For anyone reading the wider press and brewing periodicals of late it may not be immediately apparent that we have witnessed a complete sea change in respect to the selection of styles of beer available on the bar.
Recent press articles might suggest cask is doomed whilst others seem to suggest a revival of ‘traditional’ beers and cask is back. However, this isn’t a revival as such because cask beers have never really been away, they simply weren’t as easy to source during covid and fell out of favour with the industry pundits writing the column inches week on week. Whilst they have been busy telling us about the latest canned beers from this new brewery or that new brewery, they continually overlook the many great beers that sell many thousands of litres week on week. What has become apparent in recent years is that beer in all its formats is acceptable, and more than ever it’s the drinker’s choice as to what style or format of beer he or she wishes to drink on a night out. The recent GBBF, with its many bars and beers styles on show, typifies this new approach to both selling and producing beers.
More importantly however, the penny has finally dropped for many craft brewers that it is actually a commercial world out there and the beers you produce need to appeal to a sufficiently large audience for a brewery to survive. This means not limiting the types of products you sell. The downfall for many brewers is in thinking that whatever beer they produce is good beer, often given this impression and buoyed up by the odd favourable mention in a beer review. Then, when they fail to find a sufficiently large market for their beers, that is somehow the fault of the uneducated consumer. One well known brewer in the north would continually boast to anyone who would listen about how good his beers were right up until the point he went out of business. A little more humility on his part and looking around at all the beers that were selling well around him and keeping his beers off the bar, might have made him realise the customer is always king.
For the brewers with longer pedigree and a better understanding of the beer market, breweries such as Fyne Ales, Saltaire and Brew York are bringing in their new, more exotic flavoured beers, alongside a core of high-quality keg and cask beers thus providing a more diverse offering with wide appeal. However, it is still these core beers which week on week actually pay the wages, whilst the other more esoteric products simply grab the headlines and provide a temporary talking point.
In a major reversal of attitude to traditional beers, brewers such as Brewdog and Cloudwater who once said ‘never’ to cask beers, are finding producing cask beer is now quite appealing, as well as profitable. A sudden awakening to the fact that all beer styles have a following and to overlook any sector of the market is a complete own goal. Simply sticking to one form of beer packaging is neither a sensible nor commercial stance on which to build a successful business. The divergence of packaging formats that once separated pubs into either craft keg and can verses traditional cask or bottle venues is quickly coming to an end. What we are witnessing now is greater convergence with canny landlords happy to have cask alongside keg on the bar with bottles or cans sitting comfortably side by side in the fridge.
Craft brewers who might once have seen cask beers, along with CAMRA and The Great British Beer Festival, as outdated dinosaurs with keg and can and Craft Beer Rising being the only true place to market their beers, should now be rethinking their beer portfolios and their approach to marketing their beers.
We will perhaps see more of the new craft brewers that are starting up, or at least the commercially minded ones, viewing all drinkers as a potential market and this may well save breweries blessed previously with such narrow product tunnel vision from failure before they have started. This exciting realisation that we can have peaceful co-existence of all products on the bar is ushering in a new age of greater choice for the drinker whilst throwing a lifeline to craft brewers in these tough trading times, ensuring a greater survival rate thanks to a welcome dose of commercial reality.