Married to the manager of a real ale pub and frequenter of beer festivals, features editor Abi thought she was a seasoned ale drinker. Turns out there's an underworld of craft beer bubbling away, being tapped by those lucky enough to sniff it out...
Whenever I tell people I'm a real ale drinker, they often look me up and down and say, "you don't look like one." Meaning what, exactly? I don't have a barrel gut and a receding hairline?
Thing is, in this day and age, there is no such thing as a typical real ale drinker. And it turns out, the term 'real ale' has become a rather faded, old-fashioned British idiom. It's all about craft beer now. As in, beer crafted by tiny, independent breweries sprouting up all over the country, inspired by the traditional craft of real ale but experimenting with wild and wacky flavours, yeasts and hops, bucking the trend led by the US, Belgium, Germany and Spain. And in its wake, micropubs and craft beer houses are popping up as if from nowhere, championing these fine breweries on rotation, attracting curious drinkers of all ages and sexes.
I discovered one such brewery in Somerset, The Wild Beer Co, when I interviewed founders Andrew Cooper and Brett Ellis for our feature in issue one of Ernest. They cut their teeth working for the same brewery in Bristol and, keen to take the craft in an experimental direction, joined forces to form their own brewery, dabbling with wild yeasts, foraged ingredients and brewing in whisky, wine and cider oak barrels.
They also produce something called sour beer, which was a new one on me, but apparently there's a huge tradition of the stuff in Belgium and Germany. I tasted some. Yep. I'll be having some of that again. In fact, while staying in London recently, I couldn't help stopping by a craft beer pub on Goodge street and quenching my thirst with a bottle of Sour Dough, a lip-smacking cross between rough cider and grapefruit juice. Damn good.