Visitors at Great British Beer Festival in London. Independent brewing is booming as drinkers, often in their 20s and increasingly female, opt for more characterful beers. Photograph: Graham Turner for the GuardianMade from Empetrum rubrum berries of south Atlantic island, ale among those to be quaffed at Great British Beer Festival as microbrewery revolution takes root.A beer made from one of the world's rarest ingredients, and picked on one its most remote corners, is to make its debut at the Great British Beer Festival this week " with ambassadors from the island on hand to pull the first pint.
Island Brew, which is brewed from redcurrant-like Empetrumrubrum berries, is one of hundreds of beers jostling to challenge the taste buds of thousands of aficionados attending the festival in London, now in its 38th year. The varied offerings this year reflect the scale of the craft beer revolution sweeping the UK.
Independent brewing has boomed as drinkers, often in their 20s and including more and more women, have rejected gassy, bland lagers in favour of characterful beers made with a widening array of ingredients. Brews from almost 1,500 UK breweries " a number not seen since the end of the second world war " are being enthusiastically shared by a burgeoning online community of beer bloggers.
Among the many beers being showcased at the event organised by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) will be those perked up with herbs, spices, chocolate, coffee, chillies and even oysters.
Island Brew uses rubrum berries from the tiny south Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, and is part of a linkup with Bushy's brewery on the Isle of Man. The brewery has tweaked its existing Bramble beer to suit the fruit of the Empetrumrubrum, which have a tart yet sweet flavour.
Among the other 900-plus different real ales, ciders, perries and international beers from 350 different UK breweries is another first " Britain's first bright green beer. With warnings that is "not for the faint-hearted", Venom from the Potbelly brewery will, unusually, be served without programme tasting notes as its brewer wants people to be surprised by the flavour after being intrigued by the colour.
"It is double-hopped to give two lots of flavour and with a dramatic lime green colour. It has an abv of 5.5% but tastes less strong. We called it venom because of its hidden bite," said Greg Johnson, director of the microbrewery set up in Kettering 10 years ago.
The enthusiasm for craft beers has taken off to the extent that in March the Office for National Statistics announced it had added them to the basket of goods it uses to calculate inflation.
Beer sommelier Sophie Atherton is helping to judge the annual awards at the four-day event, when more than 200,000 pints will be knocked back by visitors. "The upsurge in craft beer has a lot to do with the huge increase in the numbers of brewers," she said. "There is simply much more beer around for people to try. To understand why you have to look back to the late 1990s when a lot of brewers started making golden ale, in addition to tawny coloured bitter. Ale started to look a lot like lager and perhaps new drinkers were tempted across."
The internet and social media had been key to creating a large online community of beer lovers. "They are like an unofficial army of beer ambassadors " and they love to share information about the beers they love because they want others to enjoy them too," said Atherton. "Information about which beer to drink and where is now in everyone's grasp 24/7 " so it's much easier to find out about a beer you might enjoy and then go and drink it."
Roger Protz, beer writer and editor of Camra's annual Good Beer Guide, said: "It is an exciting and dramatic time for the real ale sector " the only real growth in an overall declining beer market."
He added that real ale was firmly part of the craft beer sector, which had "long thrown off the image of flat caps and whippets. The drinkers switching to real ale are in the 20s and 30s age range and brewers are responding with challenging new flavours to meet the demands of these drinkers. On view at the festival will be beers brewed with the addition of herbs, spices, chocolate, coffee and even Earl Grey tea."