Technically, the word “ale” refers to any top-fermented
beer, in that the yeast used to ferment the wort (the boiled
mix of water, malted cereal and hops) rises to the top of the fermenting
vessel and gets to work converting the malt sugars into alcohol.
This is distinct from bottom-fermented beers such as lager, which
are typically fermented at lower temperatures and the yeast sinks
to the bottom of the fermenter. The distinction is not always obvious:
some German beers, such as Cologne’s Kölsch
and Düsseldorf’s Altbier are both ales. The
third type of fermentation, spontaneous or “wild” fermentation”,
is very rare and mostly confined to the lambic wheat beers of the
Senne Valley near Brussels (if you’re very lucky, the Bottle
Stall may have some of these at Hove!).
Whilst ale is a broad term, CAMRA focuses on “real ale”,
sometimes also referred to as ‘cask-conditioned beer’,
‘real cask ale’, real beer’ and ‘naturally
conditioned beer.’ CAMRA defines this as;
Real ale is a beer brewed from
traditional ingredients (malted barley, hops water and yeast),
matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which
it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon
Brewers use ingredients which are fresh
and natural, resulting in a drink which tastes natural and full
of flavour. It is literally living as it continues to ferment
in the cask in your local pub, developing its flavour as it matures
ready to be poured into your glass.
In other words, unlike other beer (including top-fermented German
beers), real ale is still “alive” when it leaves the
There are a wide variety of styles of ale, and these are still
developing – golden ales, one of the most popular styles,
only rose to prominence a few years ago – so who can guess
what direction the experimental brewers of tomorrow (and even those
hard at work today) will take us in?