Author Topic: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?  (Read 1211 times)

Offline stpug

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What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« on: August 29, 2015, 03:20:29 PM »
Real Ale, as in CAMRA.

As I understand it, real ale:
-Contains traditional ingredients (i.e. "British" traditional ingredients?)
-Is matured and naturally carbonated in a secondary vessel from which it's dispensed
-Contains living yeast (i.e. not filtered or pasteurized)
-Is at a temperature where the yeast are still "maturing" the beer
-Is a traditional British ale style (thanks reverseapachemaster)

My questions relate to what we (as homebrewers) could brew and have fall into the CAMRA definition of "real ale". It's probably easiest to make statements that preclude us from making "real ale". For example, if I force carbonate with a co2 tank then it is not real ale.

-Do I have to be brewing in Britain someplace?
-Would it be faux pas to call a beer we make, Real Ale?
-Do the ingredients have to British-made or would something like Gambrinus ESB malt fit the requirement?
-A cornie keg doesn't disqualify the beer as "real ale" unless it is force carbed, right?
-We can keg condition with priming sugar and push with small amounts of co2, or would it need to be pumped or gravity served?
-Almost none of us pasteurize so we're not "breaking" that rule in any way by fining or cold crashing, are we?

I know the questions are a bit silly but I'm looking for what processes or ingredients we use that might disqualify a beer we make as "real ale".
« Last Edit: August 29, 2015, 04:15:26 PM by stpug »

Offline erockrph

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2015, 03:43:25 PM »
It doesn't have to be British, made in Britain, or made with British ingredients. I think the biggest thing is that it has to be naturally carbonated and dispensed (i.e., kegs can't be pushed with external CO2). I'm still a little fuzzy on "traditional ingredients" myself. In British ales, sugar and brewers caramel are commonly used. Those wouldn't be Reinheitsgebot-approved, but do they fall under the umbrella of "traditional ingredients" under CAMRA?
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Offline reverseapachemaster

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2015, 03:51:49 PM »
I think you have a good handle on CAMRA's definition of real ale. I would add that CAMRA limits its definition of real ales to UK ale styles. I do not believe real ale requires use of ingredients from England or any other part of the British Isles or to be brewed there but I do think they would not consider similar practices, e.g. German kellerbier, to qualify as real ale.

Your checklist is a pretty good test for real ale if you add a line to check the beer style. The big issue for homebrewers is usually whether CO2 is artificially introduced to carbonate or serve the beer. CAMRA opposes even the CO2 breathers on casks because it interferes with the natural oxidation that otherwise occurs in a cask. If you bottle your beer using the standard bottling bucket and priming sugar process then undoubtedly your beer is real ale.
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Offline stpug

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2015, 04:21:38 PM »
It seems like kegging is a sticking point for those of us that have given up bottling. Assuming a primed cornie keg, and wanting to "stick to the rules", what are our options? When the tap stops flowing then use some air to push? What about using argon?

Offline denny

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2015, 04:25:29 PM »
It seems like kegging is a sticking point for those of us that have given up bottling. Assuming a primed cornie keg, and wanting to "stick to the rules", what are our options? When the tap stops flowing then use some air to push? What about using argon?

Lay the keg on its side, with the bottom slightly higher than the top.  Serve from what would normally be the gas in post.  Add a vent fitting to the out post.
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Offline The Professor

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2015, 04:52:05 PM »
....I do not believe real ale requires use of ingredients from England or any other part of the British Isles or to be brewed there
... The big issue for homebrewers is usually whether CO2 is artificially introduced to carbonate or serve the beer. CAMRA opposes even the CO2 breathers on casks because it interferes with the natural oxidation that otherwise occurs in a cask...
Absolutely orrect with regard to the ingredients.  British brewers have been using American hops (and even American malts)  since the 19th century.  Also, sugars of various types are definitely not a taboo (it can be argued that some truly authentic Brit style ales actually require them)

The co2 issue is a tricky one.  Real Ale should certainly not be overcarbonated (like most American beer and ale is) but where CAMRA's definition loses me is the requirement of allowing air into the cask as opposed to a protective blanket of inert gas, and if you've ever been to England and experienced the difference in quality of Real Ale at various pubs, it becomes obvious that the disallowance of a blanket of co2 or nitrogen is a big mistake.   Allowing air to displace the liquid in the cask as it empties is fine, just so  long as the the turnover in a busy pub  allows a cask to be emptied within a day or two.  Beyond that, exposure to air is definitely detrimental to the beer.  When I was in the UK, I had some really incredibly fine Real Ale...and on the other side of the coin just as much that ranged from "tasting a bit off" to being virtually unpalatable (kind of like the state of "craft" beer in the USA, which is also becoming a bit of a crap shoot nowadays.  LOL)
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Offline stpug

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2015, 04:58:58 PM »
Very good info. It sounds like a plausible solution would be to serve the first ~1/3 of a keg as "real ale" and the rest as nearly real ale :D. I'd probably prefer that to oxidized beer since I won't be killing a keg in 1-2 days.

