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What is "real ale"?

The 29th Festival will be held on Fri 22nd - Sat 23rd March 2019 once again at Brighton Racecourse.

Editor's Introduction

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 dioxide.

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 brewery gates.

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?

Want to know more?

Have a look at these Tasting Notes on CAMRA's website, an excellent reference for all things real ale related.





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