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Ale and hearty

Real ale is no longer the drink of the minority; it is now enjoyed by 8.5 million people across the UK. Reflecting this shift in drinking patterns, it is becoming more and more commonplace for foodservice establishments to offer a choice of beers to accompany their food. While pubs have the luxury of being able to offer the real ale drinker cask ale, the range of excellent Premium Bottled Ales (PBAs) is enormous, offering something for most discerning palates

Real ale: how to float a sinking ship

With 39 pubs closing each week, the industry is on its knees following a succession of whirlwind tax hikes by the Government, increased regulatory burdens, and a myriad other factors including the continuing fallout of the smoking ban. Jon Howard, CAMRA, believes that real ale could play a major part in saving the British pub trade.

Real ale drinkersBrewers have fought for years to overturn the misconception that real ale is a drink solely for old men, and I can happily report they are succeeding, with 50% of UK pub goers having experienced its delights – an increase of 15% in little over a year.

Brewery boom

Good news for real ale converts is that there are now more breweries in operation around the UK than at any time since World War II thanks to new small businesses springing up all over the country to cater for the rising consumer demand for locally produced, quality beer. In August 2009 CAMRA released research showing that 64% of real ale drinkers have now tried a beer brewed in their local area.

Speculating to accumulate

Try before you buy policies have been an effective tool in UK pubs, especially where charismatic licensees have brought in brewers from the surrounding community to hold initial tasting sessions, or to hold a beer launch to bring out a new style of beer.

To encourage trial, third pint measures and tasting trays can also be used in novel ways to appeal to new drinkers.


Founded in 1971 by four young English men who were fed up with the increasingly bad quality of beer in Britain, CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) now boasts over 110,000 members, with membership having doubled since the turn of the 21st Century.

Meanwhile, CAMRA’s 150 beer festivals in 2009 reported major attendance increases; some venues selling out weeks in advance; some even selling out of beer before the final day.

Real ale drinkerWhy real ale?

When CAMRA coined the term ‘real ale’, the organisation’s mission was to make it easy for people to differentiate between the bland processed beers being pushed by the big brewers and the traditional beers whose very existence was under threat.

In today’s climate, the brewing industry may be undergoing a relative boom, but it is the pub industry that is on its knees. Could real ale be one of the pub trade’s saviours? Latest research from the Cask Report shows this could well be the case. One of the report’s many findings shows that pubs with Cask Marque accreditation – recognition of serving quality beer – are closing at around half the industry rate as a whole.

British Beer Styles

In Britain, over 700 brewers produce around 2500 ales varying from malty, lightly hopped milds to dark and bitter stouts and porters. Here is a quick guide to some of the most recognisable beer styles in the UK

Pale AlePale Ales or IPAs

India Pale Ale changed the face of brewing early in the 19th Century. The new technologies of the industrial revolution enabled brewers to use pale malts to fashion beers that were genuinely golden or pale bronze in colour. First brewed in London and Burton-on-Trent for the colonial market, IPAs were strong in alcohol and high in hops; the preservative character of the hops helped keep the beers in good condition during long sea journeys.

Beers with less alcohol and hops were developed for the domestic market and were known as Pale Ale. Today Pale Ale is usually a bottled version of Bitter, though historically the styles are different. Marston’s Pedigree is an example of Burton Pale Ale, not Bitter, while the same brewery’s Old Empire is a fascinating interpretation of a Victorian IPA. So-called IPAs with strengths of around 3.5% are not true to style. Look for juicy malt, citrus fruit and a big spicy, peppery bitter hop character, with strengths of 4% upwards.

Golden AleGolden Ales

This new style of pale, well-hopped and quenching beer developed in the 1980s as independent brewers attempted to win younger drinkers from heavily promoted lager brands.

The first in the field were Exmoor Gold and Hop Back Summer Lightning, though many micros and regionals now make their versions of the style. Strengths range from 3.5% to 5.3%.

The hallmark is the biscuity and juicy malt character derived from pale malts, underscored by tart citrus fruit and peppery hops, often with the addition of hints of vanilla and cornflour. Golden ales are pale amber, gold, yellow or straw coloured; above all, such beers are quenching and should be served cool.


Bitters developed towards the end of the 19th Century as brewers began to produce beers that could be served in pubs after only a few days’ storage in cellars. Bitters grew out of pale ale but were usually deep bronze to copper in colour due to the use of slightly darker crystal malts.

Bitter falls into the 3.4% to 3.9% band, with Best Bitter 4% upwards. Watch out because a number of brewers label their ordinary Bitters ‘Best’. A further development of Bitter comes in the shape of Extra or Special Strong Bitters of 5% or more – familiar examples of this style include Fuller’s ESB and Greene King Abbot. With ordinary Bitter, look for a spicy, peppery and grassy hop character, a powerful bitterness, tangy fruit and juicy and nutty malt. With Best and Strong Bitters, malt and fruit character will tend to dominate but hop aroma and bitterness are still crucial to the style, often achieved by ‘late hopping’ in the brewery or adding hops to casks as they leave for pubs.

Full article in Essentially Catering Issue 11

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