The latest version of Pete Brown’s Cask Report was published last week, and again it records a story of success in a declining market, with cask beer continuing to gain absolute volume, not just market share, and having reversed the proportion of the ale market it enjoys vis-a-vis keg since 2006. It’s the drinkers of traditional keg ales, not cask, who are literally a dying breed. The report can be downloaded here.
However, it has some interesting things to say about drinkers’ expectations of how rapidly beers are changed and rotated on the bar and how, maybe surprisingly, drinkers tend to be less adventurous in their tastes than publicans think they are.
But drinkers are more conservative than publicans on the optimal trade-off: the mean score from our research shows drinkers are happiest with an average of 4.9 beers over a 4-week period, versus an average of 7 for publicans...This theme is reflected in a letter in October’s What’s Brewing from Graeme Baker who complains that, if he enjoys a guest beer in his local, next time he goes back it’s no longer on the bar. And I’ve made the point myself that sometimes you can be confronted by a line of beers on the bar where you have no idea what they’re like.
We showed last year that publicans and drinkers have different perspectives on how often guest ales should be rotated. Publicans felt they should be rotating guest beers once a week, while drinkers wanted to see them on the bar for longer. Our new research bears this out: 76% of cask ale drinkers want to see some beers changing over time, but not as often as you might think...
In terms of the mix of range – the types of beers on the pumps – attitudes among drinkers and publicans are more uniform. If a particular pub were to have four cask ales on the bar, on average:
• Drinkers would like 2 of those beers to be permanent, and two guests. Publicans are slightly less conservative – they think they should be stocking a mean of 1.7 permanent beers and 2.3 guest beers.
• Both drinkers and publicans would like to see, on average, a 50-50 split between beers that are local and beers from further afield.
• Both drinkers and publicans would like to see, on average, a 50-50 split between brands that are familiar to them and new brands they have not seen before.
I’m certainly not averse to trying new and unfamiliar beers, but sometimes it’s good to see an old favourite on the bar, particularly if you just want a dependable pint to wash down your lunch. And, from the breweries’ point of view, surely it will help their long-term prospects if they can build up a reputation for specific beers and get repeat business rather than an endless series of one-off specials. Thornbridge Jaipur is a good example of a beer that many people will immediately order if they see it. It would seem from the Cask Report that Britain’s cask ale drinkers agree.