Scotland’s independent brewers are riding the crest of a wave of interest in real ale. Jonathan Trew raises a glass in salute.

alternative name ‘cask conditioned’. Once it has been delivered to the pub it needs to be stored correctly and maintained until it is in peak condition for drinking. Tender. loving care is paramount in getting a fine pint of real ale on the bar and a good bar manager will pay as much attention to what’s happening in the cellar as in the bar. When the beer is clear and ready. the cask is tapped and the ale drawn up to the bar through hand pumps. Keg ale. on the other hand, is processed so that it has a longer shelf-life. This processing kills off the live yeast that gives real ale some of its character and also means that the keg ale has to have carbon dioxide added to it or it would be completely flat when served. Evidently, beer monsters who couldn’t give a flying firkin whether their pint is living. dead or stuck in some beery hinterland between the two aren’t particularly interested in real ale but those who view quality as more important than quantity point to the fact that real ales taste better. Contrary to popular mythology. a beard and overhang belly of epic proportions aren’t strictly necessary to appreciate a satisfying pint of real ale. Other

Independent breweries are bubbling up over the Scottish countryside like a particularly lively head on a pint of beer. They are producing their own range of real ales brewed to their particular recipes and using their unique brewing techniques. For Scottish drinkers this means an explosion in the choice of flavours. tastes and types of beer available over the bar. Yet despite the recent expansion in the Scottish real ale portfolio. many people are still uncertain as to just what areal ale is.

The great mystery is that there isn’t one. Real ale is, quite simply. a living product that continues to ferment and mature in the cask after it has left the brewery. hence the

Contrary to popular mythology, a

proportions aren’t strictly necessary to appreciate a satisfying pint- of real ale.

aficionados argue that the sheer diversity of real ales available far outstrips the range of keg beers produced by the major brewing companies and since variety is the spice of life real ales are the clear winners. Real ales also tend to reflect the traditions. history and customs of the area in which they are brewed. Many of the keg beers produced by the national brewers are designed to appeal to as wide a range of people as possible. They have to be bland and as such can’t come close to the distinctive localised flavours and identities lovingly crafted by the independents.

The growing popularity of real ales is. to a certain extent. self-perpetuating. The more pints of cask conditioned beers bought over the nation’s bars. the more this encourages existing independent breweries to expand and constantly improve their ale portfolios. This has a knock-on effect in that it encourages other enthusiasts to set up their own breweries. Four years ago there were eight or nine independent breweries in Scotland producing cask conditioned beers. Today there are at least eighteen, from old.

It’ the real thing

beard and overhang belly oi epic >

well-established firms such as Edinburgh’s Caledonian Brewery and Maclay’s in Clackmannanshire through to relative newcomers such as the incredibly busy Leann An Eilein on the Isle of Skye where demand for their Red Cuillin is outstripping supply.

The current success of real ale is, in a large part. due to the campaigning efforts of CAMRA who, over the last 25 years. have grown from extremely modest beginnings to one of the largest consumers’ rights groups in the country. They have fought tooth and claw to promote choice and good standards in the nation’s pubs and supported the efforts of real ale producers. All you have to do is go out there and drink it.

Broughton Ales have been brewing real ales In the Scottish Borders since 1979. They now boast a range of six beers from the well-hopped, deep golden Merlln’s file to the robust, ruby tinged. Black Douglas. Each ale is narned after a . character who has some llnlt with the Borders. . Merlin being pictured on a stained glass window. at Stobo lililt while Black Douglas was a stout . friend of llobert The Bruce and best known for' his undercover capture oi liosbargh Castle.

It’s these localised details which Indra real ales stand out from the crowd. Their brewers use the best ingredients according to local conditions and often source the beer’s , constituents front local suppliers. The breweries are often important to the local economy and y.

. can play a large part in the community’s social calendar. Broughton Ales,.for ample, sponsors race at Kelso. All of which is good news;- slnce '- every time you sink a pint you can congratulate , yourself onhelplng the Scottish econowy. j ' '

108 The List l-l4 Nov 1996