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New campaign to boost the image of cask ale

Finally, the beer industry has come together to promote cask ale. And I find myself right in the thick of it.

This week, the “Drink Cask Fresh” campaign launched in 27 pilot pubs across England. 

And after one of the co-founders of the campaign left the beer industry for a new job, I find myself running it.

The woes of cask ale can be pinned down to three main factors:

  • Quality: can be variable, especially if left on the bar too long ior not looked after properly.
  • Pricing: a beer that is every inch artisanal, quality, is priced cheaper than almost any other beer on the bar. Not only does that not exactly scream premium (see above) it means less margin for cash-strapped publicans, so they don’t prioritise cask, which exacerbates the other issues. 
  • Image: we tell ourselves that people see cask ale as the drink of old men with flat caps and weird beards (but not the hipster kind of flat cap and weird beard I guess). 

It’s within the gift of the brewing and pub industry to sort out the first two problems. All that’s needed is bold leadership and decisive action by people who care.  

The image problem is the one that’s externally facing. 

Each time we do talk about the negative image of “real ale” and its drinkers, we’re the ones perpetuating a stereotype that simply isn’t there outside the beer bubble. Every piece of research I’ve seen in the last sixteen years – and that’s a lot of research – shows that most beer drinkers haver the occasional pint of cask. When asked why they don’t drink more, only a tiny minority raise issues of the negative image we talk about. If they’re given a bunch of reasons to choose from, the most popular answer is usually “Don’t know.” In a world where repertoires are growing and breadth of choice is become a problem rather than a luxury, cask ale just doesn’t get into the consideration set.

It’s not a question of changing the image of cask ale; but one of giving it a reason to be there. So what’s that reason? 

We’ve banged on for years about it being Britain’s national drink. That works for some people, but not the younger drinkers who aren’t into it now. There’s the skill ,craft, flavour and attention, but craft beer already provides that, and it comes in cans with cartoons on them. 

One thing drinkers say they do care about is freshness. It’s one of the top two or three things they mention when thinking specifically about the beer. And they currently believe the freshest beer on the bar is bottle lager Why? Who knows? Maybe a residual hangover from Budweiser’s “born on date” campaign, but that was a while ago now. 

Anyway, the last beer they associate with freshness is cask ale. Which is ironic. Because it’s the freshest beer on the bar. Once it’s on, it has the shortest shelf-life of any beer. It’s more likely to have been brewed locally. So if the pub is any good, it spends less time in the cellar before it goes on the bar, and less time on the bat once it’s there.

Drinkers don’t currently associate freshness with cask Will they? And will it make them reappraise cask if they do?

That’s what the Drink Cask Fresh campaign aims to find out. 

In the pilot phase, the campaign will be evaluated by comparing 27 pilot pubs with a paired control pub, similar in profile and cask sales, and measuring the difference between them over the pilot period.

Campaign kits developed by agency Ape Creative include bright wraps to fit around pump clips, branded glassware and bar runners, and beer mats with different messages about cask ale that link through to a website, https://www.drinkcaskfresh.co.uk. Here, they can learn more about how cask ale is not only the freshest beer on the bar, but also has a variety of flavours, is skilfully brewed and kept, and has strong sustainability stories. 

As well as examining sales data, qualitative market research will be undertaken with pub staff and with drinkers, to understand exactly how the campaign is working. This pilot runs from w/c 6th March to w/c 8th May. After that, if it’s successful, we hope to roll it out as a national campaign. At this stage, that’s when pubs who are passionate about cask can get involved.

But that’s going to take more budget from the industry. If you are interested in joining, please do drop me a line. In the meantime, please do visit the website and follow us on social media.   

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