A young person’s guide to real ale

Your tipple of choice can say an lot about you, despite the associations being based on little more than myth and cliché. Enthusiasts of red wine are applauded for being chic while someone who orders whiskey on the rocks might be mistaken for being a little bit dangerous.

But what about beer drinkers? And we're talking about real ale here, not its slightly more racy rival, lager. Ale is drunk by old men with a misguided penchant for socks and sandals, right? It is enjoyed by chaps who stop off in a country pub for a quick refreshment in between maybe a hike, or say, some birdwatching. There's certainly nothing cool or sexy about real ale and besides, nobody really drinks it any more, do they?

Not quite. Statistics tell a very different story. Real ale is enjoying a huge revival in the UK and is rapidly shedding its beardy image. The Cask Report – Britain's National Drink, which was published earlier this week, reports that despite declining total beer sales and a number of pub closures, cask ale has outperformed the rest of the beer market for the third year running and grew its drinker base by 1.4 per cent. Some 121,000 people started drinking cask ale over the past year, taking the total number to over 8.6 million; 3,000 more pubs started selling cask ale and it now accounts for about one in every six pints sold in UK pubs.

One of the most astonishing figures is that younger people and women are getting into real ale, too. The number of 18 to 24-year-old cask drinkers grew by 17 per cent.

My experience of real ale consists of a few stolen sips from my father's pint during my childhood. I don't know anything about the stuff and I wouldn't consider ordering it (mine's a glass of sauvignon blanc, thanks). But am I missing out? I'll happily drink the odd lager; why not a real ale? With a bit of help and the right instruction, could I, too, learn to love the cask ale?

The White Horse pub in Parsons Green, London, boasts one of the biggest real ale ranges in the country, so I head down there to find out more about why ale is an increasingly popular choice. I'm given a quick run down by the general manager, Dan Fox, about the differences between lager and ale. Lager is served at between three and five degrees and carbonated, while ale is served between 12 and 14 degrees with only a slight, natural carbonation. Both are made from malted barley, hops, water and yeast, but the fermentation process is different. Fox insists, "It involves a lot more skill to make and serve ale rather than lager. Ale has a shelf life and will go off a lot quicker, lagers tend to be pasteurised.

"You can get a lot more styles of ale than you can do styles of lager. Anything from a draught stout to blonde summer ales. You're going to get a lot more flavour drinking a pint of ale than you would do lager."

Asked why ale is having a renaissance, Fox believes we can look across the pond for answers. "It's driven by the American craft brewing scene, which is quite slick, dynamic and funky. It's not gender biased, male or female. Beer is cool in the States.

"The UK has recently started making some really great beers. They're slightly more challenging and interesting and that's been driving sales. There are more breweries in the UK than there's been since the First World War. People are drinking ale and getting excited about it."

Other industry experts have their own opinion as to why ale is having a revival. Roger Protz, author of a number of books on beer and an early member of the Campaign for Real Ale tells me: "One factor is price. Beer in pubs is so expensive; if you're going out for a couple of pints you want something memorable or at least tasteful rather than industrial lager. People are rejecting mass-produced, heavily advertised beers. There's also a green element. People are concerned about how food and drink is made and where it comes from and they're sceptical about beers with fancy French, Belgian or German names which are not brewed in those countries. Stella Artois sounds French, but it's a Belgian beer brewed in Wales. People suss these things out. They begin to lose credibility."

A pint of ale from a local brewery has a third of the carbon footprint of a bottle of imported lager and eco credentials are beneficial for products at the moment.

Melissa Cole, a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and author of the popular blog, Girls' Guide to Beer believes: "For the younger market, they've grown up with a certain amount of wine knowledge from being taught by their parents, so looking into cask ale is a new and exciting way for them to discover flavours and tastes.

"And with the general downslide in sweet drinks and alcopops, it has become something for young people to be a bit cool about, to mark themselves out as being different."

Cole runs a tour group for women at the Great British Beer Festival. "That way, they can enjoy beers but they get taught by me so they don't get patronised and told that the pink one is for them." She also founded the beer-tasting experience lovebeer@borough, and has seen a shift in the demographic of those attending, from almost exclusively men three years ago when she started, to now being roughly a balance of the sexes.

