Tuesday, 30 September 2008
Can you afford to ignore cask ale? (That's a rhetorical question by the way)
The other big thing apart from the book is the Intelligent Choice report, which was launched last night in the stunning Counting House, a Fuller's pub and former bank (maybe we'll be seeing a lot more of those!)
The report is the brainchild of the Why Handpull group, formed of the main regional brewers, in association with the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), CAMRA and Cask Marque, the body that promotes cask ale quality in pubs. They commissioned me to write the first one last year and, happily, asked me to do it again this year.
I've slagged CAMRA in the past and I used to advertise lager, so I have no particular political axe to grind about cask ale - I think that's one of the reasons they chose me to write it. I hate it when people can't decide whether a beer is any good or not until they know whether it's cask conditioned. So while the report is positive, it's objective. I'm not saying everybody should drink cask ale because I want them to, I'm saying pubs should stock it mainly because it is a proven driver of profit and footfall at a time when pubs need all the help they can get.
This year's report shows that, far from the terminal decline many mistakenly believe cask ale to be in, it's actually performing better than any other ale or lager category. It's still in volume decline but only just, whereas premium lager is shedding volume faster than Fern Britton in a gastric band.
This couldn't be happening if cask ale was only drunk by old blokes and beardy wierdies. Those people do exist (though every time I see an old man on his own in a pub these days, he's drinking Carlsberg or Carling), but most cask drinkers are affluent, upmarket, discerning individuals in their forties and fifties. What's really interesting is a growign number of occasional drinkers are in their late twenties and early thirties - younger on average than beer drinkers generally.
But 65% of the UK population have never tried cask ale, Britain's national drink. That's nonsense - imagine if 65% of French people had never tasted wine. And the remarkable thing is that when people do try it, 40% if them start drinking it regularly. There's huge potential for growth here.
The report website went live yesterday and is at http://www.caskalereport.com/. You can see a summary of key findings on the site and you cand download PDFs of last year's and this year's report. I'm available for interviews and comment if you're a journalist and you're interested in covering it. If you're a journalist and you're not interested in covering it, why the hell not?