There's a baffling array of beers on the bar in front of you. Behind that a multitude of funky canned beers in the fridge, flanked by a host of quirky bottled ales, so what do you order? A pint of Greene King IPA? A Spitfire or a London Pride? A Pedigree or a Landlord - would you really?

Because in this revolutionised modern beer market shouldn't we be asking ourselves if those traditional big brands of the cask market still deserve their place on the bar?

 

Cask beer tapping a cask

 

"It strikes me that the new generation of beer drinkers are looking for variety and vitality," says Tim Dewey, chief executive of Timothy Taylor & Co.

"They approach the market with more experimental tastes as well as having been influenced by the new found British food culture, which encourages them to look for, and be open to, different styles of beers."

As we know this has created an increasingly competitive market place and one in which the more established cask beers are perhaps losing relevance, a situation which hasn't been helped by a lack of investment in the brands.

 

TimothyTaylorLandlord

 

 

Injecting cash into cask
"Overall these sort of brands have probably not communicated with consumers as much as they would have liked, in part because many have historically relied on a tied pub estate and more recently through the fact that price competition has made margins very tight, with many not having sufficient funds to invest in this area," Tim observes.

But times are changing, as the Timothy Taylor business proves: "We have taken the initiative this year, increasing our investment in marketing, including a press campaign that focusses on communicating those factors that make our beer special but in a way that is in keeping with the business," he explains.

 

GreeneKingIPA

 

And they aren't the only ones, either. The last 12-months have seen some very impressive campaigns from the big cask brands, including the award winning Made of London campaign for London Pride; Greene King IPA's sponsorship of cricket via the ECB or rugby via the RFU; Spitfire's launch campaigns for both its Gold variant and Spitfire Lager, while Marston's is promising a huge injection of cash into its flagship Pedigree brand towards the end of this year.

"If you are asking how much do you invest in a brand that is 60 years old, the answer is significantly," says Chris Keating, head of brands marketing at Marston's.

"Pedigree has done OK but we believe it has a big future, so in November we are going to relaunch the brand and we're really pushing the boundaries, we want to ensure it remains relevant and to communicate what makes it unique."

 

Ringwood pint glass

 

The company will be taking learnings from its successful rebrand of Hampshire's Ringwood Brewery three years ago, which managed to attract new drinkers to the beers but not lose any of its existing loyal fans.

Rival brewer Everards has also attempted to walk that tightrope in a recent rebrand for its beers, as its head of marketing, Erika Hardy explains.

"Traditional ale brands can easily be part of any drinkers' repertoire. We hope to connect with today's drinker by sharing what our beers are all about – the link to our home county (Leicestershire), the care taken to brew and look after them in the pub and the taste.

"Our rebrand was carefully considered to maintain the heritage of our brands and present them in a way that appealed to old and new drinkers in a timeless way. Crucially we didn't change the beers themselves and we've also widened our glassware range so whether drinkers prefer a more traditional pint glass or a stemmed half they can have the experience they choose," she adds.

It's a sentiment echoed by Greene King, which unveiled a bold rebrand of its IPA last year in an attempt to "maintain relevance" in the current beer market, says its brewing and brands director, Chris Houlton.

"We did lots of research to ensure we didn't put off existing consumers, they're important because we know traditional cask ale drinkers visit the pub more and spend more when they are there. So it really was about getting people to look at our beer again and re-acquaint themselves with the flavour of the beer."

Crucially, then, the beer itself has not changed (nor has it in any of the rebrands previously mentioned) and that's because "sessionable" pints are just as relevant now as they ever have been.

 

Fullers beers on the bar

 

Pint of the usual, please
And that's because, no matter how many weird and wonderfully flavourful brews you have on the bar, for the most part people will revert to a less challenging beer after one or two pints.

"People like London Pride because of its drinkability," claims John Keeling, head brewer at Fuller's. "When they've finished one, they want another pint." It's a beer for a different sort of occasion from the new craft beers, too, he says.

"It's about a couple of hours in a pub with friends. Sipping a balanced 4 per cent ABV beer and not getting drunk.

"We get visited by lots of American craft brewers, who have been drinking all those big, hoppy flavoured beers for nearly 20 years, yet still they want a pint of London Pride when they come over here. Of course people are more open to trying more interesting flavours now but if you look at what they still drink in any quantity, it's more subtle, a good pilsner for example or what you would call a traditional cask ale."

So the big traditional cask brands still deserve their place on the bar, just as there'll always be a place in the premier League for Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, says Spitfire brand manager at Shepherd Neame, Will Upfield.

"Of course anything is possible but there's a reason these brands have remained consistently at the top of their field for decades. Craft may be enjoying its time in the spotlight – the Leicester City if you will – but inevitably fans will always want to see the star players in the end."

Don't forget Cask Ale Week happening this week (September 22 to October 2). Find out how to talk beer here and get the lowdown on the latest Cask Ale Report.

 

Cask Ale Week 2016