The various discussions in recent months about whether cask beer should aspire to being a “premium” product led me to wondering whether the current approach to selling it in the on-trade actively works against that aim. In most pubs aiming to appeal to beer enthusiasts, not just the general drinker, cask beer is mostly presented as a series of ever-changing guest beers. The pubs may have one regular house beer (anyone remember West Coast Green Bullet in the Crown?) but the vast majority of the range changes from week to week, or even from day to day. You are only ever likely to encounter the products of most micro brewers as guests.
I can’t think of any other consumer market in which this approach applies, and it certainly doesn’t for premium bottled ales in the off-trade, where the rate of churn is much lower and many of them are fixtures year-on-year. Neither does it for non-cask beers in pubs – when did you last see a “guest lager”?
Clearly as the “guest beer” approach is so widely adopted, it is something that appeals to customers, and so you can’t blame pubs for doing it. But it creates an image of cask beer as a kind of unpredictable, here-there-gone-tomorrow, pot luck product, not one that is reliable and dependable.
If I was a brewer wishing to build up a reputation for my beer, I would want to see it as a permanent fixture on as many bars as possible, so customers knew where it is available and had the chance of a repeat purchase if they liked it. If your beer is only ever seen as a guest, you will never build up much brand loyalty.