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What is Real Ale?

Traditional pubs across the U.K., serve a variety of beers including bottled, canned, draft and hand-pulled beers. Among these, the one that stands out the most is a hand-pulled beer, which actually requires some muscle from the bartenders. This beer is called Real Ale and it isn’t drawn from a keg but rather a cask. So, what is a Real Ale?

Real Ale, just like any other beer, is brewed from traditional ingredients like malt, hops, water and yeast. It is matured in a cask during the secondary fermentation phase and conditioned post that. Therefore, it is also known as Cask Ale. Post fermentation, casks are shipped to the local pubs and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide. Carbonation in Real Ale is entirely natural, not forced.

What is Real Ale?
A local pub in England. Picture source: Beer Connoisseur

Real Ales are shipped to pubs in firkins, which are metal/wooden casks and hold up to 10.8 gallons. These firkins are sealed and sent across with a hint of fermentable sugar and live yeast. This ensures that over a period of time, yeast metabolises remaining sugars and produces gentle carbonation. The entire process makes Real Ale a living product.

As soon as the Cask Ale arrives at a pub, firkin is placed on a stillage (wooden rack) horizontally in a cool cellar where temperature ranges between 10°C – 13°C. These firkins are stored in pub cellars or basements at all times.

What is Real Ale?
Casks placed on stillage and cellared

Real Ales are served using a beer engine where they are drawn out using a traditional hand pump. These are unfiltered and meant to be served fresh. Whenever a pint is pumped out, an equal amount of oxygen enters through the vent which could be worrisome. As a result, there is a higher chance of oxidation.

What is Real Ale?
Beer engine. Picture source: Black Sheep Brewery

Real Ale is not restrictive to a specific beer style. Any beer is a Real Ale as long as it meets all the requirements stated above. These are coined out by an independent voluntary consumer organisation called CAMRA. CAMRA stands for Campaign for Real Ale. It is an organisation headquartered in England which promotes Real Ale, Real Cider and Real Perry across traditional British pubs and clubs.

Real Ales are common across the U.K., but hard to find anywhere else. They are very gentle on the carbonation and have a subtle flavour profile which makes them one of the most easy drinking ales. If you’re still wondering “What is Real Ale”, make sure you try one out as there’s plenty more history to it.

Click here to read our article on ageing in vessels and containers.

Brewer World Exclusive

Source: Beer Connoisseur

16 April 2021
Abhinav Reddy