The cask project – opinion

Seeking the silver bullet(s) to save cask

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

What will it take to save the cask ale category?

Related tags Cask ale Beer Craft beer Cellar management

Writing and compiling stories for The Cask Project has led me to believe the under-threat category of cask ale could be improved vastly with a handful of changes.
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Firstly, the quality must be there every time.

What chance does a licensee stand of selling more pints of cask to a customer if the quality is off on their first try?

All the experts who have given their opinions in The Cask Project have stated the importance of this and, as a customer who wants to enjoy a pint of cask ale – particularly as my first drink if I’m out for an afternoon or evening session – it’s crucial the beer tastes good.

In fact, this will be the difference between anyone like me who respects the ‘ladder’ when it comes to increasing ABV as a session goes on, who really wants that first pint to taste great and quaff it with sheer enjoyment.

Additionally, I want it to give me the dilemma of staying on a potentially lower alcohol strength because it’s so crushable rather than switching around with other categories such as world beer or lager.

Last weekend, I was out for an afternoon session with some mates to watch the football scores (a pre-pub accumulator may have taken place in a betting shop) while supping a few and having fun, when the wet-led pub I was in had a cask ale on. Of course, I’m ordering it – that was never in doubt.

But there was something off about it. Not horrible and possibly not that noticeable but it was to me and there ended the cask ale consumption that day. I switched to a well-known stout brand for a couple afterwards (by the way, why is the regular temperature version of that never available, it’s always extra cold and I’m not looking for that, especially on a cold day).

OK it wasn’t all over for the local cask ale because one pal is always more than happy to stay on his first choice all day and that is great for him, the pub and the brewer, of course.

Smaller vessels

Another aspect of retaining the quality is to make sure a pub is getting through its cask within three days of opening.

If it can’t shift beer that quickly, it’s going to go off and customers won’t forget it if they get a bad one from you.

Greene King recently claimed it is the first big brewer to launch cask pins​ – 4.5-gallon (or 20-litre) container units – which are half the size of a firkin that holds about 72 pints. They are often used at beer festivals and for homebrewing.

Another advantage of using pins is the licensee can vary the style or brand of beer on offer or even offer a greater choice while feeling a bit safer that the throughput will be sufficient so there will be no wastage.

I am certain had the pub I was in had another cask option available, I would have tried it before going to the stout.

Crafty move

Being a big fan of craft beer, I was excited to see Cornwall-based Verdant had launched a range of four cask ales​.

With the age of the usual cask drinker often assumed to be advanced, the entry of a trendy craft brewer into the category is surely a reason for optimism.

When quizzed, Verdant said the cask fans in its taproom are of all ages and, in the specialist craft beer bars I’ve been in, the same could be said but there is a noticeably younger clientele in general.

Spiking the category with customers who are more likely to be watching boxsets of Game of Thrones​ than Murder She Wrote​ is going to drive longevity.

I would love to see more ‘cool’ brewers showing their skills do not end with their kegged offerings and that making cask shows their brewing credentials to the max.

And with Verdant saying its cask production currently accounts for 5% of its total volume output and it has a goal to stretch that to 20%, this is something we should all be celebrating.

Cask was suffering before Covid hit everyone’s lives for six and although the reopening of pubs has regenerated it somewhat, it still needs a boost and finding the silver bullet or the combination of correct moves is vital.

As is always stated, cask ale is the pinnacle of brewing and the pub is the only place it can be created so licensees should take the credit for being able to serve this delicious drink in the setting it works best. No one else does it like they do in the UK.

Related topics The Cask Project

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