The Cask Project

MA launches The Cask Project to save beer category

By The Morning Advertiser

- Last updated on GMT

In denial: some in the sector say cask ale is doing fine but statistics show the category is in serious decline
In denial: some in the sector say cask ale is doing fine but statistics show the category is in serious decline

Related tags: Beer, Branding + marketing, Cask ale, Gastropub, Freehouse, Multi-site pub operators, Pubco + head office, Tenanted + leased, Cellar management

A campaign to re-energise cask beer has been launched to reinstall it in pride of place on the bar of pubs throughout the country.

Cask beer is in long-time decline and to arrest that, The Morning Advertiser​ (The MA​) has joined forces with some of the UK’s leading cask beer suppliers to reinvigorate attitudes within the trade to a product which should be rightly cherished by operators.

Ed Bedington, editor of The MA​, said: “We’re in danger of losing something that is truly unique to the pub sector, but with a huge amount of cask beer being sold outside of the accepted quality time-frame, it’s no surprise it’s in decline.

“If we in the trade don’t fall back in love with cask, we can’t expect consumers to do the same, so we’re drawing a line in the sand and urging the sector to rethink their attitudes to cask beer.”

Cask beer is a unique product that can only be replicated successfully within pubs and should be the pride of the nation’s on-trade, however, the perception of cask is not strong enough with many people, particularly younger drinkers who are eschewing the drink while under the impression is made and loved only by an ageing male population. On top of this pubs themselves do not show the care and attention needed, with the product often devalued and sold off too cheap.

The Cask Project​ is aimed at repositioning the cask offer and looking at ways to improve its image and making it something pubs and licensees – and subsequently drinkers – should be proud to be part of.

In a survey carried out by The Morning Advertiser​, 55% of licensees who responded said the cask ale category is NOT in need of modernisation and 65% think it should NOT be more expensive.

That suggests a large amount of denial within a category that is declining with some operators appearing to be stuck in the past – customers are willing to pay more for beer, as clearly demonstrated by the craft beer revolution, and the skill put into cask production (it is the original craft beer after all) and cellar management must be rewarded more highly.

From brewer to customer, the effort put into cask ale is tremendous yet only 12% of respondents said they charge more than £4.50 for a pint of cask ale – benchmark that against keg products, where customers are happily paying up to £7 a pint and more in some cases.

The MA​ and its partners – Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company, Greene King, Sharp’s Brewery and St Austell – want to create a real buzz about cask to get pub owners, operators, general managers, bartenders and all pub staff on board and also debunk the myths surrounding the drink and educate them on how to make cask work for their business.

And by doing this, we can pass on that knowledge, care and skill into cask beer at the bar for customers to get excited about too.

Reward operators

Bedington added: “We need to fall back in love with cask again, and we need to recognise, praise and reward the operators that do it well – encourage a sense of pride within the team about their cellar skills. Selling a great pint of cask doesn’t happen by accident and we need to ensure we acknowledge the skill there is in doing that.”

Our partners are already making some of the best cask beer in the UK and don’t forget the great British pub and cask beers are the envy of the world – no one does it quite like we do in the UK.

What does cask mean to our partners and what are their visions for the category?

Greene King said: “We believe cask ale is the foundation of the great British pub and, when executed properly, helps drive a great experience that benefits the category, the guest and the pub. In category terms, its “the triple win”. Our vision for the category is to reignite the passion for cask within the industry.

“It is about driving brilliant basics and ensuring the right range, for the right guest, in the right outlet to deliver optimum choice and throughput. To drive quality, wherever a guest chooses to drink cask, whatever brand they choose, it’s about delivering a great tasting, quality, consistent serve, every time, from cellar to glass and maximising the guest experience.

“Once we have the basics right, it’s about enhancing that experience by driving more occasions in outlet by ensuring cask is a key consideration for the relevant occasions. Be that during key sporting and seasonal events, or as a great accompaniment to quality pub food, as well as offering guests the opportunity to trade up into more premium products for those special occasions.”

The Suffolk-based company added: “For over 200 years, we’ve been brewing quality cask ales at the Westgate Brewery in Bury St Edmunds and over 300 years at the Belhaven Brewery in Dunbar. So, it is no surprise that when you talk to our people about cask, the passion and excitement is evident. We don’t just make it, we live and breathe it, and we want everyone to be as excited and passionate as we are about cask and are fully committed to taking them on that journey.

“That is why initiatives such as The Cask Project​ are so important. The trade has had a tough time in the past couple of years and, as suppliers, we have a duty to support the on-trade and drive footfall to pubs by offering up an experience that guests can’t get from a supermarket. That’s where cask really delivers and offers something that can’t be replicated at home.  As the number one brewer across both the free trade and managed Greene King pubs, we are committed to the future of cask and are excited to be a part of this initiative with The Morning Advertiser​.

