By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
The platform at Keighley railway station is awash with people. Aromas of sausages, onions and engine steam flavour the crisp autumnal breeze that is atypically mild for this time of year. A new entertainment tent has been erected and an additional bar opened to cater for excessive demand for the town’s beer festival. Here in Yorkshire, like most places across Britain, a beer revolution is under way.
I’ve managed to return home for the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway Beer Festival for the past four years now, the lure of steam engines and real ale in God’s back garden too much to keep me away. Each year I’ve returned to see more people drinking along the five mile track up to the engine shed at Oxenhope, programmes sticking out from their back pockets and branded beer glasses in their hands. The range of beers on offer has also grown exponentially over the years underlining the extent to which the revolution has captured brewers, but crucially, people’s perception of beer has been altered.
The evening before, as tradition dictates, I took a trip to The Junction pub in Castleford where proprietors Neil and Maureene serve their beers from wood casks. Despite arriving a little later than I would have liked we were still welcomed with crowds of people enjoying a minor revolution in this unsuspecting corner of Yorkshire, a stark difference to the sparse groups that would have welcomed us a few years prior. Neil’s appetite for returning pub values back to how they once were has unabated throughout the years, but the willingness of the local clientèle to ditch Foster’s for a real ale is the most notable change.
To celebrate Britain’s thriving beer culture the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has published a book looking at the most influential breweries, places and people in the nation’s flourishing beer scene. Britain’s Beer Revolution is the hitchhiker’s guide to the beer industry. Co-authored by Adrian Tierney-Jones and Roger Protz it explores what makes a real ale real as well as undressing the nature of the current beer revolution and providing an A-Z of the brewers that are powering it.
“The word revolution is not mere hyperbole. The change is dramatic,” Protz explained. “Brewers used to be content with producing Mild and Bitter, now drinkers can choose from a vast range of styles that includes the new and highly popular Golden Ales, beers aged in whisky, Bourbon and Cognac barrels and stunning recreations of India Pale Ale, Porter and Stout. There are also beers made with such exotic and unusual ingredients as chocolate, coffee, herbs and spices — and more and more beers are being made by women brewers as the ancient craft of ‘brewster’ is restored.”
As much as the book is a clear propaganda tool for CAMRA, it is perhaps a necessary evil in the midst of a real ale movement that has clearly taken the nation by storm. Like waves the brewers of Britain moved inwards towards the behemoth brewing centres of Tadcaster and Burton on Trent before dispersing back to the regions to cater for a growing appetite for all things local. Sure you can overplay CAMRA’s role in all this, but when you can drink a local ale in the buffet cart of an old steam train or from wooden barrels down at your local, who’s complaining?
Britain’s Beer Revolution is available to purchase now through CAMRA’s website and via all good book shops. Visit www.camra.org.uk/beerrevolution to purchase the book at a special introductory rate of £10 (RRP £14.99) or watch authors Adrian and Roger discuss some of the beers that are featured.