Chris Routledge wipes the foam from his lips, and explains that it's technology, not tradition, that makes better beer. The golden age of pre-industrial British beer is a marketing man's myth ...
The rise of "real ale" has delighted British publicans and drinkers alike. In 1989 chains of pubs controlled by the big industrial breweries were required by law to sell at least one "guest" beer alongside the house beers, opening up a new market for smaller brewers and bringing some of them back from the brink of extinction. Breweries sprang up across the land from inner cities to Scottish islands such as Orkney and Arran. Old breweries such as Shepherd Neame in Kent, and Cain's in Liverpool, made much of their history and traditions.
The marketing of "real ale" typically evokes a Victorian golden age. One Yorkshire brewer, Timothy Taylor, sells its "Landlord" bottled ale with a label depicting a jolly 19th-century publican raising a frothing tankard. A Burton brewer, Marston's, sells a pale ale called "Old Empire", marketed as a "genuine IPA", using images of sailing ships and men with handlebar moustaches.
But how might these modern beers compare to their Victorian forebears in a blind tasting?
The answer is: surprisingly well, probably, at least when measured against the first Victorian beers.