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Beer Here Now: Craft Brewing - 2012 in a Pint Glass

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The first week of a New Year and inevitably the hangover of endless misty-eyed end of year round-ups give way to crystal ball predictions for the next 12 months. While many vainly attempt to give their tenderised livers just one month's respite, the Telegraph have kindly sent us crawling back to the off license by pointing out what they think we'll all be drinking during 2012.

Amongst the wine cocktails and the Artisan gin distilleries and single varietal ciders are two separate entries (at one and miraculously again at nine) that use a phrase largely unheard of in this country this time last year.

I didn't know what craft beer was at the start of 2011. A year later, it's pretty much all I drink.

I'd cross London to drink beers by the best of Britain's craft brewers. In fact, whenever I've got time to waste, I'll head to one of London's new craft beer bars (The Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington, The Euston Tap in Euston Station, the Craft Beer Co in Clerkenwell, Mason and Taylor on Redchurch Street, to name a few excellent purveyors), survey the landscape and pick off new brews by compiling a mental road map that attempts to cover every inch of the country, pint by pint. It's a bit like train spotting, only you end up a lot more woozy at the end. I call it research, my fiancé calls it problem drinking.

Craft beer isn't real ale. In fact, in some ways it's the antithesis of real ale. Where real ale might be (fairly) represented by scenes of beer festivals populated by lovable old Gandalfs, craft beer might be two demented blokes driving a tank up Camden High Street to promote a bar launch; where a real ale might be promoted by a grotesque, pervert looking goblin fellow (check any of Wychwood's Hobgoblin's ad campaigns), craft beer might come wrapped in ludicrously simple utilitarian packing (check any of the award winning Kernel Brewery's beautiful, identikit bottles).

Where real ale is cask and handpull, craft beer will proudly pour from the keg or the bottle.

The first type is the defining feature of a beer approved by CAMRA, the latter types are as yet frowned upon - a modernisation that is rapidly bringing complex tasting, full bodied ales into a 21st century, lager dominated mainstream.

These are obviously huge, sweeping generalisations; it's beer after all - the crossover blur between the two 'genres' is always going to be pretty huge. Many craft breweries brew for cask as well as keg and all of the craft beer bars that have sprung up in London over the last 12 months have no trouble stocking the best of both worlds.

As with music, I imagine most breweries would shy away from wanting to label themselves into one camp or the other - did any halfway band ever actually ask to be 'indie'?

There are two main delineations as far as I see it. Firstly, craft beer is very much real ale's younger sibling - it comes with none of the stigma that's often attached to it's boozy brother.

Any given night in any of the pubs mentioned above and you'll see women drinking pints. Young people, old people...anyone. It's not ghettoised into a domain populated by white men of a certain age, an image real ale has tried to shake for many years.

The second - most important thing for me is taste. Take the example of Brewdog's Punk IPA. Brewdog are the afore-referenced tank commanders, rolling up Camden High Street in what many would see as a demented gesture of braggadocio to help garner column inches for a nearby bar launch.

They are the also the people who promoted the strongest beer ever brewed (The End of History, 55% and £500 a bottle) by packaging it in taxidermied roadkill. It would all be cobblers were it not for the fact that their signature beer is so very, very good. Sure, it comes packaged in a bottle that on close inspection could be a promo item for a Linkin Park tour. But one deep hit of the taste and the aroma - bold, incredibly hoppy, floral, no nonsense; it's is one of those alco-revelations you very occasionally get - like the first time you discover you actually like whiskey or that wine doesn't infact all taste like pissy vinegar.

Where real ales can sometimes come up short dependent on the pub you're in, craft beers served from keg are consistently brilliant.

There are brews from the South London based Kernel, the Camden Brewery, Sheffield's Magic Rock and Thornbridge from Bakewell that show off that same stop-you-in-your-tracks wow factor. Personally, I think they bring a bit of excitement back to drinking; imbibing can make it feel like you're taking part in beer's next evolutionary steps.

And, best of all, no beard required to enjoy.

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