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Britain's ale brewers bring wine tasting to beer

By Chris Mercer , 02-Aug-2006

Britain's ale brewers are looking to reconnect with consumers by providing tasting notes alongside pints of their beer, a tactic they say has already worked wonders for wine.

Descriptive language long employed by wine tasting enthusiasts has come to the world of real ale under a new initiative, named Cyclops, launched by ale brewers and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) this week.

The move is an attempt to combat a decline in real ale drinkers across the UK.

 

Unlike some of the flamboyant pontificating that surrounds wine, however, the brains behind Cyclops have promised to tell it like it is.

 

"Real ale is an incredibly complex drink with an enormous range of styles and tastes. Cyclops will demystify real ale so drinkers will know what a beer will look, smell and taste like before they part with their cash at the bar," said Tony Jerome, CAMRA's senior marketing manager.

 

The Cyclops scheme will use a scale of one to five to tell drinkers how sweet or bitter an ale is, and also likely to include a brief description of flavours and aromas.

 

CAMRA is hoping the initiative will become an industry standard to help consumers navigate their way through the 2,500 real ales Britain has to offer.

 

The wine industry has already built much success on its ability to communicate certain qualities of different wines, such as grape variety and relative dryness, to consumers. Many believe this has made wine more accessible to drinkers.

 

Wine consumption has risen by around 75 per cent in Britain over the last 15 years, while beer consumption has fallen 13 per cent. Volume sales of ales and stouts have fared worse, tumbling 24 per cent in the last five years, according to a recent report from market analyst group Mintel.

 

Yet, a survey by Britain's ale brewers found that nearly a third of adults asked said they would try more real ale if some kind of universal tasting scheme was introduced. And 40 per cent of 18-24 year olds, a crucial market for all drinks makers, said the initiative would encourage them to at least try ale.

 

There were 14 real ale breweries signed up to Cyclops at this week's launch, which coincided with the Great British Beer Festival in London.

 

And, the industry has shown itself prepared to put aside differences for a common cause.

 

One of the 14 endorsing Cyclops is Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries (WDB), which is one of Britain's biggest ale brewers and has had a series of rows with CAMRA over its acquisition of smaller rivals.

 

CAMRA protested unsuccessfully when WDB took over Cumbrian brewery Jennings last year, calling on Jennings shareholders to reject the deal.

 

The real ale group took a more conciliatory line this week. "At the end of the day WDB is still a real ale brewer and this is an industry campaign for the consumer," a CAMRA spokesperson told BeverageDaily.com.

 

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