Real ale festival to get the drinks flowing

– Aaron Faunch contributed to this report.

From knitted cardigans to cable jumpers, old styles become new crazes. But now an old, rural drink could be emerging as the new trend – the humble British ale.


The real ale festival is taking place at Wetherspoon pubs nationwide, including three venues in Lincoln. Photo: Chris Parfitt

Starting from today, three Wetherspoon pubs in Lincoln, The Square Sail, Ritz and Forum, are taking part in the world’s biggest real ale festival, serving national and international ales to their thirsty customers.

Real ale drinkers will be flocking to Wetherspoons across the UK, with handbooks at the ready, to savour some of the 50 ales showcased over 20 days. Lucy Miller, duty manager at The Square Sail says the biggest supporters will be touring pubs “to try ale from each and to tick them off their checklists.”

Miller believes that ale is no longer just for stout enthusiasts: “At the moment, younger people are trying ale. It’s the new drink that people like to sample and not just for older men.”

Steve Renshaw, from the Lincoln group of the campaign for real ales (CAMRA) agrees. He said: “Gone are the days where the typical ale drinker was a flat-capped, Northerner or a bearded, sandal-wearing CAMRA member.”

CAMRA was set up in the 1970s to fight in the corner of real ale against the commercially successful lager companies. They believe ale has a variety of flavour that is unmatched in other types of beer because of the way it is made.

Ale is a living drink. In keg lagers, yeast, which makes the alcohol, is removed and gases are added to fizz up the beer. In ale, the yeast is left in and the drink matures in a cask. CAMRA says that it’s the maturing that gives ale its taste and flavour that is now attracting new drinkers.

According to the Cask Ale report, ale has taken a chunk out of other beer types during 2011. Ale volume sales are up for the first time in 20 years, while other beer types are declining. The modest growth of 1.6% isn’t the explosion in sales seen in ciders and perrys, but it is a good sign for real ale.

Renshaw says small breweries are springing up all over the place and that there are now more breweries and more choice in ale than there has been for decades. He added: “People are looking for good quality, local produce; whether it is meat, vegetables or beer. People are very interested is supporting local beers and local producers.

“Local produce is important to many villages and towns because it gives them a sense of unity and community and it is the pub which is often at the centre.”

In an environment of closing pubs across the UK, ale is intimately linked with the local pub, the low ceiling and large fireplace buildings at the centre of most villages. Ale is a lifeline to pubs, as places that serve them are less likely to close, according to the Cask Ale Report.

Renshaw believes “if you want to drink real ale then you have to go to a pub. Pubs are a vital part of British life and if real ale can help to keep pubs going so much the better.”

Ale needs to mature and only a pub has the space to store large casks of it in dark and cool cellars. The storage space means that pubs can offer a large choice.

From golden, to bronze or to deep dark black, ales have so much variety. Each pub can have a unique range of ales, including guest ales, but this can be confusing and daunting to a beginner. Good pubs are now recognising this challenge and now offer 1/3 pint glasses and free samples for drinkers to try before they buy.

Renshaw said: “I’m constantly amazed by the variety of flavours that brewers can get from the humble ingredients of water, malted barley and hops, along with yeast. And with the more exotic hop variety that are coming from the US and New Zealand, there are some really amazing flavours, like the taste of exotic fruits.”

He continued: “A good landlord or lady will be able to guide a novice drinker to find something that they will like. There are a lot of lager-style gold or blonde ales which are like lagers but have more depth of flavours. People often find they start with that and then move on.”

Bonkers Conkers, Dragon’s Revenge and Crag Rat are just some of the ales that will be available at the Wetherspoons’ real ale festival, which runs from October 24th to November 11th.

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