Real Ale Revival

July 8th, 2019

Once the realm of flat-caps and old-fashioned pubs the art of real ale brewing is currently enjoying a fashionable revival. Join us as we head out on the trail of real ale.

At the end of a long walk through the stunning landscape of our beautiful Border counties, there’s no better reward than finding a lovely pub with a sunny beer garden, and even better if the pub is one of a growing number that are serving delicious and locally produced real ales.

In the early twentieth century, real ales and locally brewed cask beers were once the only offering at pubs and taverns, but during the 1970s the trend for strong, pale and fizzy lagers imported from Europe really took hold. This new type of drink was seen as exciting and modern. Social changes and the rise of the package holiday meant that foreign travel was easy and accessible to many for the first time ever, and the cold, refreshing and fizzy continental lagers drank around the poolside on holiday were seen as exotic and upmarket.

Real ales, bitters, stouts and beers became fusty, dull and quintessentially British, something that the older generation preferred. And the fact that lager kept fresher for longer than traditional ales and beers, along with targeted and fashionable marketing campaigns, meant that European style mass-produced lagers soon became the drink of choice for a generation of pub go-ers.

Today however, the country is in the midst of a real ale revival. Fuelled partly by the search for something different and innovative, partly by increasing awareness about supporting local businesses and partly by the “foodie” movement, the nation’s taste buds seem to have changed when it comes to choosing their favourite pub drink.

According to CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), the organisation dedicated to the promotion of real ales, ciders and the traditional British pub, 634 million pints of cask ale are sold every year in Britain, and the market has risen by almost a quarter since 2010.

Furthermore, to quench the nation’s insatiable thirst for real, or cask, ale there are now 1,472 UK breweries, the number of which has trebled since 2000 and there are three new breweries open every week. That’s more breweries than there have been in Britain for almost a century, so the lost art of making real ale is one that is not only being revived, but one that is at the forefront of a beer revolution.

But just what is the difference between real, or cask, ales and the mass produced lagers that we were once more used to seeing at the bar? There are dizzying number of beers, lagers, bitters, stouts, ales, craft ales, and cask ales on the market, but most fall into two categories – they are either lagers or ales.

The main difference between them happens during the fermentation process, when the sugars in the malt turn to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Lagers are made using yeast which ferments at the bottom of the liquid at a moderate temperature. Ales (including bitter, stout, mild, porter and ale) on the other hand are produced with yeasts that ferment on top of the liquid and are brewed at a higher temperature. This forms a thick head on the drink that we associate with traditional ales.

According to CAMRA though, not all beers produced with top fermenting yeasts are classified as “real” ales. Real ale is a living, “fresh” product and one that changes with time. It needs to be kept at a steady and cool temperature and served in a certain way in order for the delicate chemistry to come together to produce the strong and prominent flavours for which real ale is revered. This type of ale is usually served in a cask, where a secondary fermentation occurs, adding more depth and flavour.

By contrast, ales that aren’t considered “real” are stored in sealed containers called kegs. Before it’s put into the sealed and sterile keg, the beer is filtered and pasteurised to remove the yeast so no more fermentation occurs during storage. The plus side is that these types of beer have a much longer shelf life; the down side is that the taste and richness of flavour is often compromised.

As figures from CAMRA show, the rise in the number of breweries across the country has seen a staggering increase in recent years. The economy boosting side-effect of all this ale guzzling is most welcome, and it puts Britain firmly on the world beer map.

Over 5,500 different real ales are regularly brewed in the UK, which mean we have the biggest variety in the world. And you’re never far away from a real ale brewery; they’re found in rural and countryside regions just as much as towns and cities.

So it’s little wonder that real ale drinkers and enthusiasts across the region are hunting out pubs that know how to store, serve and promote these delicious ales. The Cask Marque accreditation scheme recognises pubs that have had special training in serving real ales. The scheme asses the temperature, taste, appearance, smell and storage of a pub’s real and cask ales, so you can be sure that you’ll receive your real pint in perfect condition.

And when you do, then there’s surely no greater pleasure in finding a sunny spot in the beer garden and soaking up that gorgeous summer sunshine along with the beautiful Border countryside views. We need no more encouragement, save us a seat!

Come along to the Oakeley Arms and discover our real ale selection! See you at the bar…..