Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Here today, gone tomorrow

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...

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.

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.

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.

36 comments:

  1. I agree - a month is about right. Quite often I will see a guest ale advertised on twitter that I fancy trying, but by the time I get around to visiting, it will be off. A month gives people time to visit.

    As I typically go to about ~8 pubs on a rotation of roughly ~2 a week, it means I will always get the option of something new in each pub.

    Of course, if the guests are unsuitable, then its nice to have a guaranteed backup plan.

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  2. TBH I'm more interested in a range of different styles than an ever-changing list of guest ales.

    All pubs should offer a traditional bitter, a dark mild, and a citrusy pale ale as a matter of course. All under 4% preferably as well. Its not asking for much, is it?

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  3. Pubs should have 18 handpumps all serving seamingly different obscure brands of boring brown bitter that no one has ever heard of, all identical barring the pump clip. The clips should range from traditional images, sexist "bants" & contemporary moderinist design. All at different random prices.

    Then those in the know can sit and listen to weirdy beardies discuss the merits of each one.

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  4. Given current trends, surely 18 varieties of identical grapefruit-flavoured pale ales...

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  5. If you prefer, Mudge, the important thing is to intellectualize the act of getting trollied and provide a subject of discussion, beer, that enables the drinkers to feel superior and doesn't require engagement in anything of consequence or importance.

    Did I ever tell you of the time I went to a beard club swally and talked to a very odd chap, as some of them are. We were meeting in a pub prior to walking to a brewery for a free tour. I was gadging along on the reckoning of a free piss up at a cost of pretending to be interested in that sort of nonsense. I wasn't disappointed, I managed a right good skin full for nowt. Bloody brilliant the beard club in many ways. All I had to do was clap when a framed certificate was handed over then I piled into the free sandwiches and helped myself to more free grog.

    Prior, in the pub, I asked the odd looking chap why he wasn't having a drink. We had about a 40 minute wait before trotting off. I figured he might be saving himself for the free grog. I was sipping my one pint slowly for that reason, having something to hold whilst not filling up on paid for grog. His answer was that there was no point as he'd ticked all the beers on the bar and was waiting for the brewery tour because there was ticks he didn't have. He didn't seem at all interested in just having a beer for enjoyments sake, because he liked such things. All very peculiar. I steered clear of him for the rest of evening and tried to speak to as few people as possible as it got in the way of chucking the free beer down my neck. I reckon CAMRA pays for itself in most ways.

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  6. Bet he was ticked off with you, CL.

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  7. I don't think he initially disliked me, Nev. He did raise an eyebrow when my reply to his question about the obscure gut rot I was forcing down was "dunno pal, it's all pisswater innit?" I hadn't even had a few at that point and could have made more of an effort by replying "the delicate balance and subtle variety of the hopping ratios has I think made up for the poor attenuation of the brewers wort". That's a good one for blagging it but I couldn't really be arsed. I was focused on the free grog.

    The point at which I think my behaviour was considered by my ticker friend to be lacking was when I attempted to start a conga when the butties ran out. That's not the usual form at beardy swallies, I was later informed.

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  8. I'd be quite happy if every pub just offered a couple of beers (or the one in Sam's case) so I had a better chance of a quality pint, and could get choice, of atmosphere as well as ber, by walking to a different pub.

    But I feel quite alone in that.

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  9. Ber is how we pronounce it in the fens, by the way.

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  10. You know I'm with you on that one< Martin :-)

    IIRC there's a "Ber Street" in Norwich.

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  11. Also interesting to see that both publicans and customers want a mix of local and further afield ales. Which flies in the face of some areas where CAMRA is pushing the LocAle scheme pretty hard.

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  12. I guess its because I've already tried most of the beers from round here. Its nice to have a chance to try some of the craft beers from elsewhere in the country. We occasionally see Dark Star or Magic Rock, that kind of thing. It soon disappears.


    I think regular beers = local, but guest beers = mix of local and national is the best mix.

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  13. There's a big difference between "local" beers from, say, Marble and Coach House, of course.

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  14. I consider both Oakham and Adnams to be "local" to Cambridge, even though neither of them are particularly close.

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  15. I ran a rather jolly pub and my permanent range was from Theakston (it was an ex-Matty Brown pub) and the guests were that, guests. I had a loyal following for Best Bitter and XB and of course the OP. The new landlord created an ever changing gust list with no permanent beers. The 4 barrel a week Theakston best lot soon found pastures at the local Taylor's house. The Theakston lot would drink guests but they wanted the known quality of the permanent range, whatever brewery that permanent range was from. The town as a whole was a Bass bastion. So, I agree the punter does know best on this occasion and too many landlords are stocking too many bad beers from bad brewers. There should be Campaign For REAL ALE BREWER - bring back the white coats instead of the hobbyist idiots.

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  16. Cookie, nice description of a scooper going about his business. Tick box, move on. would not be so bad if they actually shared their tasting knowledge to a site like ratebeer.

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  17. I tend to think many scoopers are far more interested in the thrill of the chase rather than in beer as such.

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  18. Martin, Cambridge1 October 2014 at 11:47

    Not just hardcore scoopers; I often read in CAMRA newsletters how groups peer in pubs and, faced with only FOUR known beers, march out. Those beers are the ones that I believe folk travelled distances for in times past - Landlord, Pride, Adnams, Thwaites etc etc. Clearly the pub and the beer quality are of minor concern to them.

    Totally agree with Oliver, particularly on beer rating.

