It doesn’t take a CAMRA member to tell you that beer is back – in a big way. Real ales are no longer confined to the corners of “old men’s pubs”, but are widely accessible from beer festivals, micro-pubs, bars – even supermarkets. From Belgian sour beers to creamy stouts and hoppy brews, there are now more styles, strengths and flavours to satisfy any and all tastes and preferences.
The renaissance of beer isn’t just a recent ‘hipster’ phenomenon; it has been in the making ever since CAMRA was founded in 1971. Back then there were just four UK breweries pushing the same bland and generic keg beer onto beer-drinkers across the country. Just when it looked like good beer might disappear forever, a concerted campaign was born to fight for real ale with real flavours.
The world of beer has changed significantly since then. In the 1970s and 1980s, the only place to try and taste a range of real ales was to visit a beer festival, where you might be able to sample brews from outside your local area or even abroad. Now we are practically spoilt from choice even down at our local. More and more pubs are stocking fantastic beers from all over the country, making it even easier to become a beer connoisseur – and you can be sure that breweries are keeping pace.
The number of breweries has exploded, with more than 1,540 independent breweries across the country. The most exciting thing about the industry is that it’s difficult to predict. Who would have thought that Black IPAs would become popular, or that craft beer would capture the public imagination as it did? Cask beer has also evolved in terms of flavour and techniques, so it will be interesting to see where the most innovative brewers take us. Some might argue that we may have reached the extreme end of the spectrum in terms of flavour, with some brewers now interested in showing their skill by reinventing “session” bitters, which are always a popular choice in pubs. These are gentler, balanced and very drinkable beers which provide a good alternative to the highly-hopped beers which have been recently popular.
What might be more important than the style of beer these days is the provenance of the beer. While the big national brands have their place and are enjoyed by many, offering local beers which you can’t get in pubs across the country is incredibly valuable. Pubs should aim to change up their range as regularly as possible – while hanging onto at least one core regular – to keep their locals interested.
Dispense is always an opportunity for innovation and we have seen some fantastic changes in the industry. CAMRA has accepted certain key keg beers for several years as real ale and just last year we recognised the very first “real ale in a can” from Moor Brewery, which speaks volumes for how beer has improved over recent years. Any technology which helps maintain the beer in optimum condition from when it leaves the brewery to when it gets into the glass – importantly without negatively impacting on the beer’s flavour – has got to stand a chance of being the next big thing.
The beer industry is likely to keep us all on our toes, but if pubs try to capitalise on these exciting developments it’s likely that both the beer and pubs industry will positive impact from it – and grow together.