Cask ale: who's drinking it and why
To celebrate Cask Ale Week, we've asked the three-time winner and current Beer Writer of the Year, Ben McFarland, to give us the low-down on the burgeoning trend for craft ales. In this piece, he explains why it's experiencing a surge in popularity and urges you to try it for yourself.
Missed the first piece? Read it here: Cask ale: what's all the fuss about?
Geoff Caddick, PA Wire
London's mayor, Boris Johnson, enjoys a pint of Greene King's Abbot Ale at the King's Arms pub on Tooley St in London.
Who makes cask ale and who drinks it?
Back in the 1970s, many were reading cask ale its last rights. Deemed old-fashioned and overpriced, and a nightmare to serve and maintain, it was being phased out by a number of major brewers who were more interested in the ease and affordability of lager and what then were characterless keg ales.
But then, in 1971, four disillusioned English drinkers sat down in a pub in Ireland and set up the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a UK-based consumer organisation that campaigns for the promotion of cask-conditioned ale.
Today, CAMRA has more than 100,000 members and has been instrumental in fighting the good fight against the dark forces of dull drinking. While its small yet vocal fundamentalist element can provoke heated debate in the brewing industry, it's certain that without CAMRA's efforts cask ale wouldn't currently be enjoying such a remarkable renaissance.
Despite hugely burdensome beer duty, a savage recession and an average of 25 pubs closing every week, cask ale is bucking the trend and, according to the Cask Report 2011, currently boasts around 8 million regular drinkers - a large proportion of which are under 35 and an increasing number of whom are female (one in six).
People are becoming more concerned with the provenance of what they consume, locally sourced food and drink is growing in popularity, food miles are becoming increasingly important and there's an expanding appetite for real produce made by real people using real ingredients. Cask ales tick all these boxes.
Sean Dempsey, PA Archive, Press Association Images
Barman Rory Kinnear has a read over a pint at the 2002 launch of the Good Beer Guide in the Pelican pub, west London.
According to the latest Good Beer Guide, which is published by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), the number of breweries in Britain has exploded to more than 1,000 - five times the number that were in operation 30 years ago and more than twice as many as there were in 2002.
The vast majority of these small brewers produce beer in cask-conditioned form and while 'bitter' remains the backbone of British cask ale, boundaries of innovation and flavour are being passionately pushed by brewers with new styles emerging, old styles reinvented and an increasingly adventurous array of ingredients being used.
White-coated boffins with measuring tapes and spectacles reckon that, whatever your postcode, you're never more than 10 miles away from a brewery - be it big or small.
When cask ale was pretty much abandoned by international brewers a decade or more ago, the gauntlet was gleefully picked up by a raft of regional brewers such as Fuller's, Greene King, Marston's, JW Lees, Daniel Thwaites and Caledonian.
Why should you drink cask ale?
Well, firstly, just taste it and it's unlikely that you'll ever ask that question again. Introduce your laughing gear to the easy-sipping allure of a gorgeous golden ale or the citrus sensations of a poised pale ale; bring a crisp and quenching bitter to your lips; treat your tastebuds to the rich, resinous hop flavours of an India Pale Ale or the roasty, chocolate and espresso notes of a silky, smooth stout.
Not convinced? You can always ask to try before you buy. If the landlord has lovingly looked after the cask, he or she will be proud to offer you the chance to taste it.
That said, buying a half is hardly a risk. At around £3 a pint, cask ale is an extremely affordable pleasure and, inexplicably, remains cheaper than your average pint of mass-produced lager.
Given that cask ale is made with natural ingredients, takes more time and effort, to not only make but to look after too, it's baffling that a pint of industrialised yellow fizz costs more. But it does. Get involved before someone notices.
PA, PA Archive, Press Association Images
Villagers from Dummer at their local pub watching the televised arrival of local girl Miss Sarah Ferguson at the church, on the day she married the Duke of York.
Also, in recent years, schemes like Cask Marque have made great strides to improve quality and consistency of cask ale in pubs. If you see a Cask Marque accreditation in a pub window then, chances are, they'll be serving a super-duper pint.
Cask Ale Week
By drinking cask ale, you're helping to save the great British pub. If people stop drinking cask ale, then pubs will stop selling it. Then pubs will have nothing to differentiate themselves from people's living rooms, which will mean that people won't leave their living rooms. People will then stop meeting other people other than on Facebook and Twitter, and then people will stop procreating because you can't procreate on Facebook and Twitter and then, before long, the world will run out of people and the world will then end.
Is that you want? No. Thought not. Save the world. Drink cask ale.
Cask Ale Week runs from 28 September to 7 October. For more information visit caskaleweek.co.uk.
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