Craft Beer v Real Ale

Craft Beer v Real Ale

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Just a little prefix, we are over our expulsion from the GBBF, this blog is not about our dispute with CAMRA over our attendance which has been debated to death. This is our take on real ale, craft keg, craft beers and the future of the UK beer industry.

According to Camra  ‘In the early 1970s we coined the term ‘real ale' to make it easy for people to differentiate between the bland processed beers being pushed by the big brewers and the traditional beers whose very existence was under threat.’ Furthermore that Real Ale must contain at least 1 million yeast cells per millilitre.’

According to the US Brewer’s Association: ‘A Craft brewer is small, independent and traditional’. Somewhat untraditionally, they define the word traditional as ‘brewing all malt beers’ rather than using adjuncts.

For us the distinction should be as simple as beer brewed for taste versus beer brewed for volume. Regardless of dispense style of production method, craft beer is beer brewed for taste.


Definitions out of the way, here are our thoughts;

1. Real Ale no longer means anything. Craft Beer does.

The term ‘Real Ale’ and its definition no longer mean anything. CAMRA have lost sight of the beer industry and continue to impose 1970’s arbitrary distinctions which no longer apply. Keg beer is

·         Chilled, filtered (to remove all yeast) and pasteurized thus ‘killing off’ the product

·         Has the natural CO2 removed then is force carbonated

·         Served cold to disguise lack of taste

However, with BrewDog, Thornbridge and Lovibonds kegs to name just a few, this simply is not the case. It is also completely untrue for the US craft brewing industry where craft keg is leading the revolution.

Production of craft beer has moved so much since the 1970s. Our beers are fermented under pressure so the CO2 in the final beer occurs naturally from the initial fermentation. The beer is then filtered very lightly (to around 6 Microns which leaves yeast in the beer) and we then package (without any pasteurization) before shipping.

Does this make it real ale? Probably, but who really knows anymore. And who actually cares? The fact is that beer no longer must be either bottle/cask conditioned or filtered & pasteurized. A new way has emerged with the craft brewing wave that transcends these out-dated conventions.

Real Ale is exclusively focussed on beer re-fermented in cask or bottle regardless of quality or flavour. Craft beer focuses on being fucking awesome regardless of arbitrary rules and out-dated distinctions.

2. Stylistic Diversity

There is so much more stylistic diversity in craft beer than in real ale. This is not to say there is not some stylistic diversity in real ale, and I am sure someone will comment about the time they found a cask of a 7.5% ‘imperial’ stout at the Peterborough Beer Festival in 2007, However, compared to craft beer epic spectrum, real ale borders on being a one trick pony.

At the 2011 Scottish Real Ale Festival, over 90% of all beers show were between 3.5-5% abv.  85% of the beers there were bitters, milds or golden ales.  The World Beer Cup (the planet’s most prestigious beer awards) officially recognises almost 100 beer styles. At a typical real ale festival in the UK, you can choose from just 3. Each one likely more dull, fundamentally steady and more boring than the next.

*this photo was posted by a beer drinker on our facebook page.

The diversity is what makes craft beer exciting, engaging and appealing.  Walk into a great craft beer bar and people will be enjoying hopped up IPAs, quenching sour ales, captivating imperial stouts, properly aged lagers, barrel aged monsters, delicate fruit beers, full flavour session beers, Belgian style ales and loads more!  All providing an immense range of flavours and experiences for the drinker.

Craft brewers are not restrained by tradition or held back by overbearing emphasis on a narrow range of styles, but are completely free to follow their muse. Consequently the international craft brewing wave is undoubtedly producing the most exciting beers the world has ever seen.

3. Branding

Most Real Ale branding seems to be done in some ‘twisted vacuum, devoid of taste and logic’ (Tony Naylor, The Guardian).  Cringe-worthy sexual references, out-dated clichés cringe, and grimace inducing design sadly dominate real ale branding.


Contrast this to craft beer’s slick packaging which is both relevant and charismatic with emerging UK craft brewers such as Kernel and Magic Rock sharp, iconic designs likely to so far more to change perceptions of beer in the UK than a Sheepshagger’s Gold or Ginger Tosser.

