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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Friday, 3 April 2009

By 'eck! It's Cask Ale week!

The UK's biggest ever celebration of cask ale starts next week.  When I posted about it a few weeks ago people were a bit, "um, what's the point?"  So here's a bit more detail.

Cask ale is the best performing sector of the British market, and the work in our Intelligent Choice report shows why.  It gives pubs a point of difference over supermarkets.  If it's kept well, it speaks volumes about quality standards in the rest of the pub.  It attracts an older, more affluent clientele.  So that's why it's being promoted.  It's the first time all Britain's major cask ale brewers have pulled together to do something like this.

Things kick off with a press launch at St Pancras station at 10am on Monday 6th, where Melanie Sykes will kick things off and, perhaps unfortunately, Oz Clarke and James May will also be in attendance.  From noon till 7pm, thousands of samples of cask ale will be handed out to commuters - only 35% of people have ever tried it, but when people do 40% of them switch to drinking it.  If you write about beer and you're nearby, it's worth popping along.

On Wednesday there's a big push to get women to try cask ale, because only 16% of British women have ever tried it. 

On Thursday there's a big push to get ale drinkers to introduce a friend to it.

On Friday and Saturday, hundreds of breweries will be throwing open their doors to the public for tours.

And on Sunday, they're going to attempt the world's biggest toast, getting thousands of people in pubs up and down the country to raise a glass at the same time, monitored by the Guinness Book of Records.

Your local pub should have some interesting guest ales on.  At the very least, it's an opportunity to have a few pints and maybe try to convert a friend.  I'm sure it won't be perfect as an event, but it deserves to succeed and it can only be in any beer lover's interest that it does.

15 comments:

The Beer Nut said...

Couldn't you find a more appropriate World-Record-Awarding body? One that doesn't depend on the addition of extraneous CO2?

Pete said...

beer nut:

*approved*

jesusjohn said...

I hate being all Daily-Mail-rantathon, but...

I have a few issues with Cask Ale Week. First of all the website is awful. They lined up some sassy models for the welcome page but the beer they're holding looks about as appetising as Sarsons.

They've decided to hold it through Easter weekend, when a lot of pubs will be busy anyway. The CAMRA lot might see that as a good thing - entice the crowd. But most publicans I've spoken to say they don't really see the point - why do promotions and invest in PoS materials for a time you *know* you'll have trade? Far better to have timed it for a quieter period and had pubs promote it with more heart.

Finally - perhaps my biggest gripe - this is clearly a big push by the big pubcos.

Now I hasten to add there's nothing wrong with that in itself, but look at the 'participating outlets' feature.

For Cambridge (with three notable exceptions) it's just a list of Punch and Enterprise pubs - most of which I wouldn't dare advise anyone to visit for a pint of real ale. In a city (plus villages) with c.14 GBG entries (and I'm just using GBG as a rule of thumb indicator here - I'm not trying to say it's gospel), just two are down as 'participating'.

So there's obviously been some issue persuading pubs there is a point to this.

It's 'in association' with the Daily Telegraph. God help us all.

Having said all this, I'm sure lessons will be learned. I honestly feel ashamed for being such a miserable bugger. Sorry.

Telford Chris said...

I find it a good thing especially in our part of the world where there are very few real ale pubs. I am a publican and am very supportive of this initiative in fact our pub is listed in the telegraph (number 70) and we were over the moon as we weren't expecting it at all.

If we can convert a few more people to drinking proper beer then we will have achieved our aim

jesusjohn said...

Telford Chris - you're absolutely right. I came across way too harrumphily earlier. Still think they can improve it for next year (the timing, I maintain, is silly) - but this is the first one. Good luck in your pub!

Mario (Brewed for Thought) said...

Pete,

Is this another one of your attempts to make beer seem cool and hip move designed to lure in underage drinkers. First it's the "extreme" beers, not this real ale stuff?

You motives are apparent to all of us Pete!

Ed said...

Well I've got a voucher for a free pint in a Fullers pub out of it so it gets the thumbs up from me!

Woolpack Dave said...

I generally agree with JesusJohn. For me Easter is very busy. 85% of my draft is real ale anyway. What's the point in me taking part in real ale week?

Pete said...

Jesusjohn, I agree with some of your points and you shouldn't beat yourself up about having concerns, but the attitude of some publicans drives me mad!

