Ale's golden age has dawned

Related tags Cask ale Keg Beer Camra

There was a buzz of optimism at Lord's cricket ground last Saturday. No cricket was being played, of course: too cold and damp for that. The...

There was a buzz of optimism at Lord's cricket ground last Saturday. No cricket was being played, of course: too cold and damp for that. The atmosphere of good cheer was found in the banqueting suite at this historic ground, with its redbrick Victorian pavilion melding with modern stands and the awesome media centre at the Nursery End.

The event was the annual awards lunch staged by Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale. The lunch has been held for several years now and is one of the fixed events on the brewing and pub calendar.

It is the opportunity to hand trophies to the breweries that won awards in the Champion Beer of Britain competition that kicks off the Great British Beer Festival in August.

The difference this year was the palpable feeling that the cask-beer market has turned the corner. The lunch came just two weeks after the publication of the report on the state of the cask sector published by Camra in conjunction with Siba, IFBB and Cask Marque.

The report showed that regional and smaller craft brewers are seeing growth of 7.5% a year. The alleged decline of the cask sector is due in the main to the fact that Britain's four global brewers have turned their backs on the sector.

The Camra lunch has always been a convivial affair. But this year you could touch the air of optimism. When I presented the awards to brewers I said we were living in a new golden age for cask beer. It was a remark that would have been dismissed as hopeless hyperbole a few years ago but on Saturday it was greeted by sustained applause.

One reason for the revival of cask beer is Camra itself. The campaign has always walked on two legs: the voluntary sector with 88,000 members and an elected national executive; and the small full-time staff in St Albans.

It has sometimes been a wonky walk when volunteers and professionals have been at odds. But in recent years Camra has gained greater respect and impact due to the quiet, understated chairmanship of Paula Waters

and her executive and the impressive professional drive of chief executive Mike Benner and his headquarters team.

I said to Paula at the awards lunch that it would have been unthinkable for Camra to have staged such an event in the 1970s or '80s. That is not to disparage the work of the founding fathers 30 years ago. It was necessary then for the campaign to have a raw, in-your-face attitude as it attempted to save cask beer when it was threatened with destruction by new national brewing groups hell-bent on foisting keg beer on drinkers.

Keg beer and lager still exist and dominate the market. But, thanks to Camra, many regional brewers continue to make splendid beers and the industry has been invigorated by the arrival of the micro sector. There are now close to 600 small craft brewers and their number swells by 50 or 60 new entrants a year.

Back in the 1970s, the early members of the campaign would have laughed to scorn the notion that they should stage an elegant lunch, with each course carefully matched with beer. Today, as the cask sector reaches out to a new audience, beer and food are an important element of the drinking opportunities on offer.

On Saturday we enjoyed terrine of crab, king prawn and cured smoked salmon with gazpacho dressing or spinach and leek pithiviers with roasted artichokes, mushrooms and chive cream served with Hobson's Mild and Mighty Oak Maldon Gold.

The main course was roast rack of lamb with boulangere potatoes, baby vegetable ratatouille and a tomato and rosemary jus or wild mushroom, celeriac and potato torte with madeira and truffle cream, served with Purple Moose Glaslyn Ale and York Centurion's Ghost. Dessert was raspberry Bakewell with cinnamon ice cream, accompanied by Titanic Stout and Green Jack Ripper.

The guest speaker was former England cricketer Graham Gooch. He is a cask-beer enthusiast and his presence gave an added gloss to an event that marks another major step forward for Britain's great contribution

to the world of beer.

Related topics Beer

Property of the week


£ 60,000 - Leasehold

Busy location on coastal main road Extensively renovated detached public house Five trade areas (100)  Sizeable refurbished 4-5 bedroom accommodation Newly created beer garden (125) Established and popular business...

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more