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A chance meeting with a beer drinking friend and his partner threw up an interesting question,'Why do we drink real ale ?' and as an aside why do we travel miles looking for it?

A pretty fair question for a middle aged female who had travelled around 50 miles to drink cider that she could have found within 10 minutes from home. It started me thinking. Personally, my beer drinking started at 'The Barge & Barrel' in Elland around 1990. I found that it sold beer different to the usual stuff that I could find in Huddersfield and it frankly tasted better. That was the most obvious reason. I have always been a collector as piles of bus photos, and football programmes will testify, but I had never considered beer as worthy of collecting. But the more I went to the Barge the more beers I found and someone then pointed out the 'Good Beer Guide'.

Not only did this essential publication give me a list of beers that I had never heard of, it also gave me a list of pubs in which to drink it. I have never been afraid to sample new places so, armed with my guide I began to set off for pastures new. Soon my underlinings in the guide were getting more and more, and the natural progression was to start making lists. Anyone who knows me will know that I have to make a list. In those days it seemed I was a 'loner', never encountering fellow enthusiasts, even though because of the guide I assumed I was not alone in my quest.

Somewhere along the way I encountered a beer festival, I cannot exactly recall when or where, but I do remember that there were about 25 beers available. Many of them were new to me, and in addition I came across people who were like minded in their search of ale. By this time I had eschewed the fizzy products so loved by my collegues and spent my time in pubs that they would rarely, if ever visit. It was like drinking in the underworld.

I had developed a taste for 'proper beer', and 'proper pubs' and would never return to the plastic world promoted by advertisers. It was a little difficult to persuade the opposite sex that this was the way forward so my search for pubs and beer was a solitary hobby, except on holiday where my enthusiasm became more tolerated.

Gradually however, more real ale pubs appeared locally. And with it, fellow beer geeks seemed to come out of the woodwork. I still drink in many of the pubs I did then, in fact, in some, I am part of the fixtures and fittings. I still drink with the friends I made back then, not just beer friends but proper friends. Through them, I have travelled countrywide in search of the 'holy grail'. I have been miles to get one new beer, or sample a new brewery. Lets face it, can you think of any logical reason a right minded person would visit Salford, or Cropton, or even Middleborough ! I have had plenty of trips to meet fellow enthusiasts and swap notes. My lists have become excessive, and are now computerised, a far easier way to 'tick'.

And now, there are new beers every day, new tastes to explore, new hops to sample, and new breweries and new pubs to find. It is no longer the hobby of the few, it seems to have reached the mainstream, as the plethora of real ale pubs that have appeared seem to testify.

So, does this answer the original question? I think so. Real ale and real pubs bring me a reason for travelling about, finding new beers, finding new pubs, meeting friends old and new. And for making lists. Just a few reasons to be thankful for that chance visit to the 'Barge' all those years ago.