Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Craft Beer Vs. Real Ale: The Fight Where Nobody Wins

Photo: Dave Morris (CCL)

The old saying goes that if something goes out of fashion for long enough it becomes fashionable again. I know I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago in my post about sangria (overdue a revival) using denim jackets as an example, but today I'm talking about ale and beer (more specifically real ale and craft beer), and how they have exploded to cult status after years of being bland and 'uncool'. Unfortunately, with this spike in enthusiasm, we have witnessed two distinct camps emerge - the 'real ale fan' who thinks craft beer is too trendy to be serious, and the craft beer enthusiast who thinks real ale is a bit old and fusty.

Now, I'm clearly a big advocate of craft beer - how controversial it has been, what it has done in recent years to revive a tired and dated industry, and how brilliant festivals like the London Craft Beer Festival have been testament to how young brewers / entrepreneurs are trying to rejuvenate the industry.
Photo: Danny Nic (CCL)

I'm also openly not a fan of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale - I have issues with what I perceive to be a narrow-mindedness, unwillingness to move forward and reluctance to embrace the fastest-growing beer sector, and how they have 'banned' kegged beer from their festivals. That said, I do enjoy real ale, and the GBBF was a fantastic festival, with some truly great cask-conditioned beers from brilliant little breweries.

So what I find amusing about the whole craft beer vs. real ale debate is the similarities between the two, not only in the brewers, festivals and beers, but more in the people that enjoy them. Craft beer hipsters across Shoreditch and Bethnal Green are sporting enormous beards, talking about hops, malts and mashes in the same way that across town, thousands of 50/60-something CAMRA real ale blokes are sporting enormous beards, talking about hops, malts and mashes... Talk about Blurred Lines!

What IS Craft Beer? What IS Real Ale? There have been many definitions applied to both.

My understanding is that Craft Beer is a kegged and pasteurised beer, while 'REAL' Ale is stored in cask straight from the fermentation tank, and further conditioning has to take place later. The only real difference is pasteurisation; a form of preserving the beer. Therefore, couldn't I argue that the quality of 'craft' beer is more consistent than beer in cask, making it more true to what the brewer brewed it to be, and therefore more 'real'?

We can chase tails all day, but it's time to put the gloves down, sit round a big table and work out a way we can all work together and be a big, happy family with 'real ale' as our fathers and grandfathers and the new-wave 'craft beer' the ever-rebellious teenager. One day craft beer has to grow up and mature, and one day our fathers must hand down the family business. Maybe it's up to us, true beer lovers in every sense of the word, to stage an intervention?

Photo: Digitel Beaufort (CCL)

Segregation in the same market is never a good thing, and no matter how much you slate somebody else's products for being mass-produced, bland etc, the customer will make up their own mind. The very brewer that really kick-started the Craft revolution in this country is now a full-blown major brewer. Is it still artisanal? Is it still crafted? And in the same breath, isn't real ale artisanal? Isn't it crafted?

One thing we can both agree on is a Campaign For Really Good Beer, and maybe that's how the industry needs to progress, perhaps as a merger between CAMRA and the London Brewers Alliance.

United we should stand against the giant brewing conglomerates saturating the market with crap lager. We are stronger together, but for now we're stood on opposite sides of the playground, not looking very grownup at all.

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