the cask project

Making cask ale more commercially viable

By Anthony Hughes, director of Lincoln Green Brewing Company

- Last updated on GMT

Why selling cask gives a pub an advantage

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

We’ve seen the statistics and know from our own experiences; cask is in decline.

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.

As an industry, we understand the current situation clearly but we risk doing what we’ve always done when this has happened before – ‘we need to attract new consumers to the category’ and ‘we need to find new ways to sell more beer’.

While consumer campaigns are important to identify what encourages people to try cask ale for the first time, and brand campaigns are vital to keep product innovation moving forward, it seems to me we’re missing something:

“What does the publican, the tenant, the landlord or landlady get out of all this?”

At the heart of great British pubs, and throughout the hospitality sector, are the people who run them. They work unsociable hours to deliver fantastic service, a welcoming, comfortable environment and a broad, exciting product range that attracts drinkers to their outlet. But let’s be honest, they do this to make money.

And to my mind, that is the missing piece of the jigsaw.

Cask is currently perceived by many licensees as a low margin, high-effort product. The pandemic amplified this perspective – its relatively short shelf-life versus keg ales and lagers led to many gallons and pints of profit sometimes being poured down the drain due to low footfall of customers. In an attempt to protect their businesses and reduce potential waste, many publicans understandably removed cask from the bar.

So here we are; cask isn’t as available as it once was and many licensees have concluded that it’s simply not worth the effort.

Or is it?

Plus points

Let’s remind ourselves of a few simple facts:

Cask is unique to the great British pub – you can’t buy it in a supermarket and you certainly can’t beat the appearance, aroma and taste of a freshly hand-pulled pint.

Cask is often quoted as one of the reasons many tourists visit the United Kingdom; they imagine thatched pubs with hand-pulls on the bar serving something uniquely British – a pint of cask ale. I often think a pub without cask ale should really be called a bar.

Anthony.Hughes.2

Cask is local. Every great cask brand has its own provenance. Locals are particularly passionate about their local brewery – whether it’s as Yorkshire as Timothy Taylor’s or produced in a little-known village by a start-up brewer that is on its first step in commercial brewing.

And don’t forget, cask drinkers bring their friends to the pub. If you serve cask in peak condition, you’re not only a destination pub for the cask ale fans, they’ll also bring their friends who will enjoy your other products on offer. Cask can act as a beacon on your bar that projects a halo around your entire drinks offer.

Given these factors, you would have thought cask should be seen as one of the more premium products on the bar. Given the time and effort spent in the cellars up and down the country to keep cask fresh and in perfect condition, is this effort and the skills required reflected in the price most pubs charge for a pint of cask?

Think about it. We happily serve a pint of premium draught lager at premium prices, but often serve a pint of cask at almost half that amount. What’s the difference between the two? At the most basic level, they’re both a pint of liquid with similar alcoholic content. Yet, we consistently price the products that have taken the most skill and effort to deliver, and which have the highest level of uniqueness, lower than those we effectively just ‘plug-in’.

Price includes much more

So how much does the consumer really care about price?

Even before the current cost of living crisis we now face, we know that some customers actively sought those outlets that offered low-priced cask beer. We also know that other customers were, and probably still are, equally comfortable visiting venues at the higher end of the pricing spectrum.

In my view, there is one major difference between those pubs who focus on low prices and those who feel able to charge more – they recognise that they aren’t just selling liquids but rather the overall customer experience.

Remember, consumers come to our establishments for the entire package. Otherwise, they could just go to the supermarket. Get your offer right and customers will be more than happy to pay that little bit more. And good-quality, well-served cask – priced accordingly – can be a very important part of that offer.

I’m the founder of Lincoln Green – an independent brewery in Nottingham, with five leased pubs. Cask ale is the headline of our drinks offer and helps draw customers to our pubs.

Our passion for cask has seen us offer free training courses to publicans since July 2021. Along with Chris Holden from Ashdale Consulting, we offer support to help keep cask in the best possible condition and suggest ideas that enable delegates to sell more, charge more and lower costs without compromising on quality. Courses are currently held on the last Wednesday of each month.  For more information, get in touch: pbagnpg@yvapbyaterraoerjvat.pb.hx​.

By making just simple adjustments to what you do on a day-to-day basis, we believe you can make cask even more commercially viable.

Related topics: The Cask Project

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