Real ale ‘helping UK pubs stay open’

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With 15% share of British beer market, cask ale is shaking off flat-cap image to become ‘cool drink’ for younger consumers

The appeal of real ale to a generation of younger, affluent and sociable drinkers has thrown a lifeline to pubs struggling to stay open in the depths of the recession, claims a new report.

The UK beer market is dominated by the big keg lagers, such as Carling and Foster’s, but their share shrank by 7% last year. However, cask beer, or real ale, now has a 15% share of the UK beer market, equating to about one in six pints drunk.

While total on-trade beer volumes fell by 7.8% in 2010, cask fell by only about 2% – and the report says 7.8 million people drink cask beer in the UK, an 11% increase since 2007.

Pete Brown, author of The Cask Report 2011-12, said: “Cask ale can help pubs to not only survive but thrive … as our report reveals cask is shaking off its historic flat-cap image and is seen by younger consumers as a cool drink.”

Last year 2,500 pubs and clubs began selling cask ale, a 4% increase in distribution. Sales of cask-conditioned ales, which ferment a second time in the barrel, have surged by 25% over the past five years.

Cask beer drinkers are twice as likely to visit the pub as non-cask drinkers and spend more when they are there. Crucially, unlike fans of beers, lagers and spirits, they cannot buy their favourite tipple from a supermarket.

Independent microbrewers are also helping fuel the growth; according to figures from the Campaign for Real Ale there are 840 brewers in Britain, 99 of which opened in the last 12 months and the majority were microbrewers. The Society of Independent Brewers has more than 500 members.

The report refers to new consumer research to explore the attitudes of cask-ale drinkers. It finds that cask-ale drinkers get more “upmarket” every year; 69% are in the A, B, and C1 social grades. Drinkers tend to be younger, with 1.6 million under 35, while the number of 18-25-year-olds and number of women drinkers has doubled since 2008. Within the last 10 years, 37% of cask-beer drinkers tried this kind of alcohol for the first time.