The most recent version of the annual Cask Report was published last month. Against a background of falling sales, it argued that the key to turning the sector round was premiumisation, which seems somewhat perverse to say the least. This idea really is a complete canard that for some reason keeps getting resurrected. I have written about this several times in the past, here for example, so am reluctant to produce another lengthy essay on the subject. However, here are a few quick bullet points.
- The historical reason that cask sells at a discount to keg ales and lagers is that it was originally the standard beer in pubs. Keg ales and lagers commanded a premium both because they were new innovations and because they incurred more processing and storage costs.
- One reason that it continues to sell at a discount is inconsistent quality. People won’t pay top dollar for a product that is something of a lottery.
- Cask doesn’t inherently cost any more to make than keg, and it isn’t really that difficult to keep well so long as you stick to a few simple rules.
- Cask is a perishable product that is critically dependent on turnover. It is ill-suited to occupy a low-volume niche.
- Most cask is consumed by ordinary drinkers, not beer enthusiasts. It is usually the staple ale in pubs and is compared with lagers and smooth ales, not with craft keg.
- Cask beer isn’t exactly cheap at the moment, with the £4 pint very common now.
- Many cask drinkers are people on a limited budget who have no scope to absorb hefty price increases. 59% of drinkers may say in a poll that it should cost more, but in practice would they be happy to pay it?
- The single biggest retailer of cask beer is an aggressive discounter, which makes it very difficult to shift the perception of the market.
It’s interesting to see the contrast between these two Twitter polls by Ber O’Clock Show and myself asking subtly different questions:
This week’s #hopinions folks 👇🏼👇🏼— Beer O’clock Show #Hopinions (@BeerOClockShow) September 29, 2019
The 2019 Cask Report was released this week and raises an interesting question...
Can cask beer be ‘premiumised’?
POLL: *Should* cask beer be premiumised? (Following on from a recent poll by @BeerOClockShow as to whether it *can* be)— Pub Curmudgeon 🍻 (@oldmudgie) October 1, 2019