Pubs ditch cask ale for kegs of fizzy craft beer as landlords fear downturn in visits

Sales across the hospitality sector remain well below pre-pandemic levels, consultant suggests

Campaigners are calling for urgent action from the Government to change the way alcohol is taxed Credit: Andy Rain/Shutterstock

Cask ales are becoming rarer at Britain’s pubs as the cost-of-living crisis prompts landlords to opt for longer-lasting kegs of craft beer, lager and ciders instead, a leading brewer has claimed.

Brewer Adnams said demand for cask beer was proving “subdued”, amid fears that drinkers could stay at home this winter and leave thousands of pints to go to waste.

Pubs and bars are choosing to stock more keg beer because it is a “lower risk alternative to cask whilst footfall remains uncertain”, Suffolk-based Adnams said, which makes modern craft beers such as New England IPA and Mosaic Pale Ale alongside classic cask ales such as Ghost Ship.

Once a cask of ale is tapped, all its contents must be pulled within three days to remain fresh. Landlords fear that would-be pints will go to waste this winter as cost-of-living pressures mean customers make fewer visits to the pub or cut back on how much they drink.

Keg beer comes from a pressurised system and lasts much longer than cask, meaning it is less risky to stock up on in the face of uncertain demand.

Tom Stainer, chief executive of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) said it was “understandable that with the huge pressures pubs are facing, they may look to stock different products”.

Mr Stainer called for urgent action from the Government to prevent cask ales disappearing from inns.

“CAMRA is urging the Government to urgently bring forward the promised changes to the way alcohol is taxed by cutting duty on draught beer and cider served in pubs to give pubs the confidence to give their customers what they want – fresh cask beer from local and independent brewers,” he said.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade group UKHospitality, said businesses were taking a closer look at supplies and turning to products that could be stored for longer.

“What we're seeing is companies not buying a lot of stock in advance because they don't want to be tying up lots of cash in stock, particularly going into the winter period, but they are also looking at selling dates for stock,” she said.

“There will undoubtedly be some shifting into products that have a longer shelf life and are less likely to go to waste, and that applies particularly to foods.”

Pubs, restaurants and other hospitality businesses have now faced two winters where they were forced to throw away supplies as a result of drop-offs in footfall during the pandemic.

Ms Nicholls said: “Businesses have had that particular problem over the last two winters and they don't want to be wasting stock, again, whether that's because of a downturn in footfall because of discretionary spending and cost of living pressures, or whether that is also going into the flu season.”

Recent figures from CGA, a food and drink consultancy, suggest sales across the hospitality sector remain well below pre-pandemic levels in real terms. Although pubs’ sales are up by 2.1pc on 2019 numbers, the rise has been driven by high prices caused by inflation rather than busier trade. In fact, business is still “lagging significantly behind”.

While the price of a pint is rising, breweries and pubs are seeing their costs rise too.

Packaging, fuel costs and labour costs have all been on the rise, Adnams said.

The company warned that it was “highly conscious” of how much cost inflation it could pass on to customers “before a visit to the pub becomes too expensive”.

The company said in a statement: “This situation is really the last thing our industry needed after the previous two years.”

Despite the headwinds, Adnams’ pre-tax losses narrowed to £1m in the first half of 2022, compared to £3.3m last year when it was hit by Covid restrictions. Revenue rose from £20m to £30m.

Adnams, which also runs hotels and pubs, said it had received a boost from more people holidaying in the UK as airport disruption over summer led to fewer foreign getaways.