According to the 2019 Cask Report, presented yesterday in London by editor Matt Eley, there are ‘serious challenges for the industry to overcome before cask returns to growth’.
With consumption of cask ale having declined by 4.8% year on year, Eley highlighted that premiumisation is crucial to revert the negative trend. Elements such as improved quality, correct serving temperature and higher prices would help the premiumisation of the category, he said.
‘Too many brands and not enough throughput means poor quality,’ said Eley. New World Trading Co's beer guru Lauren Soderberg, who was present at the event, agreed explaining that her company reduced the number of handpumps in each of its sites to ensure that none of their beers go stale thanks to a higher cask ale turnover.
According to the report, poorly kept beer is the main reason drinkers move away from cask ale and it's also the most significant barrier to people drinking it in the first place. Customers lack the confidence to complain about poor quality; instead they avoid choosing the brand in the future or even visiting the pub altogether.
'If you can’t get the quality right,' commented Paul Nunny of Cask Marque, 'please don’t stock cask.'
Serving temperature affects the perception of quality too. Following a trial undertook over the summer, the Cask Report claimed that the ideal serving temperature for cask beer is between 11° and 13°.
The price issue has sparked heated debate over the past few weeks, as SIBA’s James Calder openly criticised JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin for slashing beer prices across its sites.
Cheap cask beer means low margin for publicans and even lower for brewers. Furthermore, as cask ale is often the least expensive beer on offer in bars and pubs, this element can affect the category's perceived quality too, already seen as ‘an old man’s drink’ by many younger drinkers.
'The most perplexing thing is the price difference between craft keg beers and cask beers,' said Eley. 'Drinkers are paying on average an extra £1.50 per pint for craft keg than they are for cask. Given all that goes into creating a great pint of cask ale, it’s strange that there is so little equivalence.'