You say it's just the big pub cos - well, the event would be deemed to lack scale and credibility if they weren't involved, and they're the people who don't always show as much support for cask ale as they should, so apparently cask ale week can't win. They're not excluding the smaller licensees - they'd love it if those guys were in on it too. Small operators have excluded themselves because they "can't see the point".

I take the point about Easter already being busy, but this is the first one and I think they want to be sure the event will work - but yes, it may be of more short term benefit to the licensee if it was another time.

But 'can't see the point' is part of the problem - turn it on its head - what harm could there be in taking part?

With 2000 dead in twelve months, here's an initiative that's only trying to help pubs in general, and here we have pubs refusing to get involved, then slagging it off! All you seem to hear from publicans sometimes is bloody moaning.

What's the point in cleaning my lines every week? What's the point in installing wi-fi so people might sit there for a couple of hours in the afternoon? What's the point in getting in some bar snacks for people to plug the gap between bags of crisps and full meals?

Woolpack Dave, if you're doing 85% real ale and you're already busy, you're clearly doing a great job with real ale (and obviously do see the point in cleaning lines etc) - but this event is about getting new people trying real ale and you could be getting in new punters for the first time when it's busy over Easter and drink real ale for the first time, who then come back to your pub more often from now on - that's what the point is.

But I've got a better idea - let's sit and complain, it'll make us all feel a bit better about ourselves and we can convince ourselves that whatever the problem is, we aren't part of it.

Sorry guys - this is not a personal attack on you two - you're engaging on here at least.

jesusjohn said...

Pete - I agree and disagree, I suppose. It sits ill with me to act like a moany bastard - perhaps I should've kept my reservations until after the event.

I *totally* agree if Cask Ale Week is to work then the big pubcos have to be involved. My gripe is that many of them (due to the variable quality of publicans, not because they are pubco pubs) tend to be substandard purveyors of cask ale.

My point is no more complex than the classic 'the only thing worse than no real ale is bad real ale'. So we could have a situation where we're funnelling drinkers into pubs to try a drink that, in many of those pubs, will taste shoddy.

But then this becomes a chicken and egg situation, I agree.

It just seems farcical that a large percentage of the very best cask beer pubs are not bothering with Cask Ale Week - and I think this is often because over Easter weekend a lot of these pubs have organised events of their own (as, and this is an unashamedly rule-of-thumb generalisation) the majority of ale-led pubs are more active in the community and likely to be looking forward with glee to the Easter break.

Finally, I think Fuller's and Adnams have made very decent nods in their efforts (Fuller's will have cask Golden Pride and Porter; Adnams have brewed Adnams Extra for release during the week). Hopefully this will persuade other breweries to mark the occasion next year.

I'm sure there will be plenty of feedback - and that Cask Ale Week 2009 will greatly inform 2010's effort.

maeib said...

Any initiative which gets Adnams brewing Extra again has got worthiness written all over it straight away. I had a pint of it on Thursday and it's as good as I remember it being.

BLTP said...

maeib: we had some of the extra at the traflagar in the sun yesterday afternoon and it was delish do you know why it's "extra" it had more hoppy flavour but apart from that we weren't sure.
I think week when people brew celebration ales is a top idea and as for easter well it's celebration of fecundity and new life so the perfect time for bringing new life into pubs. From my own exprienc of organisinig events there is never a "good" time there are people who would complain about holding boxing day on 26th december.
Now who knows where they've got golden Pride on?

impymalting said...

I confess I read the website and was confused-- it seemed the site was aimed at publicans? I wasn't sure if it was approaching drinkers or potential drinkers, or just landlords?

I like the idea of handing out free beer-- it's simple and makes its own argument!

What are they doing on Wednesday to get women to drink beer? I'm particularly interested in this, but it seems mysterious.

Pete said...

Hi Impy,

I'm rather embarrassed to say I don't know the answer to your question. The site is definitely a trade site, and the only info I've been given is that interview opps are available to journos with Annabel Smith, Britain's only female (Cask Marque) beer inspector, and Emma Gilleland, head brewer at Marston's.

Direct consumer communication is definitely something that could be improved.

The Beer Adventurer said...

There are loads of interesting points raised here. The website is shockingly bad, no doubt and the timing is odd. I think that good ale pubs don't see an angle for themselves, as rightly pointed out, most will be doing something for Easter anyway.
Next year maybe it could be aimed at those pubs that do little or no cask ale, with the bigger breweries funding training in cellar management and pouring and then putting some beers on for the cask ale week.