Outdoor hospitality is not the solution for all venues of course and some will have the space to maximise this better than others, but it’s a start. Plus, if Boris Johnson’s ‘irreversible roadmap’ is to be taken at face value – a whole other discussion of course – it’s a start of better things to come.
But, as I’ve been speaking with landlords and venue owners as they gear up to reopen, I’ve come to a stark realisation – we need to talk about cask.
We all know that cask ale, truly a British institution, was in steady year-on-year decline even before Covid hit; the most recent Cask Report shows that market volumes were down by 6.8% on the previous year.
More worrying however, cask beer has been hard hit by the pandemic with sales believed to be down by a further 70% according to the Society of Independent Beers (SIBA).
Nervousness around cask
The reasons are obvious; with a shelf life of three months maximum when unbroached in the cellar and three days ideally once tapped, it’s just been too risky a punt as we’ve yinged and yanged in and out of lockdown.
It’s been hard enough for publicans without the threat of additional waste – so the natural choice has been to stay away.
As we start this promised ‘irreversible roadmap’, I am so concerned to see that this, entirely understandable, nervousness around cask is still there.
As I engage with my own customers, I’ve learned that many have decided to leave their real ale taps off for the foreseeable future.
Not only are they concerned about another unexpected wave resulting in a lockdown, but with the reduced capacity that is the result of restrictions, they may just not sell through it quickly enough. Beer waste is simply too bitter a pill to swallow in these trying times.
More threat than ever before
A distributor that we work with known as Cask Orders estimates that only 50% of their publicans will be stocking cask beer in the opening weeks.
They made the good point that the cask experience is a very visual thing to which a menu simply does not do justice. There’s nothing quite like walking into a pub and seeing an inviting row of enticing pump clips waiting for you, right? So, there is simply no denying that Britain’s national drink is under more threat than ever before.
Right now, we all have a part to play in fighting for cask. It is imperative to our industry; after all, a fresh pint of cask is one experience unique to hospitality that simply cannot be replicated – without great effort – at home. It plays a tremendous part in our history, heritage and beer culture and deserves our backing.
As a brewery, we’ll be playing our part by encouraging consumers to opt for a pint of cask ale at their pub through our social media channels.
The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), with the backing of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and Cask Marque, have made it even easier for us to make a noise as a collective of independent breweries by launching a ‘Cask is BACK, so back CASK’ campaign with the social media hashtag ‘#caskisback’.
Along with the distributor mentioned above, we are also fitting cask breathers for customers, making taking a punt on the fresh stuff easier by increasing its shelf-life once tapped.
I truly believe that with the right encouragement and enthusiasm, cask will come back with a vengeance in autumn and winter. Publican confidence will no doubt increase in time as, fingers crossed, we reach this restriction-free point of no return.
I, for one, cannot wait to be sitting by a roaring fire drinking a pint of stout straight from the hand pull. I’m all for sheer bliss of beer in its most natural, freshest form.