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  19. “Thrill of the chase” would be a quite wrong description`as it infers that there is pleasure involved. The impression I received from my ticker friend was of an entirely joyless compulsion. A psychological condition requiring treatment rather than indulgence. The simple pleasure of a nice drink was nothing to him.

    When I read about a high profile Hollywood actor go into rehab for sex addiction I tend to raise an eyebrow in amusement. Sex addiction? Chance would be a fine thing etc. However I understand that to be where the addicted are engaging in compulsive joyless activity over which they feel they have no control over and which is making them miserable. Wealth, fame and a perception of sexual desirability among a willing fan base offer a greater opportunity for promiscuous sexual encounters which most of us average office drone mouse jockeys do not experience. I would never get the opportunity to become sex addicted in the same way I have no opportunity to be cocaine addicted. My economic circumstance precludes it.

    I would compare my ticker friend with the Betty Ford client list set as someone that has lost all joy and pleasure in the activity to which he is engaged and acts out of compulsion. It is easy to ridicule such people from a distance, especially considering it tends to go with an unfashionable anorak type appearance. After meeting him and a few others my attitude gravitates more towards pity.

    I have no idea whether this compulsion is as harmful as alcoholism, and suspect it isn’t regarding physical health though it appeared to fill up a life with inconsequence and crowd out to the opportunity for things of consequence. I wish I could say good luck, hope it makes you happy but I kind of figured it doesn’t.

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  20. My local sells four cask beers: Bass, Deuchars IPA and Mordue Northumbrian Blonde. All are constantly in superb condition because of the ability for a good long cellaring and high turnover. The third beer is generally whatever happens to be on offer or interesting from one of the local microbreweries but no-one complains that the guest beer isn't on the next time as there's always a good alternative on hand, or the next guest beer. It's a successful business model that's lasted for nearly 31 years without interruption, although the only beer that's been on sale throughout that time is Bass.

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  21. ON the subject of tickers, there are a couple of extreme examples living fairly near me. One curious habit is their taking away samples from beer festivals in small pop bottles to exchange with like-minded tickers at some point in the (hopefully) near future. I'm sure the quality of what is likely to resemble an equine veterinary's sample is of no interest whatsoever to them in the pursuit of their compulsion and the magic 10,000 ticks, and more.

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  22. "It's a successful business model that's lasted for nearly 31 years without interruption"

    That's what blockbusters said.

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  23. A video rental company selling a physical product in a market that was always going to go digital, or a pub that is renowned for selling a product actually gaining true volume in a declining market, might not be the best comparison.

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  24. I didn't say that, the only thing I have ever said regarding beer was "What P is the effect on the human body of drinking 8 pints of CAMRA approved fine ales"

    The answer was "Piss"

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  25. Are traditional brown bitters gaining market share? I doubt it. Most of the increase in cask beer sold is at the grapefruit flavoured golden ale end of the market.

    The way it seems to me is that SOME pubs are able to survive on this model, but only because other pubs with similar models have shut or moved on.

    Cask ale is currently doing well because its being dragged along by the craft beer revolution. Not because of anything camra are doing.

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  26. Ah, "tickers". I'm sure there's plenty of subject matter there for a separate blog post. And as for the "bottlers", well words fail me.

    Adds a whole new dimension to train spotting, I suppose.

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  27. Of course ticking is all about the thrill of the chase but along the way we get to drink some great beers.Also we know we will never need to drink Deuchars or Bass ever again.cheers john

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  28. Martin, Cambridge1 October 2014 at 23:38

    ElectricPics - I'm guessing your local is in Tynemouth, you lucky lucky man.

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  29. Sorry Anon, tickers are in no way thrill seekers.

    Thrill seeking is about risks and feeling more alive. Tickers are hollow shells of human beings devoid of a soul or any real thread of humanity. It's just the way it is.

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  30. @John - but you have to drink your way through a vast amount of poorly-made, unbalanced shite to get to the good stuff.

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  31. Also, and I'm sure Martin will agree with this, Draught Bass is actually a beer I will usually go for if I see it on the bar.

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  32. @Martin - indeed it is :)

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  33. Martin, Cambridge2 October 2014 at 13:34

    Will always go for Bass, particularly in Midlands pubs where turnover still high, and at its best when out of a jug.

    Was a bit disappointed by it in the Unicorn in Northern Quarter, and guess its a rarity in Manchester now ?

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  34. Tickers are harmless, but I think Cooking Lager does have a point. When I was a kid, you could buy pocket books that listed every bus (vehicle, not route number) run by the old Ribble bus company. When you saw one, you ticked it off. Tickers can be like that. My excuse is that I was nine at the time.

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  35. Hey Curmudgeon,i am a London based ticker I don't have drink the Northern shite.Tickers are not harmless.According to my local Camra mag we have caused pubs to adopt multiple guest hoppy beers at the expense of brown twiggy stuff.cheers john

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  36. @Nev, They only appear harmless because we live in a relatively benign era. Democracy is well established and there are only minor arguments about the level of tax and size of the government amounting to less than 1% of the economy. The country trundles along. There is always a soulless inhuman element in society that exist without empathy. Empty shells of people acting without thought and acting as autonomons. There are points of history and times in the future these people become dangerous. We must be ever vigilant to the threat these people pose and never complacent regarding their presence among us.

    We must be ever vigilant regarding beer tickers and our future freedom is only assured if we continue to marginalise and repress this dangerous element in society. Keep them down for if our boot is not over them, their boot will loom over us.

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