Monday 30 December 2013

A real ale revolution?

Tesco's beer buyer, Chiara Nesbitt
Hyperventilating headlines ask: "Could beer replace wine as the UK's festive tipple of choice?" Apparently, in the last full week before Christmas, Tesco sold 1.5 million bottles of "real ale"*, the most it has ever sold in a seven-day period. It has been suggested that the increase is partly due to food and beer matching, which I'm told means more than just a pint of bitter and a packet of crisps. Pale ales are said to go with fish, while malty beers are better for turkey and goose, as well as being a choice for those who dislike wine. The increasing availability of real ale in pubs and the work of CAMRA are also credited.

One news report says that, "Surprisingly, demand for the drink is highest among younger consumers - a sea change in attitudes given that until recently, ale was considered the preserve of older male drinkers. As a result, stores are now stocking a huge variety of different ales, with Tesco alone increasing its offering from 20 types in 2006 to 350 brews in 2013."

However, don't get too excited about this boost in sales, because the most popular ales have been Old Speckled Hen, Newcastle Brown Ale, Theakstons Old Peculiar, Fullers London Pride, and Badger Fursty Ferret - all worthy, but certainly not the most interesting beers around. Tesco ale buyer Chiara Nesbitt said: "Sales of bottled ales have been growing steadily since the mid-noughties but this is by far the highest demand we have ever seen in Christmas week which would indicate that people will be drinking it with their roast turkey." Perhaps, although it's also worth noting that Tesco saw Wine by the Case sales rise by 29% in November.

It is nonetheless an interesting development, although I do wonder whether bottled ales are seen as a premium product worth splashing out on for Christmas; if so, how many of these drinkers will revert back to their slabs of cooking lager once the New Year holiday is over? I've no idea: wait and see, I suppose.

* I wrote 'real ale' in inverted commas because the figures include brewery conditioned ales that aren't actually real, being pasteurised and filtered.


  1. There is still much confusion in the minds of the public and, I suspect, some of the supermarket beer buyers as well, over the use of the term "real ale". The tendency is to class any "premium bottled ale" as a real ale and unfortunately this confusion is not going to go away, despite the best efforts of CAMRA.

    However, every cloud has a silver lining, and it is certainly good news that more people are buying ale, in whatever form. It is especially good news for many of the smaller breweries who often struggle to find outlets for their cask ales, due to loan tie agreements and other restrictions within the on-trade.

    I certainly enjoyed several different beers with my turkey dinner this Christmas, and I know full well that many other beer lovers will have done the same. Cheers!

  2. Its been a long time coming but some big tesco have by far a better beer range than a few years ago. Mind you booths or waitrose have the best beer choice in terms of supermarkets.

  3. It's now commonplace to refer to the general run of Premium Bottled Ales as "real ales", as consumers perceive them as the bottled equivalents of cask ale in the pub, and very often they're the same brands. That isn't going away.

    And, while I'm sure Tesco have a lot more beers now than they did in 2006, they certainly had a lot more than 20 back then.

    Typically marketing fluff, really.

  4. I love the fact that "real ale" is a term applied to any premium bitter and is no longer owned by the beardy club.

    The evolution of language is a wonderful thing.

  5. You might want to do a review of our craft beers! Contact me. I would love to hear from you!


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