So what is “Real Ale” and what is a Real Ale Festival?
Please Note: I went to the Chesapeake Real Ale Fest 2011 which you can read about below, but I also want to mention that I’m planning a DC Based Real Ale Fest some time in late 2011. My next local Real Ale Festival is in Bel Air, MD, in early September – you can purchase tickets at: Real Ale Festival
My Quest for “Real Ale”?
This was my mission on Saturday, May 14th, 2011 as I visited the Chesapeake Real Ale Fest 2011 at the Pratt Street Ale House in Baltimore, MD. To make things even more interesting, my Verizon DSL, phone and FAX were under repair for the 3rd day – seems that 3 visits from Verizon Repair Techs couldn’t resolve the problem – the concept that the phone line had actually been cut was confirmed by Tech 1, but seemed to baffle Tech 2..until he went up on the Poll and confirmed that..OK, back to Real Ale..
My curiosity with Real Ale has alot to do with my background in wine – in wine, the concept of “terroir” or the “placeness” of wine (some would call it “micro-climate”, but that’s over-simplified..) is an integral factor in the taste and composition of wine. Wine is alive and represents all the factors involved with grapes and wine-making – including yeast. Real Ale is very much about the yeast – keeping them alive and allowing them to flourish and remain alive and change the flavors in the beer. But first, let’s clear up a few terms and concepts..
What Is Real Ale?
From Wikipedia: Real ale is the name coined by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in 1973 for a type of beer defined as “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“.
Real Ale = Cask Ale?
YES -Right from Wikipedia: Cask ale or cask-conditioned beer is the term for unfiltered and unpasteurised beer which is conditioned (including secondary fermentation) and served from a cask without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. Cask ale may also be referred to as real ale, a term coined by the Campaign for Real Ale, often now extended to cover bottle-conditioned beer as well.
Is “Bottled-Conditioned” Beer the Same as Real Ale?
Yes - Bottled conditioned ale has living yeast that will generally consume and alter the aging compounds in a beer, making it evolve instead of degenerate with age. Thus, some bottled conditioned ales could be of over ten years of age, evolving in flavor during that time.
If My Ale Isn’t Real, Is it Fake? This is very similar to the argument about wines that having no terroir or character because they’ve been over-manipulated by man – I don’t believe that’s true, because a good brewer just like a good winemaker can take good ingredients and make them taste excellent. Making wine or beer is a talent that can be learned and is not wholly based on the raw ingredients – then again, if the grapes had a difficult growing season or the Hops are used incorrectly, that will have an outcome on the final product. The good news is that beer producers have choices on how their final product tastes – West Coast brewers LOVE hops, while other brewers ususally use hops more sparingly. And then there are breweries that use local hops, possibly even organic hops. The same goes with grains – brewers can choose many different grains like wheat and barley, and where they are produced. Ultimately, beer is more about the brewer’s style, while wine is a split between the quality of the grape harvest and the winemaker. Ultimately, the consume must decide.
Me? Well, I drink Real Ales when possible because I like the often sour notes or unusual flavor conditions of the beer for a truly unique drinking experience! Do I think Real Ale will someday surpass those of regular beers? No – and why should they – to enjoy something unique, special and unusual is all about the personal experience, and no one wants those to be copied..just like individuality, craft beer should be enjoyed simply for the experience occasionally, but most of the time it really just quenches my thirst – Cheers!
Charlie “I Drink on the Job” Adler