Thursday, 6 January 2011

A Real Ale Revolution

The real ale industry is undergoing a wee bit of a revolution in terms of its image and audience. With so many specialist micro breweries in existence, and the availability of more interesting and flavour-packed ingredients, beer has become a consumable which is fast becoming loved by 'foodies'. It seems commonplace to find many people drinking a wide range of real ales out of passion, appreciating them all week long and enjoying a diverse range. A stark difference to old habits of knocking back cheap lager or a standard session beer on a Friday night with the aim of getting bladdered.

The new-age of ale drinkers seem to be the younger generation, with many students and young professionals enjoying and taking an interest in the art of craft brewing. Its a long way from the stereotypical ale drinker image; bearded socks-and-sandals clad old blokes propping up the bar every night drinking the 'usual' session beer. Not that there is anything wrong with that style of drinker at all, that is.

So I've established that real ale is loved not only as a pint down the pub, but also consumed with interest and passion by the younger generation. These people, however, seem to still be predominantly male. There are plenty of women who share my passion for real ales, but no where near an equal number. So why?

Ladies, your thoughts please.

It's often said that women aren't too partial to the bitterness of hops, but enjoy sweeter, more aromatic beers. Many women say they don't like 'bitters', many more say they don't like beer full-stop. The lack of bitterness is often the reason women drink lagers rather than ales. Don't get me wrong, lots of us ladies love ale and the bitterness which comes with the territory, but even as a brewer I'm still not a massive fan of those extremely bittered beers. Dave Wickett, founder of Kelham Island brewery, designed the multi-award winning ale 'Pale Rider' based on this theory. He made it a pale, full bodied, aromatic ale with only a subtle bitterness to balance it. Often Pale Rider is liked by both ale and lager drinkers, and many women.

It's not just the taste though, an awful lot to do with the old image of beer and the fact that many breweries market their beer in a masculine way. They don't mean to, it's just not very feminine. As a female brewer, I don't want to tell women that they should enjoy beer because it's the best drink ever, but I would like to design a couple of ales which could be an option for those who wouldn't usually pick it. To get over the first hurdle these beers need an image which will appeal to women, after all, a drinker will often pick a beer based on pump clip and information provided. Once I've got them to order one of my beers, I've got to make sure they enjoy it and order again!

Girls, please let me know if you love beer, if you think you hate it, or if you're just indifferent. I'd love to know what you do and don't like about ales, and what you would or wouldn't enjoy.
"Hooray! An ale I actually want to drink!"

I'll have a ponder and see if I come up with any other theory than girls-don't-like-bitter.


  1. As a starter, just one point to ponder on:

    Glassware - we find ladies are happy drinking a half of ale when they know its in a stemmed, slim glass (example: Perhaps the introduction of the 2/3rd glass will open the bar a little in this respect.

  2. Just a little update on this research. Key factors identified:
    Pump clip image - they've got to appeal
    Beer name
    Information provided and certain 'negative' words (like 'bitter')
    Presentation - elegant glassware you want to hold
    Quantity - a pint can be daunting and too much