CAMRA Learning
What is Real Ale?

What is beer?

Beer is produced from malted barley, yeast, water and nearly always with hops, although other ingredients such as wheat, oats, rye, fruit, honey, herbs, spices and flowers are sometimes used. The yeast ferments sugars generated from the malted barley into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. Hops provide bitterness and characteristic aromas and tastes. The flavour of the beer depends on many things, including the types of malt and hops used, other ingredients and the yeast strain.

What is real ale?

In the early 1970s, CAMRA coined the term ‘real ale’ to describe traditional draught cask beers. ‘real ale’ distinguishes itself from the processed and highly carbonated beers that were promoted by big brewers at that time.

Real ale is a ‘living’ product, which is typically produced and stored in a cask container. In comparison to other types of beer that kill off the yeast and artificially inject the beer with CO2 before serving. Real ale contains live yeast which continues to condition and ferments the beer until it is served.

Like any artisan product, real ale requires special handling and storing to ensure the quality of taste. Well-kept real ale served at the right temperature should be lively, naturally carbonated and flavourful – representing the pinnacle of brewing art.

Over the intervening 45 years, the term ‘real ale’ has been extended to encompass live beer in other formats. CAMRA defines real ale as beer that is produced and stored traditionally. Real ales are not filtered or pasteurised. It is fermented in dispense containers to produce a reduction in gravity. It is also dispensed by a system that does not directly apply any gas or gas mixture to the beer other than by the traditional Scottish air pressure system.

What is Cask-Conditioned beer?

Cask conditioned beer is the most common and traditional form of real ale, most commonly served either by gravity (straight from the cask) or by handpump. Metered electric pumps can still be found and a few pubs in Scotland still use the traditional tall fount air pressure system. Pubs are increasingly using systems which pump beer electrically from the cask to taps on the pub wall. Some handpumps may be assisted by an additional pump between the cask and the bar to overcome potential issues with deep cellars or long beer lines. Additional pumps can be electric or gas powered with the most common form being the Flojet brand of gas powered pump. Although flojets require a supply of compressed air or other gas, no gas comes in contact with the beer.

Can you get real ale in other containers?

Yes, real ale in a bottle (RAIB) where beer meeting our definition of real ale is bottled is widely available. Also, real ale in a can (RAIC) has recently made an appearance. CAMRA has an accreditation scheme for these beers available to all brewers producing them which is based upon laboratory testing. Accreditation will enable the “CAMRA Says this is Real Ale” logo to be used. Real ale is now also increasingly to be found in other, non-traditional containers. Real ale can be put into kegs and smaller one-use containers now known generically as keykegs. CAMRA is introducing a labeling scheme to indicate which beers served from keykegs is real ale.

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