Real-ale is brewing up a storm in the North
The research team at the Carnegie Faculty at Leeds Met, made up of Professor Karl Spracklen, Jon Laurencic and Dr Alexandra Kenyon, set out to discover how well the real-ale tourism trade is performing and how a sense of northern English community is established through this leisure activity in their study, which has been published in Tourist Studies journal.
The study was based in the north of England through interviews and informal conversations with attendees of a real-ale festival, interviews with senior members of staff at northern breweries, and through the observations of one researcher who volunteered throughout the festival.
Real-ale is beer that has not been treated to kill the process of fermentation: real-ale has to be handled carefully in cellars by landlords, and only has a number of days in which it is able to be enjoyed.
Professor Spracklen commented: "What we found from our research is that the taste of real-ale, and its use of quality ingredients, are two of the most important reasons for people getting involved in community events such as festivals but also that there is a real rise in interest in local products, including both food and drink, and that there is a new interest emerging from a younger, more middle-class, 'hipster' audience."
The researchers noted that real-ale fans pride themselves on being a friendly, welcoming community rather than being rowdy and drunken. Drinking half-pints is the norm but most men would prefer to be seen drinking this measure from a full-pint glass in order to sample as many beers as possible whilst staying sufficiently sober and maintaining a sufficiently masculine appearance.
All interviewees were proud of their local identity: with the working-class respondents commenting that local pride and the authentic drinks made them feel connected to working-class identity and traditions; and the middle-class respondents tending to be concerned that real-ale's expensive price tag could put it out of reach of its 'authentic' working-class roots.
Professor Spracklen continued: "We have found that real-ale tourism attracts two distinct groups of people: Firstly we see a group of older, white, working-class men who are serious about their real-ale and very knowledgeable. They arrive early to festivals to sample the rare beers before they are sold out and they leave before they are too drunk to get home. A second group of younger, less-dedicated real-ale drinkers, the 'hipsters', arrive later, aim to get drunk with their friends and are less concerned about trying particular beers.
Many respondents were proud to feel part of a real-ale community, travelling across the country to different festivals, as well as pub walks, taste testings in local pubs and brewery visits, with one even keeping a note book which he carried everywhere with him to note down the beers he had tried and his comments.
Professor Spracklen concluded: "Overall, real-ale fans are rejecting the mainstream and supporting good taste and distinction, becoming learned cultural travellers and bonding with like-minded people."