Real Ale: My Journey From Hipster To Hopster

Real Ale has undergone something of a renaissance in the last few years amongst the student population as the 18-25 demographic leave lager behind. Here's why...
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Real Ale has undergone something of a renaissance in the last few years amongst the student population as the 18-25 demographic leave lager behind. Here's why...

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We are on the cusp of a major revolution in British drinking habits and nowhere is this revolution more pronounced than in the 18-25 demographic of student drinkers.

Real Ale has traditionally been a preserve of the Pipe and Slippers brigade who took enormous pride in bemoaning the wave of imported lagers which line the bar of most English pubs but all the signs point to a seismic shift away from this rather fusty image. In student circles, it is no longer seen as an act of social suicide to request a pint of London Pride when the next round is ordered. Quite the reverse in fact since this rejection of mainstream European larger (Carlsberg, Peroni, Becks) in favour of more obscure English brands (Adnams, Timothy Taylor, Fuller’s) is now viewed as a statement of class and sophistication rather than an attempt to project oneself as being well beyond your years.

I am an active member of my university’s Real Ale Society, an organisation whose popularity and renown has skyrocketed in the last few years and which continues to go from strength to strength. Its disciples routinely arrange guided brewery tours (usually involving plentiful opportunities for free tasting) and other such beer-related expeditions including croquet tournaments and pub meets. The sheer diversity of membership in this society reveals the extent to which “Alemania” has permeated all tiers of the student class.  It provides a forum in which “Rugger buggers”, “Science boffins” and “Frustrated poets” can discuss a shared passion, thus making Real Ale one of the great levellers amongst the current crop of undergraduates.

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So what’s behind this generation’s decision to turn to ale? The answer is simple: ale has followed a well-trodden path in the context of student fads and fashions.  The act of choosing the drink at a pub was initially seen as a conscious rejection of mainstream tastes and therefore belonged to the realm of the “Hipster” (a.k.a those who deem themselves too cool for school). As with all such phenomena, ale was adopted as a pastime by a sufficient number of so-called “Hipsters” that it ceased to hold such appeal for these types and lost its exclusivity, thus enabling those with more conventional tastes to legitimately enjoy drinking it with their peer group.

Despite this surge of enthusiasm for ale, there is still a large body of students and 20 somethings who are reluctant to leave their lager-fuelled comfort zone and order beers which actually have any flavour.  Cask Ales now account for 15% of the British beer market and there is no excuse for playing it safe at the pub. The revolution is coming; here are 5 of the many reasons why you don’t want to be left behind:

1.Better pubs: The correlation between the quality of a beer and the quality of the drinking establishment is no great surprise. In London, the most highly acclaimed pubs at the minute are those specialising in Real Ales sourced from obscure microbreweries. The Southampton Arms (CAMRA’s London Pub of the Year) in Kentish Town is my favourite place to have a beer. It offers a wide selection of freshly made pork snacks (Sausage Rolls, Pork pies and a superb roast pork bap with fresh apple compote to name but a few), all washed down with a varied and constantly changing assortment of ales.

2. Depth of taste and texture: Although you don’t need a particularly developed palate to appreciate it’s taste, there is no denying the fact that the popular brands of lager cannot compete with the complex and multifaceted flavours in most Ales. Real Ale can be tasted in a similar fashion to wine and both practises require the same amount of knowledge and terminology. Ales vary hugely in colour and strength and the scope for analysis and discussion is therefore extremely wide.

3. Seasonal and complements most types of food: My local pub at university serves their own brand of ‘Winter Ale’ and ‘Summer Ale’, proving that this is a drink for all seasons which can be nursed in a beer garden on a warm summer’s day or equally enjoyed in a toasty pub, huddled by the fireplace.

4. Value: On the whole, Real Ale is a significantly cheaper alternative to lager since it is rarely imported. Up until a few months ago, you could order 3 pints at the aforementioned Southampton Arms and walk away with change from a tenner.

5. Street cred: I’m not alone in thinking that anyone displaying a high degree of interest in his or her beer is worth asking out for a drink.

So next time you’re in the pub, eschew the overpriced, tasteless array of chemically-enhanced Australian lagers and make your drink an ale.