The Morning Advertiser has recently reported on the top ten best-selling cask ale brands of 2023, as shown in the table below. Doom Bar retains the leading position, which it has occupied for several years now, although its sales volumes were down by 11.7%. Taylor’s Landlord retains second place, something that would have been hard to believe only a decade ago.
There are two new entrants, Butcombe Bitter and Harvey’s Sussex Best (The article states that Butcome is a new entry, although the graphic contradicts that). Butcombe is the first entry from one of the new post-1973 breweries to make this listing. (I would exclude Doom Bar as, while it originated from a micro-brewery, it is now owned and promoted by one of the major international brewers). Harvey’s, who previously limited their sales to a fairly close radius around the brewery, have presumably made a policy decision to take a more expansionist approach to distribution, although it’s still rarely seen in the North.
Obviously, as well as having the necessary production capacity, getting the distribution is a major factor in a beer becoming a top seller. But it’s a highly competitive market, and there are very few captive customers nowadays, so drinkers always have the choice of going for something else. In the vast majority of pubs with strong cask sales, there will be at least two beers on the bar. So people are making a positive choice to drink these beers, rather than reluctantly choosing them because there’s nothing else on offer.
It’s also worth noting that, while we are often told that “everyone wants pale hoppy beers nowadays”, nine of the ten are traditional, mid-brown, balanced bitters, and the only one that is pale, Wainwright, is fairly subdued in its hoppiness.
It’s interesting to compare these figures with the equivalent table for 2019, which I reported on here. The total sales volume of the Top Ten has declined by 23.2%, which is perhaps less than I might have imagined given the damage done by protracted lockdowns. Doom Bar was still the best-seller in 2019, although Greene King IPA was second and Landlord only fifth. IPA sales are down by 39.7%, while Landlord is up by an impressive 73.4%.
Eight of the beers were the same as in 2023, with the two that have dropped out of the chart being Deuchars IPA and Ruddles Bitter. I’d say their replacements, Butcombe and Harvey’s Sussex, are both considerably better beers.
The total annual sales volume of the Top 10 in 2023 is 624,900 hl, which equates to 318,800 bulk barrels. Back in the heyday of cask in the 1970s, several individual brands would have exceeded this figure.