In recent years the story has been one of total real ale sales dropping though with a rate of decline less than for other beer styles. Given record pub closures, the recession and the punitive tax regime this has hardly been surprising news – and yet, in the first six months of 2009, the report says, cask ale sales actually grew in volume terms, albeit by only one per cent. This really is an astonishing result in a market otherwise in significant decline – and real ale is also outperforming almost every other drink on the bar, including wine and most spirits.

Among the findings of the report are:

The number of people who have ever tried real ale has increased recently from 35% to 50% (so the CAMRA message is clearly getting through). This has meant 400,000 new real ale drinkers in the last year, with the number of women drinking real ale regularly nearly doubling. Also real ale drinkers are getting younger, with 25 to 34 being the age group most likely to convert to the good stuff.

Why is all this happening? Firstly, it’s clear that people are becoming more interested in the quality of what they eat and drink. Swilling down large quantities of tasteless alcoholic fluid may still be OK for some people but more of us seek flavours that are complex and even challenging. The increasing wish to consume products from our local area also helps real ale; since we launched our LocAle scheme a year ago, the number of pubs selling locally-brewed beers has doubled whilst virtually all pubs sell at least one East Anglian beer. Also, standards of cellarmanship are rising – it’s now very rare that I get a poorly served pint in a local pub (whereas in other parts of the country it can be more of a lottery).

The report concludes “cask beer is ideally positioned to be the next big thing. It fits consumer trends. It seems full of innovation. Cask beer requires a commitment to both style and substance, and a little extra effort. But the market is there and this report proves that there are financial rewards for catering for it”.

All this certainly chimes with my own experience of local pubs. The ones that seem to be doing best are those that offer a good choice of well-kept real ales. Meanwhile, of our nine non-real ale pubs, four have closed recently (the Duke of Argyle, the Jubilee, the Graduate and the Devonshire Arms, all Cambridge – though as reported elsewhere the last will be reopening shortly, and with real ale very much to the fore).

The message is clear – real ale rocks.