CAMRA has surveyed the importance of real ale in a bottle to complement CAMRA's new Good Bottled Beer Guide. Today's discerning consumers are rejecting cheap canned lagers in favour of natural, local real ales. Over 75% of off-licences have reported increased sales of bottled real ales in the last twelve months.
The survey also reveals that nearly 90% of retailers intend to increase their range of bottled real ales on offer in the near future. The Good Bottled Beer Guide is a sister guide to the best-selling Good Beer Guide and is the only book which highlights all the bottled real ales that are now being produced in the UK.
Jeff Evans, author of the Good Bottled Beer Guide says, "There are clear signs that people who can't get to the pub as often as they would like are demanding quality, distinctive beers from off-licences and supermarkets. Today's consumers want more fresh, locally-produced and natural food and drink products, and real ale in a bottle meets the needs of this consumer revolution perfectly."
Jeff Evans says that these shops are no simple off-licences. "These retailers know exactly how to draw in the discerning drinker," he says. "Sensibly, they don't just depend on piled-high, sold-cheap cans of lager: they go out of their way to offer beers of genuine interest, produced in small batches by craft brewers. People travel miles to visit such a shop, and spend a fair amount of money when they see the incredible selections some have to offer."
There are now well over 600 bottled real ales produced in the UK and these can be discovered in a wide range of outlets, from enlightened supermarkets and corner shop grocers to farmers' markets and craft centres. The list of beer shops in the Good Bottled Beer Guide includes outlets as varied as Binns, a large department store in Darlington, and The Drinks Cage, a part-time stall at a market near London Bridge. The Real Ale Shop has just opened up on a farm in Norfolk, while the retail section of Tucker's Maltings, one of Devon's major tourist attractions, has been drawing in trade for years. Peckham's delicatessens in Scotland complement their fine foods with similarly fine beers, Hogs Back Brewery Shop in Surrey attracts visitors with beers from all over the world, and Beers of Europe in Norfolk is a vast warehouse filled with great beers from all parts.
"Why more independent off-licences don't adopt the same approach beats me," says Jeff Evans. "Who's going to go out of their way to visit your shop if all you have on sale are the same multi-national lagers as the local supermarket, which is also selling them much more cheaply? As people wake up to the wonders of beer, and the "beer and food" concept keeps developing, beer retailers who don't offer a selection of well-chosen bottled real ales are definitely missing a trick."
The Good Bottled Beer Guide, sponsored by Asda, is published by CAMRA Books at £9.99. It features over 600 bottled real ales from 143 UK breweries.
Important information like ingredients and tasting notes are provided and there are useful features on how to buy, keep and serve real ale in a bottle. There's an extensive list of bottled real ales from overseas, a dictionary to help drinkers demystify the language of the beer label, and a comprehensive listing of the best beer shops around the country.
Consumers are increasingly discerning, taking an interest in natural, locally-produced food and favouring products that are easily identifiable as such. It's essential that today's sophisticated shoppers have full information to help with buying decisions, so creating a new category for beer will help achieve this. The Real Ale in a Bottle Scheme will revolutionise beer in the off-trade and create a new and exciting opportunity for both brewers and retailers."
Bottle labels containing the logo from breweries such as City of Cambridge, Hogsback, Exe Valley, Fullers, Hop Back, O'Hanlon's and Woodefordes should appear within a few months.
CAMRA will continue to work with eligible breweries over the coming months so that they too start to incorporate the logo.
The partners in the pilot scheme are:
B & T Brewery
City of Cambridge
Hampshire Brewing Company
Keltek Brewing Co
Khean Brewing Co
Leek Brewing Co
Mauldons - Black Adder Brewery|
Ridgeway Bitter / Beer Counter
Storm Brewing Company
Teme Valley Brewery
Warwickshire Beer Co
W & J Brewing Co
Real ale in a bottle is now available in most supermarkets and national off-licences. But rapid growth in specialist beer shops and mail order companies, plus diversification by local corner shops, farmers' markets and garden centres, now provides plenty of opportunities for small brewers to sell their beers.
CAMRA will launch the Real Ale in a Bottle Retailers' Scheme before the end of the year, aiming to make premium bottled British beers be at the forefront of consumers' minds.
In Cambridge, Bacchanalia (formerly the Jug & Firkin) on Mill Road is the premier shop for quality draught and bottled beer (it also stocks cider).
Confused about what beer complements what food? Then speak to CAMRA, who can provide a handy list to match food styles to your favourite real ale in a bottle from the Good Bottled Beer Guide. Milds, hoppy bitters and wheat beers make excellent aperitifs, or try spicy malty ales or dark lagers with lamb. Wheat beers with chicken-based dishes, or stouts with chocolate or creamy desserts? CAMRA can advise on a three-course meal. The list is endless!