Cask now accounts for 15.2% of all on-trade beer volumes. The drink is becoming increasingly popular with 18-24 year-olds with figures showing a 17% rise in that category. 121,000 people started drinking cask ale last year, taking the total number of cask drinkers to over 8.6m. Regional and cask ale brewers saw volumes rise 1% and 5% respectively while multinational brewers saw volumes drop by 11%.

Strong performance
“Considering everything else that was happening in the beer market, with continuing pub closures and consumers switching from on-trade to off-trade consumption, it’s hard to view this as anything other than a strong performance from cask ale,” said author Pete Brown.

“More interesting than the bald figures are the changing market dynamics and patterns of consumer behaviour.
“We might be emerging from recession, but we’re not jumping back to conspicuous consumption: instead, we’ve become more thoughtful about our purchases and in our food and drink choices, we’re looking for tradition, provenance and wholesomeness — all values that cask ale can provide in spades. “At the same time, this trend against ‘discretionary spending’ is leading people to visit restaurants and pubs less than they used to.
“Cask has an advantage in that, unlike almost every other drink, it can only be enjoyed in the pub rather than purchased more cheaply in the supermarket, but brewers and licensees still need to work at convincing consumers that a pint of cask beer is worth the detour.”

Shedding the stereotypes
The image of cask ale as a “northern” drink is misplaced with London and the south-east accounting for 41.8% of all cask ale sold, while Scotland also recorded a 31% growth in cask volumes on last year.
The report also analysed, for the first time, which type of pubs sell most cask ale. Cask outperforms in branded food-led pubs, recording a 14% volume uplift and a 16% value increase.

Cask drinkers are more upmarket than non-cask drinkers — 68% of them are in social grade ABC1. They agree that “it’s worth paying more for good quality beer” but nine out of 10 pubs charge more for lager than cask. The image of cask as an old man’s drink is also outdated with 1.9m cask drinkers now in the 18-34 age group.

Compelling choice
“This is the fourth Cask Report and the third year in which cask has outperformed the overall beer market,” said Brown. “The fact that we haven’t seen an actual uplift in volumes isn’t that surprising, given the continuing onslaught on pubs and the consumer trends around provenance, heritage, taste and so on should give cask brewers and pubs grounds for cautious optimism. “However, there is clearly still work to do in recruiting new drinkers. In every issue of the report, we have talked about the importance of providing tasting notes, of letting customers ‘try before they buy’ and other ways of overcoming the obstacles to trial.

“While more pubs are doing this than were four years ago, not enough is being done to make cask a really compelling choice for the new consumers who are needed if the impressive gains of recent years are to continue.”