UK advocacy group Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is calling for an investigation into Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Co. (CMBC), claiming the brewer has misled customers over a selection of ales.

Last month, CMBC released its ‘Fresh Ale’ initiative that offers on-premise vendors a beer made using the traditional cask ale method and then stored in a 30-litre keg.

CAMRA said the ale was not ‘cask-conditioned’ – stored in a cask on site – and the presence of a hand-pump tap on the bar was misleading as consumers see it as a “signifier of cask-conditioned beer”.

CAMRA has written to National Trading Standards and Trading Standards Scotland seeking an investigation.

“The average consumer may choose to buy the product on the basis that they believe it to be cask-conditioned beer, which in this case it is not,” CAMRA’s real ale, cider and perry campaigns committee national director Gillian Hough said.

CMBC introduced the ‘Fresh Ale’ portfolio to the UK’s on-premise last month with three SKUs: Wainwright Gold, Wainwright Amber and Hobgoblin IPA.

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Cask ale usually lasts roughly seven days after opening. CMBC said its ‘Fresh Ale’ product has a shelf life of 14 days.

CMBC said the beers were clearly labelled and were part of the brewer’s mission to “reinvigorate” the cask-ale category.

“We agree it is important to make the distinction between brewery-conditioned ale and cask-conditioned ale,” a CMBC spokesperson said.

“For that reason, we are clearly signposting the difference, at point of purchase, with a pump clip attachment, which states ‘Brewery Conditioned for Freshness’ and includes a QR code leading consumers to a microsite, to learn more about Fresh Ale.

“The market has been significantly impacted in recent years, both by the decline in the on-trade, and by changing consumer preferences, with Covid further exacerbating the issue.

“Over the past four years, cask has declined by 31%, but we are strongly committed to reinvigorating the category and supporting it to succeed for many generations to come.”

The group added the ‘Fresh Ale’ initiative was designed to supplement cask ale and make it more “accessible” for publicans who don’t have “sufficient throughput” to offer cask ales.

CMBC said in the last four years, 7,000 hand pump taps have been removed from the UK’s on-premise. Roughly 6,000 cask outlets have also closed in that period.

Last year, it shuttered Wychwood Brewery, citing a plan to consolidate its network and navigate the country’s “turbulent economic outlook”. The sale came just months after CMBC announced it was looking for a buyer for its Ringwood Brewery in southern England.

In May, CMBC also sold its closed London Fields Brewery and taproom to London pub operator Grace Land Group.

CMBC is a joint venture between Marston’s and Carlsberg UK, of which the Danish brewer owns a majority share. The venture operates a distribution network and several breweries across the UK, with the intent to consolidate both companies’ brewing operations within the UK.

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