Until I received an email from CAMRA, I had no idea that Cask Ale Week started on the 24th September until the 4th October, which seemed peculiar. I mean you don’t get many weeks with eleven days in them do you? It gets complicated though because the Cask Ale Week website says it’s ten days? I’m not splitting hairs , but what’s it all about? I thought I would have a look and see.
Typing the name of my local town into the shiny web site ‘what’s on’ page I saw there were forty six events happening, roughly in an area bounded by Bradford to the West, York to the East, Harrogate at the top and South Leeds at the bottom. It’s immaterial where I went, this isn’t a comparison or critique of individual pubs, more a set of observations based on the overall promotion. Hence not many photographs, but suffice to say the town I visited is one of seven dotted around the the suburban, occasionally rural, fringes of Leeds and is neither typical or untypical; they are all different.
Walking up to the first pub, I was surprised there was no promotional material outside. Okay, I hadn’t expected fanfares of trumpets, but all I could glean from the banners outside was that I could watch Sky Sports and get a coffee. Inside it was a slightly different story, round the bar and a couple of walls were Cask Ale Week bunting. There was a poster too, yeah just one.
On the bar they had Grene King IPA, Wychwod Hobgoblin and Sharp’s Doom Bar, only the Doom Bar was unavailable. The manager said they had been really busy last night and sold out. I think this was something to do with it being a Saturday night rather than Cask Ale Week. Okay, they’re all real ales, drawn from a cask by a hand pulled beer engine and at £2.80 were reasonably priced. Personally I don’t find a line up like this inspiring and would have normally walked out in search of something else. However in the interests of journalism I had half of Hobgoblin Bitter. It was on excellent form and for a pub with more shiny metal fonts dispensing what passes for Lager it wasn’t too cold.
I wandered on to the next boozer, again I saw nothing to entice me in to sample some cask ale, not even inside. It was only when I went to the gents that I saw a nicely drawn graphic on a chalkboard proclaiming cask ale week – ask for details. On the bar there was a nice choice of brews; Roosters Yankee, Timmy Taylors Golden Best, Black Sheep and Ainsty Flummoxed Farmer. This was looking more promising and the website had promised me taster flights, beer pairings and tasting advice, plus the chance for customers to vote for their choice of which beer they would like to see next.
I asked the barmaid for a taster flight?
‘We don’t do those, do we?’ She enquired of a colleague.
‘No,’ came the reply so I had to do with a half of Flummoxed Farmer at £1.85 for a half, which I thought was a bit extortionate. The beer was spot on, well kept, fresh and well presented.
I asked the manager about Cask Ale Week? He explained it was a celebration of cask ale and they were promoting it across the small pub chain. So what’s different, I asked? He said they had got a guest ale on, which in this case was the Ainsty beer. The only thing he could suggest when I pointed out the promises of the website was that they were happening at their larger flagship premises which had more room?
Having had two decently kept halves I walked into my usual haunt; six cask ales, seven craft beer and lager keg lines and a draught cider, seven days a week, fifty two weeks … Now with the ever changing beer line up, with a couple of standards, that’s an awful lot of real ales (and craft keg beers – if you want to) that I could sample in a year. Beers from all over, from mainly small and medium breweries and guess what? Never a promotion in sight.
I asked the duty manager what they were doing for Cask Ale Week.
‘Never heard of it Rich, what is it?’ he said. I explained and he just shook his head and told me they would just keep ordering quality ales from quality brewers, like they always do.
Apart from a few independents, the two I went in and a pub in Cookridge, the majority of advertised ‘events’ around Leeds were a free pint for signing up to Punch taverns mobile app in one of their pubs and the Nicholsons pubs in the city centre that had tacked Cask Ale Week onto their Rugby World Cup beer festival promotion.
So what’s the point in what appears to be a smoke and mirrors campaign that, as far as I can see has not been widely promoted other than through CAMRA who only has around 170,000 committed members in a country of over sixty million people? Maybe cask ales don’t need promoting, according to all the latest figures? Perhaps it’s just a self promoting back slapping initiative from the industry organisers whose website says Cask Ale Week is the perfect platform to:
•Drive footfall into pubs (and breweries)
•Introduce new drinkers to cask ale
•Sell more beer
•Gain coverage in media
•Raise profile through social media
From the official Facebook page and Twitter activity, it’s obvious that some breweries and pubs have taken a real effort . Sadly this doesn’t appear to have happened anywhere the LS post code gets higher than 19 and nothing I have seen has the capability to introduce new drinkers to cask ale as the social media of Facebook and Twitter only really impacts on already beer centric people. The only sign I saw of it in the city centre was picking a bar mat up in a Wetherspoons, after the event.
It makes me wonder whether many in the pub industry really, seriously, want to embrace our beer revolution, or are they just happy to go through the motions and take peoples money? You know, just tick a few boxes; we’ve got some cask ale, been Casque Mark approved (starts at £85 +vat), done Cask Ale Week so we’ve done a good job. Only thing is they’re falling short of the committed, independent, often small brewery led, pubs who do a spectacular job week in and week out. Funny how it’s all industry led by a consortium of the larger brewers? Hopefully you had a better Cask Ale Week than I did where you live. I guess it’s no wonder so many pubs are failing, if this is all they can do.