It is no secret, cask ale volume sales have slipped by 6.8% in the past 12 months according to this year’s Cask Ale Report. But that’s it. There’s no reason to dwell on the negatives, especially for a category that has so many positives going for it.
While all cask-ale brewers hold the beverage in high regard, Chiswick based Fuller’s in particular has always aimed to highlight the merits of the nation’s most famous beer style to new and existing drinkers. The ultimate goal is to raise the perception of the drink to new heights.
Lesley Stears is the brewery and pub operator’s brands marketing manager, who has a particular focus on cask ale and the brewery’s hero brand London Pride.
“The beautiful thing about cask is the UK is the only market in the world that serves this amazing liquid,” Stears says, pointing out that the drink is something that we as a nation should treasure and celebrate.
But the position of the nation’s brew is being challenged, as fewer people are gravitating towards cask ale. “Fewer people are drinking it now than a few years ago and the challenge for us as a brewer is to think about younger drinkers,” she says.
“Research shows 28% of 21 to 24-year-olds have never tried cask and it’s definitely something that has an older customer demographic, so the challenge is to make younger people aware of it and develop their appreciation for the craft involved.”
The greatest challenge for cask, she believes, is its visibility and perception of a lack of modernity, especially among under-35s. The perception it is a warm, tasteless brown drink, is wrong, Stears argues adding: “It’s tasty and delicious with bucket loads of the flavours and trends that craft keg has.”
It has been said many times, but bears repeating: “The biggest thing that cask has going for it is it’s a product that has roughly a 72-hour window when it is perfect to drink,” she explains. “It’s fresh, natural and it’s got great flavour. That’s one of the key areas we need to work on and we need to make sure there’s engagement around that.”
Persistence pays off
These key cask messages Stears is so passionate about all align with London Pride, a beer that for the marketing manager encompasses so many stories. “London Pride has been around for a long time. It’s been brewed in Chiswick since 1959.
We’re now the oldest independent brewer left in London, showing that persistence pays. London is a city of great change and to still be relevant today, in a city that moves incredibly fast, is no mean feat. The quality of thebeer and its freshness has helped ensure the test of time.
“In terms of how the brand is represented on the bar it needs to fit with the times and in 2017 we underwent a brand refresh and by really focusing on red as the key colour there’s no doubt that it has much better brand standout,” Stears continues.
“It feels more modern on the bar when people scan for it. We’ve invested in elements, such as outstanding pumpclips, glassware and the design really helps to tell a story about the beer and gives you a reason to make helps to draw in the punters, believes Stears.
Another way to make cask more attractive to consumers, as well as conveying its flavour credentials and heritage, is ensuring staff feel empowered to sell it with confidence.
“We provide cask training and accreditation across our estate and for partners too, so we know customers are going to get the best pint of Pride,” adds Stears. “Innovation is also really key, to make sure customers are still interested in the category. We’ve been around since 1845 and you don’t get that sort of longevity without being agile,” she continues. “We don’t just focus on keg innovation, we do a lot of new product development in cask too.”
An initiative returns
The brewco’s Fuller’s and Friends initiative is also coming back for a second year, which sees the company collaborate with other brewers to produce interesting sets of beers.
Fuller’s also championed cask at the London Craft Beer Festival this year by curating a segment of the show to break up the keg activity and to showcase the innovation within cask.
“In that space there were 40 different cask beers that were curated. We brought some of our own cask beers as well as Fuller’s and Friends products,” she says. “It’s events like that where the audience is younger, where you’re showcasing cask beer, that they can be surprised and delighted.
“This sort of arena is part of the mix of getting younger drinkers into the segment. It’s about the product, getting people to try it and getting people to do the work for you through trying it and talking about it.”
But, she maintains, the big task with cask remains getting people to try it in the first place, to challenge their perceptions.
“That said, tastes are changing and we’re making beers that match those changing tastes.
“For example, we have the pilot plant at Chiswick to help us produce innovative beers. We have a seasonal calendar of cask beer that we’re pulling together for next year that will feature at least 12 cask beers over the course of the year and we plan on supplementing that with at least another four collaboration cask beers,” says Stears.
For those looking at the figures, yes cask looks like it’s in a bit of a funk. However, those in tune with the category will see an altogether different story. One of innovation, excitement and, more importantly, one with a very bright and prosperous future.