Cask beer key to survival of pubs, says Purity Brewing

By James Beeson

- Last updated on GMT

Failing to deliver: Purity co-founder Paul Halsey (left) says good cask ale is vital
Failing to deliver: Purity co-founder Paul Halsey (left) says good cask ale is vital

Related tags Cask beer Brewing Beer Cask ale

Championing the “completely unique” experience of cask beer and focusing on “great service, great beer and great food” will help pubs survive challenging on-trade conditions, according to The Good Pub Guide’s brewery of the year.

In an interview with The Morning Advertiser​, Purity Brewing co-founder Paul Halsey stressed that the onus was on breweries to “have those awkward conversations” with pubs that were failing to deliver on cask beer quality, but urged pubs to use the “completely unique” dispense method to their advantage.

"Cask beer is completely unique to the on-trade and cask beer is in our DNA,” he said. “Pubs are absolutely in our DNA. It is a unique part of British culture and it is something we should really support as a brewery and as a nation. There is nothing else like a British pub at all.”

Halsey added: “When it is on form, there is no better drink that cask beer, but it can be the worst drinking experience when it is wrong. Therefore, it is in our interests to get it absolutely right, and to do that you've got to be passionate about it and you've got to deliver training and be prepared to have those awkward conversations with customers who aren't getting it right.

“If the quality is not right and the pub is not delivering then why should it be in business? Of course it shouldn't. Pubs have to be relevant. They have to have great service, great beer and great food. Pubs that do that will be successful. Younger people going out are drinking less but looking for better quality and a better experience. Pubs have to deliver a great experience to survive.”

Great consistency and quality

Halsey added that one of the major factors behind his brewery’s reputation for quality cask beer was down to its insistence on working directly with pubs rather than through distributors.

We've built an invaluable reputation up over the years of great consistency and great quality, and great tasting beers,” he said. “That is because we put quality at the top of our agenda in everything we do from the brewing process through the whole chain to the dispense. We don't use wholesalers; we deal direct with all our customers so we know nearly every customer we have and can work with them on quality and, if there are issues, we can react.

“Most brewers brew really good beer, the problem is at the point of dispense where it can go wrong,” he continued. “It is absolutely at the top of our agenda to get quality right at the point of dispense, whether that is correct cooling equipment or training in-house or visiting the pubs direct.

“It's all about the relationship. We are in a hospitality industry; that's what we do, so the relationship is critical to the success of your brand.”

On the subject of how to improve cask beer quality throughout the marketplace, Halsey suggested that the wider introduction of smaller firkins would help pubs struggling to sell the product quickly enough.

“We have also moved to heavier, smaller, stainless steel firkins, which is quite unique,” he said. “Not many brewers are doing that and we are talking to the major retailers about taking them on where they are not selling a minimum of two firkins a week on cask. I think you will see trials within the next six months on these in some of the major retailers, just to get beer quality back to where it should be.”

Cask beer too cheap

In a wide ranging interview, Halsey also criticised the Government for not doing enough to dispel uncertainty around Brexit​, and stated his belief that cask beer was still being sold too cheaply in many pubs.

"Cask beer needs to look at where it is positioning itself on the bar,” he said. “It has been too cheap for too long for the quality you get, and that is not viable. We run a bar and restaurants and costs are going up so we have to increase prices all the time. That's a fact of life.

“Cask beer should be priced based on the quality. Over the years it has been driven down on price and, if you look at craft keg versus cask, there is a massive disparity. The quality of ingredients in a lot of good-quality cask beer is no different to what is craft keg, and I know the consumer will pay for a really good-quality cask beer.”

“We are really positive about the future but there is no doubt it is challenging."

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