Interesting article I found on the real ale movement in Britain. Traditional British cask-ales are becoming more popular even while overall beer sales are falling. This matches the trend in this country for increasing interest in craft beers and microbrews while sales of the major brands fall.
What this means, I think, is that more and more people are realizing that beer (and wine) is about the taste, it is not merely an alcohol delivery medium. This is also part of a broader trend of the improvement in the American (and British) palate. You can see it everywhere. Coffee, for example, is generally better than it was 15 years ago. Wines from smaller wineries have cracked the market where before the mass-producers were dominant. Cooking shows on television are more popular than ever and people are beginning to discover it's worth it to spend a little bit more on better ingredients.
Anecdotal evidence also shows that the movement to drink better beer could have a beneficial side effect - less drunkenness. Better ale is more expensive so it discourages buying and consuming in large amounts and encourages people to buy based on flavor rather than "value" (which is really code for saying you get more alcohol for your money). As the guy quoted in the article put it, "Nobody likes a lager lout, but have you ever heard of a real-ale lout?"