THE Campaign for Real Ale, much more widely known as CAMRA, came up with the term 'real ale' in the 1970s to make it easy for people to tell the difference between what they describe as “the bland processed beers” being pushed by the big brewers and the traditional beers whose very existence being under threat.
Many pubs and brewers use the term to describe their beers but they are also called cask beers, cask-conditioned ales or even real beer! In the pub the huge majority of real ales are served using traditional hand-pulls, rather than through modern fonts, but there are some exceptions to this. Real ales may also be served direct from the cask, often called gravity dispense.
CAMRA describe real ale as “a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask from which it is served in the pub through a process called secondary fermentation. It is this process which makes real ale unique amongst beers and develops the wonderful tastes and aromas which processed beers can never provide.
“There are a huge range of different beer styles, each with different qualities, tastes and strengths, but each falls into one of two main categories; ale or lager. The key difference between ales and lagers is the type of fermentation.
Fermentation is the process which turns the fermentable sugars in the malt into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Lagers are made using bottom-fermenting yeast which sinks to the bottom of the fermenting vessel and fermentation takes place at a relatively low temperature. Authentic lagers then undergo a long period of cooled conditioning in special tanks.”
Ales, which includes bitters, milds, stouts, porters, barley wines, golden ales and old ales, use top-fermenting yeast.
The yeast forms a thick head on the top of the fermenting vessel and the process is shorter, more vigorous and carried out at higher temperatures than lager. This is the traditional method of brewing British beer.
Real ale is a natural, living product. By its nature this means it has a limited shelf life and needs to be looked after with care in the pub cellar and kept at a certain temperature to enable it to mature and bring out its full flavours for the drinker to enjoy.
Brewery-conditioned, or keg, beer has a longer shelf life as it is not a living product. Basically, after the beer has finished fermentation in the brewery and has been conditioned, it is chilled and filtered to remove all the yeast and then it is pasteurised to make it sterile.
This is then put in a sealed container, called a keg, ready to be sent to the pub.
For all the information you need about real ale go to www.camra.org.uk/aboutale