Interbrew, the Belgian brewing giant, has received backing from the research company Datamonitor for its influence in boosting the position of speciality ales in Britain.

Datamonitor says speciality beers such as Interbrew's Hoegaarden wheat beer and Leffe Abbey style beer have proved very successful in the UK.

Neil Broome, a Datamonitor analyst, said such an increase in interest could boost

declining sales of ales and stout in the UK: "It is likely that as this market expands there will be an increasing interest in speciality beers and the emergence of a greater level of connoisseurship of consumers.

"If Interbrew supports and develops real ale brands within their portfolio, such as Flowers or Trophy, then they could provide the figurehead brands, which will renew interest in the ale segment."

The latest figures show ales and stouts down 1.1%, cider and perry up 1.5%, lager down 1.1% but speciality beer up 14.9%.

The report, UK and Ireland Beer Markets, says that ales and stouts sales have been lost in the past 10 years, initially to lagers and alco-pops but more recently pre-mixed spirits.