Pig’s Ear Real Ale festival back in east London with 165 draught beers on tap

Serious business... testing real ale

Serious business... testing real ale - Credit: Archant

Real Ale lovers are making a right pig’s ear of celebrating the renaissance of natural brewing with five days of knocking back draught beers next month.

Real Ale lovers at a previous Pig's Ear Fest

Real Ale lovers at a previous Pig's Ear Fest - Credit: Archant

Punters are being spoilt for choice, with 65 different local ales on tap and another 215 other brands from Britain and the Continent, when east London’s Pig’s Ear Festival returns.

The 30th annual festival, set up by the Campaign For Real Ale’s east London branch, runs December 3-7 at Hackney’s historic Round Chapel in the Lower Clapton Road.

The Real Ale renaissance goes hand-in-hand with the spread of organic foods now on the market.

“It’s natural, spontaneously fermented, nothing chemically processed,” the festival’s appropriately-named publicist Bill Green points out. “It’s just brewed using four natural ingredients, water, malt, hops and yeast.

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The taste is a joy, some ales being smoky, others deep stone, fruity, succulent, or more robust stouts with a touch of huskiness.

“Brewing Real Ale has respect for the environment because no chemicals or preservatives are used.

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“But you have to drink it within five days—no problem!”

The Pig’s Ear fest gets its name from the cockney slang for beer.

But would you Adam-and-Eve that only five years ago there were just three main breweries left in London? Now there are more than 50—all local enterprises.

The East End had a good share of big breweries a few decades ago, the oldest and most famous being Truman’s in Brick Lane.

Truman’s was established at Spitalfields in 1666, but brewed its last pint in 1988—until entrepreneur James Morgan bought the brand name and set up a small brewing operation in Hackney Wick last year. He is at the festival with his Bold As Brass label and his stronger London Keeper from an original 1880 recipe.

Other big breweries that have vanished from the East End include Charrington’s in the Mile End Road and Mann Crossman & Pauline’s in Whitechapel Road, both in the 1970s.

There were also two in Shoreditch, Wenlock’s just off the City Road near the Old Street Roundabout, closed 40 years ago, and Pitfield’s which moved out to Essex five years ago.

The Real Ale campaigners have fought the good fight for 40 years, in reaction to corporate brand marketing when our beers got the CO2 gas treatment, with added preservatives to make them last months instead of days.

New electric pumps at the bar put in by the big breweries back in the 1970s may have made it easier to serve a pint with the touch of a button.

But we lost the flavours of natural, hand-drawn beer. The comeback is largely due to the Organic Age, responding to the damage scientists tell us that chemical processes are causing the environment.

But don’t think about saving the planet when you sample 280 draught ales and bottled beers at the Pig’s Ear Fest in the Round Chapel — just enjoy it.

Opening hours in the Round Chapel: noon to 11pm December 3, 4, 5 and 7, with a Friday midnight extension December 6.

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