the cask project

Female drinkers could be key in cask take-up

By Gary Lloyd contact

- Last updated on GMT

Female drinkers' choices could lead to more cask ale sales

Related tags: Cask ale, Freehouse, Multi-site pub operators, Pubco + head office, Tenanted + leased

Licensee Ady Smith operates Greene King pub the Dove Street Inn, in Ipswich, with partner Karen. Here he explains how they took on the site and how cask can break ground with younger people.

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.

We purchased the Dove pub in 2003 when it was put on the market as an unviable site.

At the time it was a big gamble due to ourselves running a Pubmaster tenancy just down the road and we had no money behind us. However, our trading figures at turning this tenancy around and becoming a thriving pub allowed us to get a two thirds commercial mortgage and, with a brewery loan, we were able to secure the freehold.

After a brief refurbishment we opened in February 2004 and started to trade under our new name, the Dove Street Inn. Trade was slow to start with but once people heard we were stocking a good range of cask ales and keeping those in great condition, trade began to grow to the point Karen (my partner who was looking after the tenancy) needed to move here to help grow the freehold (we appointed a manager for the tenancy until the end of our term).

With business growing at a reasonably good rate, we decided we needed to extend the pub and, after some tough negotiations and remortgaging, we built a conservatory on to the back of the Grade II-listed pub and this then gave us further opportunities to try new promotions and grow yet further. Quality of the cask ale was and still is paramount to the offer and with it came recognition from the trade and the local authorities with various awards.

The team we employ has been very loyal with two members having followed from our tenancy days and have over 20 years’ service with us, while many that have moved on to pastures new having been here for more than 10 years each. Training is key to their development and to give them the responsibility so they can get as much experience as possible into all aspects of the business. Apart from some training courses that we send them on, in-house training is sometimes the best way for them to see our way of working yet even after all our years’ experience, we are still learning.

Confidence is slowly returning

In 2014, we ventured into saving another pub 14 miles away and this is run alongside the business. Although it has a slightly younger customer base, cask ale is still a big draw.

Covid-19 nearly took our business under and it is still today trading at a far lower level than before, however, the signs are that people’s confidence is slowly coming back. We held our first beer festival at the Gladstone Arms over Easter and the response was fantastic. The team worked really hard to ensure everyone had a great and safe time. It was interesting to see what the consumers were drinking and it became obvious that many had gone away from the traditional cask ales and moved towards the craft (keg) products. Many said that since drinking at home their tastebuds had changed due to drinking canned drinks from the supermarkets and they are struggling to revert back toward cask.

This will not deter us, however, and cask ale at both outlets remains our key focus. To maintain the quality, we have started – for the interim period – to stock pins of cask instead of firkins (or even kils (kilderkin, which is two firkins) in some cases).

the Dove Ipswich resized

We hold the stock in our cellars for at least a week and, where possible, for a minimum of two so it has longer to condition. Once racked, it will have at least 48 hours on stillage, prior to taping and venting. Never do we allow fresh beer to be pulled through on old beer line even if it is the same product to follow. There is always fresh water drawn through before the new barrel is connected and, if it’s a change of product, the line will get a full clean.  The number of ales on sale at one time will vary due to footfall. During the early part of the week, we will have five on gravity from the taproom and probably six on hand pump. At the end of the week, we will normally increase the hand pumps to eight or nine and have still not got back to the pre-pandemic days of all 12 hand pumps on most the time. It’s better to maintain the quality rather than the quantity.

Cask operator focus

Pub name:​ The Dove Street Inn

Licensees:​ Ady and Karen Smith

Address:​ 76 St Helens Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 2LA

Getting younger people into drinking cask ale is never going to be easy, however, we are starting to see an increasing number of young ladies trying different ales (and fruit ciders) and it will often lead to their male friends following. If I could encourage all the pubs locally to have at least one cask ale on and look after it then I am convinced more people would drink cask ale and trade breeds trade.

We also offer taste-before-you-buy, which is important and offer third-of-a-pint glasses in addition to the standard half or pint.

Staffing issues

What we are starting to see post-pandemic is that people almost need a reason to go out rather than doing it because that’s what they have always done. The social side of meeting up after work for a pint or with your friends in the evening have certainly slowed. Putting events on will become more important and beer festivals/music nights/comedy and the like come at a cost that need to be managed with care because that comes straight off the bottom line.

Staffing shortages is another big issue since Covid-19 and finding good staff and keeping them can be a real issue for the whole sector. We lost seven full-time staff to new occupations and nine part-timers across both pubs. We have cut the number down at present due to restricted opening hours and are looking to recruit as things get back to the new normal. That said applications are slow and finding the right staff to not unbalance the existing team is always a difficult task.

We have an ever-changing range of cask ales but will keep a few favourites on most the time. These being Adnams Southwold and Broadside, Greene King Abbot Ale, Fuller’s London Pride, Hopback Summer Lightning, Woodforde’s Wherry and one of our own ales when we brew them. Guest ales from Crouch Vale, Oakham, Nethergate, Mauldons and Shortts Farm as rotated regulars along with Mighty Oak, Green Jack, Earl Soham, Batemans, Bishop Nick and some of the more microbreweries that are available either direct or through an independent wholesaler.

Related topics: The Cask Project

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