The Cask Project - opinion

'All should embrace cask, not just elite few who do it well'

By Ed Bedington

- Last updated on GMT

Opinion piece: The Morning Advertiser's Ed Bedington has his say on tackling the issues of cask
Opinion piece: The Morning Advertiser's Ed Bedington has his say on tackling the issues of cask

Related tags: Beer, Cask ale, The Cask Project

Cask beer has become a little-loved commodity despite its unique offer for the UK pub sector.
Ed Bedington

That was one of the issues discussed during a recent roundtable on the topic of cask at the Great British Beer Festival​ and it resonated with me long after the discussions had finished.

I’ve previously asked the question of whether cask beer is too cheap and the discussion the other day at Olympia underlined that.

To hear some operators are simply pricing it en masse dependent on the ABV level, regardless of its brand and provenance, is shocking for a product we should be cherishing as part of our country’s national heritage.

If cask remains at the bottom of the value triangle when it comes to the offer on the bar, it’s no great surprise operators are reluctant to give it the due care and attention it needs.

Suppliers and operators need to step out of the commodity trap and start to value cask much more highly, or we run the risk of continuing to damage the category's reputation and hasten the ongoing 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.

Click here​​ to read more stories in The Cask Project​​.

Exclusive pub product

Another issue that popped up in the debate was the suggestion that maybe it shouldn’t be a product for all pubs – and I can see the logic in that. Is it better that we have fewer pubs doing cask well, rather than more pubs doing it badly?

But for me, that argument is reductive and not in the long term interest of the category. Cask beer is an exclusive product for the pub market, a drink that you can’t get anywhere else or replicate at home.

If you don’t offer cask, what’s to separate you from a restaurant, a wine bar or even a supermarket?

We should be encouraging all to embrace cask, not just an elite few who can do it well.

There was also the suggestion that, yes, the market is in decline, but we’ve been here before and it bounced back. When CAMRA was formed, cask beer was under threat, but the alternatives in the market place were appalling - that was the very reason CAMRA launched its campaign, to improve the offer for all.

These days, the offer is far from woeful, and there’s a wide range of high quality, great alternatives to cask beer on the bar. To say these things are cyclical is, to my view, too complacent. If we don’t raise the game on cask, other products will steal the market and the consumer’s attention.

Cask perception

The other issue that remains a whopper is the perception of cask, the way it’s promoted, marketed (or not in the main) to consumers, was a major part of the discussion. 

There were calls to make it more inclusive, to stamp out some of the childish sexism and puerile boys humour we often see in the naming of products, and greater investment into modernisation.

All of which is definitely needed for a category that cannot coast along on “tradition” anymore.

But while that is all vital, without operators embracing the category, valuing it and looking to deliver the best possible product and experience, it doesn’t matter what it’s called or how good the branding is, people will not be buying it.

That’s what The Cask Project is all about - let’s tackle those issues head on and help turn the category around and get it back to its rightful place at the heart of the Great British pub.

Related topics: The Cask Project

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