Meanwhile, Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company (CMBC) said: “We believe great British pubs are the pillars of our society, cornerstones of our communities and a sanctuary for cask ales. Something must be done to drive change with the perception of the cask ale category before it’s too late. By working closely with The Morning Advertiser​, and some of the top cask ale brewers in the UK, we hope to lead this change and make operators fall back in love with cask ale.”

CMBC’s vision for the category is “to be brought to the forefront of the beer industry as a USP of the great British pub and a key part of the on-trade offer. Helping operators to understand the positive role cask ale plays in a pub, if done right, and how quality cask ale on the bar can be valuable for them”.

The business added: “Cask ale is in our blood and we have cherished our unrivalled mix of well-known national and regional cask ales, and the customers who have supported them, for hundreds of years. The skill, craftmanship and expertise that goes into creating every drop of cask ale we produce will never diminish and we will drive the cask ale category forward through our drive, passion, and commitment. The wider ale category is a big focus for CMBC and we will continue to invest and innovate in this rich space.”

Recognise significant challenges

Sharp’s Brewery said: “We are delighted The MA​ has chosen to focus on cask beer and support the brewing industry with this future focused project. It’s hugely important for us as brewers to understand the significant challenges facing the cask category and take action now to change the current trajectory and create a positive future.

“Our vision for the cask category is one in which exceptional quality is synonymous with the product and the experience of choosing cask is always positive. We want to foster positive perceptions of cask beer and ensure consumers love it as the exciting, relevant and appealing drink it is.

“We love cask beer. It is our pride and our passion and every drop of beer we produce has been given the utmost care and attention. Quality is at the heart of Sharp’s DNA – our motto ‘we are only as good as our last pint’ is emblazoned on our brewery wall inspiring us to deliver consistently excellent beers and never rest on our laurels.

“Our customers appreciate the love and care that goes into brewing, packaging and delivering cask beer and nurture its unique position as the backbone of the Great British pub. The sheer variety and diversity of beer styles and ingredients mean that cask beer is the perfect pairing for all kinds of food and the opportunities for exploration within the category are almost limitless.”

St Austell added: “We’re hugely passionate about the unbeatable taste of cask. Everything about cask beer is unprocessed and the result of raw, quality ingredients. Nothing beats that pub-fresh pint.

“In today’s fast-paced, innovative world, it’s easy to forget what makes cask beer so special. The growth of other drinks categories and new flavour experiences over the past decade has put significant pressure on the category. But cask remains true British institution, with so much to offer drinkers of all backgrounds.

“So how do we shine a spotlight on cask, throughout 2022 and beyond? We want to play our part in educating people about how cask is brewed, engaging new audiences, and repositioning the category. We want to help start conversations, drive innovation and hero cask beer at every given opportunity. That’s why for us, supporting this campaign is a natural partnership.

“Our vision is to make the category more accessible and inclusive, changing the perception that it’s old fashioned and demonstrating that there’s a pint of cask for everyone whatever their background, identity, or age.

“It’s all about innovation within the category, creating beers that meet the taste preferences of a broader range of consumers and marketing them at a more diverse audience. It’s about education too, as fundamentally, there are a lot of people out there who don’t fully understand what cask is and how it’s crafted. We want to help them on their journey of discovery.

“The possibilities of cask beer are endless – from citrussy IPAs to rich, chocolatey stouts. A kaleidoscope of flavours can be found across so many different beer styles, and they pair brilliantly with food too. Complementing a meal with the perfect pint can hugely enhance a dining experience.

“The trend of premiumisation continues to rise, so we see real opportunities for the cask category here too. Younger consumers in particular are drinking less alcohol than ever before, but when they do they’re choosing more premium drinks at the bar. They’re also experience seekers. Cask is a live product. It’s a fresh as you can get and an in-pub experience to be savoured.”

The company continued: “Cask beer is right at the heart of our business and where our story started in 1851 – it’s a tradition worth every sip. Not only does it form a huge part of our heritage, but we also see innovation within the cask category as integral to our future, to meet the taste preferences of consumers today. That’s why our brewing team, led by Georgina Young, are so passionate about continually experimenting with new and exciting beer styles. We even have a Cask Club, where pubs across the South West can sign up to receive our limited-edition brews – each one special and unique.

“Brewing cask beer is a true art form. It’s something which takes time, dedication, precision, and the very best raw ingredients. For us, this includes getting our hands on as much Cornish-grown Maris Otter barley that we can – which produces a distinct malty flavour and brilliant beer clarity – and hop varieties from both Britain around the world.

“At St Austell, we’re 100% committed to quality and consistency. It’s in our DNA. We have invested in our own in-house trade quality team, who take huge pride in what they do and strive to deliver the perfect clarity and taste, every single time one of our cask beers is served in a pub. We’re passionate about doing everything we can to ensure quality for our customers - from grain to glass.”

The MA has launched The Cask Project with the support of partners: Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company, Greene King, Sharp’s Brewery and St Austell.

Related topics: Beer, The Cask Project

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