I've just read a headline in October's What’s Brewing (the CAMRA newspaper), "Booming real ale sales", and below it in the article, "cask only dipped by an estimated two per cent". Since when does a dip constitute a boom?
Also portrayed as good news in the article is the fact that 69% of real ale drinkers are now in social class ABC1. Is real ale expanding its customer base upwards or, in a declining market, is it losing its working class customers? I suspect a bit of both, but the loss of the working class market to whole swathes of inner city pubs that serve only smoothflow is not the good news that the WB article implies. 30 years ago my uncle ran a back street pub in Bootle, which sold real ale through electric hand pumps – not unusual then, but almost unheard of now. A mass market for real ale was wiped out without, apparently, a single tear from CAMRA, possibly because these pubs didn't meet the approved ABC1 demographic.
With above-inflation beer duty rises and pub company rip-offs, ale is increasingly an expensive niche product that ordinary people - not your wealthy professionals - are finding harder to afford. Feel-good articles should not blind us to the reality of the situation: beer sales are dropping and pubs closing.
If CAMRA is turning into the voice of the well-heeled drinker, as this article seems to suggest, I may begin to have doubts about being a member.
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