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UK (primarily English) Drinking Customs

Discussion in 'UK & Ireland' started by BedetheVenerable, Aug 20, 2012.

  1. I've been reading Martyn Cornell's "Amber, Gold, and Black: The History of Britain's Great Beers," along with some of the Brewer's Publications series on Mild Ale, Pale Ale, and a few others, and am fascinated by the history of some of my favorite beers. The two times I've been to England (Northumberland and North Yorkshire) I was blown away by the beer; in fact, it got me into homebrewing in the first place, as I couldn't buy these beers in the US. I only went out to a couple of pubs though, and it was mostly for lunch (I was in school, sadly).
    In the States the high school (your college) and younger college (your university) students often drink the shitty rubbish lagers (Budweiser, Coors, Natural Light, Busch, etc; although PLENTY of older people drink them too, obviously) and most good beer drinkers tend to be (in general) in their mid-twenties and up into the thirties, forties, and beyond. What's it like in England and Scotland? You have all of these amazing local brews, and a drinking age of 18. Stateside, a lot of us bitch and moan about how great the cask ale experience is over there, but who's really drinking these beers? Do you have younger (18-22) kids appreciating real ale and even the kegged 'craft' beers out in the pubs, or is it primarily upper 20s, middle-aged, and geezers who sit down for a nice pint of bitter or mild? Also, do you see a large split between men (beer) and women (wine/spirits) like we often do (though this is changing)? Do younger types even drink beer, or are 'party' drinks (spirits, shots, etc) more popular? In a sentence or two, how would you discuss British pub culture in the 21st century? I don't know if anyone will be able to answer these questions, but I was a bit curious.
  2. The answer, as with most social trends is quite complex. Part of the problem with cask ale is that it can only be served in a pub and the numbers regularly going to the pub are falling particularly amongst young people http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/feedarticle/10377136

    Real ale used to have a stereotypical image of a middle to older aged Yorkshireman with a flat cap but as a percentage more young people are drinking real ale but in my (23yo) experience it really depends on what group of people you are talking to. Once again it is very dependent upon the pubs or bars that you go to but cask ale has the advantage of normally being cheaper than 'macro'.

    As regards the popularity of beer, particularly amongst young people, the UK has one of the biggest splits between men and women. There have been plenty of campaigns to encourage women to drink beer (both by CAMRA and the big lager brands) but the fact of the matter is that women drink less beer. Cider is the one alcoholic drink that has really gained in popularity over the last six or so years but the popularity of beer has remained relatively constant. The biggest threat is the Beer Duty Escalator, look it up and cry - beer tax has gone up 40% since 2008 and is set to continue to rise at 2% above inflation each year. Despite the amount of alcohol consumed falling there is a strong health lobby campaigning against alcohol and ignoring the amount of pubs which are closing.

    However things are positive with, like in the US, record numbers of breweries the vast majority of which are dependent upon cask ale. The average quality and condition of beer in pubs has in my personal experience greatly improved. You mention kegged craft beer which has grown from (basically) nothing in the last couple of years but is still not that relevant outside of the big cities and beer geek pubs (yet). It is often eye-wateringly expensive when next to cask beer as well. It will undoubtably continue to grow in importance though.


    I would take a read of the 2011-12 Cask Report, I think it's just what you're looking for - http://www.caskreport.co.uk/images/stories/cask_ale_report_2011-12.pdf
    Dennoman likes this.
  3. That's an awesome resource, thanks!
  4. Great thread Bede.

    Depends on where you are as to who drinks what and where. In Scotland cask ale tends to be a middle aged though through what can only be called an act of God, and without an deliberate intervention on my part, all my drinking buddies have become cask ale drinkers since they've come to know me. Craft beer, with the help of BrewDog and quite a few others now, has become increasingly popular with the trendy young (where my sympathies lie) in Scotland. The situation is fairly different in places like Sheffield where age, weight, gender and sexual orientation seem to pose no barrier for the enjoyment of cask beer.