4. Full Flavour Beer needs carbonation

We really don't care what vessel our beer is transported or stored in as long as it adds to the brew in a positive way. While we're firm believers in the carbonation in beer – taking a puritanical stance that rejects a beer on the basis of carbonation or keg alone only serves to push the industry backwards rather than forwards.  Different beers suit different types of dispense. Beers such as milds of bitters are best showcased in cask where the imparted creaminess compensates somewhat for a lack of real flavour and body whereas we feel full flavour craft beers suit the draft dispense far better than the handpump. However, for us full flavour beers need the carbonation to stop them from becoming sticky or cloying on the pallet and help deliver the flavour to your taste buds in the most satisfying and encapsulating way.

And we really don’t care if that CO2 comes from bottles conditioning (like Sierra Nevada), primary fermentation (like BrewDog) or the beer is carbonated prior to packaging (like Three Floyds or also our barrel aged beers).


We also think beer needs to be cold. Colder than the 13 degree real ale standard. Serve it at 6 degrees and let the drinker open it up and experience the beer as the temperature changes. We are not going to pioneer a beer revolution in the UK with lukewarm beer.

Over to Tony Naylor again to provide the final word;

‘Real ale's biggest enemy? British brewers who flood the market with dull, steady, fundamentally boring brown beers, on a flavour spectrum defined by Greene King IPA and Taylor's Landlord. Contrast this with America where uninhibited, challengingly hoppy craft beers are flourishing.’

