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The Cask Report shows how cask ale helps keep good pubs open

Today sees the launch of the Cask Report, the annual state of the beery nation I write on behalf of a loose consortium of brewers and beer industry bodies.
Every year I think ‘how can we do another one without just getting repetitious?’ and every year we somehow get enough insight and data to give us more understanding of why cask ale is increasing in popularity and why this is good news for publicans (the main target audience for the report). Everything can be downloaded from the Cask Report website, if not now then by the end of the day, but here are the main summary highlights…  

Cask ale is outperforming  the total beer market by 6.8%

Cask declined marginally by 1.1% in 2012, versus a total beer market decline of 7.9%, and the long-term trend remains one of steady improvement. Cask grew in value by 3% (thanks to increasing prices). Cask’s ale’s share of total draught ale has increased to 55%. Cask continues to grow its share of all beer with a 16% share of all on-trade beer. Although cask ale’s performance is flat, that’s much better than the general decline in beer.

Cask ale continues to grow in awareness and interest 

More pubs are stocking more cask ales on the bar. 57% of pubs now stock cask – up from 53% in 2009 – stocking an average 3.8 different brands. 

The growth in range is helped by the 184 new breweries that have opened in the last year

That’s three new breweries a week. We now have 1147 breweries in the UK, the vast majority of which brew cask ale.

Cask ale plays a major part in keeping pubs open 

Cask ale pubs see better results across the whole beer range, and cask drinkers are far more likely to visit the pub, far less likely to say they are doing so less often. Many people say they are going to the
pub less often than they used to, and 47% of the population say they are drinking less alcohol than they did a year ago. (So where are all the binge drink scare stories coming from?) The reasons they give are obvious, but interesting nevertheless. Only a tiny minority cite issues like the smoking ban as the reason for not going to pubs as often. 73% of drinkers say they are drinking more at home because it is cheaper. And the main reasons people are drinking less is that they want to get healthier. This is really important for pubs: if they want to stem the decline, it suggests we need some value alternatives, lower ABV drinks, better (and better value) soft drinks, and healthier food options on menus. Only 20% of cask drinkers (as opposed to 47% of all adults) say they are drinking less, and 25% say they are drinking more. Those who are drinking more are doing so because they perceive improvements in the quality, range and availability of cask. So cask drinkers are bucking the trend of declining pub-goers.

Cask ale has outgrown its traditional base 

It’s now a drink for men and women of all ages. Our research among drinkers shows a big take-up among a wider audience, and most cask ale publicans believe cask is bringing more women and younger drinkers into their pubs. One in five cask ale drinkers tried it for the first time in the last four years – proving cask is attracting new drinkers. 

A major appeal of cask to both drinkers and publicans is its variety

Both publicans and drinkers talk about the huge array of styles and flavours. The optimal cask range is a mix of style, colour, ABV, familiarity and provenance, and should be rotated on an on-going basis. But consumers want guest ales to stay on the bar for longer than licensees currently keep them, and want a core of familiar brands as well as new and different beers. Big and small both have a role to play.

Recent interest in ‘craft beer’ is driving awareness and appreciation of cask

Despite people on both sides of the ‘craft’ debate stirring up conflict on blogs, at events and in the trade press, creating the impression that new-style craft beer and traditional cask ale are threats to each other, most people – at least most who are aware of craft beer – think the two styles go hand-in-hand and have a large overlap. Awareness of ‘craft’ is not as widespread among consumers as it is in the industry. 77% of licensees are aware of craft beer, but only 37% of drinkers (this rises to 47% among cask ale drinkers). Those who are aware of it believe it denotes quality and is worth paying more for, and consider most cask ale to be ‘craft’. It’s a good thing. And it’s a real boost – not a threat – to cask ale.

Pub beer festivals are increasingly popular

33% of cask ale pubs – around 10,000 pubs in total – have run a beer festival in the last
year. This is a major source of trial for new drinkers. 39% of women who drink cask beer, for example, do so at festivals.

Cask ale publicans cannot imagine a future for pubs without cask. 

We carried out some original, independent research among licensees who stock cask. It was brilliant to hear from them about how at the novice end of the spectrum, people who start to learn about cask never having drunk it before quickly develop a genuine personal interest in it and start drinking it themselves. They go on to become passionate advocates for it. Most see it as an essential part of any quality pub’s product mix.

The launch of the report is timed to coincide with and kick off Cask Ale Week, which seems to be getting bigger every year. Go out and drink some cask ale. It’s a good thing.




Out of interest Pete, if cask is decreasing by ~1%pa, in what way can you justify your claim in the opening paragraph that it is "increasing in popularity"?


Fair question. Two points:

It's slightly down this year, it was slightly up last year. So it's pretty constant rather than continued decline.

But it's not growing hugely either.

What's happening is more people are drinking it, more pubs are stocking it, but most drinkers don't drink it very often – it's an occasional thing. So more drinkers, but on average, drinking less often, hence similar volume being split between more people.


Just out of interest, did anyone taking part in the survey ask for clarification of craft, or was it open to their interpretation?

Cooking Lager

It looks very nice, as always, top stuff fella.

One minor niggle, it is an example of a report which justifies a pre determined outcome rather than seeks to offer genuine insight.

Like a consultant being asked what the answer is asking back, "what answer do you want?"


The report points out that drinkers would like guest beers to be available longer. As a former publican i have heard this lots of times. If an east anglian free house has 2 permanents (Adnams Bitter and Crouch Vale Brewers Gold) and a guest. When you have Doom Bar as the guest all the Adnams drinkers drink that and your Adnams sales decline rapidly. The Adnams drinkers say 'Can't you have Doom Bar on all the time / longer'. When Oakham JHB comes on all the Coush Vale drinkers go over to that and moan in the same way when something else replaces it. Then you put Thornbridge Kipling on and all the people who are not excited by the two permanent beers drink that and say 'wish you had that on for a month, not just one firkin'. When you interview them they all say that they wish the guest beer was on longer, but what they mean is the guest beer they like!


In our pub the customers like the guest ales (we have one permanent and three rotating) because of the fact that there's always something new. Since increasing the quality and variety of ales four years ago, the number of handpumps here has doubled, and sales across the board have doubled. Having good food helps too. But quality ale is bringing customers into the pub.


Eddie – craft was open to their interpretation – which is why some surprising beers were considered to be craft – surprising for anyone too close to the issue, anyway.

Cookie – at a certain level, I'm employed to write a report that is positive about cask ale. But it also has to be factually correct. I always look for good news about craft, but I resist both the temptation and the requests I get from stakeholders to 'spin' that information into something that is misleading. You're just gonna have to trust me on that one!



Really enjoyed this report – good use of graphics too.

Is there a sister report about craft keg too? Also, did you conduct any research into how publicans stock bottled beers? I have always thought that a guest cask was a good way to introduce locals to a new product available on bottle, which they could then keep on in bottle for the three weeks of the month that you mentioned the consumers wish the beer to be available.

Sorry to go massively off topic as I realise that this is the cask report!



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