I managed to get hold of a hard copy of The Cask Report. I spend too much time sat at this computer, so I didn't really want to spend more time reading the on-line version, and printing out a heavily coloured PDF uses so much toner. Right, that's my grumbling about it out of the way now I can concentrate on singing it's praises. It is of course one of those good news stories amongst the drinks industry doom and gloom that seems to have dominated the press over the last few years. The basic message is; cask pubs do better, make more money and are less likely to close. The "cask beer value chain" as Pete put's it indicates a whole lot more about pubs that serve cask. I suspect if you are a regular reader of this blog you will have already found the report, if not go to the website now, the report is far better than anything written here.
It does make me think, "value chain" - value means cheap. I can tell the reader is already thinking about arguing with me. Value and good quality don't generally go together in any advertising spiel. Added value gets talked about in marketing, but that to me is something different and is about getting more money. Look around the supermarkets, "value range" what does that tell you? It spells out cheap to me.
The the economics of the industry are far more complex than the general pub observer would like to have us believe. It really is not as simple as reducing the price of a pint and the hoards will flock. In fact, I have observed that this is usually not the case, simply because dropping the price results in corners being cut and so the service drops below the acceptable level. "I wouldn't go in there, the beer is cheap but you stick to the carpet" There are some exceptions and Wetherspoons springs to mind. They focus on providing a value service and do so very well. Their quality must be satisfactory as it is a very successful chain. Of course much of their success is due to economies of scale and integrated purchasing and transport logistics.
I'll digress for a while to bring in another piece of information that has surprised me. It's taken a year for me to really understand this but it parallels the pub industry and the connection is beer. It turns out that it's also extremely hard to make money out of writing about beer. My membership of the guild has put me in touch with lots of great people in the beer writing and brewing world. I've listened to and queried about the remuneration and what I've learnt is it's not great. There are something like 150 members of the British Guild of Beer Writers. Some are employed in other work that touches on beer writing, some are brewers and do contribute to writing about beer, some are beer bloggers or even just licensees interested in supporting the work of the guild. Very few are actually just writers who make money out of writing about beer.
There is a connection here; Beer. All the members of the Guild are passionate about beer. I know a lot of publicans who are also passionate about beer. I know of very few, if anybody, who is really making a good living out of beer and I think I understand better these days why.
There is something else that ties these groups together and that is a willingness to work to deliver beer, or information about beer, with very little reward other than the very reward that beer itself gives.
I am at a stage in my career where I need to start thinking about the future. I have to start thinking about how I am going to pay for the nursing home when I'm old(er) and (more) decrepit. I have to start finding reasons to stay in the beer industry because my previous £40k a year job, with weekends off and 30 days leave a year looks a lot more tempting.
The problem is that the cask report does highlight the fact that cask beer is often cheaper by some considerable amount than it's poorer quality big cousin, the big brand lager. I'd say the average differential is around 20%. That can't be right. Cask ale is a better quality product, generally looked after by better quality people in better quality pubs. Value? if we carry on undervaluing cask ale in monetary terms it'll drive those that care about it out of the industry from shear financial necessity.
Before I leave the subject I'd like to mention one place that intrigues me; The Rake at Borough Market. I'd never been until the other day and I'd have to say I like it. I'm not sure it's that much more expensive than other similar alternatives. It was very busy when I was in there on a Wednesday evening. I did not find the staff at all rude and enjoyed my nice time there. I wonder if the staff have a second sense for identifying customers whose sole aim in life is to find cheap beer? I crumbled and paid money for Nanny State 1.1%, which was an unbalanced hop monster, but the best low alcohol beer I'd ever tried. I'll be back there tomorrow late afternoon as I have a date with a dog later that evening and will need some Dutch courage.