Drinkers drown out downturn at British beer festival
While Britain is in the grip of a recession and its world-famous pubs are closing at an estimated rate of 52 per week, the traditional craft beer industry is celebrating its annual bash in a cheery mood.London -- Fancy getting your taste buds round Dishy Debbie, a Blond Witch or some Top Totty? They're all being served up at the Great British Beer Festival, which opened its doors Tuesday.
While Britain is in the grip of a recession and its world-famous pubs are closing at an estimated rate of 52 per week, the traditional craft beer industry is celebrating its annual bash in a cheery mood.
Despite a poor year for the pub and brewing industries, cask ale sales performed comparatively well, dipping by 1.3 percent, compared to eight percent for the total beer market.
Meanwhile The Society of Independent Brewers, the umbrella body for Britain's craft brewers, estimates its members' sales are growing by 10 to 11 percent per year.
Some 350,000 pints of more than 450 different ales were due to be served up at the five-day festival at Earls Court exhibition centre in west London -- temporarily the biggest pub in the world.
Among the more curiously-named brews served were Mad Goose, Screech Owl, Stone the Crows, Armageddon, A Drop Of Nelson's Blood, Oscar Wilde Mild, Headcracker, Berserker Export, Hertfordshire Hedgehog and Pickled Santa.
Laid-off city traders snared by the recession could drown their sorrows with a pint of Stockbroker Blues.
Some 60,000 beer lovers were expected to attend the event organised by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, which was founded in 1971 and has just passed the 100,000-member mark.
Real ale is fresh beer brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask from which it is served.
Its supporters contrast its qualities with higher-selling, super-chilled fizzy lagers.
As well as fighting the incoming lager tide, CAMRA is fighting high pub prices, pub closures, beer taxes and the dominance of global brands.
"The good news is that real ale brewers are doing very well and some companies have been reporting double-digit growth," CAMRA chief executive Mike Benner told AFP as he supped a pint of Hook Norton's Hooky Bitter.
"There's a real, genuine move by consumers back to local products and people are looking for drinks with provenance that actually mean something to them.
"Consumers are getting fed up with having these huge, global, over-marketed brands shoved down their throats."
Besides British pints at the festival, there were also beers from the booming US craft brewing scene, Australia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ireland, Denmark, Jamaica, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Italy, four beers from Belarus and a cask ale from Spain.
Bearded real ale veterans and clean-shaven first-timers alike could try their hand at old-style pub games like skittles and tuck into traditional pub fayre like pork scratchings.
Judges at the festival named Rudgate Ruby Mild the Champion Beer of Britain, with Oakham's Attila second and West Berkshire's Doctor Hexter's Healer taking the bronze.
Rudgate, from outside York in northern England, is a micro-brewer producing around 40 barrels a week.
"It's dark in colour, rich in flavour, it's got a slight nuttiness and it's smooth," owner Craig Lee told AFP.
"People would rather pay a little bit more money for a quality product that's consistently good than for mass-produced nonsense."
AFP / Expatica