The craft beer revolution will not be televised x

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Nate 03.08.2011 @ 5:34am
I'm trying to start a Nano brewery in the US ( and have recently come under fire for straying from "traditional" (a BS term that means nothing in the grand historical context of brewing beer) ales. see the comments on this article beer is real ale, and real ale is craft beer. I don't see why some like to isolate themselves in a fraction of beer history and make it so complicated. Sheesh.BTW...recently had hardcore IPA and found it to be delicious.
Hank 01.08.2011 @ 9:59pm
Interesting - and suspiciously timely - article here in the Graun.
PCP 01.08.2011 @ 9:35pm
Nobody is saying that CAMRA never did nothing good or anything of the like. Quite the opposite, most critiques have a deep respect for what that organization has done, not only in the Uk but elsewhere by inspiring people. People's complaining orbit exactly around that, CAMRA stopped doing their work. They stopped in time and want to drag everybody else with them otherwise they shall be destroyed. People are angry at CAMRA because they are doing exactly the opposite of what they should have done, they have become what they originally fought against.
redheadednomad 01.08.2011 @ 3:48pm
Great post, and some great insightful comments here.I agree that there is separation between "real ale" and "craft beer". Although I respect CAMRA for doggedly pushing an alternative to the mass-marketed pish that's targeted at us by huge corporation who've traded taste for aesthetic - and arguably made a massive contribution to Scotland's binge-drinking problem - but I agree they have become too stuffy and self-important; the enemies of innovation and change. It's also a clubby little outfit apparently designed for middle-aged, middle-class white men.I got into non-mass-marketed beer through a stint as barman at a Wetherspoons: I have mixed feelings about that organisation, but I do feel that they have done much to bring alternative brewing styles to a new audience (especially when it was £1.50 a pint), and in fact probably have done more than CAMRA in this respect.As for Brewdog, I have much respect for the team behind the company and their innovative, intelligent products. I've had the pleasure of spending time in two of the bars now, and I can honestly say they're great at both showcasing excellent beers and welcoming a diverse, intelligent crowd.I have to agree though, that the "punk" ideology is getting a little wearing now - though I do get a kick out of the anti-mainstream marketing - especially since much of the funds raised by the share options appear to be going to a "green" brewery and investment in the community (aren't hippys the enemy of punks? ;). I hope that the pioneer spirit will continue on, and the brand adapt with it.(sorry for going long, here)- rosco
@MB27_ 01.08.2011 @ 3:00pm
I personally prefer the term "craft beer" to "real ale". I feel that the way in which "real ale" has been marketed and promoted has caused it to be perceived as something old-fashioned that is essentially aimed at older men. The beer names themselves often reinforce this perception - e.g. Old Bob, Old Speckled Hen, Old Growler... Old this, Old that… and other names like Spitfire. Of course, there is nothing wrong with older men enjoying good beer – everyone should be enjoying good beer! But, from what I’ve seen, I feel that CAMRA and ‘real ale’ is aiming at a particular demographic just as the peddlers of some mass-produced lagers aim their products at young men. On the other hand, ‘craft beer’, which incorporates a wide variety of styles, seems capable of having a much wider appeal. Take women as an example. They’re highly unlikely to go into a Wetherspoons and order a pint of Fosters or a pint of Freeminer Deep Shaft, but I’ve seen many in the new craft beer houses in London enjoying bottles of Anchor Porter, Brooklyn Chocolate Stout, etc. There is no objective reason for beer being a “man’s drink” and wine being a “women’s drink”. I’m not sure of the origin of this view, but it is certainly reinforced by the way beer (including ‘real ale’) is marketed and promoted.I’m particularly fond of the branding and packaging of some American breweries, particularly Brooklyn. Even if I didn’t know how fantastic the beer was, I’d still want to buy this four pack of their Black Chocolate Stout: like some of the BrewDog branding… but I must admit I’m not overly keen on the whole “Punk” aspect of it. It seems to needlessly introduce something that could be off-putting to many people. Although, I haven’t done market research on that, so I could be wrong! ______________
Hank 01.08.2011 @ 1:59pm
