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A sting in the ale

The large individual listing gently through the Authentic Prada Messenger Bag For Sale beer stalls of Olympia in a T-shirt redundantly announcing “I Ate All the Pies” seems an unlikely member of a demanding, discerning, and reviving consumer powerbase. More puzzling still is the motorcycle T-shirt that reads “If you can read this, the bitch fell off”. But then little in the world of real ale is as it initially appears.

Last week’s Great British Beer Festival, organised by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), attracted its stereotypical share of bellies, beards and bikers whose average age – at a generous estimate – was 45. But lurking among the connoisseurs were a few younger, fresher converts to the delights of the kind of beers that are often named after ships, goblins and woodland creatures.

Among this new generation is Rajni Pathak, a 25-year-old doctor, who was wandering round the cavernous hall with a half of perry and her friend Nick Aldridge. Although not strictly a newcomer – she is a veteran of two or three festivals – Pathak concedes she is not typical of the real ale demographic. “But I’m not the only woman here. The other one’s somewhere over there,” she says, pointing towards the stage where a bearded guitarist is entering the second minute of a searing guitar solo.

What’s the appeal for her? “It’s just great because when you go to the pub, beer is really a lads’ drink but here there’s so much variety and so many different things to try, like this perry.”

Her companion has his own explanation for the resurgence of real ale. “People are getting bored with the generic, chemically lagers which all taste the same,” says Aldridge, 26, a policy analyst.

Whatever the reason, things are currently looking good for many of Britain’s traditional ales. A massive marketing push by some of the biggest real ale producers has coincided with the deepening of our love affair with local and organic food and drink – and an apparent cooling of our passion for strong continental lagers.

Real ale’s share of the beer market may have dropped from its early 1990s peak of 17% to around 9% today – but the very large and very small brewers who have found their niches are now upbeat about their sales figures and the future.

Greene King, the brewer that boasts such pub staples as IPA, Old Speckled Hen and Abbot Ale, has seen its turnover rise 33% in the last year, and Wolverhampton and Dudley, whose beers include Banks’s, Marstons and Jennings, has managed to increase its beer sales by 5.5% in the first six months of 2005. Both achieved these results even though British beer sales as a whole dropped 5% during the first half of the year. Given the notoriously sluggish nature of the UK beer market, Black Prada Doctor Bag the results are significant.

Meanwhile, InBev, the multinational company behind Stella Artois and Beck’s, has seen global sales of Stella fall almost 4% over the last six months, mostly because of the weak market in Britain.

Real ale buffs may be muttering gleefully that the long-heralded revolution is finally at hand, but InBev gives no quarter to suggestions Authentic Prada Fairy Bag Sale that a rise in one market is linked to a fall in another.

“The fact that sales have dropped over the last year has nothing to do with real ale sales,” says Rob Bruce, the company’s British PR manager. “I think people are just becoming more adventurous and are looking for more choice in what they drink. If people are having a dinner party, they’ll be looking for something different to impress their friends, but if they’re out for a quality night out, they’ll be drinking Stella.”

Bruce points to the success of InBev’s specialist beers, which include the gastropub favourites Hoegaarden and Leffe, but says the company has no plans to break into the real ale market.

“We leave that to the smaller brewers and microbreweries,” he says. “We’re both good at what we do, so it’s a win-win situation. There are different beers for different people and what we’re seeing now is the world of beer opening up.”

Mike Benner, Camra’s chief executive, offers another explanation for the state of the beer market: the way that big producers are having to split their approach. When a pint of beer is sold through an urban pub for between £2.60 and £3, its maker can portray this as the price of a quality product; the image is harder to sustain when a supermarket six-pack offer sees a can selling for 80p

“We’re still seeing a shift towards the off trade with more people drinking more at home,” says Benner. “This gives huge price differentials between supermarket prices and pub prices and it also creates a problem for the big global beer brands.”

This difference, he argues, is behind Stella’s headache. “The big brands try to market their beers as sophisticated and reassuringly expensive, but when you can walk into a supermarket and buy enough lager to kill yourself for £20 replica prada bags, it doesn’t look sophisticated, does it?” This view is supported by John Band, a senior analyst at Datamonitor. “There’s a very strong move among consumers in all markets towards authenticity,” he says. “People are very keen to buy stuff that seems authentic and isn’t – or doesn’t feel like – it’s been made in a factory to a chemical recipe.”

Band says today’s young drinkers, who started on lager, are now turning to real ale because it is marketing itself as a high-quality product and capitalising on its natural manufacture and local roots.

Benner agrees. “As in all food markets, people are getting sick of faceless global brands and are looking out for what’s local,” he says. “They are seeking out traditional brewers who make handcrafted products from local, natural ingredients.”

Benner’s joy, however, is not unbridled. He and his fellow Camra members view the commercial success of companies such as Greene King and Wolverhampton & Dudley with a mix of gratitude and concern. Profit always has a price.

“What companies like them do is good, because they’re promoting real ale, but it’s not great because they’re stepping on and buying Authentic Prada Handbags Outlet Online out smaller local breweries.”

The government came to the aid of the smaller breweries and microbreweries three years ago, when Gordon Brown introduced progressive beer duty, a sliding tax scale based on production yields that works in favour of the smallest companies. But Camra wants more and is currently Authentic Prada Wallet For Sale Philippines lobbying the government to reintroduce and extend the guest beer law, which forces big breweries with more than 2,000 pubs to allow their tenants to take a guest beer from a supplier of their choice.

“There are no losers with guest beers,” reckons Benner. “It benefits local drinkers by giving them more choice; it benefits local breweries by giving them another outlet for their beers and it benefits the tenants by allowing them to help their business.”

Alistair Darby, the managing director of Wolverhampton & Dudley, rebuts the arguments for the guest beer law and has no qualms about the way the business works.

“I’m not worried about squeezing the little guys out of the market because progressive beer tax has given the smaller brewers a chance to compete with the big national brewers,” he says. “They pay less duty and can spend what they save on marketing.

“I think the reintroduction of the guest beer law is unnecessary. Best Prada Outlet In Italy The range of beer available now is Authentic Prada Purses Sale as good as it’s ever been, so I think it’s a bit of a non-issue. But if a landlord wants to sell independent beers, he has every right to do so. I think the law isn’t necessary and isn’t a campaigning issue.”

Back at the festival, Andy Mitchell of the Spectrum Brewery in Norfolk leans over the bar and shakes his head. “The guest beer law is a good idea,” he says. “Putting on a local beer reflects positively on the pub and the brewery, and it benefits the trade.”

Guest beers aside, he and his fellow small brewers – those whose output is too small to trouble the big national brewers – seem pretty happy with their business.

“From my Authentic Prada Handbags Canada end of the market, not so many beers are being lost,” says Mitchell. “It’s the middle-sized breweries – especially the ones that are listed companies – that are vulnerable to big business.”

Derek Moore, 54, who gave up teaching to found the Kelburn brewery near Glasgow three years ago, now has his eye on expansion.

“My business is doing well – we’ve won 17 awards and we’re building up sales. Last March we were doing eight barrels a week and now we’re up to just under 20. We’re getting to the stage where the brewery is viable so we’re thinking of getting an extra fermenter or moving premises. We’ve also started on the bottle side but bottle margins are very low as you have to contract out the bottling.

“Hopefully the trend towards real ale will continue,” says Moore. “People say they don’t like beer, like they say they don’t like sausages, but there are so many styles available now you’ll find something you do like.”

He smiles. “My wife used to say she didn’t like beer but Black Prada Doctor Bag I’ve put her straight on that now.”

Not far from Moore, near the Crusty Pie company which is doing a roaring trade, and a pitta bread sandwich stall which isn’t, are two men and a woman in giddy shirts and viking helmets.

Tom Martin and his friends Martyn and Viv Clarke are ale aficionados who are more than happy to explain Authentic Prada Leather Handbags their passion. “Unlike lager, each beer here has its own individual flavour,” says Tom, who also contends that the lack of chemicals means no hangover.

But there are, he adds, other attractions. “You get to come to beer festivals, wear stupid hats and shirts and laugh at lots of weird people.”

Martyn and Viv nod their helmets and laugh into their pints.