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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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Monday, 5 October 2009

Britain's National Drink - the new Cask Report launches today

Cask beer - or real ale - is outperforming every other beer style. It's returned to volume growth. The number of women drinking it has doubled year on year. It creates a unique 'value chain' that helps pubs become more profitable.

All this and more is featured in the Cask Report, which I'm launching with a press conference at Brew Wharf tonight.

This is the third year I've been invited to write this annual report, backed by micro, family and regional brewers, Cask Marque, CAMRA and SIBA. I got paid for writing it - hell, it takes four months to do - but I strive to remain independent while doing so.

The first cask report (then called The Intelligent Choice) showed that cask ale wasn't doing quite as badly as everyone thought - it was declining by no more than the beer market generally.

Last year we showed it was declining at a much lower rate than other beers.

This year we're revealing what will hopefully become a return to volume growth - cask grew by 1% in the first six months of 2009, and current trends suggest it will show a full year of growth by December. Remarkable given all the shit pubs are currently having to contend with.

This demonstrates that the taste for craft-brewed, flavourful beer is no longer confined to a beardy few. Great beer is going mainstream, and that's a good thing.

The challenge with all this is persuading a few more pubs that there's something in it for them. cask still sells at a lower price than most beers on the bar. Great for those drinkers on a tight budget, not so great for the publican who's struggling to make a living.

The Cask Report reveals that cask ale creates a value chain that brings more affluent drinkers to the pub, more often and in greater numbers, who spend more money on everything - not just cask ale - while they're in there. I'm not arguing that decent cask ale pubs are immune to recession, but they are closing at a much slower rate than pubs generally.

Please read the report, or at least the press release. Tell your friends. Tell your local publican. You rarely hear any good news in the broader beer market these days - and this really is great news.

9 comments:

Rabidbarfly said...

This is great news, I can even give you an example, my cask sales have literally doubled in the year I have been at The Rake. People really seem to be genuinely glad to see real ale on, to the point that I've recently put in a third handpump.
Cheers to that!

Cooking Lager said...

If Stella maintained its current decline, it would remain the biggest beer in the UK for the next 15 years. Comparing an improvement in a small niche market with and overall decline in the mainstream is not a meaningful comparison.

Pete said...

CL, it's meaningful because there are lots of people out there who believe the niche (a niche worth £2bn to pubs by the way) is the one that's in terminal decline - and it isn't.

Lager will always be the bigger, more mainstream drink, but it's nice to know the alternatives are thriving.

But you know that, you coffee porter lover.

Fatman said...

CL - it's meaningful if you happen to earn your living in the niche, and far more of us do that than earn a living from brewing Stella.

Curmudgeon said...

Cask beer has become a frightfully middle-class drink now, though, hasn't it? The message is very much that if you want more ABC1s in your pub, the way to do it is through selling and promoting cask ;-)

scissorkicks said...

Will look forward to reading it. Very, VERY glad it's not called "The Intelligent Choice" any more. It may as well have been called "Cask isn't for riff-raff, what?"

Woolpack Dave said...

I like it because it's not for riff-raff, what?

There's a lot to read. How do I get hold of a nice glossy copy?

I like the bit:
"Off-trade premium bottled ale performance demonstrates that ale drinkers are prepared to pay a premium for beers with quality, flavour depth and integrity - something the on-trade should perhaps take on board."

Coffee porter is terribly pongy, I find....

OscarTG said...

I am as thick as mince when it comes to anything that talks about net volume versus gross growth or similar, so this is a genuine question rather than a dig. The Report says things such as "2009 will be the year that cask ale returned to positive volume...growth" (p.10) yet one of the very first stats in the report shows cask beers' "market volume" declining by 81,000 barrels. What, aside from the standard number of brain cells, am I missing?

Pete said...

Oscar, good question - it's simply a matter of the data not being labelled quite as clearly as it should be.

The barrelage loss figure is to the end of December 2008. The growth we've seen so far is in the first six months of 2009, and latest figures suggest it's continuing to improve.

Re comments about cask ale being middle class... the simple truth is that it is - cask drinkers are significantly more upmarket than other beer drinkers in every single set of figures you can look at. This is good news for pubs because it means cask drinkers have more money to spend. But I agree we shouldn't try to make it exclusive and snooty on that basis. Beer - any beer - is democratic.

I never liked The Intelligent Choice as a name.