Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

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The Independent Online

Thinking I was looking undernourished, my squeeze decided to treat me to an afternoon at the Real Ale show in Earls Court. Not a treat that I might have dreamt up for myself, admittedly, and perhaps he was just getting revenge for being dragged to the Isles of Scilly for the world's most expensive eco-friendly mini-break.

Although I can't stand the taste of beer I'm a great supporter of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) which was organising the exhibition. As the country becomes increasingly homogenised by thousands of Tescos and local producers are being squeezed out of existence, it's thanks to the lobbying of Camra that we still have such a diverse range of ales available. Real ale tends to be produced in local breweries, often using barley from a nearby farm. Unlike dead, pasteurised, preservative-laden keg beer, real ale is a live substance and rich in B vitamins, iron and antioxidants.

Starting in the 1960s, the big brewers virtually killed off the real ale sector by forcing "tied" pubs to sell their own beers. Camra began as a voice of the ordinary people, who refused to have their product choice removed by big corporations and it hasfought many David and Goliath-style battles, saving local pubs from developers and increasing the number of independent brewers. It's an uphill battle, though. Eight out of 10 pints drunk in the UK are brewed by four global brewers.

The miseries of globalisation seemed a long way off at the exhibition centre, which had been turned into a huge pub for the occasion. Real ale drinkers had emerged from sheds all over the UK and were now eagerly sampling beery delights. Beer is obviously a great boost to the spirits, if not the figure - judging by the scores of expansive fizzing stomachs wobbling cheerfully about. S is very keen on beer. When we first went out he was a die-hard Stella Artois man but due to my indoctrination is now a convert to real ale. Although I'm ignorant about beer I was hoping that one of the 500 real ales on display might hit the spot and replace my fondness for fizz.

S insists that true appreciation only comes from taking very large gulps, but I reason that if a small sip tastes like bat's piss how can a larger mouthful taste any better?

No one could say I didn't try.

"Darling you're spoiling me again," I choked as he forced a pint of Jobbling's Swinging Gibber down my throat as I held my nose.

A mouthful of Guinness wasn't much better. I thought I might get it down if I made a black velvet, but this was vetoed as being a ridiculous waste of Guinness. Although I haven't yet acquired a taste for beer, I've found a use for it. It makes a great hair rinse resulting in the most lustrous follicles you could hope for - if you don't mind smelling a bit.

www.camra.org.uk; 01727-867 201