The Real Ale Revolution Continues

Posted on June 5th, 2012 by Robin Goldsmith in Beer, Drink

So real ale used to be thought of as an old man’s drink (probably an old English man wearing a flat cap) and as far removed from youthful trends as Jeremy Clarkson’s dress sense. However, this is clearly no longer the case.

CAMRA reports increasing numbers of younger drinkers and new microbreweries opening up, despite increases in pub closures. In the USA, craft brewers are flourishing and in Italy, there is a growing appreciation of real ale with over 360 microbreweries and a consumer organisation similar to CAMRA, called MoBI (Movimiento Birrario Italiano) – Now Spain is moving in on the act, but surprisingly it’s wine that’s driving this forward.

Rioja is famous around the world as one of the premier wine-producing regions. Tempranilo, garnacha and viura are three of the quality grape varieties used to make wine in this area of Northern Spain. Now barrels previously used to mature wine made from these grapes are being used to mature beer. According to the Drinks Business, Mateo & Bernabé produce two kinds of beer – a wheat beer and a golden ale, using hops and wheat from England and Germany. It will be interesting to see now whether Spanish drinkers support this new venture, as cold lager still has a major hold over consumers’ beer tastes in the hot Mediterranean countries. What next – a real ale revolution in Germany ???

6 responses to “The Real Ale Revolution Continues”

  1. GuideDogSaint says:

    Hi Robin

    I think we are in danger of confusing real ale and “craft beer”. I doubt very much that there are 300+ breweries in Italy producing cask conditioned beer. I understand that the Italian beer scene is very vibrant but are we really going to walk into a pub with ten handpumps over there?

    CAMRA’s External Policy Document states that it “supports good, tradional beers from other countries, even if they do not comply with CAMRA’s definition of real ale.” German and Czech beers in particular are good enough without them needing to brew real ale. Don’t forget the beers from Scandinavia, there is some excellent stuff to be found there.

  2. Robin says:

    Hi GuideDogSaint

    Fair enough points there and I too have been following the endless CAMRA debates on craft beer versus real ale, keg versus cask etc. However, I think we can become dogged down in semantics here.

    Brewdog debates the differences succinctly, i.e. “beer brewed for taste versus beer brewed for volume” and quoting the US Brewer’s Association: ‘A Craft brewer is small, independent and traditional.’

    Surely, whether a (smaller) real ale producer or a craft brewer, all share a common purpose, i.e. to provide quality, generally non-mass-marketed beer or alternatives to the big corporation mass-marketed ubiquitous lager we see in most pubs. Also, let’s not forget that not all “real ale” is better quality than “craft beer” – sorry about the double negatives!

    I certainly agree with you about German, Czech and Scandinavian beer. Some of the best porter I’ve drunk was in Finland and, at 7% ABV, I’m still not sure how I made it back to the hotel after copious amounts of the stuff! Also, of course Germany has such a rich tradition of Pilsner, Weissbier and other beers that it has no need to diversify further. I was merely making the point – tongue in cheek with regards to Germany – that if more European consumers become interested in ale, as opposed to lager, we may see more choice emerging in continental Europe.

    Keep up the comments !


  3. Simon T says:

    When expecting a real ale free holiday in Cape Town, I will always remember my shock at finding some excellent ales on sale at many outlets from Mitchell’s brewery, based in South Africa.

    There are certainly many new micro breweries in the UK, especially at last in the London area.

    Its a pity so many pubs are closing down, restricting the ability of these micro breweries to sell their ale.

  4. Robin says:

    Thanks Simon. I don’t know Mitchell’s, but feel free to recommend any particular ales you have tried. I agree about the pub closures, but conversely, real ale seems to be getting a newer and bigger following partly perhaps through the efforts of microbreweries to market themselves as more modern and interesting, e,g, Meantime with their brewery tours, modern labelling and bottle shapes etc.. ???Perhaps the pubs that do survive long-term are the ones that promote a better choice of beer, as well as those invarably tied to large breweries (CAMRA will keep us all informed on changes in the tied pub laws !) Robin

  5. Giovanni says:

    I believe beer is following the footprints of wine, but with a risk.
    15 years ago there were not many indy wine shops and only michelin star restaurants had a decent wine lists. Today the average drinker is more curious and is open to new discoveries, this is why tens if not hundreds of microbreweries are blossoming everywhere. People want choice, quality but at an honest price. Maybe this is the real problem that will drive this market in the coming years. If the breweries don’t understand that selling a quality beer, whatever is the hop and wherever is coming from,the same price of a bottle of wine is wrong (making the most expensive beer cost not even a tent of making a decent bottle of wine)then in the next 10 years we will see many beer specialist, beer tasing and beer & food matching event and proper beer list in bars & restaurant. Me personally, I feel very privileged to know very knowledgeable people that showed me all the quirkiest beers around, and I am sure that with the right price to pay a lot people can be initiated to the this other, even quirkier, fascinating world. Off to the pub now…

  6. Robin says:

    Many thanks Giovanni for your considered response. I agree – I think a more interesting beer choice will have a strong impact on consumer tastes. Also, as beer and food matching becomes more commonplace, as opposed to the traditional wine and food matching, we will see more beer labels with suggested food pairings, thus driving the market further. Robin

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