In the 1960s and early 1970s most major brewers reduced their traditional cask ale production and instead filtered and carbonated their beer and dispensed it from kegs.
The market became dominated by a few large brewing companies which, by spending millions promoting their brands and by closing down their smaller rivals, developed a complex monopoly for their keg beers.
CAMRA defined real ale in 1973 as:
Beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide.
Maturation is at the heart of the definition. If the beer is unfiltered, unpasteurised and still active on the yeast, it is real ale. It does not matter whether the container is a cask or a bottle.
Beer represented 71 per cent of all alcohol consumed in the UK in 1970, compared with 36 per cent in 2014. Most beer was served on draught in pubs, whereas most beer today is bottled or canned. Although beer’s share of the on-trade market has declined in the past 15 years (with an increase in sales of wine and cider), cask ale has bucked the trend, increasing over the past three years to account for 17 per cent of all on-trade beer and 57 per cent of all on-trade draught beer. The demand for real ale, part of a general trend towards more authentic and local products, continues to grow.
In 1974 there were fewer than 200 breweries in the UK. The 2016 Good Beer Guide lists more than 1,500. CAMRA’s Brewery Information System records more than 11,000 real ales: nearly eight per brewery.
Brewing in the British Isles today is characterised by innovation and dynamism. “Craft beer” is used by many to describe the products of independent brewers, as distinct from those produced industrially by global giants. Some brewers have developed a new type of keg beer which some call “craft keg”. Our Members’ Conference in 2015 accepted some new methods of dispense as legitimate means of serving real ale. The clearly defined boundaries of the 1970s have become blurred to the point where some have questioned their relevance.