Cask Ale Week (Easter week) is about celebrating Britain's national drink – cask beer. These linked articles talk about success – people, pubs, breweries and, of course, cask beer. It's great to have something to cheer about.
The history of Cask Marque says much about the ups and downs of the cask beer sector. In the early Nineties when the Government broke up the vertical integration in the brewery industry, whereby all the brewers owned all the pubs, with the now infamous 1989 "Beer Orders", there was a surge in cask beer sales as the market opened up to new brewers.
However, this was shortlived as many pubs rushed to stock cask beer, and beer quality declined rapidly as landlords lacked the skill set to undertake the last part of the brewery process in the cellar – the second fermentation. Disappointed customers left to find alternative drinks.
In the late Nineties, Adnams, Greene King, Marston's and Morland breweries, which were growing their sales but in a declining market, met and identified the need to tackle quality issues. At the time, I was the sales and marketing director at Adnams. Each brewer contributed to a £40,000 fund which paid for research showing that two out of every five pints sold were outside brewery specification: hence the birth of Cask Marque. This non-profit organisation was set up to accredit landlords who served great beer, with the aim of inspiring others to follow suit.
This award is to the licensee and not the pub, because it is they rather than the pub who look after the beer. Subsequently, the industry has heavily invested in equipment and cellar management training, and today there are more than 6,300 pubs which display the distinctive Cask Marque plaque.
Cask Marque has 45 trained assessors, said by some to enjoy "the best job in the world". They visit pubs nationwide, checking on beer quality and offering licensees advice on beer range, throughput and cellar management. Before you ask, you need to be a brewer to be able to join the team!
Surprise, surprise, customers are rediscovering cask beer, and last year it outperformed almost every drink on the bar, including lager and wines and spirits. A total of 400,000 new drinkers enjoyed cask beer, and the number of female drinkers doubled in 12 months.
There are more brewers now than at any time since the early Forties. Camra membership has reached record levels – now exceeding 100,000 – and beer festivals have enjoyed record attendances.
Now we have this momentum, it is important that we continue to maintain quality standards and to learn from the mistakes of the early Nineties. That is where you as the consumer can play an important role. When you see the Cask Marque plaque if great beer is on sale, do tell the licensee. If, however, it has not reached your high level of expectation, do let Cask Marque know. We will follow up the complaint and it may trigger a further assessor's visit.
To help you to identify the Cask Marque award-winning licensees, you can either download a satnav programme from our website or use our new iPhone app, both of which are free from our website.
You can, however, just text to 60300 the word "cask.", and add your postcode. For example, CASK.CO49HT. Within 30 seconds, you will have details of your two nearest outlets.
I always remind people that cask beer is unique to the British pub. You can't buy it in the supermarket or drink it at home – you have to go to the pub and socialise. This is why Cask Ale Week focuses around the pub.
This year, more than 10,000 pubs will be celebrating Cask Ale Week by running events and promotions. Do visit the Cask Ale Week website www.caskaleweek.co.uk and see which pubs in your area are supporting the event.
We have lots of reasons to be cheerful during Easter week, so let's celebrate cask beer – Britain's national drink linked to the success of the British pub.