Sales of cask ale have underperformed against the ale and overall beer markets for the past two years, according to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA).
Moving annual total (MAT) figures to July 2018 from the BBPA show cask is down 6.8% in volume sales compared to the overall on-trade beer market, which declined by 1.6% in volume during the previous 12 months.
Cask makes up more than half (55%) of the overall on-trade ale category and, in turn, ale accounts for one quarter of all UK on-trade beer sales.
Despite the decline in sales, more than three quarters (84%) of licensees asked in the Cask Report 2018/2019 say cask is a key part of their business or even more important than it was four years ago and 49% of those say this is due to growing interest in the category.
More frequent pub visits
When it comes to consumers, 42% of cask ale drinkers go to the pub once a week or more, compared to 20% of the total survey sample.
The report also states a similarity between cask ale and craft beer – citing a “significant overlap in terms of perception”.
Highlighting the correlation be-tween cask and craft is Manchester-based brewer Cloudwater, which announced in October it would be producing cask again, after the company dropped it less than two years ago.
Cloudwater highlighted the importance of cask beer to the brewing industry and said on its blog that the new brews will also be available at the operator’s taprooms.
It said: “Cask beer is more than a dispense method. It is a family of beers that are brewed to offer immense drinkability at sessionable strengths.
“While we aren’t going to return to cask and compromise on price (indeed we will re-adopt our starting strategy of pricing our beer per litre, irrespective of packaging format), you can expect incredible drinkability right to the bottom of every glass and, of course, all our cask beers will be vegan.
“Cask beer is an important part of our cultural and brewing heritage and we are excited to, once again, make a direct contribution. We are working on offering seasonal cask beer at our taprooms and can’t wait to share our in-house cask-conditioning stillage and serving processes with you all.”
BrewDog returns to cask
In the same month, BrewDog also announced its plans to start putting some of its beers back into cask, 10 years after it stopped.
As outlined in BrewDog’s new Blueprint manifesto setting out its business strategy for the next 12 months and beyond, the brewer stopped producing cask in a bid to try to get people excited about craft beer in kegs.
It said it also stopped because it was concerned about how often cask beer was incorrectly stored and served by licensees, which “adversely affected beer quality and, furthermore, we felt the beers we were brewing at the time suited keg dispense better”.
However, with craft beer in kegs now accepted and with the operator’s Draft House being the best place for BrewDog to control quality, the brewer is to start putting some classic BrewDog beers back into cask. Dead Pony Club will launch in Draft House bars in mid-November, and a handful of selected partners in late October.
It’s no secret that cask sales are dropping but licensees and drinkers still have a passion for the beer, meaning pubs still need to have the option on the bar.