The Cask Report (http://www.caskreport.co.uk) from CAMRA has been out for a few weeks now, and I have previously commented on a couple of the points raised. Going deeper into the report and looking past the sections which have been widely reported in the media, there is some interesting analysis of the current cask ale market.

The first section is one which directly mirrors my change in beer tastes. In a section titled “Frequency – The Ageing Paradox”, it shows that Real Ale is caught in a catch 22 situation. When you are younger, you go to the trendier bars where real ale is less likely to be served (although this situation is improving significantly now), and will drink less refined beers and typically lagers which are often on sale at discounted prices outside peak hours. However as you get older you either get bored with lager and/or your tastes get more refined, but the more likely you are to have the commitments such as family, a demanding job or children. This both limits drinking time and finances. So the “core audience” for real ale will visit pubs for less hours and thus spend less over the medium to long term than the typical 18-25 year old who is out 1 or 2 nights each weekend, on a long session.

However Cask Ale has the advantage that 90% of the beers available in the pubs will never make it to bottled form, so unlike the mass market beers where you can buy a 4 pack for £5, you have to visit a pub to sample the majority of cask beers, and lets be honest, the same beer is generally superior when pump served than bottle served. This is borne out in the fact that cask ale drinkers are twice as likely to visit the pub than non cask drinkers. My drinking now in the majority of instances is limited to 2-3 pints per visit due to the commitments listed previously. I will however pay slightly more for the right beer, as my criteria is quality not quantity and finding the right brew. This inevitably means where possible I end up at established ale pubs with a wide choice of beers as often as I can.  Product knowledge and well kept beer is key in many of these pubs, and is what brings me back to places like the Red Rooster, Ship Inn, Ring of Bells and Dirty Dicks again and again.

The perception of real ale by the general public is also flawed, with the reality being far removed from widely held beliefs. The first that “Cask ale drinkers are northern and working class” is shattered with the South East and London accounting for 10% more drinkers than the North of England (this could be skewed by the population distribution however), but this backed by the fact that two thirds of cask ale drinkers are in the top 3 social classes, twice as many as in the lower 3 classes.  “Cask ale drinkers are old men” is rapidly become a fallacy, with the 1.6 million drinkers over 65 being matched by the same number of 25 – 35 years olds, and 1 in 6 drinkers now being female.  The perception that “Ale drinkers are traditionalist and stuck in their ways” is also false with cask drinkers being more likely to drink wine, cider and spirits that non cask drinkers and are also more likely to be willing to try new drinks generally.

I mentioned the mix of pumps between new and familiar beers in relation to the report a few weeks ago.   When looking at the number of pumps in a pub, over half of pubs had 2 or 3 cask pumps with only 16% having 5 or more.  We in Calderdale are definitely over represented when it comes to the 5+ category thankfully.  The mix of beers, according to the report and where the number of pumps can support it, should contain at least one of each of, a 3.5% to 4.2% session beer, a premium beer at 4.2% or higher, a guest beer and a seasonal beer.  This is on top of the non cask beers for other sections of the market, and those local pubs with 5+ pumps certainly seem to adhere to this distribution during normal trading (excluding special events and festivals).  My local pub, for example, The Cock and Bottle, runs with 3 pumps, and ticks 3 (possibly 3.5 as one of the beers has a foot in two camps) out of 4 of the boxes, with the regular beer of Ossett Silver King at 4.3%, Theakstons Lightfoot (4.1%) as a seasonal ale and Moorhouses Premium Bitter (3.7%) as a guest as of this weekend, all of which were good solid beers which would happily get a repeat tasting.

Until next week, Happy Supping.

  1. Real ale says:

    I wish real ales will become more popular among young people. In the last time cocktails and shots have dominated bars and pubs together with international brands such as Stella and Peroni. I guess that the organic food trend will contribute to pump up the sales of our favourite cask beers.