I think BrewDog is just great. The BD beer is fantastic, the imports are great, the bars are wonderful, I'm generally on your side in the Pissiness Wars - in short, I'm about as pro-BD as anyone is likely to be without actually having the logo tattooed on my cock - and as of this afternoon, I haven't actually ruled that out. It's's just..."Punk". Oh dear.I know you've wholeheartedly embraced the word, and it would be difficult to back away from it now, but for every massive advance BrewDog makes, the word "Punk" rears its head and makes one of Scotland's most innovative, exciting companies look like a jumped-up stall run by a couple of sniggering little fannies. And that's not what you are, clearly: one look at your shareholder's prospectus and it's plain to see - two clever guys with a well-defined vision, and the resources and wherewithal to take something they love and influence it for the better, all the while making sure everyone has a good time on the journey. Then you read "Beer for Punks" and it's 'oh, lordy isn't it enough that I love the stuff, but do I have to subscribe to this dismal faux-anti-establishment 'attitude', unhappily forced into an ugly and ultimately meaningless four-letter-word that doesn't even have the balls to be a REAL four-letter word. I mean, I'd respect it all more if it was all about FUCK, and you said your brew was Beer For Fuckers. Everything about punk was ugly. The word, the sound of the word, the way the word looked, the style, the music, the nihilism, the violence, and when it came down to it, the naked greed and emptiness behind it. It's not worth aping, as you're far, far better than all of that. Beer for Lovelies, if you must. Just not Beer for Punks. Because it's so very close to Beer for Know-Nothing Cunts that it makes no odds.
Cranmore E Funknickel 01.08.2011 @ 1:50pm
100% of Brewdog's cask range is 4.1% - 6%It's odd to complain about the lack of exciting beers at SRAF when you renege on orders every year.The figures for the makeup of the beer list at SRAF are also "approximate", being rounded up for emphasis.
charles 01.08.2011 @ 1:29pm
"Cringe-worthy sexual references, out-dated clichés cringe, and grimace inducing design sadly dominate real ale branding."Err..... Trashy Blonde?
HappyMooseDrinker 01.08.2011 @ 10:08am
I like CAMRA and I like Brewdog. I like craft beer and I like Real Ale. I like Punk IPA and I like Ginger Tosser!I don't understand why though some people making or selling craft beer need to keep taking shots at CAMRA or real ale (the title again with a v for versus!). Let CAMRA support and campaign for what it believes in and if you want to support Craft Beer then go ahead and do that...start your own campaign if need be, but stop attacking real ale as part of that. It is not the enemy.
Hugh T. 01.08.2011 @ 9:32am
Don't care - I'm off for a cold pint of Tennents. Nice and refreshing.
Richard 29.07.2011 @ 3:44pm
As an Englishman who now lives in the States, I do have to agree that great beer can definitely be served cold, from a keg. The craft beer scene here is exploding, and it's a great time to be a beer drinker!That said, craft does not automatically mean good or tasty. I have had some awful craft beers! And many brewers' biggest outputs are their blandest offerings, like not-very-hoppy pale ales, golden ales and kolsches. Some of these are barely distinguishable from the macro-swill they are seeking to replace. And while I agree that CAMRA do seem to have out-lived their usefulness, cask beer can be awesome - if it is done with love and care and "craft". But I serve my homemade bitters from a force carbonated keg, and they taste great too. In the end, it's all about the beer. And, as you say, great beer is great beer however it is packaged.
David T 29.07.2011 @ 3:43pm
Totally agree - and just bought 8 shares as a result! Having my leaving do at Brewdog Glasgow 2 weeks on Friday before heading off to be marketing manager at Whole Foods Giffnock - I hope you guys have registered and will be selling there?
Nick 29.07.2011 @ 3:41pm
Excellent article that explains difference between craft beer and real ale. Much better than the debates about brewdog vs camra and all the bullshit that entails. Stuff like this is much more likely to get people into craftbeer than point scoring and attacks
Lloyd 29.07.2011 @ 3:41pm
I shall be wearing my Punk IPA t-shirt to the GBBF this year. Viva la Revolution!
Michael 29.07.2011 @ 3:40pm
I'm not averse to drinnking real ales with daft names (although I cringe any time I ask for a beer with a pun-based title); however, if I had the choice, I'd take craft beer all day every day.
ErlangerNick 29.07.2011 @ 3:16pm
Your Punk IPA was indeed "fucking awesome"...when I found it on cask in a countryside pub in Wales last summer. The bottled version's pretty boring though. Ain't tried your über-the-top extreme stuff as it just ain't my cuppa."Craft" is only useful as a marketing term in the US FWIW, as lots of the brewers ain't small, nor do some do anything in a substantially more "craft"ish way than megabreweries do.Whatever.
OllyC 29.07.2011 @ 3:04pm
Great article, but can't we all just get along? I'd love to see both cask and keg ale continue to grow in popularity.Keg ale has the potential to grow into untapped markets such as hotels and bars which wouldn't suit the shorter shelf life of cask, and cask ale is something that we should treasure and continue to love. A pint of cask ale at its peak is still a wonderful thing. Hopefully, any publicity BrewDog generates will spell good things for the ale market - the more people encouraged to try something different, the better.I'm not a CAMRA member and I agree that they need to move with the times, but we shouldn't overlook what they've done for ale in this country. Let's hope they can attract more members who can encourage the organisation embrace different methods of dispense and we'll all be happy :)
