The cask project

How can cask beer retain its relevance?

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Beer Craft beer Cask ale Multi-site pub operators

A number of beer experts discussed how cask can remain relevant The Morning Advertiser’s MA Leaders Club in Manchester earlier this week (Tuesday 10 May).

Wild Card Brewery head brewer Jaega Wise chaired a panel on cask with Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company (CMBC) director of brewing Emma Gilleland, JW Lees head brewer Michael Lees-Jones and Cloudwater Brew Co co-founder Paul Jones.

Firstly, Wise asked the panellists where they sat within the cask market in relation to each of their businesses.

CMBC’s Gilleland said: “Cask beer is incredibly important to us. For me, the best beer you can drink is cask, it’s the most natural product. I’m a real big advocate of cask.

“We’ve got 15 brand families. The beer market is declining and the cask beer market has dropped about 35% since the pandemic.

“We are focusing on drive brands nationally – Hobgoblin, Wainwright and Shipyard. Local trade is really important to us and that’s where our regional breweries come in and support those markets.

“We have got to look at the market and consumers and how we get new and younger consumers engaged in cask if we want to keep it alive.

“I don’t think we will ever get cask back into growth significantly but we want to make sure there’s a place for it in the future.”

Reopening issues

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.

Lees-Jones outlined how the pandemic and pubs having to reopen and close numerous times impacted the market.

He added: “The cask beer market is reasonably small. You’ve got the big brands that take about 90% and we are all fighting over the 10%.

“When we reopened, people were reticent about getting cask back into pubs. It stopped licensees getting it back into pubs because they didn’t want to run the risk of having to throw it all away again.

“Once we get a bit more confidence coming back, I’m not saying cask will come back to what it was but we can sell cask as the only place you can get it is in a pub.

“We need to get in that mindset of cask is fantastic, it’s more efficient environmentally to make [and] it’s fresh. It’s a big sale we need to do to get there and get everyone involved.

“We’ve started to do something, we put the brewery at the heart of the business, we are rolling out now to our general managers, area managers and people from the pubs to look around the brewery and be taught about how wonderful cask is to drive that to consumers.”

Wise stated how the cask market has been in decline for some time, which has been juxtaposed with the popularity of modern craft beer. She asked if there was something modern craft beer was doing that cask isn’t.

Standard setting

Cloudwater’s Jones said: “Cask beer has enjoyed the backing of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) – one of the largest consumer advocacy groups in the world. It has also enjoyed various different standard setting marks over the years to help define the quality of the product.

“Cask has benefited a lot from the enthusiasm of brewers and publicans have for it. One thing that is abundantly lacking is the spirit of collaboration and being extremely beer centred.

Gilleland voiced her opinion on the issues of cask in the on-trade and advised operators on best practice.

She said: “One of the biggest challenges is cask beer quality. At the moment there is too much choice. We need to get the right beers on the bar.

“We’ve got to have the right number and not too many cask beers on the bar. It’s best consumer within three to four days, if not, the quality suffers. Cask beer kept well is a sign of a good pub.”

To find out more about the cask market and its future, watch the video above.

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