Wednesday 16 January 2019

Where has all the cask beer gone?

I've spotted an interesting titbit about what's happened to cask beer sales. Writing in Brewer and Distiller International (August 2009) Paul Buttrick wrote:
Boddingtons was selling 10,000 barrels of cask beer a week in the mid 1990s, will we see Tetley cask bitter falter in the same way with the Leeds brewery shutting next year?
10,000 barrels a week is far more than any cask beer does now, and I can't remember when I last saw Tetley's in cask. Admittedly this is going back a few years but the big brewers have mainly retreated from producing cask beer. Beers produced for mass consumption, not for discerning beer nerds, unsurprisingly sell in large volumes. And big companies are good at getting their beer sold. It's no coincidence that Doom Bar started outselling Greene King IPA after Molson Coors bought Sharps. So I can't help but wonder how much of the decline in cask beer sales is due to fall in "mass market" beer, and how do sales of cask beer with a bit more character compare? Mind you, I don't think sales of industrial larger are looking too peachy so maybe it applies to beer in general.


  1. For some reason this comment from Gary hasn't appeared:

    "Any decline of cask is worrying after 50 years of CAMRA working mightily to save it. The withdrawal of big cask brands should have opened the door to regional and small local firms to walk in, but it didn't.

    The reason is craft beer, clearly. It's not lager as non-premium lager is also dropping, which cuts across the first point you made (as you noted creditably yourself).

    Craft, without benefit of a collective body anything like CAMRA, has out-CAMRA'd CAMRA.

    The reason simply is the beer. British cask beer for the most part - and you know I like the best of it - has stood still in comparison. Nor does the trad argument work because cask beer c.1971 is not as traditional as much of that cask beer, at least before the pastry and flavoured types took off, but the groundwork came before.

    It's not too late but Britain is conservative in such matters. This has pros and cons but right now it is working against the interests of traditional cask English beer.


  2. I'm not sure it's that simple. Brewers have mainly withdrawn from cask, but some regional brewers have done well out of that, and I'm sure the amount of cask beer sold by microbreweries has grown greatly over the years.
    Also there has been change in cask beer: I was shocked when I first saw a golden ale (admittedly it was 30 years ago!) but they're very common now, as is the use of citrus flavoured American hops.
    And I'm sure the statistics aren't wrong but on a personal level I've seen no evidence at all that cask beer sales have declined so I'd really like more information to help we work out exactly what's happening! People who might otherwise be drinking cask beer is no doubt part of it, but I'd like to see some figures for 'craft' beer sales in keg compared to bottle and can, and how much is drunk in pubs and how much at home.

  3. I think in the pubs you (or the average CAMRA enthusiast) go in, Ed, cask probably holds up quite well. But it's the mainstream backstreet pubs that have either closed (see Pub Curmudgeon thesis), dropped keg or have Doom Bar on as an apology.

    Going round Beer Guide pubs round the country, it's a rare thing if I see more than other pint pulled in a typical 20 minute visit, even in some Spoons these days !