Express & Star comment: Raise a glass to the real ale revolution
This week, visitors from across the world will get the chance to discover what we have known for years – that this area produces some fantastic beer.
Seven breweries have been chosen to fly the flag for the region at the Great British Beer Festival in London this week, which will attract 40,000 ale lovers from across the UK and abroad.
It is not only a golden opportunity for a talented new generation of brewers to show off their skills, it also reflects the way an historic industry is changing to meet the needs of a new and different breed of customer.
As a country we are drinking less. The habitual pint after work is gone forever, and young people are far less likely go out at weekends than previous generations.
On the whole, this is a good thing. The binge-drinking culture of the past has largely disappeared, and today's youngsters have a far more responsible attitude towards drink than their parents' generation. But the downside is an alarming decline of Britain's pubs, which play a crucial role in bringing together our communities.
Campaign for Real Ale chairman Nik Antona spoke passionately at the festival about the importance of pubs as a social asset and in combatting loneliness, and that is something we heartily agree with.
That said, the success of this week's festival – and indeed our local breweries represented there – shows that there is great cause for hope.
The massive growth of the real ale and craft beer market over the past 10 years proves that people still enjoy a drink, but they now look for quality over quantity. Scores of new small independent breweries have sprung up in our region, producing a variety of exciting flavours we could once only have dreamt of.
People might not drink as much as they did, but they spend more on what they do consume. Whereas in the past people drank beer to quench their thirst on the foundry floor, today's ales are high-end, aspirational products appreciated by knowledgeable drinkers with discerning palates.
These are exciting times for an area richly represented by some of the best small breweries in the country. It is forecast that independent breweries will create almost 900 new jobs this year alone, and we should all get behind local businesses looking to grab a slice of that market.
If you're out and about this week, why not do your bit to support your local brewery. And raise a glass to the real-ale revolution which has ensured a bright future for this important industry.