Cask Marque: campaigning to improve cask ale quality

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Early in 2001, Cask Marque launched the latest phase of its campaign to return cask ale sales to growth. This plan of action should improve beer...

Early in 2001, Cask Marque launched the latest phase of its campaign to return cask ale sales to growth.

This plan of action should improve beer quality in the supply chain and at the point of dispense, train and educate both staff and customers and give consumers confidence when they order ale in a Cask Marque outlet.

The following recommendations from Cask Marque's think tank, covering three key issues, will be implemented.

Beer Quality

  • To establish genuine industry standards - best practice for warehousing and distribution

To define best practice in cellar procedures, including a cellar card

To recommend type of dispense equipment to be used

To give licensees more information on the cask label, including a helpline numberNever before have industry standards been defined in these areas. This will enable retailers, particularly pub groups, to obtain quality assurance undertakings from their suppliers whether they be brewers or distributors. It will assist with training in cellar practice for companies and the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) and develop common practices. It will continue to encourage investment in temperature-controlled equipment, so necessary to deliver consistent beer quality.

What other product has such little labelling on its packaging? Currently a sell-by date is the only information readily supplied. The new labelling will include handling tips, a deliver-by date as well as a sell-by date, and a helpline to contact the brewery if the licensee needs advice. Also on the label will be a code to grade the beer by type and style.

This should be a voluntary code and be in place by January 2001. We will be looking to pub groups to adopt these standards when negotiating with their suppliers.

Training and Education

With the BII producing a new professional barstaff qualification it was agreed that Cask Marque should sponsor the drinks module. Everyone taking the module will receive:

  • A training pack

CD ROM and booklet to use as a training guide

Posters and reminders of best practice

A key fob which fans out to create an easy reference

Badges and beer mats to tell customers that the staff are trained

A letter and certification from Cask MarqueThe cost of the module will be about £10 per trainee with a further cost of £7.50 per outlet for the training materials. All training will be carried out in the pub.

It is hoped that keeping down the cost of entry will encourage wide participation and, having passed the drinks module, staff will want to move on and gain the full qualification.

It is so important that staff are not only trained in handling cask ale but also communicate to customers the values attached to the product and to individual beer brands.

Beer Marketing

The majority of retailers today have a no-quibble guarantee. If you return a purchase they will offer a full refund or replacement.

We will aim to make sure Cask Marque accredited licensees adopt a "perfect pint" guarantee combined with the opportunity for customers to "try before you buy" which will reduce refunds as well as encouraging drinkers to be more adventurous.

Whitbread's Hogshead chain has already tested a sampling scheme and its experience is that the redemption level is about three pints per week per outlet. More importantly, it encourages staff to be proactive when talking about cask ale and sympathetic when dealing with customer comments.

Cask Marque will make branded sample glasses available plus merchandising material and will trial the concept in 60 outlets during the first quarter of 2001. Communication to the consumer will be particularly important and point-of-sale material showing strong vibrant modern images for cask ale will be produced for inside and outside the pub while stickers will be available for hand pumps. We need to get the buy-in of barstaff and licensees to ensure they enthusiastically support the initiative. All being well, the scheme should be launched nationwide next spring.

The other recommendation from the committee was to adopt a beer style code with common descriptions to be used by all brewers. Each cask ale will be classified into a simple national taste guideline which will help barstaff communicate the flavour profile of any cask ale.

The code will be shown on the cask as well as on the back of the pump clip and staff will read off the code from a simple index. The wine industry has successfully used such a system for a few years, with a number indicating the degree of sweetness to dryness.

The working parties, together with the Cask Marque technical committee, the BII and Brewing Research International are now finalising the launch plans

Quality costs in terms of investment and training. It also costs trade and profitability if you do not live up to customers' expectations. The new Cask Marque action plan aims to make sure the licensee has the tools to maximise customer satisfaction and realise the full potential of cask ale.

Cask Marque

Cask Marque was formed in 1997 to improve the quality of cask ale in the glass by making an award to the licensee when defined standards were met. Research and subsequent inspections have shown that one in three pints served to customers are of poor quality - being out of specification in either temperature, appearance, aroma or taste.

Since the scheme was launched, however, more licensees are aware of the need to use best practice in cellar skills and brewers have started to invest heavily in dispense equipment to keep ale cool from cellar to glass.

While beer quality is paramount, other issues that need addressing if cask ale is to retain its position in the marketplace. That is why Cask Marque called together directors from a number of leading companies to discuss cask ale and its future: Francis Patten, Punch Group commercial director, Simon Townsend, Enterprise Inns operations director, Nathan Wall, JD Wetherspoon director of marketing, Simon Loftus, chairman of Adnams, John Roberts, Fullers brewing and brands director, Fred West, Wadworth sales director, Chris Briscoe, Carlsberg-Tetley ales director, and Brian Field, Greene King managing director of brewing and brands.

Three working parties were formed covering:

  • Quality from the brewery gate to the customer's glass

Training and Education, both of the trade and the consumer

Beer marketing

The Think Tank's findings have now been agreed by the Cask Marque Council which is made up of the 26 corporate members.

Related topics: Beer

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