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The Cask Report 2015: Why Pubs Need Cask Ale Drinkers

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 may be doing well, but why should this be of interest to struggling pubs if it sells for less than other drinks on the bar? We did research with 2000 drinkers to show why:

Cask drinkers visit the pub more often

Cask drinkers are more loyal to pubs

Percentage who say they are going to the pub more often now than they did three years ago

Cask drinkers spend more in pubs

By multiplying the average number of visits per year by the average spend per visit, we are able to show that cask ale drinkers spend almost double the amount the average person spend in pubs, and significantly more than any other group of drinkers

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.

Reclaiming summer

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.




Seeing as you presumably have access to the full figures, when did Cask Ale sales peak in this country and when did they subsequently bottom out? (Within the last few years, I guess).


Py – depends on the timeframe. In the postwar era, probably the late 40s. In the CAMRA era, around 1975-77 before the big lager surge kicked in.

Nadir probably around 2008-10.


So it would be entirely accurate to say that during almost the entirety of CAMRA's existence, cask ale sales have fallen, and its only recently, with the switch of attention away from CAMRA and to the craft beer movement, that they've picked up again. Interesting stuff.

This entirely backs up my experience of speaking to young people throughout the past 20 years, that dogmatic and fusty CAMRA have done more to put people off drinking cask ale than the big multinational lager and spirit companies could have dreamed of achieving even with unlimited funds.


Hmm… I know where you're going with that py but it's not quite right. The thing is, over the course of me writing the report, membership of CAMRA has gone from about 50,000 to 170,000.

What CAMRA did very well in the 1970s is pressure pubs to stock cask and breweries to keep making it. You can't fault them for that. But I 100%^ agree that after that, they contributed to giving it a poor image.

I think part of cask's revival is the skipping a generation thing you see in a lot of drinks: a bunch of people drink it, as they get older, a new thing comes in that looks cooler to a younger generation. Then they too age, and the third generation comes in without so many negative perceptions and the thing can be reappraised and reinvented. An interesting example of this: when I was 20, 'ale' was an old-fashioned and farty word while 'bitter' was straightforward, no-nonsense. But when I talk to drinkers in their twenties now, 'ale' is cool and artisanal and 'bitter' has become old and farty.

Kyle T

I was having a read of the full article and came across this little gem 'Cask ale can't be replicated at home'.

What absolute rubbish, I have been 'replicating' cask ale at home for the last year and many others I know have been doing it for longer, if you have been making the report for 9 years, surely you would have learnt this by now?

I suggest you conduct your research more efficiently in future Mr Brown.


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