I’ve written the Cask Report for the last nine years. This year was my final one. Here are the headlines, and some thoughts on what’s happened to the market over the time I’ve been doing the report.
I presented the 2015 Cask Report this morning. Each year we start with a blank page and try to pull out some interesting stories that are going to help publicans make money from cask, and hopefully grab a few headlines. It gets tougher every year to find something new to say, but this year, thanks to some new research, I think we managed to produce some really useful stuff.
Cask ale is thriving
The numbers are modest, to say the least, but they’re going in the right direction. Cask ale has now shown consistent volume growth every year for the past three years. In 2014 it grew by 0.2%. In the first six months of 2015 it grew by a further 0.5%. If that sounds tiny consider that cask ale is only available in pubs, and 29 pubs are closing. Also consider that the total beer market is in volume decline. Cask continue to outperform the market as a whole.
- The value of cask ale has grown by 29% since 2010
- Cask ale is now available in 70% of pubs
- Pubs are selling more if it – the average sales per pub per week of cask have gone up by 8% in volume and 32% in value since 2011
- Cask is forecast to account for 20% of all on-trade beer sales by 2020
Why should pubs stock cask?
Cask drinkers visit the pub more often
Cask drinkers are more loyal to pubs
Cask drinkers spend more in pubs
Cask drinkers take other drinkers to pubs with them
People drink in mixed groups. It’s likely the cask drinker makes the decision about which pub they’ll go to.
Cask ale and craft beer
Cask ale and craft beer are not the same – and neither are they totally separate. There’s a significant overlap between the two.
Avoiding the torture of trying to DEFINE craft beer, it’s possible to look at beers on a beer by beer, style by style basis and say ‘that one is definitely craft’ and ‘that one definitely isn’t’. Among everyone obsessed with trying to define craft, it;s hard to imagine anyone arguing that, say, Magic Rock High Wire is not a craft beer, or that John Smith’s Smoothflow is craft beer. So by looking at the market one brand at a time, analysts CGA Strategy have compiled (an admittedly subjective) list based on ingredients, beer styles and brewers so that craft can be measured even if it can’t be defined. With me? Good. On that basis, we can show that:
- Craft beer has grown by 533% in five years and now accounts for 8% of total on-trade ale
- Cask ale is by far the biggest format of craft beer
Sure, keg and can are growing strongly, but in the British on-trade, most craft beer is sold on cask. If you;re still one of those people who thinks craft beer is defined by packaging format, you need to learn more about beer.
Quality and training
You don’t just get a share of the profits by sticking a few handpumps on the bar and waiting for people to flock in. As cask ale grows, training and quality become more important than ever. Basic cellar training increases the yield from an average cask by 7%. You’d have to be stupid to serve cask ale and not train your staff to look after it, appreciate it, and serve it properly.
There’s loads more on the full report, which you can download here, if not now then very soon: http://cask-marque.co.uk/cask-matters/
I’ve been writing the Cask report for nine years. In the first year, our message was that cask ale wasn’t doing quite as shit as everyone thought, that it was performing no worse than the rest of the beer market. Back in 1997, I’d never have believed we would ever be saying that cask was in sustained volume growth, or that it was worth more to pubs. It’s been an incredible ride.
There’s more to be done – particularly around education, trial, staff training, food matching, and the relationship between cask and craft – which I think is crucial to the future prosperity of both in the UK.
But I want by summers back. I’m working on three books and a literary festival and for the first time in a decade I’d like to have some time off next summer. So I won’t be doing the Cask Report again. It’s been a blast.