Craft Beer v Real Ale




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. According to this part on their website 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.

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