Photograph: Frances Brace
New research has highlighted great affection for cask ale, but this has not stopped sales declining, the latest annual Cask Report reveals.
The report lays out the reasons for declining sales (6.8% in the past year alone), explains why it matters, and points to ways of reversing the decline.
Editor Matt Eley said: “The report is aimed at the pub and beer industries, but the findings impact on the wider public. Seventeen pubs a week are closing, ripping the hearts out of communities, but thriving sales of cask ale can help keep pubs open.”
There are now 2,500 breweries in Britain. Between them, they produce more than 10,000 different cask beers a year. It’s astonishing, then, that two-thirds (66%) of 18- to 24-year-olds have never tried a singleone of them.
Matt said: “There’s a job to be done to engage these younger drinkers, as well as older ones, in this fantastic
drink — and to reduce the risk to pubs in the process. You can’t buy real ale from a shop. The only
places you can get it are pubs and bars. That’s why it’s so important.”
Research carried out for the report shows the image of cask just hasn’t kept up with the times. Matt said: “As a
delicious, fresh product with no added gas, it should be in growing, not shrinking demand. It ticks all the boxes for people who care about the environment, ingredients, naturalness and taste. Sales should be rocketing!”
Report findings on temperature may hold some of the answer. Real ale should be served at a cool, not chilled, 11 to 13 degrees centigrade. That’s cooler than red wine, but not as cold as lager or keg ales. But the research showed just over two-thirds of pubs (69%) are selling pints at above 13º C in the summer.
The report also found that just under two-thirds (64%) of cask drinkers would prefer their beer served even colder than the recommended 11º.
Paul Nunny, of beer quality scheme Cask Marque, says this finding is worth exploring, but that the first step is for pubs to get their beer to recommended specification. “If people could trust every pub serving cask to serve it at 11º to 13º C, even on the hottest day of the year, it would revolutionise perceptions. People would get the full refreshment value, and realise that far from being ‘warm’, real ale is cool — and delicious.
He says that Cask Marque will be launching a ‘Making Cask Cool’ campaign to get licensees and bar staff to become beer temperature aware. “It might take only one warm pint to put someone off cask ale for life. So pubs need to support each other by having all their staff working to the highest standards all the time, presenting cool cask and brilliant beer each and every time.”
Mystery drinker visits
In a bid to galvanise the industry into action, 10,000 extra mystery drinker visits will be added to the 22,000 visits already carried out by Cask Marque assessors each year. Cask Marque will be challenging any licensee who isn’t controlling the temperature of beer in the glass.
The Cask Report shows that 85% of licensees say stocking cask is extra work, but they take pride in getting it right. “That passion needs to translate into the positive action, in terms of beer temperature, staff training and customer service,” said Paul.
“Bar staff should taste the beers for themselves. Licensees should then be encouraging them to offer samples of different real ales for customers to try. They should target those younger customers whose default socialising might otherwise be at home; who are unlikely to have tried cask beer; who may not have a very positive view of it, but who may find themselves unexpected converts.
“We will win these challenges. We have to. The future of the sector depends on it.”