Cask growth is not small beer

THE rise and rise of Scotland’s small brewers has been something to savour in recent years. And happily, there’s still no sign of the bubble bursting.

As we report in our extensive ale feature this issue (pages 25-32), producers around the country remain confident that Scottish consumers’ interest in locally-made, craft beers is nowhere near being exhausted.
Such confidence is reflected in the expansion we have seen recently at many Scottish breweries (Orkney, Kelburn, Harviestoun and Stewart to name but a few) and by the 2012-13 Cask Report issued last week.
The authoritative report, backed by such influential groups and companies as CAMRA, SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers), Caledonian Brewing Company, Fuller’s, Greene King, Marston’s and Wells & Young’s, found that not only is cask continuing to outperform the overall beer market, cask volumes grew for the first time in 20 years in 2011, with around 2.2 million barrels (or 633m pints) sold in pubs across the UK.
Furthermore, it found that cask overtook keg as the most popular format for draught ale, increased its penetration of the pub market (to 56%), was tried by more consumers for the first time and saw the frequency with which it is drunk by existing cask drinkers increase.
That the Scottish drinking public has developed a thirst for non-mainstream beers is obviously good news for pubs as well as brewers.
As people like CAMRA and SIBA regularly testify, the power to deliver flavour-packed cask and craft ales on draught is a key advantage pubs have over take home retailers – and those who exploit this to the full can give themselves a genuine competitive advantage.
Happily, according to suppliers at any rate, there are still many pubs who have yet to dip their toes into the water and tap into this potentially rich seam. What’s more, those already building a name for beer with a difference can probably sell even more: it’s often said that the category carries the scope to attract more female and younger consumers, as well as the potential to harvest sales on the back of imaginative beer and food pairings.
The Cask Report wasn’t the only good news to emerge on beer and pubs last week, moreover.
The British Beer and Pub Association confirmed that 100,000 signatures had been attained in an e-petition calling on the UK government to scrap the controversial duty escalator. The development means enough support for the petition has been drummed up to force a debate on the issue in the House of Commons.
Since being conceived by the last Labour government in 2008, the policy has seen alcohol duty rise 2% above inflation with every March Budget passed by parliament.
But while it can be argued that it’s boosted Treasury coffers it is said to have exacted a heavy toll on the brewing and pub trade, and is cited by the BBPA as a contributory factor in the closure of thousands of UK pubs.
It is only right that the full damaging extent of the policy is laid bare before parliament.