Summer is new golden age for ale

Many drinkers are attracted by the ale's colour before they appreciate its complexity. Picture: Getty
Many drinkers are attracted by the ale's colour before they appreciate its complexity. Picture: Getty
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Golden ale looks set to be the tipple of choice this summer, driven by a huge surge in demand from drinkers.

The latest official figures suggest lager drinkers are switching in droves to the pale-coloured real ale, attracted by its similar colour and light, hoppy flavour.

It’s proving to be an entry point for lager drinkers

Chiara Nesbitt

Demand for the beer has rocketed by almost 70 per cent in the UK over the past two years, increasing from just over 47,000 barrels in 2013 to nearly 80,000 barrels last year.

Golden ale sales are now ten times higher than those for fashionable craft ales, though the trend is part of a wider increase in the popularity of real ales.

The beer may have been created in the hope of winning over younger customers who traditionally opt for lager, but golden ales are now a force to be reckoned with in their own right.

“There is definitely a thirst out there for the paler ales,” according to Sarah Warman, of Scottish independent craft beer maker and pub operator Brewdog.

Tesco recently unveiled it own-label golden ale in a move that has been welcomed by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra).

Chiara Nesbitt, ale buyer for the chain, said: “Golden ale is having such a dramatic effect on the beer tastes of the nation because it combines the refreshingness of lager with the flavoursome qualities of ale.

“Five years ago we stocked about 15 golden ales but demand has soared so much recently that we doubled our range.

“It really is proving to be an entry-point ale for traditional lager drinkers.”

Edinburgh-based Pete Sherry, who runs the independent off-licence Beerhive, says there has been a general rise in the popularity of cask ales.

“Golden ale has a little bit more of a bready character to it, more body,” he said. “The creaminess is appealing, and it’s certainly more interesting than some thin lagers. It’s the approachability of the style that makes it appealing.

“With the slightly richer golden ales you have characteristics that are more obvious. People will like the ‘mouthfeel’ and it won’t be quite so thin as a lager.” The number of breweries in Scotland has also rocketed in the past couple of years, with experts saying the increase has been driven by demand for locally produced food and drink and a trend for artisan brands.

Independent Scottish brewers such as Innis & Gunn and Brewdog have become global players, and Scotland is now home to more than 100 breweries.

Bland keg beer sparked a 
microbrewery revolution in the UK in the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to Richard Jones, beer festival organiser for the Aberdeen branch of Camra. He believes lager drinkers are initially attracted by the appearance of golden ale. It is only after trying it that they start to appreciate the complexities of flavour, he said.

Golden ales provide a great entry point for newcomers to real ale and will prove a hit in the next few months, he added.

“I think it will sell particularly well in the summer. You tend to see less stouts and porters and the stronger milds and old ales in the summer.

“Golden ales are perceived to be more thirst-quenching.”