    That all being said, most people still drink shitty bland beer UK wide but the word is out and things are a improving.
  5. I'm 31 now and I got into real ale (our generic term for craft beer) when I was about 23. Before that I was only drinking fizzy European lager and not really enjoying it although I did like stout. The 'in' lagers at university were Kronenberg 1664, Stella Artois and Guinness. Strongbow cider, alcopops and vodka-based drinks were very popular too. When out on the lash we'd drink anything but real ale, which was an old man's drink. That said, ale wasn't usually available in the busy city pubs and when it was, it usually tasted like sh@t anyway. It seems nowadays real ale is a lot more common and it's definitely more 'cool' than it was 10 years ago. My mates tend to drink it when they're out with me but I'm the only one who's really into beer. We're big drinkers in the UK but our attitude towards beer is very casual.
  6. Dennoman

    Dennoman Savant (485) Belgium Aug 20, 2011

    Speaking as a continental European (Belgian), I have to say the whole craft trend seems to be more of a European joint effort. The very popular and well-known craft breweries paved the way for even smaller players to do their thing. There are also only a few countries that really got involved in the craft movement and I don't feel the UK was an early bird to get in on it. I'd say Holland and Denmark were the first two countries where craft got really big. Something most European brewers can only dream of though, is BrewDog's marketing model. Opening 4-5 pubs across the nation is an amazingly risky business move and in retrospect, truly inspirational. Things are only just starting out for them as they're planning to open a pub in Stockholm.

    Here's a list of some breweries that have made craft big in Europe:
    - BrewDog (Scotland)
    - The Kernel (UK)
    - Thornbridge (UK)
    - De Struise Brouwers (Belgium)
    - Alvinne (Belgium)
    - De Molen (The Netherlands)
    - Mikkeller (Denmark)
    - Evil Twin (Denmark)
    - Nogne O (Norway)
    - Haandbryggeriet (Norway)
    - Narke Kulturbryggeriet (Sweden)
    - Birra del Borgo (Italy)

    Surprisingly absent is Germany, which some people consider Europe's number 1 beer country, but the idea of craft hasn't really sunk in there yet. Probably because their cheap lager is generally of very high quality.

    Belgium in particular is struggling to get craft off the ground as well, but that is due to the lack of a serious gap between craft drinkers and "lager swillers". Although nearly all of our "special beers" as they call them here ("speciaalbieren") are produced on a macro scale, they are still a lot better than your average lager and therefore a lot of people tend to drink ale. Though I must fully agree with Hoppsbabo that ale was generally considered an old man's drink.

    I think an American on this forum put it this way: "Belgium is still the greatest beer country in the world, because you can walk into any, and I mean ANY bar and see four people sitting at the same table, each drinking a different beer." I've always rather taken this for granted, but it doesn't take away the inherent flaws of the Belgian beer landscape, namely the oligopoly by the three biggest brewers and the lack of ingenuity in local breweries that just make the same beer styles (dubbel, tripel, blond or as I call it: the Holy Belgian Beer Trinity) so as not to risk a total lack of sales.

    But yes, things are getting better. We love IPAs! :D
    boddhitree likes this.
  7. Really surpised that this thread hasn't grown and grown.

    Another thing that I'll add is how things have changed in Scotland in the last 20 years or so. In the early 90s there was something in the region of a dozen small brewers while by 2012 there has been a fivefold increase to about 60 breweries with seemingly more cropping up all the time. It may not seem olike a big number but considering that Scotland's population has hovered aroung the 5 million mark aound this time frame suggest that the times reall are a changing. Back then whole areas of the country where 'quality beer waste grounds' and finding bottles from the smaller producers was like trying to find a critically successful Steven Segal film. There's more awareness now and more willingness for people of all ages from all walks of life to seek out and frequent pubs/bars which carry quality offerings. Supermsrkets also carry a wider range from the smaller domestic brewers and there sare more speciality shops. A place in Edinburgh like Cornelius must carry at least about 4 to five time the range they once did even ten years ago.

    As for customs, people still prefer pint measures though this seems to be slowly changing. Crisps aren't really eaten all that much with a pint of ale ( or lager) though a late evening kebab always hits the spot after a prolonged all day session.

