Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Craft marches on

In the wake of the latest Cask Report, Pete Brown (yes, him again) has recently made some interesting observations on The Market for Flavourful Beer. He points out that, if you combine the market shares of cask ale and craft keg, together they have risen from 18.9% to 23.5% over the past four years. All of this increase has come from the craft sector, with cask showing an overall decline.

However, before the crafterati start drooling into their thirds of murky DIPA, it’s important to consider exactly what makes up this market segment. The Morning Advertiser has produced a listing of the top ten “craft” brands in the on-trade. Not surprisingly, BrewDog Punk IPA is at the top of the table, no doubt helped by being available as part of meal deals in Wetherspoon’s.

But the remainder aren’t a diet of Beavertown and Tiny Rebel, and include such noted stars of the craft firmament as Shipyard and Blue Moon. In fact, five of the ten beers on the list are from offshoots of the major international brewers, with two from long-established British family brewers, two from newer British brewers (one of which, Innis & Gunn, is often only grudgingly accepted as craft) and one from a large US independent, Brooklyn, which presumably has a UK distribution deal with one of the majors. It’s a considerably greater presence for the international brewers than on the equivalent cask list, where they only have one representative.

This underlines what I’ve said about the craft beer movement in the past, that eventually it will be assimilated into the mainstream. Some aspects of it will be taken on board by the major brewers, with US-style IPAs and “craft lagers” currently being the main beneficiaries. Some will continue at a lower, niche level, without ever troubling the top of the sales charts, while others will fade away over time. One major new challenger may appear to challenge the market dominance of the established players, but would you really put any money on BrewDog still being an independent company in twenty years’ time?

Compare this with the situation of cask ale. Above is an interesting graphic from Pete Brown’s post that illustrates the difference in perception between cask and craft. Yes, there is a substantial area of overlap, but there are also major distinguishing factors, and in some ways the two are poles apart. Cask is not an innovation in the beer market; indeed its continued existence as a system represents a reaction against innovation. And it is something pretty much entirely confined to the UK, and a market segment from which the international brewers have mostly withdrawn.

It is all very well to say that everyone interested in “good beer” should recognise a common interest but, as I wrote here, the two sectors of cask and craft carry starkly contrasting cultural associations and arise from essentially different wellsprings of sentiment.

19 comments:

  1. Most of the beers and lagers on that list are about as 'craft' as Doom Bar having gone or just started off bland. Shipyard does well because like pretty much all national beers, it's carefully brewed to avoid flavour extremes and barely resembles the original. I don't think even Punk IPA has as much flavour as it used too. Brooklyn is distributed in the UK by Carlsberg btw and I can't understand for a second why anyone would include it in a list of craft beers.

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    1. As often discussed before, "craft" is whatever people choose it to mean. That's my point, really - people trumpet the "rise of craft beer", but most of it actually comprises beers that many wouldn't really consider to be craft at all. It's just big breweries rebalancing their portfolio, it isn't some dramatic bottom-up revolution.

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  2. I agree with your comment about "good beer" - saying 'it doesn't matter about dispense, just choose good beers' is rather simplistic. The method of dispense does affect the beer: to me some craft beers I've tried have been full of flavour and definitely not awful, but to me they are like drinking bottled beers. I prefer cask to bottles any day.

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    1. Cask for me as well. I dislike craft intensely.

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    2. What about cask craft beers? There are rather a lot of them that identify as craft.

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    3. I accept that the word 'craft' can be quite accurately applied to real ales, but I was using the term 'craft beer' to mean 'craft keg', which is probably the phrase I should have used for clarity.

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  3. It does reveal how difficult it would have been for even the great and the good of the beer world to decide on which craft beers were 'quality'.

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  4. This could be good or bad for cask, or maybe even a mixture of the two: If it poaches lager drinkers, it could be a 'gateway drug' into cask, otoh it could quite easily be taking market share from cask and pushing it out of marginal pubs.

    I wouldn't say that cask is anti-innovation per-se; It's a very broad church and there's more overlap than that graphic lets on. I've noticed that the Victorian regionals have pretty much evenly split between those whos range remains unchanged for decades (Mc Mullen, GK, Holdens etc.), those who're producing some 'craft' inspired cask beers under their own name (Proper Job, Ghostship, Sunbeam,Trooper, Burnt orange etc.) and those who've farmed off a separate sub-company to make 'crafty' stuff (Hook Norton, Batemans, Brains). This is repeated with post-camra breweries and post 2000 micros.

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    1. There certainly has been plenty of *stylistic* innovation in cask, which is why I qualified it with "as a system". But it's somewhat like saying "we insist on making these things by hand, rather than by machine, because we believe the end result is better". GK have actually produced their fair share of innovative beers, although not in such an overt way as Marston's. And Yardbird is a GK beer, of course.

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  5. Holdens and Bathams still produce superb beer at a very reasonable price. Their devoted local following really appreciate them !

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie24 November 2018 at 19:32

      Yes, "Holdens and Bathams still produce superb beer at a very reasonable price" but Holdens is not really one "whose range remains unchanged for decades" as their Golden Glow, introduced by Jonathan Holden, is now their biggest seller.

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  6. I think Sam Smiths OBB is crafted. Fermented in traditional slate Yorkshire Squares, and all cask is sold from wood. The epitome of craftsmanship.

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    1. The owners aren't people who left jobs in engineering and technology fields though. That excludes inclusion in the craft community.

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    2. Don't forget the Law - a brewery local to me is run by two former commercial barristers.

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    3. Some people struggle with calling stuff what it is generally. Those who claim to be interested in "film" and "travel" for instance. Most of us like going to the pictures and on holiday too.

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  7. Well, this is one of the most flawed Venn Diagrams I've ever seen - quite an achievement given that there are only two sets!

    The idea that 'cask', 'natural' and 'art of brewing' are entirely excluded from the definition of 'Craft' is complete rubbish. As are the ideas that 'Real' can never be 'expensive' or 'experimental' or 'American'.

    I know it's based on *perception*, but for the diagram to be logically accurate, 100% of people would need to have these perceptions, which again is clearly absolute bollocks.

    Lazy stuff that is only ever going to perpetuate stereotypes that are dubious in the first place. D-.

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    1. Actually I think it's pretty spot-on in terms of people's perceptions. You can argue until you're blue in the face that, in terms of the actual product, the two are much the same, but the cultural associations they carry are widely divergent and in many ways at odds with each other. As I said in one of the posts I linked to, real ale is from somewhere, craft beer is from anywhere.

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  8. The ONS has a nice page on the demise of pubs.

    https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/business/activitysizeandlocation/articles/economiesofalesmallpubscloseaschainsfocusonbigbars/2018-11-26

    No mention of the smoking ban, it seems people think the recession is largely to blame, what a surprise.

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie28 November 2018 at 09:02

      - and of course the government's "health lobby" telling us every day how evil alcoholic drinks are.

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