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A Magazine for Sheffield

Real Ale: Get supping

Walking into the pub, enjoying the anticipation with a wistful and instinctive licking of the lips, I contemplate the selection of creatively designed pump clips, often carrying amusing monikers. Beers from all over the North, from little country villages to town and city breweries. There is an array of choice here and quite honestly I wouldn't mind having a little sup of them all. Any decent barman in a real ale pub will recognise that it is choice that brings customers back. Not (anymore!) the promise of an identikit Carlsberg, probably the blandest beer in the world. There are five pumps here, most of which are from Sheffield. Before me I have five small tasting glasses, and as I sip one after the other, evaluating which one I like best, the barman offers me his advice in the form of raised eyebrows, guttural nods and the occasional reassuring smile. I realise that variety is the spice of life and that real ale drinking is a unique experience to be sampled, savoured and enjoyed - as any craft should be. And that is the difference in a nutshell. Real Ale is a craft. There is an art to its production that requires a human being's delicate and artistic touch, not a computer attached to a mechanical arm-filled factory. Revel in this! Speaking of revelling, April saw the release of our inaugural Now Then Ale. If you were lucky enough to have supped one of nearly 18,000 pints we sold, we sincerely hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. The production of this beer was the logical conclusion of our odyssey into ale, with huge thanks to the artisans at Abbeydale Brewery. If you're interested in the process, we made a little video (see below). Ale has numerous benefits for a discerning consumer. As I said at the start of this article, the abundance of choice and variety in the world of ale puts standard keg beers to shame. Whether yours is a pale, a bitter, a stout or any shade in between, you will be spoilt for choice in most real ale houses across the city. Looking further into this you will also find that ale by its very definition is a healthier option. On average ale contains a lower ABV %, is made with no artificial ingredients, preservatives or flavourings, is rich with naturally occurring anti-oxidants, and more often than not significantly gentler on the wallet. What is perhaps less well-known are the huge benefits to the local community. The real ale industry is comprised of smaller, more sustainable breweries and pubs, as opposed to the enforced monopoly of the big six brew companies (see 'Independent Ale' in Now Then #28), allowing for sustained growth on a manageable scale. Unsurprisingly, enter the vultures... Sadly, like many thriving industries, the real ale trade seems to have been specifically targeted as the next successful trade to be systematically dismantled by ever increasing taxes, duties and legislative malevolence. The importance of a pub as a community hub - a place to meet, chat and share the experience of sampling some great ales - is heinously overlooked by the powers that be. The increased duties, supposedly implemented to provide one of many quick fixes to our ailing economy, have stifled growth within the sector. With British pubs now closing at a rate of 12 per week and 9 out of 10 tenanted pubs claiming that their pub company prevents them from making a fair profit, public and trade pressure has led the Federation of Small Businesses to call on the government to commission a review of self regulation of the pub industry. A petition by the legendary CAMRA - The Campaign for Real Ale - had by May this year already gathered 33,000 signatures. CAMRA chief executive Mike Benner said recently: "Unsustainable beer tax increases by the government are ripping the heart out of community centres. But with over 33,000 consumers having recently signed the beer tax e-petition, beer drinkers and pub goers are actively voicing their discontent." As we've mentioned before, the average real ale drinker is unlikely to take these measures lying down. Unless very pissed. Partly as a result of this resilient attitude and in spite of all adversity, the real ale trade remains the only growth sector within the drinks industry year-onyear as of April 2012. So why is this? Naturally, a large factor in this growth is down to the sustainable organisational structures of the breweries involved - right across every element of the process, from the methods of production to a practiced community of sharing and independent cooperation. It is also down to community voice being heard publicly, where ministers cannot sidestep the issues. Community Pubs Minister Bob Neil claims to have doubled small business rate relief, which gives up to 100% rate relief for small firms including pubs. "On top of this, we have abolished the last government's cider tax, are cutting red tape on live music in pubs and are stopping unfair sales of alcohol below cost price by supermarkets. We are also giving local councils new powers to introduce local business rate discounts which could support pubs which offer community facilities," he said. Although it is important to note that this legislation has not yet passed, it's equally important that we recognise the positive effects of proactive consumer power in getting those in their ivory towers to sit up and listen to sense. To have your voice heard and to help a thriving trade continue to flourish, check out the links below, get the facts and take them down the pub. Campaign for Real Ale Sunfest Beer Festival at The Rising Sun, 5th-8th July Now Then Ale - The Making Of )

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