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21-11-2018, 12:57
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In the wake of the latest Cask Report, Pete Brown (yes, him again) has recently made some interesting observations on The Market for Flavourful Beer (https://www.petebrown.net/2018/11/14/the-market-for-flavourful-beer/). He points out that, if you combine the market shares of cask ale and craft keg, together they have risen from 18.9% to 23.5% over the past four years. All of this increase has come from the craft sector, with cask showing an overall decline.
However, before the crafterati start drooling into their thirds of murky DIPA, it’s important to consider exactly what makes up this market segment. The Morning Advertiser has produced a listing of the top ten “craft” brands in the on-trade (https://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Article/2018/11/19/What-is-the-best-selling-craft-beer-in-the-on-trade). Not surprisingly, BrewDog Punk IPA is at the top of the table, no doubt helped by being available as part of meal deals in Wetherspoon’s.
But the remainder aren’t a diet of Beavertown and Tiny Rebel, and include such noted stars of the craft firmament as Shipyard and Blue Moon. In fact, five of the ten beers on the list are from offshoots of the major international brewers, with two from long-established British family brewers, two from newer British brewers (one of which, Innis & Gunn, is often only grudgingly accepted as craft) and one from a large US independent, Brooklyn, which presumably has a UK distribution deal with one of the majors. It’s a considerably greater presence for the international brewers than on the equivalent cask list (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2017/11/meanwhile-back-in-real-world.html), where they only have one representative.
This underlines what I’ve said about the craft beer movement in the past, that eventually it will be assimilated into the mainstream. Some aspects of it will be taken on board by the major brewers, with US-style IPAs and “craft lagers” currently being the main beneficiaries. Some will continue at a lower, niche level, without ever troubling the top of the sales charts, while others will fade away over time. One major new challenger may appear to challenge the market dominance of the established players, but would you really put any money on BrewDog still being an independent company in twenty years’ time?
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Compare this with the situation of cask ale. Above is an interesting graphic from Pete Brown’s post that illustrates the difference in perception between cask and craft. Yes, there is a substantial area of overlap, but there are also major distinguishing factors, and in some ways the two are poles apart. Cask is not an innovation in the beer market; indeed its continued existence as a system represents a reaction against innovation. And it is something pretty much entirely confined to the UK, and a market segment from which the international brewers have mostly withdrawn.
It is all very well to say that everyone interested in “good beer” should recognise a common interest but, as I wrote here (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2017/07/beer-from-somewhere-or-from-anywhere.html), the two sectors of cask and craft carry starkly contrasting cultural associations and arise from essentially different wellsprings of sentiment.

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