In the chilly beer cellar at the White Horse, I'm given a tasting session in real ale varieties – who knew there were so many? Harveys Sussex Best Bitter is the pub's bestselling ale, with between 1,000 and 1,500 pints sunk each week. With a 4 per cent ABV (alcohol by volume), it is a fairly typical ale: warm with a balanced, fresh, hoppy taste; it reminds me of my father.

There is the Jeffrey Hudson Bitter, which is one of the more recent golden ales. It has a similar colour to lager and is therefore encouraging more people to try ale. It's a popular draw for the younger crowd. It has a clean and crisp taste but it feels a bit like drinking a flat lager, until you get used to it and appreciate the full-bodied flavour.

Thornbridge Halcyon has a 7.7 per cent ABV and has a much stronger taste. With its pungent, fruity flavours, it tastes nothing like what I would expect an ale to be like.

Finally, I try a Rudgate Ruby Mild, a refreshing, heavily roasted malt. This "cask mild" is another ale popular among 18 to 35-year-olds due to it having fewer hops and therefore a less bitter taste. It's a nutty, rich, easy-drinking ale and my favourite.

I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised with what's on offer. I had no idea there were so many types of ale and some are really delicious. I might consider ordering one on a wintry afternoon some time but as far as drinking it on a night out, I'm pretty sure people would find me a bit, well, strange. However, Fox believes that more women might be encouraged to drink it if they could stock more elegant glasses, something he hopes the industry will look at. Fox acknowledges that ale has an image problem and believes it is because few breweries do any marketing. "The entire marketing budget is the clip that gets put on the front of the tap on the bar," he observes.

He bemoans many of the dreary, old-fashioned clips that are on offer from British brewers. American brewers, he argues, have much more exciting logos. He even shows me one designed by Ralph Steadman.

There are a few well-known faces helping to change ale's tired image. The film director Guy Ritchie (no socks and sandals beardy) has installed a microbrewery at his Wiltshire estate. Even Gwyneth Paltrow is said to enjoy the odd pint of it.

Everyone I speak to in the beer industry is hugely excited about this turnaround in growth and who knows, with a little bit of work on its image and the right marketing, perhaps a refreshing glass of real ale could be the drink of choice for the stylish and hip.

BEER FOR BEGINNERS, BY ROGER PROTZ

MILD Britain's most popular beer until the 1950s and staging a comeback. Usually dark brown, it's comparatively low in alcohol and gently hopped but is easy-drinking with pleasing chocolate, roasted grain and toffee notes from darker malts.



BITTER Copper or bronze-coloured, it's heavily hopped – hence the name – but the bitterness is balanced by biscuity malt and citrus fruitiness from hops and yeast. Best bitter is a stronger version.



IPA AND PALE ALE India Pale Ale transformed brewing in the 19th century. It was brewed for the Raj while Pale Ale was a less aggressively hopped version for the domestic market. In the doldrums for years, IPA has made a spirited return to popularity.



PORTER AND STOUT Porter, a dark, well-hopped and refreshing beer, was developed early in the 18th century in London to refresh porters plying their trade on the streets and the docks. The strongest was Stout Porter, reduced to just Stout. There are now many British rivals to Irish Stout.



GOLDEN ALE A successful 1990s introduction by craft brewers to wean younger drinkers off industrial lagers. A high level of refreshment with a rich, honeyed malt character balanced by fruity hops.



OLD ALE AND BARLEY WINE Two ancient styles revived to acclaim, rich and warming. Old Ale indicates a beer matured for months. Barley Wine rivals fruit wine in its strength and complexity of flavours.



WHEAT BEER A German speciality, British craft brewers have taken it up. Despite the name, it is made from barley and wheat malts. It's lightly hopped to bring out the fruity flavours of wheat – spot cloves, banana, even Juicy Fruit bubble gum.



www.beer-pages.com. For a full list of all real ales, see the Camra Good Beer Guide, £15.99. www.camra.org.uk

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee