Beer history Blogging and writing

Mapping Trends in British Beer

This is something we’ve been doing to help keep track of the narrative of British beer that is emerging as we research and, having enjoyed this conversation over at Ed’s blog, we thought we’d share it.

UPDATED 12:12 4 July 2013: an important line was missing between ‘real ale’ and ‘weird real ale’.

Graphic mapping trends in British beer over the last fifty years.


  1. This isn’t attempt to define terminology or push anyone into a box, but to reflect how we think people use some of these terms, and to track the ‘DNA’ of various trends.
  2. It’s simplified: we could have added quite a few more boxes (‘Real Lager’, ‘Revivalist IPA’, ‘World Keg’…) but have chosen not to, for now.
  3. There is a judgement reflected here: we’re more interested in and enthusiastic about the stuff in blue.
  4. Sorry about ‘weird real ale’ — we couldn’t think of anything better. It is intended to encompass everything ‘innovative’ (i.e. diverging from traditional styles) from Hopback Summer Lightning onward. (So that means Sean Franklin, Brendan Dobbin, Passageway and so on.)
  5. UPDATE: it’s not a graph, it’s just a kind of family tree.

17 replies on “Mapping Trends in British Beer”

People (especially CAMRA) were using the term ‘craft brewing’ from the early eighties onward, meaning, in a vague sense, ‘alternative’.

But, no, you’re right — we’ve retrospectively applied a term that we used to hear in the 00s to describe the emergence of the phenomenon in the 90s. Back then, people, if they called it anything, went for ‘real’ or ‘proper’ lager, or lumped it in as part of ‘designer beer’.

EDIT: although we do have Roger Protz describing Freedom lager as ‘crafted’ in an 1995 Guardian article.

Should “Weird Real Ale” branch off “Real Ale” rather than “World Beer”?

Or do you need an intermediate stage of “Innovative Real Ale” to reflect the stuff produced twenty years ago like porters and golden ales that was different from the currently existing styles, but not wildly outside the box?

Oops! Yes, it does in the original (which is scribbled on paper!) but we lost a line when we were turning it into a graphic for the web. Will fix it over lunch.

EDIT: which is to say, it branches off *both*. Dobbin & Franklin had a heavy US influence; Passageway were brewing Belgian-style beers; and so on. Fixed now.

I like it. I don’t understand it exactly but I like it. How do you see world beer and lager connected? The mid-80s Heineken and Carlsberg thing here would follow on what seems to be a consistent theme in Ontario and Canada of imports building on imperial cultural connections.

As far as we can tell, the ‘continental lager’ boom in the UK was in the fifties and sixties, really, and, by the time beer geeks started enthusing about ‘world beer’, most of it was considered untouchable. That was partly because Carlsberg, once considered the height of European cool, were brewing in Northampton and were very much seen as the Bad Guys.

So, lager, in the above, means mostly stuff produced in the UK, either under license or to regional brewers own recipes.

From the late seventies, there’s a bit of grudging enthusiasm for ‘real lager’ from the CAMRA boys, but that’s ‘world beer’.

We could do a ‘zoom in’ on lager and unpick all of this, I suppose.

In addition to continental lagers, was there also ales and lagers of the empire? I do know, for example, that care of EP Taylor Carling is a reciprocal Ontario beer going the other way, back to the motherland. My mom’s cousin, Mabel, married a pub owner in Glasgow and the place in the 60s was full of Carling’s “Mabel, Black Label” branded stuff. Were there other beers like Fosters from the available on licence?

There was lots of Carling, but it was, for at least as long as I can remember, presented as British, in ads like this.

Fosters in the late 80s was the first mass-market beer specifically marketed with a “Commonwealth” (specifically Australian) heritage. Labatt’s for a while traded on its Canadian heritage but you don’t see that any more.

Have you encountered “world beer” in actual beer geek discourse? It has always seemed like a trade term to me, used by the people who also say things like “the standard lager category”.

As I come from lager-land (Scotland) my experience may be quite different in that as far as I can tell “proper lager” has always been a thing. I know that there was at least one pub in Glasgow in the 1960s selling Munich-brewed Löwenbräu. By the 1980s a company called Scottish German Beer Importers was doing a good trade bringing over Fürstenberg (both Export and Pils). That was also the time of UK-made “premium lager” with products like Harp Export and Tennent’s Gold Bier.

It’s one of those terms that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny (‘I’ll have a beer that isn’t from a world, please.’) but which has its uses as a verbal shortcut.

I think we heard it a few times before ‘craft beer’ took hold, c.2003 or something like that. Also, its bastard cousin ‘world lager’, as seen at dodgy chain pub festivals.

CAMRA-affiliated beer writers like Roger Protz and Graham Lees were quite fond of the term.

There’s a bit more info in this post from last year.

I think an upsurge in interest in world beer was one of a number of tentative first steps to a homegrown craft beer industry, along with what you call “weird real ale”, ie slightly more experimental ales like now ever present Golden Ale.

Fosters and the rest never started coming in until the mid to late 1970s at the earliest. I remember a student graduation party in 1974 when I managed to get hold of some BIG cans of proper, Australian-brewed Fosters, which was a verv rare find: my recollection is that it was actually pretty good, but that may be just because it was a very hot June day …

Fosters was even mentioned in the British Oscar winning animated short “Great” in 1975, depicted by a cork-hatted kangaroo with a pouchful of tinnies (“Keep yer theivin’ hands off our Fosters”), so it must have been known about in the UK by then.

Yes, but I think it was known about in much the same way that Vegemite was (and is) – we knew it was part of the cultural furniture in Australia, without ever being likely to taste it or having any particular wish to. Thanks very largely to Barry Humphreys, Australiana had a certain cult appeal in the 60s and 70s, but its reach wasn’t very wide or very deep – I never heard of VB until much later, for example.

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