO2. They may have a point. If you started a business and you could supply either of 2 goods or services, you would favour the higher margin one and only bother with the lower margin one if you had spare capacity.

A belief among craft drinkers and advocates that in the retail beer market price sends a signal regarding quality or desirability. To an extent they may be correct. Young men are prone to signal to their peer’s success through higher priced Veblen goods. Driving luxury cars, wearing designer clothes and drinking luxury brands where the higher price is the major part of the goods desirability. You may think this is restricted to lads buying Peroni because they associate its higher price as a quality and status symbol. There are plenty of craft beer enthusiasts that wish to signal status in the world of craft beer. No social class or group is immune to this. In this logic cask beer is harmed by being the cheapest beer at the bar. The beer has the status of a cheap low status product favoured by older price conscious drinkers.

My own opinion is that the barrier to higher cask prices is one of product commodification. Cask beer has become a cheap commodity churned out by thousands of indistinguishable breweries all churning out a similar palatable pale ale. No one cares who brewed it, it’ll be a different guest beer next week. Those craft breweries that command higher prices have built strong distinct brands as keg products and differentiated from the commodity market. What this means is that the beer geek preferences for lots of breweries harms the ability of cask to build strong brands that command a premium price.

Big Barry from Dudley said...

Veblen Goods. I had to check that one out. Reminds me of the Emperor's New Clothes story? So beer is not just a refreshing drink that gets you wooosey. It's also a bit of a status symbol. Us lads here in the black country have the same with the strong Holdens

Curmudgeon said...

Yes, the ever-changing guest beer culture for cask militates against the establishment of price premiums. It turns it into an interchangeable commodity product. Even if you like a beer and think it's worth paying a bit more for, it won't be on the bar next week.

Premiums have to apply to individual brands, not to the entire sector. The only cask beer that does reliably seem to be able to command a price premium is Taylor's Landlord, even though in my experience it's rarely kept well.

The Pub Man said...

You are all about to see how much movement there is in the price of generic commodity cask brewery you've barely heard of beer.
Energy costs are on the up thanks to Greta & Co and the unwillingness to extract carbon or embrace nuclear.
That's a big input cost to a process that involves boiling up water.

Some are big enough to knock out a session beer and not increase a wholesale prices, some are going to be squeezed, some will work out efficiencies.

That independent pub will accept it when bogwaters cloudy keg dipa announce a price rise as its customer base will pay anything. It'll shop around when codgers session cask beer announce one as it's only a pale ale and no one will care or notice about a different one on the bar.

You are about to see the power of recognised respected brands over commodity beers, when price pressures occur.