Hoppkins 29.07.2011 @ 3:02pm
As a craft brewer myself and a lover of American ales I find Brewdog top notch.I also would count myself in part "A punk" and am in to "Loud music and Tattoos"But guys....guys....stop the cringeworthy branding.It was fun to start with and attention grabbing. But i agree with Pete...pot, kettle and black.In short keep up the good work brewing and ill be buying some shares but please i beg you rethink the brand war direction.It's not as "edgy" and "punk" as it sounds in your head.
Josh 29.07.2011 @ 2:53pm
Nail, head.. fucking smashed it(And kernel is probably the most exciting brewer of beer in this country right now)
Fezzles 29.07.2011 @ 1:48pm
I think this is the post that should have been published yonks ago.
calumrobertson 29.07.2011 @ 1:46pm
One of the most reasoned blog by brewdog i've read and i think you're spot on with most of it. Totally agree re 'bigger' beers are generally better colder and carbonated. The existing image/marketing of a lot of breweries and beers is shocking and not likely to appeal to anyone other than those already drinking real ales...they do nothing at all for attracting a new audience to beers, especially the younger demographic. Im a young professional and find the idea of going for a few beers with mates or colleagues or whoever and asking for a pint of tosser, sheepshagger or something like big titted betty a bit pathetic. Its just lazy and ignorant to think that that gives your product any kudos at all and tells you nothing about the what the beers might be like!I think the thinking towards craft beers is great and i definately support it but think that it was born in the USA so whilst the idea mostly works here i think that slagging off ALL tradional beers etc is doing the cause no favours because i can think of a load of great beers on cask that are better than they would probably be on keg...not all beers in cask are bland and boring and likewise not all beers under 5% are. We have a tradition in Britain that has been built up and whilst there are a LOT of bad 'real ales' we shouldnt knock the whole lot. I am not a member of CAMRA and i'd imagine never will be but brewdog and other forward thinking young breweries wouldnt, i think, be having the success they have now had CAMRA not built the foundations of an interest in beer thats not mass produced. I certainly feel cask and keg are both forms that have their place and both 'side' ulitmately have the same fundamental views on promoting 'good' beer. The craft beer revolution should be able to piggy back onto the interest in cask ale and build upon it to attract existing beer drinkers to try something different and use marketing and the already extensive facilities in pubs, hotels, sports venues etc for keg beer to promote it to a 'different' market.
Jeff Pickthall 29.07.2011 @ 1:36pm
If I didn't agree with you I'd be annoyed you stole images from Pumpclip Parade. But as I agree with you wholeheartedly I'll let you off - this time!
Jeff Pickthall 29.07.2011 @ 1:36pm
If I didn't agree with you I'd be annoyed you stole images from Pumpclip Parade. But as I agree with you wholeheartedly I'll let you off - this time!
Andrew M 29.07.2011 @ 1:18pm
Superb post. Great beer ceratinly doesn't need to be classed as 'Real Ale', it's outdated nonsense. Great beer should be championed fullstop.
Robert P 29.07.2011 @ 1:14pm
Short addition, some said you were harsh to traditional ales.I'd like to cite the post:"Regardless of dispense style of production method, craft beer is beer brewed for taste."That's it, I'm not that familiar with the beer landscape in the UK, but following that definition a Samuel Smith Old Ale can peacefully exist beneath a Hardcore IPA.That's the beer-world I want to live in...
perspicacity corruption 29.07.2011 @ 1:13pm
sometimes the wise do not speak
craig 29.07.2011 @ 1:11pm
The lack of variety has a lot more to do with the Market tan it does to do with Cask brewers. You have really opened up the market and thats a great thing. But the sad fact is that that the bigger market still wants a 4-5% product. there are cask brewers doing bigger products and have for years, but its not as rare as you try to make out. just last week i had a 9% porter from highland, abeer that just misses out to AB:04 for the best beer in scotland in my eyes. But ive spoken to landlords, they struggle to sell beer liek this, but its getting easier. The markets changing, you have speeded that along (and thanks for that) but i really doubt you could have kicked off the way you have if you had opened only 5-6 years earlier. Cask has never or will never be the problem, but neither is Keg the Saviour or beer. There room for BOTH and i wish you would stop trying to demonise Cask beers, and many of your fans who also like Cask beer. (even some of those boring bitters)
Paul Kruzycki 29.07.2011 @ 1:07pm
