What is real ale?

The term ‘real ale’ was coined by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in the 1970s in response to the threat to traditionally brewed local beers from mass-produced beers from the big brewing companies.  Beers vary widely but can be generally described as either ‘real ales’ or lagers, with the main difference the method of fermentation.

Fermentation is the process that turns the fermentable sugars in the malt into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  Lagers are produced using bottom-fermentating yeast that sinks to the bottom of the fermenting vessel and fermentation occurs at a relatively low temperature.  Authentic lagers then undergo a long period of cooled conditioning in special tanks.

In contrast, ales which includes bitters, stouts, barley wines, golden ales and old ales use a top-fermenting yeast.  The yeast forms a thick head on the top of the fermenting vessel and the process is shorter, more vigorous and occurs at higher temperatures than lager.  The method used to brew ‘real ales’ is the traditional British method of beer brewing and most are served using traditional hand pumps.  To increase their shelf life lagers undergo pasteurisation that kills off the yeast.   While this gives lagers a longer shelf life than ales it also leads to the beer loosing some of its taste and aroma.

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