Why cask ale is the foundation of a great pub offer

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cask Beer Cask matters

Brown: "New research among publicans shows that publicans who stock cask ale see it as the future of their business"
Brown: "New research among publicans shows that publicans who stock cask ale see it as the future of their business"
The latest Cask Report presents yet more evidence for the importance of cask ale, says Pete Brown.

The latest Cask Report, the seventh annual report I’ve written on behalf of a group that now refers to itself as Cask Matters, was published last month.

This group has grown in size and gained a real sense of purpose in the past few years. It’s not yet another industry body seeking to replicate what all the other industry bodies do; rather it’s an informal coming together of a wide selection of brewers, the Campaign for Real Ale, Cask Marque, the Society of Independent Brewers and other groups to help raise the banner for cask ale through collective action via its constituent parts.

Going forward, the Cask Report will be just one facet of activity designed to boost awareness, appreciation and quality in cask ale.

The full report is available online,​ so I won’t repeat the stats here, but there are a few points worth noting. Every year compiling the report is a mixture of the same key facets: updating key stats and repeating best practice for cask publicans — and finding fascinating new insight into the reasons for cask’s current revival and the potential for it to benefit pubs.


This year I was given access to different studies that complement each other beautifully. Cask ale’s volume performance is pretty much static: for the past few years it’s been fractionally up one year, fractionally down the next.

The reason we think it is booming is that the rest of the beer market is performing much worse — in 2012 cask outperformed the market by 6.8%. And if cask volume is static at a time of pub closures, that volume is being split between fewer outlets, and cask ale pubs are generally seeing increasing volumes.

It would be miraculous indeed if cask were to enter a period of sustained growth when it is sold only in pubs, the number of pubs is falling, and people aren’t going to the pub as often as they did; 25% of UK adults say they are going to the pub less often than they did a year ago. And the main reason they are staying away is that they want to cut down on the alcohol they drink generally — we’re becoming healthier.

Also, we want to save money. More than half of those who still drink alcohol now say they drink more at home than out of it, and the overwhelming reason they do so is because it’s cheaper. These are the issues we need to be addressing if we want to save pubs — offering people healthier alternatives and better value.

Maybe those are two reasons why cask fares better than most other drinks — but there are more.


If you want to drink cask regularly, as opposed to occasionally, at special events such as beer festivals (most cask drinkers describe themselves as ‘rare’ or ‘occasional’ drinkers, although the proportion of regular drinkers is increasing) you have to do it in a pub. Cask drinkers are far less likely than the rest of the population to say they’re cutting down on pub visits.

Twenty-five percent of them say that they’re going more often than they used to, compared to just 6% of the population overall, and it’s cask that’s attracting them — the perceived improvement of quality and the wider range of styles and beers is keeping them in pubs as others drift away.

We’ve said it before, but this is the clearest indication yet that cask ale is a lifeline for pubs. The new research among publicans we commissioned from Adsearch shows that publicans who stock cask ale see it as the future of their business, increasingly pulling in women and younger people, spreading out decisively from its traditional older male core audience.

Many publicans simply can’t imagine running a pub without it.

Moreover, it was fascinating to see how for the publican or bar person, cask ale develops from a business proposition to a personal enthusiasm. We spoke to many bar managers and licensees, some of whom had moved here from countries such as France or Poland, who got to grips with cask out of necessity, sampled it and developed a genuine love and passion for it.

Both drinkers and publicans love cask for its endless variety and novelty (although they disagree about how often a guest beer should be changed). With ever-increasing leisure alternatives and a seemingly endless appetite for the new and different, people need to be given reasons — excuses — to visit the pub.

According to the new Good Beer Guide, cask ale provides more than 4,000 such reasons. Its importance to pubs is inarguable.

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