Marston’s, who are one of the UK's major pub owners, and a leading brewer of cask and bottled beers, are to withdraw cask ales from all but one of their twenty-one managed pubs in Scotland, and replace them with keg beer.
The move is due to what the company describes as “poor throughput” of cask, and means that by early June, the only pub in the company’s Scottish managed estate offering cask ales will be Lockards Farm in Dumfries.
A company spokesman said the decision had been taken “with a heavy heart” but that the company’s policy on cask ale in Scotland “is no different to anywhere else in the UK”. Mark Carter, who is head of the drinks management category at Marston's, went on to say, “Our criteria is set by throughput to ensure we maintain the quality control expected by our customers.”
“We will continue to sell cask ale in those pubs where there is a demand which matches this. Unfortunately a recent review identified that a number of pubs do not sell sufficient volumes to support the sale of cask ale, therefore ensuring that the beer on sale is not of a quality that we deem suitable for our customers.”
Quite a few of the pubs affected, are in places which are not exactly awash with cask ale, or even have they many pubs. CAMRA's view is that pub owners, such as Marston's, might be putting on too many cask ales, thereby diluting sales across too many different lines.
So, as Hanson suggests, "Rather than doing away with the option of cask altogether, why not tailor it in line with local demand?"
My view is that providing Marston's are not over-reacting, and using a sledge-hammer to crack a walnut, they are doing the right thing. There is no point in leaving cask on sake, if no-one is drinking it. There is nothing more likely to put people off from trying the category, than a warm, flat, rancid beer that has stat round for far too long.
It's far better for a company like Marston's to cut its losses and remove cask altogether from its outlets north of the border, especially as the category has never really done well in Scotland. Whether the move is part of something larger from Marston's remains to be seen, but it is is nobody's interest to continue with cask if they are struggling to shift the stuff in any volume.