Exactly what is real ale? It’s a tough question but one that has raged in the world of beer for 50 odd years!
Real ale was a term coined by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in the early 70s in response to a sweeping movement toward mass market beer production. The founders of CAMRA detested this industrialization and in an attempt to fight back needed to define the beer they loved so they could castigate the rest. They settled on the definition “beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide".
Whether you like the definition or not Real Ale soon came to stand as the benchmark for great beer and CAMRA became a hugely successful campaigning organisation. This strict definition has come under pressure recently as newer brewing methods have developed that fall foul of the definition but the brewers claim are still really good beers. Whether it is right or wrong, “Real Ale” still stands as the most common definition of great beer used in everyday discussion.
In bottles, Real Ale is synonymous with the term “bottle-conditioned” where a small amount of sediment is left in the beer to allow the taste to continue to develop over time. Most breweries produce bottles that fall on both sides of the definition, although some breweries do specialise, with the likes of Marble and Conwy producing 100% bottle-conditioned beers and rebels like Brewdog and Thornbridge producing none at all.
If you buy bottle conditioned beer from Beer Hawk, we recommend leaving them to stand for at least 24 hours so the sediment can settle and then pouring in a swift single motion (so as not to stir it up) and leaving a small amount of liquid in the bottom of the bottle.