Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Is It Real Or Not?

So if it's not real ale then is it just a shadow on the pub wall?

Of course not.

Camra define real ale as:
"Real ale is a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask (container) 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."
Taken from here: http://www.camra.org.uk/page.aspx?o=100330

If it doesn't work according to this then it's not real ale/beer, however surely this should be rethought on a regular basis? For me dogma is a useful tool, if everyone agrees to the basic points then everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and can march forward as one. Where dogma goes bad is when it becomes so embeded in stone that it becomes a millstone around the neck of the movement, causing it to fall out of sync with the world which is moving ahead unencumbered.

The first paragraph on the Camra page for me is more important, it was defined as a way of showing the customer the difference between traditional beers/ales and mass produced beer by creating a brand image of their own for the product. And lets be honest they did the industry and the customers a fantastic service by doing this, beer in this country really improved with their work educating the customer on the differences between products.

However the emphasis they place on cask now still has a point but keg and non-bottle conditioned beers have improved by leaps and bounds. There is a big difference in my opinion between good keg beer and mass produced beer such as Guinness, and this should be celebrated as cask beer was back in the first days of Camra.

I don't believe cask will stop being made with good keg beers being recognised, I think it would be another string to the bow of any brewer. Inform the customer on the differences between cask and keg by all means but also inform the customer on the differences between good keg and bad keg.

These are just my first thoughts on this from reading Pete Brown's blog here on the subject:


  1. There have been attempts over the years within CAMRA to change the definition of "real ale". The last time as far as I know was at the Cardiff AGM in 2008 when there was a motion to accept cask breathers, which was defeated.

    The definition of "real ale" is not quite an example of dogma set in stone. It is reviewed periodically and the members have so far voted against changing it. I know some people aren't happy with this, but in the end it's up to CAMRA to decide its own policies.

    If the term "real ale" were expanded to include craft keg beer, how would you stop big brewers bringing out keg versions (as opposed to smooth) of beers like John Smith's or Tetley's bitter and claiming they too are covered by the new definition? The answer is you can't, so we'd end up in a mess, not unlike the one that led to CAMRA being set up in the first place.

    Perhaps instead of trying to change the definition of "real ale", we need another term that can be used alongside it. "Craft keg", perhaps? Although you couldn't stop the big brewers hijacking that term, at least we'd still know what "real ale" is.

    Changing the definition of "real ale" is likely to result in unintended consequences.

  2. Craft keg movement sounds good.

    I agree with your points, much to think about, with a pint in hand of course.