    Finally, and I'm sure this will be refuted by marquis at some point, cask ale is in the infancy of it once again being under threat from keg beer as it was in 1974. But this time some of the keg beer, from the smaller 'craft ' breweries, is really giving cask a run for its money in terms of quality and taste. And it appeals to the young'un as well. Reports from this years's GBBF further shows the growing popularity of American and American styled beers as well though you'll never get a CAMRA zealot to admit it. The obvious response is that its time for real ale producers really upped their game but either way it can be seen as a win win situation for the beer lover.
  8. The British, Belgian, and German scenes are very hard or even impossible to compare to the other countries thanks to our respective starting points.

    In terms of 'craft beer' however I don't think you can underestimate the influence of the British beer scene. Don't forget that campaigning for better beer in one form or another (whatever you may think of CAMRA) has been here since 1971, long before any hint of a change even in the US, and was where the term microbrewery originated.
  9. I think it's probably a lot to do with reinheitsgebot-compliance still being a good marketing tool for the Germans. I still don't see why they can't make an IPA or a stout and still be in accordance with reinheitsgebot though. I mean, they make wheat beers and dark lagers, so what's the big deal in expanding the range further.
    boddhitree likes this.
  10. patto1ro

    patto1ro Advocate (500) Netherlands Apr 26, 2004

    But why the hell should they brew IPA in Germany? There are plenty of German styles to brew. My idea of beer hell is every country in the world being full of IPA and Imperial Stout.

    Someone should brew a Broyhan before they move on to foreign styles.
    airforbes1 likes this.
  11. Chiiiiill Winston. My question is just why it doesn't happen, not an insistence that it should. I was really asking for clarification on whether either of those styles would contravene the terms of reinheitsgebot.
  12. Dennoman

    Dennoman Savant (485) Belgium Aug 20, 2011

    There are a few brewers that do it, BrewBaker from Berlin for example. Problem is they suffer quite a bit from infections and therefore won't be rocketing to the top of the beer chain anytime soon.
  13. and Braustelle in Koln brew several styles, some of which are best forgotten (Cedar Alt anyone?).
    As for Zimbo's comments about American beer at GBBF, yes great interest in the Cask Conditioned beers.
    Not sure that we can say that 'craft' keg is giving Cask a run for its money yet, it is still very much in its infancy and you'd be hard pressed to find 'craft' keg in your local, it's 'craft' beer bars where you find it. If, and when, we start to see 'craft' keg in JDW and other pub chains then we may start to sit up and take notice.
    Zimbo likes this.
  14. Don't get me wrong, I love cask but craft keg has produced some very solid results in these early days. Real ale producers need to be vigilant in order to keep ahead of the game.
  15. I've a local brewer who has entered into the so-called "craft keg" market. He will be the first to tell you that it isn't nearly as good as the same stuff on cask but it allows access to outlets previously unavailable.
    I do worry about the effect on pubs. The pub industry is largely buoyed by the fact that cask ale is served .It's a matter of perception-tell people often enough that craft keg is as good as cask they will fall for it like they did for lager.
  16. patto1ro

    patto1ro Advocate (500) Netherlands Apr 26, 2004

    They've brewed plenty of strong Stout in Germany in the past. They called it Porter, though.They were still brewing it in East Germany in 1989. I tried it a couple of times. Pretty good.

    I've a really good recipe for Porter from a DDR brewing manual from the 1950's. It includes a secondary conditioning with brettanomyces. It was brewed last year at Braustelle.

    In the 19th century IPA was brewed in Bremen. Probably elsewhere , too.

    There's no reason youi can't brew either acccording to the Reinheitsgebot. After all, that's how those styles were brewed in Britain up until 1880. 1816 to 1847: malt, water, hops and yeast only; 1848 to 1880 sugar as well. As sugar was allowed in top fermenting beer under the RHG, all British beer 1816 to 1880 would have adhered to it.

    A brewer can only sell what people want to drink. Beer won't get drunk just because you've brewed it. There has to be a demand for it.
  17. in the last six months I've spoken to a few Brewers who're going down the 'craft' keg path, they've all said, more or less, the same thing... they're all chasing a the same small number of outlets. Unless publicans have a spare keg line NOT installed by a 'brand' then they can't sell keg.

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