Monday 27 September 2010

A bright future for cask

Today sees the publication of The Cask Report – Britain’s National Drink, 2010-2011. First published in 2007, todays edition is the fourth in a line of good beer news written by the award winning writer Pete Brown.
"Despite declining total beer sales and continuing pub closures, cask ale last year outperformed the beer market, increased its share of on-trade beer for the third successive year and grew its drinker base by 1.4%"
There, that's the headline news; Despite a deep recession our national drink is bucking against the economic backdrop. In more detail the report shows that micro-brewed beer has seen a growth in volume by around 5% in the year compared to 1% for the regionals and "super-micros" and in contrast the volume for multinational cask ale dropped by a staggering 11% resulting in only 16% of cask beer being brewed by multinationals.

The report gives great detail as to why all this might be the case. It explains that although we are more careful with how much money we spend, it also means that we spend the little we have more wisely. Indeed, a shock perhaps to some who think cask beer can only ever be priced low, the report cites research that shows most cask drinkers are in fact prepared to pay more for well kept quality cask beer. In summary, cask is enjoying a steady trend towards premiumisation.

The Cask report goes into detail of how people generally are becoming ever more conscious of the environment, and furthermore, cask drinkers in particular tend to be more discerning
and adventurous and have more disposable income. Couple this with the fact that the pub industry is fairing well in the eating out market compared to restaurants, and the natural association of cask with good pub food all helps to mark out a strong performance.

I could continue to digest and regurgitate more salient points from the report, like the starkling North-South divide, but you should read it at the official web site really. I could also nit pick out the things I disagree with, like the point that beer is somehow unfairly taxed; it isn't, beer attracts less duty per unit of alcohol than wine and spirits. I may well return to various issues highlighted in the report, but for now I want to make one extension to what I think is a very interesting point.

The report points out that cask drinkers are more likely to be adventurous and that cask drinkers are getting younger. Pete has been commissioned by the cask beer industry to write this report and as such the focus is clearly on the cask market and there is nothing wrong with that.

However, although I do not have access to the industry statistics that Pete has, there is some anecdotal evidence to show that beer drinkers in general are becoming more adventurous and adventurous beer drinkers are getting younger. The report does not cover what appears to me to be a fast growing alternative to cask beer; bottle and craft keg. Indeed, I'm marginally irritated by the glossary at the end where keg is deemed as being filtered and/or pasteurised when we know that this clearly does not have to be the case.

Many supermarket shelves now contain a good selection of bottles of microbrewed beer. Much of this incidentally is not bottle conditioned. A well known importer/wholesaler of foreign craft beer is constantly reporting good growing sales of their products often breaking records on volume alone, never mind the real value growth. I think this is an indication of a very strong, vibrant and exciting time for growth in craft beer that goes well beyond cask beer. Cask beer is a majority part of that scene but I suspect the growth of imported and microbrewed bottles and keg beer, were it to be measured, along with a growth of specialist beer bars, would surpass the already great news that is contained in the cask report.

There is, quite rightly, a section indicating how important blogging, facebook, twitter and other forms of on-line communications are to emerging craft beer consumers and brewers alike. This I think reflects the fact that the adventurous beer drinker is getting younger and more trendy. Beer is gaining a trendy image amongst a technologically aware audience and that audience is highly social not only on-line but also, it turns out, in real life too.

The UK beer scene is, in my view, extremely exciting. There is everything here and it's becoming more accessible. Our national treasure of cask is going from strength to strength in an otherwise declining market, but it would seem that further premiumisation is sought by the adventurous beer drinker as we now have great availability of continental, American and even our own home-grown facsimiles to round off perhaps the best beer country in the world.


Topping66 said...

This is The Guardian's take. I think they have got their figures wrong

Real ale now accounts for 15.2% of total beer volumes in pubs – about one in every six pints sold.

if only..


Unknown said...

Ben - that figure is absolutely right! Dave - glad you like it. The report is financed by cask ale brewers and industry bodies and the focus reflects that. My personal views on cask vs quality keg and bottled beers are more similar to yours than the report might suggest, and elsewhere my writing reflects that. Should there be a craft beer report rather than a cask report? Interesting question. I couldn't possibly comment.

Unknown said...

Pete, wasn't having a dig at you mate, I know the remit and that your own views are broader than that remit.

I think there should be a wider craft report, but who is going to fund someone to do it?

Cooking Lager said...

At 15% of the market, cask ale is "our national drink". Eh?

Unknown said...

Cookie, as usual, you got me there.

However, it may well be drunk at lower volumes than The Lout, and I've actually stopped worrying about that. But you can't deny that cask beer is an internationally renowned British icon, much more than any other beverage and you certainly can't call lager the National drink, just because it's sold in the greatest volumes, surely?

And look, I know I often criticise CAMRA, and I try and say that cask ale is not the only way to serve good craft beer, but I'm still a supporter of cask beer. There is part of me that is a traditionalist, see. There is part of me that sees cask ale as being traditionally British, like the NHS and The Mini car and bowler hats and roast beef and morris dancing and stuff.

The Scottish national garment is considered to be the kilt. Most people in Scotland don't wear a kilt very often, does that now make jeans the national Scottish attire?

Cooking Lager said...

shell suits, last time I was up there, matey.

StringersBeer said...

national drink is tea. as any fule kno

Ed said...

The last figures I saw showed premium bottled ales as the beer type with the biggest sales growth. Dunno about posh keg though.

Curmudgeon said...

Although obviously it's produced by Marstons, doesn't this Premium Bottled Ale Report to some extent replicate the Cask Report for its own sector?

Unknown said...

Mudgie, ta, that is most useful, I'd not seen that before.

ZakAvery said...

Nice post Dave. I also think that there is a higher signal-to-noise ratio with decent bottle beer - that's to say that given the potentially wider distribution via mail order etc, bottles are a good way of getting your beer talked about - but I don't need to tell you that!

Neville Grundy said...

Cooking Lager: statistically, most people don't watch football, even when it's free on TV, but it's still called our national sport, as is cricket, watched by even fewer.

And Cheryl Cole, with a criminal conviction for ABH, has been called a national treasure.

Des de Moor said...

Excellent comment, Dave, and of course I share yours (and Pete's) views about the extension of craft beer beyond cask. The real dynamite in the report is, I think, the stuff on price, which I've long been arguing -- and is going to prove quite a challenge to those CAMRA members who still seem to be fixated on cheap price.