Couldn't have said it better myself. Beers like ginger tosser and sheepshagger should be taken out and shot!
Robert P 29.07.2011 @ 1:04pm
Nice thoughts, very precisely put.Interesting writing about the serving temperature, never thought about it that way.You would have to be careful though to get to a temperature that embraces all the flavor before all the carbonation left.Anyways this reminds on the Reinheitsgebot here in Germany. There were times where it had a valid point as instrument of quality assurance and you sure can brew a damn good beer sticking to it.However times changed and so should the standards we use to measure good beer.I'm glad that corn can not easily find a way into German beer, but I would not want to miss all the good (for example but not limited to Belgian) beers just for an old piece of paper banning spices and herbs.Not to mention, that some of those techniques are used successfully since hundreds of years.It's amazing how the people leading yesterdays revolution now stick to their static definitions and fear changes.Looks like people are all the same whether in politics or in breweries...
James, BrewDog 29.07.2011 @ 12:58pm
erm. the hop shortage made everyone change their recipes back in 2009.Our recipes always evolve and change over time. A 2009 chinook hop is not the same as a 2010 chinook hop for instance.We are pretty happy with how our beers currently are :)
Mark 29.07.2011 @ 12:54pm
Imperial Stout is a Classic beer style. 5am Saint is a better beer in cask. The hop shortage has made you change your recipes as you lack Simcoe, but you didn't tell anyone. I struggle to believe you anymore.
Regan 29.07.2011 @ 12:50pm
The direction is of real ale or craft beer will be decided by the consumer not old men with beards.* *I have nothing against beards, I think they are smashing.
Peter O 29.07.2011 @ 12:49pm
I agree. Totally.I also think that for Brewdog to change the beer world, people will need to love the product but also love the image. You are right to laugh at the 6th form double entendre marketing of some of the real ales. But I must say that you're starting to build a big glass house regarding Brewdog's image. The recent cover of Hop Propaganda is horrendously embarrasing. You clearly deliberately sylised the image (you two punks in suits surrounded by punks), but why? Be yourselves or stylise an image that won't make people cringe. The frowning faces with the metal (not punk) index and little fingers prominent make you look like a pair of total knobs. You're not knobs, so don't make out you are. I still want to love you guys, but please don't start believing your own hype. So here's the compliment sandwich - I do agree with what you've said, just don't fall into a similar trap.
Max 29.07.2011 @ 12:41pm
Great post.sums up exactly where the UK beer industry is heading
Colin Hill 29.07.2011 @ 12:41pm
I like the article however I think you're being a bit harsh on classical ale styles in the UK. They do have their place in the beer market just as much as the more revolutionary craft beer products. I also feel the problem with low strength, low taste cask ales is mainly due to the fact most landlords are unwilling to stock products over 5%. I think what needs to be done is a change to the public perception of stronger beers. Only once this change has occurred will the British Brewers really be given licence to make beers of a similar craziness to the US beers.
Neil, 29.07.2011 @ 12:36pm
I like how you've used other breweries as examples in this post. Too often BrewDog are accused for going against other breweries when in fact you are simply against bad beer. This is possibly the clearest argument you guys have put forward and it is in line with the posts myself and people like Mark Dredge have posted regarding the term 'craft beer'. My post about Punk IPA being the first real Craft beer in a can in the UK is the second most read post to ever feature on my blog. Which in itself says a lot about the interest for the term - and the beer within it..
Ed 29.07.2011 @ 12:33pm
Yawn. 29.07.2011 @ 12:32pm
Hilarious montage of 'pump art'. Good article. Point well made. It'd be a shame to see all farty, eggy ales disappear, but it's ridiculous to discount craft beer from the UK as real beer xx
Ukulele Kris 29.07.2011 @ 12:32pm
I like it! Craft beer FTW
Crayola Sarandon 29.07.2011 @ 12:28pm
You might find this interesting:http//
Brewhog 29.07.2011 @ 12:23pm
Valid point.As an active CAMRA member myself you do get the feeling the campaign is run by nostalgic old men who wish everything was a Spitfire (the plane not the ale).
mike 29.07.2011 @ 12:18pm
Good article, hoping that craft beer can really take off here in the UK like it has in the USAreal ale and craft beer can all be enjoyed together, maybe there is a fear of real ale being left behind....
Clutch 29.07.2011 @ 12:06pm
Great rant.It's like World Industries vs Powell Peralta.
James, Brewdog 29.07.2011 @ 12:05pm
We are brewing. Punk IPA today in fact. Our blog is for posting our thoughts and opinions on stuff. Don't like is? Don't read it. Simples.
Anonymous 29.07.2011 @ 12:02pm
Stop whining - start brewing