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What do Guinness and cask ale have in common?

At face value, Guinness may not appear to have much in common with cask ale. One is a stout brand and the other is a dispense method. But, looking more closely at what hurdles they have faced could be key to unlocking how cask can boost its image.

According to the beer writer and author Pete Brown, the businesses that market cask ale need to consider Guinness’s success and review how its brand owner Diageo has navigated challenges.

Brown said: “Guinness is doing really well in pubs. 112% in volume now, up from what it was before all the lockdowns. Guinness is currently quite a bit smaller than the cask category, but it’s catching up. And all we are seeing at the moment is how good Guinness is in reports, because it’s such a thriving brand.”

He explained: “They were both considered widely as difficult drinks to ’get into’ — not like lager. And Guinness is doing something very very right that cask isn’t doing.”

Brown mused: “What if cask acted like Guinness?” This, he highlighted, could be key to harnessing a better identity for cask, including a way to court the interest of new drinkers while also upholding quality cues.

Brown pointed out how “Guinness had a really effective rebrand focussing on craft values without ever using the word ‘craft’ on the labelling.” and observed how “it has a new font where the pint is poured above the bar, so you can now see your Guinness being poured”.

He admitted: “It already had the best pouring ritual on the bar and you can now actually see it much more clearly. It also has a cult-like obsession when it comes to quality.”

According to Brown, price and public perceptions of quality at that moment of dispense are crucial too. As well as using social media to assist in spotting trends that apply.

He explained: “We are always talking about quality and the Instagram account @Sh*tLondonGuinness is so popular now that the guy who runs it has been asked to do a book. I think he’s even got TV interest” and Brown hinted that Guinness’s owner Diageo is “in close contact with him” and “as soon as he names and shames a pub serving bad Guinness” someone from the company is “there the next day”.

After all, he laughed: “They’ve got someone doing free quality control for them because people care about the quality of Guinness so much.”

Brown also stated that cask needed to be priced higher to uphold a premium image and reiterated that pricing is important to public perception as well as reinstating a beer’s importance in a pub setting.

He added: “As we know, Guinness is a premium price. Every pub landlord I know complains about how expensive it is, but they have to buy it anyway as they can’t run their pub without it.”

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