CAMRA's Key Campaigns

1

Stop tax killing beer and pubs

2

Secure an effective government support package for pubs

3

Encourage more people to try a range of real ales, ciders and perries

4

To raise the profile of pub-going and increase the number of people using pubs regularly

Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is Real Ale?

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.

Real ale is also known as ‘cask-conditioned beer', ‘real cask ale', real beer' and ‘naturally conditioned beer.'

The term ‘real ale' and the above definition were coined by CAMRA in the early 1970s.

 

How can I tell if I am drinking real ale?

Real ale has a natural taste full of flavour with a light natural carbonation (i.e. fizziness) produced by the secondary fermentation that has occurred in the cask. A real ale should be served at 10 – 14°C so that the flavour of the beer can be best appreciated. You can recognise real ale in a pub as it is usually served using a handpump.

 

What is the difference between real ale and lager?

Real ale is produced by ‘top fermentation' at  temperatures up to 22°C which enables the rich variety of flavours which many of these beers possess  to develop. After primary fermentation the ale is allowed to mature at 10-14°C in a cask where a slow secondary fermentation occurs.

Lager is produced by bottom fermentation at temperatures of 6-14°C and then it should be conditioned for several weeks at about 0 – 1°C during which time the lager matures. Traditionally lager style beers were brewed during the cooler winter months and then stored in cool cellars through the summer months. The German for store is lager – hence the name.   However some UK lagers are matured for less than a week.

 

What is the difference between real ale and brewery-conditioned beer?

Real ale is a living product. It has not been pasteurised or filtered and has undergone a slow secondary fermentation in the vessel (i.e. cask) from which it is served. It is known in the brewing trade as cask conditioned.

Brewery-conditioned beer undergoes the same primary fermentation as real ale but after that stage it can be filtered and/or pasteurised. If the beer is filtered and/or pasteurised then no further conditioning can therefore take place, and will lack any natural carbonation which would have been produced by the secondary fermentation and so carbon dioxide has to be added artificially. This sometimes leads to an over-gassy product. Today some of these beers have a mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide added; these are known as nitro-keg or smoothflow beers. 

Other beers are neither filtered nor pasteurised, or may be "rough filtered", where only the bigger yeast particles are removed. These beers can continue to undergo secondary fermentation, either in conditioning tanks in the brewery, or in the container (often a keg), and can be classified as real ale if they are not served using extraneous carbon dioxide.

 

What are the different styles of real ale?

Beer can be produced by either ale or lager style fermentation. Ale style beers can be broken down further into various styles.

Mild - low in hop character these beers may be dark or light. Generally of a lower strength than (less than 4% abv) but may be strong (e.g. Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild at 6% abv).

Bitter - the most common beer style. Usually brown, tawny, copper or amber coloured with medium to strong bitterness, light to medium malt character may be present. Less than 4% abv in strength.

Best Bitter - more robust than ordinary bitters. Brown, tawny, copper or amber coloured with medium to strong bitterness and a more evident maltiness.  4% - 4.6% abv in strength.

Strong Bitter – stronger than best bitters as the name implies and often with a pronounced residual maltiness and a strong hop aroma. This style encompasses IPAs and Black IPAs, which would have a significantly higher hop bitterness.

Porter - complex in flavour and typically black or dark brown. The darkness comes from the use of dark malts. Full mouthfeel and a pronounced finish through bitter hopping. 4 – 6.5% abv in strength.

Stout - typically black in colour. Initial malt and caramel flavour with a distinctive dry roast bitterness in the finish. The dry roast character is achieved by the use of roasted barley. 4- 8 % abv in strength.

Barley Wines - range in colour from copper to tawny and dark brown. They may have a high sweetness due to residual sugars although some barley wines are fermented right out to give a dry finish. They have an almost vinous appearance in the glass and may have a strength of between 6.5 – 12% abv. The estery and fruity characteristics are counter balanced by medium to assertive bitterness.

Golden Ales - pale amber, gold, yellow or straw coloured beers with light to strong bitterness and a strong hop character which create a refreshing taste. Strength less than 5.3% abv.

It should be noted that a fundamental review of CAMRA's beer styles is underway and will be complete by early 2010.

 

What is real ale in a bottle?

Real ale comes in bottles too! It is a beer that continues to ferment, mature and condition within the bottle. It contains a visible amount of viable yeast cells together with sufficient sugars for fermentation to take place. Bottle conditioned beers will continue to improve and mature in the bottle but they should be kept in the cool and the dark.

 

How many breweries are there in the UK?

These figures are taken from the Good Beer Guide.

Year

No. of breweries

2008

668

2009

711

2010

767

2011

840

2012

1007

2013

1147

2014

1285

2015

1424

2016

1640

2017

1579

2018

1756

 

If you have a query that we haven't answered here, please contact campaigns@camra.org.uk.