What is Real Ale?

If you live in Texas, you’ve probably heard of Real Ale, a brewery out of Blanco. But, do you understand what actual Real Ale is?

Real Ale has several names: real beer, cask conditioned ales or cask beers. The term “real ale” came about in 1970s England when macrobrews started taking off and threatening traditionally brewed beers. This sparked the campaign called Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA for short, with an aim of helping out and promoting traditional brewers.

Though there are exceptions, traditional real ales are unfiltered and unpasteurized and they’re served from wooden casks or glass botttles, which act as a secondary fermenter for the beer, where live yeast produces natural carbonation and provides additional flavors, unlike metal kegs where the yeast is filtered out.

Casks are delivered by the brewery to pub owners and it’s up to the pub owner or cellarman to monitor the beer and determine when it’s ready to serve.

When the beer is ready, the beer will be pulled from the tap either using gravity, a hand pump or an electric pump, rather than the forced pressure of a kegged beer..

The product in the glass is also different than what you expect out of a kegged beer: there is a wild variety of styles, but in general expect to see less head, less carbonation, and it should be served at room or cellar temperature.

However, be warned: once tapped, casked beer has an extremely short shelf life. A general rule of thumb is 48 hours in the summer and 72 hours in the winter. Over that time you will see the flavors change in the beer, but after that oxidation will start spoiling beer.

Some brewers like BrewDog contend that Real Ale no longer has any real meaning in the industry and that CAMRA are out of touch. It’s up to you to decide if real ale is pretentious or important, but when someone tells you they have a real ale and they serve it or store it incorrectly, you can now point and laugh at them and make jokes about their mothers.