Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ash on the Ale Trail discovering a brave new world. Of Beer...

I’ve always viewed my friends who drink beer with mild disdain. After all, how are you meant to get chatting to the hottest guy in the bar wearing your prada pencil skirt, McQueen heels and swinging your Herme’s whilst drinking a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale?! Surely that’s never happened…?! 

I thought beer was the drink of choice at the end of a long hard day ‘grafting’. I thought those who drank it generally had big beer bellies to match their massive pint glasses; the kinds that shout at the tele when there’s a footie match on; play darts, drive vans… They don’t even sell beer in some of the clubs I go to. I’ve never seen SJP put a pint to her lips in all 6 series of Sex and the City and with many of my nights out spent flitting around cocktail lounges and 5 star hotel bars, I’d even begun to forget beer existed… 

Then I had a night out with my friend Kris that changed everything, forever. Sorry to be dramatic but it feels appropriate here.

‘What did you do this week?’ She asked. 

‘Checked out the new Pullman London hotel, went to sample some chocolate from Paul A.Young’s new chocolatiers, met a couple of friends in the Groucho Club… The usual. You?’

‘Ahh well I went to that beer festival I was telling you about. Nicholson’s are showcasing all their ales at the moment…’


I didn’t say that out loud to her. Actually, yes I did. Seriously, one of my friends likes to drink cask ale out of a pint glass?! And she’s young and cool?! And my mate?! When did this happen?! 

Turns out ale is having somewhat of a revival. And even more surprisingly, amongst women. According to an article at www.craftbrewingbusiness.com, the figures for male beer drinkers is down every so slightly, while 26% of women in the survey named it as their favourite alcoholic beverage – now surely these people have never tried an espresso martini?! Well apparently they have, and they’re increasingly making ale their beverage of choice due to ‘finding new brands and discovering new flavours’. 

Even female brewers are getting in on the making of the beer action! I wouldn’t have thought it would be as glamorous as wine making (that’s frolicking around in the sunshine bare foot in a field squashing grapes with your feet – right?!), but nevertheless, The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has added 20,000 female members (or ‘brewsters’ as they’re known) in the last decade. That’s just staggering… 

It was all the persuasion I needed to go and try out some of these cask ales for myself. If I can down copious amounts of rank tasting tequila on drunken nights out, then surely I could spend a civilised afternoon in a Nicholson’s pub appreciating the taste of malt and hops…

Now Nicholson’s pubs I am familiar with. There’s one called the Clarence – right next door to Mahiki. I do like a Nicholson’s. There’s always a good crowd in there, always great staff, and it has the air of being a real pub pub, but for the 21st century. Ahhhh but as I was about to learn, Nicholson’s is much more than any pub. Who knew they’d been around for 140 years?! They work directly with the breweries creating new flavours and producing exclusive seasonal ales. Their cask conditioned ales are all looked after by fully trained Cask Masters and there’s one in every bar!! 

So on a cold rainy Friday afternoon, Kris and I headed down to the Bear and Staff pub (part of the Nicholson’s chain) for a lesson in beer tasting with Ben the beer brand ambassador… Boy did he know his stuff! 

With 6 beers lined up on the bar, Ben explained about each individual ale, the fermentation process, and what I should be l looking to taste in each one. I began to realise beer tasting was a little like wine tasting. Just minus the pretty glass. ‘This one has citrussy and grapefruit notes’ Ben told me about the Castle Rock, Harvest Pale. Hmm… ok…. Actually much better tasting than I had expected, but not quite for me I decided. The next was Nicholson’s best selling pale ale. Slightly smoother and a sessional beer apparently. Rich and golden in colour - aesthetically I was sold, and very pleasant tasting it was too, but still not my favourite. 

Unbelievably, as we reached the darker, stronger, ales, I started to really enjoy the flavours. The best by far (for me), was an ale called Bragging Rights created by a woman in the Brains brewery in Cardiff. Wow. She has great taste… honeyed, spicy, smooth. I was sold. Who’d’ve thought it?! I also discovered that I was quite partial to the Nicholson’s Porter with strong, dark, rich velvety flavours. Slowly it occurred to me that I was having a lot of fun! I’d even picked up a few admiring glances from men in the bar who were obviously just super impressed that I could down 6 pints one after the other. Ok, that’s a lie. I only had a sip of each, but I’m in training… 

According to the Cask Report www.caskreport.co.uk, the demographic of the average beer drinker nowadays is affluent and educated with plenty of disposable income. Out of the 7-8 million cask ale drinkers in the UK, 20% are under 35 – that’s a really interesting figure don’t you think?! Popularity is booming amongst women, and amongst young male drinkers too. 

So, this is where young male professionals hang out. In pubs like Nicholsons and not in cocktail bars. It’s very possible I might be making my next one a blonde. Beer. Not guy.


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