Thursday, 24 September 2015

Lager still leads the way - Cask Report 2015

The 2015 Cask Report has been published. Rather than summarise the whole thing, I'll pick out a few points that caught my attention.
  1. It's estimated that cask ale is available in 70% of pubs. 
  2. Cask ale sales grew by 0.2% by volume in 2014, whereas total on-trade beer sales declined 1.1% by volume in the same period.
  3. Cask accounts for 17% of all on-trade beer (including lager).
  4. Cask accounts for 57% of all on-trade ale; keg is therefore 43%.
My view of these figures is (in order):
  1. Many of the pubs that don't sell real ale are disproportionately spread, often in areas of economic deprivation. Having drunk in such areas, I know that real ale is rare, and cheap keg and lager is the norm. Real ale tends to be in middle class and better-off working class areas.
  2. It's the third successive year of cask ale growth, which looks rather good against a background of pub closures and declining on-trade beer sales, but sooner or later, loss of outlets will inevitably impact upon this small increase. The room for growth is finite, and shrinking.
  3. &  4.  Although cask is outperforming keg, these figures tell us that lager makes up approximately 60% of all on-trade beer sales. As Fred of our local CAMRA branch is fond of pointing out, without lager drinkers, there'd probably be no real ale. This is one good reason why it is rather silly of a minority of real ale types to mock and belittle the beer choices of non-cask drinkers. 
With the exceptions of the ending of the beer duty escalator and a few small cuts in the levels of tax, the threats to pubs haven't gone away; consequently, despite the positive elements of this report, there still isn't much room for complacency. If anything, the threat to pubs from property speculators is increasing, and although obtaining ACV (asset of community value) status for a pub is certainly a help, it's not a silver bullet. It seems strange to be a doom-monger when there are so many real ale breweries and so many pubs selling their products, but unfortunately the foundations of this situation are, to quite a large extent, built on sand.

There's a lot more detail of the report in this article, which also reproduces the introduction written by Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden. You can see the full report here.


  1. A useful bit of perspective there. And Fred is quite right that it's lager drinkers who keep most pubs going, while cask is often just the icing on the cake.

  2. Interesting that the Morning Advertiser illustrates "cask drinkers spend almost double the amount the average person spends in the pub each year" with what appears to be a delicious German lager (in a 50cl marked glass) and a bundle of Euros.

    I'm also enormously sceptical about the "70% of pubs have cask" figure. Up here (non-city Central Scotland) it's probably 15%; taking your point 1, there must be vast swathes of England where you can't find a pub without real ale available. Or could basing the figure on a Camra members' pub database have skewed things?

  3. You make a very good point about the role of lager in propping up pubs, and some more upmarket pubs probably rely more on wine and soft drinks with their higher margins.

    NB There are many towns, particularly in the South and East, at or close to 100% cask, ignoring wine bars; Cambridge is one. 70% is believable.

    1. Yes, I think many counties across the South are now up to 95%+ cask, whereas in many parts of the North cask availability has declined. An interesting turnaround from the situation when CAMRA was formed.

      I'd agree the 70% figure is quite credible. Over the past years, keg pubs seem to have suffered from closures far more than those serving cask.


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