The cask project

Licensees must realise the trouble cask is in

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Important part of a ‘proper’ pub: the appreciation of cask ale remains
Important part of a ‘proper’ pub: the appreciation of cask ale remains

Related tags: Cask ale, Social responsibility, Craft beer

It’s 15 years now since I wrote the first edition of the Cask Report – an initiative organised by cask brewers and industry bodies to reinvigorate attitudes around cask ale. Now, The Cask Project is a new initiative with the same goals.

The Cask Project

The Morning Advertiser​​ launched The Cask Project in a bid to re-energise the category and reinstall it in pride of place on the bar of pubs throughout the country.

Cask beer is in long-time decline and, having joined forces with some of the UK’s leading cask beer suppliers – Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company, Greene King, Sharp’s Brewery and St Austell – we want to reinvigorate attitudes within the trade to a product which should be rightly cherished by operators.

Cask beer is a unique product that can only be replicated successfully within pubs but the perception of cask, particularly among younger drinkers, is that it is made and loved only by an ageing male population.

We want to create a real buzz about cask to get pub owners, operators, general managers, bartenders and all pub staff on board and 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.

The sense that “something must be done” about cask has never gone away. Drinkers split into those who are passionate about secondary fermentation, and the majority who don’t really understand or care about what makes cask different. For as long as I’ve been in this industry, cask fans have been saying we need to educate drinkers. But as a market researcher told me recently, “When they go to the pub, people don’t want to be educated – they just want a drink.”

Every piece of research I’ve seen shows that word-of-mouth and bar staff recommendation are the most influential factors in people deciding to try something new. So, if publicans and bar staff aren’t motivated to keep and present cask well, and engage people about it, new drinkers are not going to be curious about it. It has to start with the trade.

Passionate people 

It feels like we’ve seen many campaigns to revitalise cask ale, that we’ve heard all the key messages before. It means previous campaigns have failed to stem cask’s decline. But it also means people who are passionate about cask are never going to stop trying to save it.

Passion is an over-used word in business, but it really is passion that drives the argument for cask. Brewers and publicans could easily switch to more profitable beers, and drinkers have a wider array of beer styles to choose from than ever before. So why bother?

We bother because if everything is reduced to practicality, the world becomes a dreadfully dull place. There’s magic in a perfectly kept pint of cask beer. Should you charge more for it and make a better margin? Of course, you should. Is it worth investing in cellar training and making sure you have cask champions on your staff? Obviously. These are the everyday battles that The Cask Project​ must fight and win, and if they don’t, there’ll be a different campaign with the same battle lines along after it.

The soul of the British pub

But behind these important practicalities lies the soul of the British pub, the heartbeat of our drinking culture, the essence that made all of us choose this industry instead of coffee-making or insurance brokering.

Even non-drinkers of cask agree it’s an important part of a “proper” pub. But they’re not going to choose to drink it unless the pub they’re in treats it with the respect it deserves.

The measure of success of The Cask Project​ must be the end of volume decline that far exceeds other beer styles. For that to happen, publicans who are complacent about cask need to realise how much trouble it’s in. And those who are indifferent to it could maybe look again and ask themselves why others care so much about it that they’ll come together and campaign for it – as often as it takes.

Pete Brown is an award-winning writer who has penned 12 books, focusing mainly on beer and the pub trade

Related topics: The Cask Project

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