Is cask being sold too cheaply?
This year's Cask Report, written by our very own Matt Eley, was unveiled last week and this time around it looked in depth at what publicans think of the category.
Over 1,700 licensees were surveyed as part of the research and while some of the findings were as you'd expect (poor and unreadable pump clips = poor sales) others provided more grain for the grist.
Among these I'd point to the fact that while premium cask – in this definition that's beer over 4.8 per cent ABV – is the only section of the category that's in growth, the report highlights that in fact most of what is sold is between 3.9 and 4.6 per cent ABV. Licensees aren't choosing to sell the cask beers that the market is demanding.
This can only be damaging for the category and pubs alike, particularly as cask ale is seen as Britain's national drink and part of what makes pubs so great. As one Midlands-based licensee put it: "Cask ale and the British pub go together like fish & chips, Laurel & Hardy and Yorkshire puddings."
As in last year's report temperature is also an issue – nearly half of pubs were selling beer above 14°C degrees in July, according to the research. Not only is that above the 11 to 13°C demanded by Cask Marque standards it is way above the 11 degrees that beer drinkers told us they preferred in last year's findings.
The biggest sticking point for the category for me though, remains price. It is ("arguably" according to the report, I'd say "definitely"), "under-priced on the bar and under-valued by customers."
I realise that I live in the affluent South East where price-sensitivity is less of an issue than in other parts of the county. However, I grew up in the South Wales valleys, where I still have friends and family, and am well aware that for some pubs the price of a pint is absolutely crucial.
I'm not suggesting for a second that we suddenly whack a £1 on every pint of cask that goes over the bar but I do think it's worth the industry taking a long hard look at how categories like coffee, gin and even lager has managed to push up the average price by a considerable amount and ask ourselves how we can do the same for cask ale?
For coffee it was adding skill and theatre to the serve. For gin it was the growth in local and some nice glassware, and for lager it was about taste and temperature.
There's not a single thing in there that cask cannot adopt for its own – skill and theatre, check and check. Local provenance and glassware, check and check. Taste and temperature, check and, well we're working on it.
For those of you who remain skeptical, I point you to a small case study in the report - the Crown Posada pub in Newcastle, which put a 10 per cent ABV Imperial Macchiato Stout from the Wylam Brewery on the bar at £10 a pint. That's right. Ten. Pounds. A. Pint.
It sold out in a day.