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Stop the squabbles - we need a united front to champion all good beer

Added: Monday, August 18th 2014

Jane Peyton

Good day - if you are reading this then like me you worship at the altar of malts and hops.  Or should that be a maltar?

Have you ever thought about the awesome power of the beer lover?  Not only do beerios hold commercial power by helping to contribute £21 billion annually to the British economy through brewing and pubs, but we have political power too. It was beerios, through the CAMRA campaign, that persuaded the Government to change policy on the beer duty escalator.  Then there is the power of enthusiasm and a powerful desire to encourage non beer drinkers to join us in our respect for Ninkasi's nectar. I cannot think of another industry with such fervent customers and that benefits so much from their willing zeal.

Could there be a better time to be a beer lover? It's a golden age for brewing -- not just in Britain but around the world. These are thrilling times for exploring beer with so many new breweries offering arguably the widest variety of beer styles, and aroma and taste profiles there has ever been. Many brewers have eschewed the rule book and drinkers are the beneficiaries with some utterly delicious and imaginative brews that pack a flavour punch like nothing else.

And the stalwarts of British brewing continue to supply reliable classics such as Boltmaker by Timothy Taylor, last week crowned Champion Beer of Britain (at the Great British Beer Festival pictured below). This means that the current brewing scene not only appeals to the millions of people who prefer a more traditional pint, but it can also enthuse those who desire a diversity of taste experiences. It is also attracting new beer drinkers who do not mind what format beer comes in or maybe do not even know the difference between a kegged or cask beer. Many of the newer established breweries are exclusively keg or bottles -- for instance Meantime, widely celebrated for producing a range of excellent beers.

beer festival

The good news is that real ale and craft beer is a moderately growing sector, the bad news is that it is still a minority in the overall drinks market.  The biggest growth is mainstream cider, especially flavoured ciders. These sweeter, less challenging beverages are today's alco-pops and crucially, they appeal to younger people -- who have a lifetime of drinking ahead of them. Once a person has a taste for something sweet, it is difficult to tempt them with something bitter. 

But to save the future of Britain's national drink we need to encourage more people to drink beer!  That is where the power of  beer-lovers comes in with the urge to evang-ale-ise.  The trouble is we are not presenting a united front.  There is a schism in the ranks of the most passionate beer drinkers in the land where many of those who prefer cask ale are openly hostile to the idea of kegged beer. This hostility is evident each month in the letters page of CAMRA's What's Brewing newspaper. But it also comes from some brewers who have chosen to concentrate on keg only, and who are not shy of spitting bile at the cask sector either.

I am one of thousands of CAMRA members who love beer no matter what format it comes in.  As long as it is good beer! I have inadvertently drunk some horrors poured from a cask, and I have tasted some nasty kegged and bottled beer too. Neither format has a monopoly on drinkable brews.

I can understand why so many CAMRA members (pictured below at GBBF) resent kegged beers, after all those members have campaigned for years to protect cask ale against boring and flavourless pasteurised beer and thanks to their efforts the war has been won. All that tireless campaigning created the market for cask and keg, and ensured that Britain’s beer market, like most other countries, is not completely dominated by the international behemoths of the brewing world with only one style of beer offer.  Now that we imbibers have known the joy of variety, aroma and flavour in our favourite drink, there is no going back to the bad old days of Watney Red Barrel. 

bar staff GBBF

In a perfect beer world those who begrudge filtered beer or cask ale would accept the entire sector and that includes the international Pilsner brands because the reality is without the drinkers of the Carlsbergs and Heinekens (companies that also own some well-known ale brands) Britain's pubs would be closing at an even swifter rate. No one is forced to drink beers they do not want to but rather than bad-mouthing the formats they disapprove of, may I suggest that we unite to support the beer and pub sector as a whole to ensure that it remains strong. We can do this by acknowledging and harnessing that incredible power we have and lobbying opinion formers, pubs, brewers, and the media about beer -- the world's greatest libation.

Here are some suggestions of actions beer lovers might want to take:

  • Try to convert cider and wine drinkers to beer- - especially women. Fewer than 15% of women in Britain are regular beer drinkers.  Even a small percentage increase in women drinking beer in a pub would have a significant and positive effect on the health of the industry. However this is a huge challenge because one of the biggest reasons why women in this country do not drink beer is because they perceive it as being blokey.  Many beer marketing companies do not help because they market beer just at men, making millions of people assume that beer is a man's drink and that women are not welcome at the party. Of course we know that beer is a gift from nature to all humans!  No one calls wine “female” -- and it's ludicrous to assign a gender to food or drink.  But if people insist on giving beer a male gender then they should read my blog on the Huffington Post where I write about beer having more female elements than any other alcoholic drink.  Read it by clicking here:
  • If your local pub serves food, ask the manager to include a beer suggestion to match with each dish on the menu. If they are unable to stock a wide selection of cask ales ask them to offer a wider selection of bottled beers and have a beer menu with description of style and descriptive tasting notes.  Food matching is where beer has no competition!
  • Write to local and national newspapers and ask them to include more positive features about beer, and if those publications have a wine column, ask them to print a beer column too.
  • If your local or favourite brewer is beholden to New World hops, encourage them to use British hops instead. British hops are more subtle than their New World counterparts, and that subtlety permits the malts to shine too, showing off the complexity of the beer. By doing so you will help to save the British hop industry and will taste just why British malt is renowned as being the best brewing and distilling barley in the world!
  • Join the Beer Day Britain project to deliver the world's greatest national beer day – 15 June 2015. And also sign a petition I have started for the British Government to serve British beer at official receptions and to be proud to showcase our peerless national drink.  See details of the national beer day and petition by clicking here

Beer is such a joy-giving drink -- more so than other beverage. So let's celebrate and share it whether your favourite tipple is a pint of Spitfire, Carling or Gamma Ray.  Bottoms up!

*Jane Peyton is Britain's Beer Sommelier of the Year, founder of the School of Booze, and author of several books including 'Beer o' Clock'. She is driving the idea for Beer Day Britain and has joined forces with brewers Sophie de Ronde of Brentwood Brewing, and Sara Barton of Brewster's Brewing Company to work with the beer industry to make it happen.