Last week saw the 2016 Great British Beer Festival hosted by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in London. Celebrating the best of British, this weekend event was an opportunity for visitors to explore over 900 real ales, ciders, perries and international beers along with food. They also showcased traditional pub game, a must with any real British ale experience.

But what is it about the British real ale that makes it so great, let alone so important as to have its own festival? After all, a beer is a beer, right?

Not so! ‘Real ale’ is a term used to describe those British beers that are distinctive, full of flavour and are usually independently produced. The term real ale has been in use since the 70’s, when the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) group needed a way to protect and differentiate local products from the big, multinational beer group’s brands.

Real ales are also commonly referred to as cask beers, cask-conditioned ales or even real beer!

Yes, but what’s the difference?

Real ale is naturally brewed, using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask. It’s then served in the pub direct from cask to glass via secondary fermentation. This unique fermentation process is how real ales develop their aromatic qualities and flavours, distinctive from an ordinary lager. Like a whisky, the ale can take on the characteristics of the cask in which is matures, leaving tantalising notes within the beer flavour.

Ales, such as mild, stout, porters, golden ales, bitters or brown, use top-fermenting yeast. The yeast gathers at the top of the fermentation container, developing in a faster way than lager, due to the higher temperatures. This is the traditional way to brew British beer: it’s all natural.

Because of the natural fermentation process, real ale is a naturally organic product. The real yeast process means no horrible tasting preservatives but it has a limited shelf life, compared to a keg beer which has had the yeast removed. The real ale keeps its yeast and as a result, retains all its natural flavour and organically produced fizz. No added gases here!

Real ale needs love and care, with the best living conditions and temperature to ensure it remains in top quality condition for your customers. By doing so, you’ll ensure drinkers can experience its special flavours and appreciate the traditional brewing methods that make it truly great.