Online hopfenundmalz

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2015, 05:48:01 PM »
If one goes to Britain today, you will find many of the new fruity hops from the US used in their beers, and they use German hops too.

This one was very nice using Citra.
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Offline dmtaylor

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2015, 12:24:59 PM »
To the OP's question:  Ask CAMRA.  Most of the rest of us honestly couldn't care less.    :o  ;D
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Offline stpug

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #9 on: September 01, 2015, 01:48:44 PM »
To the OP's question:  Ask CAMRA.  Most of the rest of us honestly couldn't care less.    :o  ;D
It took 8 replies, but I knew it was coming. Honestly, I was surprised when this didn't come from Denny ;D

TBT, it's not an overly important set of "rules" to me, but I wanted to have a decent understanding - particularly when it comes to not "violating" a regionally produced product (like lambic, or champagne). Fortunately though, "Ask CAMRA" is not a requirement of "Real Ale" :P

Offline jeffy

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2015, 02:24:24 PM »
To the OP's question:  Ask CAMRA.  Most of the rest of us honestly couldn't care less.    :o  ;D
It took 8 replies, but I knew it was coming. Honestly, I was surprised when this didn't come from Denny ;D

TBT, it's not an overly important set of "rules" to me, but I wanted to have a decent understanding - particularly when it comes to not "violating" a regionally produced product (like lambic, or champagne). Fortunately though, "Ask CAMRA" is not a requirement of "Real Ale" :P

It is if you want to be in The Good Beer Guide.  CAMRA sets up rules that their pubs must follow.  We, on the other hand, can use common sense.  Letting a keg breath with air is not a good idea unless it's consumed in a couple days.
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Offline ynotbrusum

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #11 on: September 01, 2015, 06:13:20 PM »
Due to storage limitations, I have been naturally carbing in the keg lately and last month for a Hefeweizen, I am convinced that it made a favorable difference in perception by those who judged it.  So, I am doing the same with a Bitter and a cream ale I recently kegged.  I may try it with a lager coming up.

It may not be CAMRA approved if dispensed from CO2 after keg conditioning, but I am not going to breathe a keg unless I know it will be gone in one day for certain. 
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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #12 on: September 02, 2015, 12:57:46 AM »
From what I understand, there is no rule against filling the void with CO2.  The CO2 restriction has to do with carbonation level and not using CO2 pressure to push the beer out of the cask.  CO2 cask aspirators that maintain 1 bar of pressure are available for cask served beer (http://www.ukbrewing.com/Cask_Breather_p/40030.htm).  Real Ale is pumped, not pushed out the cask.   A critical "piece of kit" when serving Real Ale is a beer engine (a real beer engine is strong enough to pull beer out of vertical soda keg).  Acquiring a working used beer engine on the cheap is fairly easy to do in the UK, but they are stupid expensive in the U.S.  Even if one manages to snag a working used beer engine from the UK, the cost of shipping it to the U.S. is approximately $100.00.   I am currently debating importing a used beer engine or paying UK Brewing's highway robbery price for a rebuilt Angram beer engine.

Online hopfenundmalz

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #13 on: September 02, 2015, 04:33:47 AM »
I have had a few pints dispensed via gravity, no beer engine required.

The wife did get me a beer engine for my birthday years back. You can make a fugal cast breather with a low pressure propane regulator and a couple of hose barbs.
« Last Edit: September 02, 2015, 04:36:40 AM by hopfenundmalz »
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Offline trefoyl

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Re: What qualifies as "Real Ale"?
« Reply #14 on: December 13, 2015, 09:46:27 PM »
the cost of shipping it to the U.S. is approximately $100.00.   I am currently debating importing a used beer engine or paying UK Brewing's highway robbery price for a rebuilt Angram beer engine.
I would also consider a new beer engine direct from the UK but currently a CO model rebuilt by Angram is £110 or about $170, I do not know if they will ship to the US or redirect you to UK Brewing as their "authorized" robber / dealer.  So plus $100 shipping is still Less than $300 and well worth it for a beer engine in my opinion.  I am only willing to use UK Brewing for small items, so I would stick with Angram for that reason.

I use a low pressure propane reg as a breather because it was only $10.  I think it works perfectly.

I use a corny vertically, just like I would normally tap it except the beer out goes to my beer engine;  no reason to lay it on its side.  I either attach a sanitary filter on the in side open to the air, or I attach the breather, depending on how fast the beer will be drunk.   
« Last Edit: December 13, 2015, 09:53:05 PM by trefoyl »