It has come as no secret, or any surprise, that the brewing of Craft Ales, once looked upon as rather a gimmick by beer lovers, and, seemingly by others, a bohemian and almost dark art indulgently practised in the far corners of the brewery, or even the shed, by geeky individuals, has now become more of a staple part of the discerning beer drinkers' arsenal. There was also a time, not too long ago, that the bottled beer market was dominated by just a few “foreign”, or continental, lagers (mostly brewed under licence in the UK), along with a smattering of pasteurised examples of the leading keg beers of the day. A can of beer always tasted “tinny” and was merely there to wet your whistle after the pubs closed. There were exceptions, of course, but my own forays always ended in memories of blandness. So, fast forward a touch. People initially wanted better beer in the pubs, CAMRA, among with other organisations, helped deliver its members wishes and now, with cask ale seemingly, going from strength to strength since that popular rebirth of living beer styles, what has fired this interest in craft ales? My own experience and curiosity in this field has been driven from my obvious love of the aforementioned cask beers, and my disappointment of sourcing good beers locally. I have grown up and still live in an area that has struggled to satisfy the thirst of Real Ale drinkers for as long as I can recall. Over the last few years, Grimsby has lost a raft of decent cask houses, and the selections at some others has been reduced down to one or two “safe” brews (Doom Bar, Greene King etc), or removed altogether. The Tap & Spile, once offering up to eight different ales, has gone, Swigs, a Willy's Brewery outlet that also had ever changing guest beers, now a restaurant, The Royal Oak is a solicitors offices and Walters now only offers Doom Bar ( as does The Parity alongside the Greene King.) after an array of pumps stopped offering a decent choice. The local Wetherspoon's is still open, which does give a reasonable choice but at times service and beer quality could be better, and with the closure of our second JDW in town, the clientele can be rather...erm...earthy at certain junctures. Neighbouring Cleethorpes is much better, with new bars selling some cask and bottled craft making shoulder room against the long established Real Ale boozers, but when I fancy a quick pint, or two, I don't want to be jumping on the bus or train there and back, which also adds to holiday resort prices at the bar.
|Typical supermarket range. Some craft|
Some not, some in sheep's clothing!
I have tried the supermarket ranges, some good, some not so, but regardless of the size and variety of the stock, one can soon exhaust the offerings and, lets face it, many are repeated from one chain to another. The thing is, though, there has been a progression. First, bottled versions of cask pub regulars, alongside German and US lagers, and a smattering of Belgian beers. Then the start of the craft revolution hit. Big punchy IPA's seemed to be the thing, mingled with Golden Ales and barrel infused dark beers. There are more craft beers now appearing in these bigger shops, admittedly, many “home brand” beers, usually produced by one the big brewers, have also diversified in style a touch and got better, which must be commended. But, as is usually the case, we craved for more. Supply and demand kicked in and Boom, The Craft Beer Revolution takes place.You could go safe, but still find a host of different beers all under the same style, all just a tad different, or you could be adventurous, with an AIPA, a Witbier or, maybe, a Watermelon Sour to experiment with. Another pleasing aspect of the Craft Revolution is the growth of the Beer Shop. When I was growing up, every little community had at least one grocer, butcher, bakery, paper shop, green grocer and “beer-off” (or off-licence) . Each sold what it said on the facade. Simple. Then, well,we all know what happened when convenience was the buzz word in local retail. You could now buy a banana, newspaper, bread loaf, sausages as well as a bottle of beer without having to move further than the one shop. Some of the independent traders either closed, moved on, became more bespoke and niche or embraced the new one size fits all form of trading and became franchisees. We, the consumers, on the other hand, over the last couple of decades or so, have had our horizons broadened, by foreign trips and tourist travel in the UK, through to trawling the Internet, not to mention social media."New" foods from every corner of the globe are now sought after. Specialist deli counters and the like have sprung up and prospered. Beer drinkers are no different. We want to try these new brews and styles. Like minded entrepreneurial beer lovers wanted to supply us. The result is a shop that almost exclusively sells beer. What it says on the facade is what it sells Brilliant. Almost a throw back to the old days. Jobs a good 'un. (deja vu, anybody?)
I have sampled a few of these premises and find myself like a child in a candy shop, as I stare in awe atthe vista presented to me. It is always fun to try and find one on our visits away from our own area as most do stock beers from breweries specialising in that locality. Some of those I have visited are mentioned here. Our local beer shop is Message in a Bottle,
in Cambridge Street, Cleethorpes. Run by Charles Lumley and family,
who also has business links with the excellent local (Crowle) brewers
it features a great range of local, national and World beers. It is a
wonderfully friendly outlet, with a nice relaxed atmosphere. If you
are a CAMRA card holder, a discount may be available. On my last trip
here, I managed to espy an Amarillo
brewed by East
Coast Brew Co.,
a new brewer based in my home town. There is always a local beer in
here to raise the eyebrow. On the Strait in the Cathedral Quarter of
Lincoln, you will find The Crafty Bottle.
Although owned by Lincolnshire
the range of beers in here are very varied, and not just from the
host brewers. It is also well placed for the local Real Ale bars too.
Now, the next mention goes to, the shop with the largest beer
selection I have ever experienced on my trips. This one, situated in
York, is The House of Trembling Madness.
This magical drinkers' emporium has beers, beers and more beers on
the ground floor, spirits from every corner of the World on the next
|Message in a Bottle in Cleethorpes|
|Still Trembling at the stock range.|
Most breweries, nowadays, have a craft beer shop on site, or nearby, which is very handy. Adnam's in Southwold is a very good one, but there are many, many more across the country, and most sell on-line as well. These beers are also available at the growing number of beer wholesalers nationwide.Drop in and buy or log on, pick your beers, pay the p&p and, hey presto!,your order turns up within a day or two. The mention of on-line sales leads me to the my latest way of beer purchase. The Beer Club. In the UK there are quite a few. The deal is, usually, a fixed subscription, honoured for an initial 3 monthly deliveries, and then, it's up to you to keep the boxes coming or cancel when you wish. I am currently a member of two of these clubs, Beer 52 and Flavourly, both easily found on Google, and I have had no problems in getting my beers, which are usually small brewed batches, or from a featured brewer. I will, no doubt, join one or two more clubs in the future, and order a few from other internet suppliers.
So, where does this leave traditional cask ales? Are they under threat? Well, no, I don't think so. Some less consistent brewers of quality beers and ales may struggle, but I do believe that, on the whole, those discerning drinkers making the choice to try bottled craft beers for the first time, and seeing the different and sizeable range, style and varied tastes available may will be driven by curiosity to give the pub handpumps a go. (I have noted that the student fraternity seem to quite interested in the bottled craft market which, in turn, could secure the cask market growth for years to come) Let's just remember that a few years back the Gin market was struggling. There were a few labels out there, struggling along, then the Gin Revolution hit with a bang! Small Batch Gin is now big business, different flavours using interestingly different aromatics and botanics, and has encouraged the partaking of the big brand gins down the local. Enough said. Now, where's my delivered box of beers gone.
Cheers and keep it