CAMRA: How to drink Real Ale like a Real Boy
The Campaign for Real Ale – it’s not just about old men and boys with beards. It’s about having much less of a hangover in the morning. It’s about national heritage, consumer rights… oh, and a 4,000 year old Sumerian glamour goddess who invented beer, called Ninkasi…
In 2002, research into British drinking habits has revealed that only 23% of women had tried real ale in a pub, compared with 71% of men. Before the 100% Naturale campaign by CAMRA, the figures were 21% of women and 58% of men. Amongst the reasons given are that they think it’s `old fashioned’, because it isn’t promoted to them, and even because they think it will make them fat! The most common reason, though, was that their friends don’t drink it. One in five women researched said they would try real ale if it were served in more stylish and fashionable glasses – almost a third of adults thought that women who drank from pint glasses were ‘unfeminine’, and one in five thought it `undignified’. Interesting, no? That a person might be more seduced by the symbolism of a glass than by the taste and pleasure of what’s within it?
So who or what are CAMRA? CAMRA campaigns for real ale, real pubs and consumer rights. They are an independent, voluntary organization with over 95,000 members and have been described as the most successful consumer group in Europe. CAMRA promotes good-quality real ale and pubs, as well as acting as the consumer’s champion in relation to the UK and European beer and drinks industry.
Lovely CAMRA aims to…
- Protect and improve consumer rights
- Promote quality, choice and value for money
- Support the public house as a focus of community life
- Campaign for greater appreciation of traditional beers, ciders and perries as part of their national heritage and culture
- Seek improvements in all licensed premises and throughout the brewing industry
It’s a boozy job but someone’s got to do it! This thirsty, flowery, fun and voluntary campaign is kept alive by wonderful voluntary individuals who are driven and passionate for the Real Ale continuation.
A real ale gal’s experience:
I was apprehensive when I arrived. Being a young female (although I don’t believe I was the youngest), I was a little anxious of the beer bellied mannish men in the arts centre venue.
Nevertheless, we were soon made welcome by the friendly volunteer bar staff and the initial mannish appearance of Real Ale lovers meant little compared with their warm hearty laughs. They were, in fact, friendly giants. I’m going to try very hard not to mention the name ‘Hagrid’.
Georgie, a seasoned CAMRA volunteer, was clearly at ease with her half pint and was happy to give our small group an idea of what was going on. With her immense brown eyes, Georgie was all Real Ale on one hand and natter on the other, and amazingly – despite being torn away at times by a rude newspaper photographer – she and Paul, our Captain, managed to get us all a seat on the beer testing committee. Result. A small party of 4 soon became a merry little gathering of 10 as we spread ourselves out with our tally sheets, pens and – most essentially – our complementary jug of Real Ale to jiggle the taste buds.
Judging real ale is fun. You have to give each beer put in front of you marks out of 10 for appearance, smell, taste and aftertaste. Since 3 of us in the judging panel weren’t regular Real Ale drinkers at all, I’m not entirely sold as to if our judgements were as urbane or cultured as the more established side of the drinking panel.
How to judge a Real Ale (you can do this yourself, in a pub)
To judge the scent you need to fully embrace your pint glass with the palm of your left hand, swirl the glass for ten seconds to trap the aroma and then, upon removal of said hand, inhale from inside the glass.
Actually tasting the Ale is more involved than just a general glug, swig or slurp. It requires a good mouthful, guzzle, gulp and a deep breath in through the mouth to fully experience the taste and aftertaste. Lastly, you need to hold your pint up to the light to judge the appearance (a decent pint of Real Ale should be clear, not clouded).
After the testing we chose our top two Ales – which means that our panel’s taste and judgment will contribute towards next year’s CAMRA regional awards!
My CAMRA experience was coincidentally and observably a bit shambolic due to the fact that I had in mind to drink very little Belgium beer – but ended up on far more potent 10% Real Ale instead. By the end of our evening we were slightly muddled, giggly and disordered.
However I had no hangover! In my opinion no hangover is worth both money and experience for a boozy and slightly diverse night out.
I generally think a night of Real Ale drinking is diverse – because the whole experience for me, the Captain and two other friends was invaluable in providing not only fine beer memories but also some much-needed corruption of my beer virginity.
Oh, and the sumerian goddess? The name Ninkasi is that of the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer who is believed by many to have created the original recipe for beer some 4,000 years ago. She has been referenced by several Real Ale brewers in all parts of the globe. One brewer went so far as to use her as the poster girl for their Real Ale campaign.
Remember, Real Ale is currently flourishing – but that’s because young people are drinking it, and women as well as men are drinking it. If you’ve got good natural beers that actually taste of something, you can’t rely on a sexy semi-pagan ad campaign to renew interest. You’d be doing the brewers a favour to actually check it out yourself.
Keep taste and quality alive, and stop going for the easy option every time you go to the pub. Get some Real Ale down you instead! Well. It did keep Ninkasi young and beautiful…
You can join CAMRA too and not only do you get a marvellous selection of benefits including freebies and discounts, you will be ultimately helping to actively support the British Brewing and Pub industry to keep these fabulous Real Ales around for the brewers, pubs and the drinkers for ever more.
Join CAMRA. And they will love you forever.
Natalie, Maeve and The Captain!