Real ale and craft beer ‘more alike than you’d like to think’

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Perfect harmony: 'It's all about making really good beer'
Perfect harmony: 'It's all about making really good beer'

Related tags Craft beer Real ale Beer Brewing

Those who snub craft beer as a low-rent Americanised version of ‘real British ale’ are kidding themselves and should work with the brewers producing the unique liquids, argued beer writer Pete Brown at The Morning Advertiser’s (MA) Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) panel debates.

During an exclusive session of panel debates and presentations arranged by MA ​at this week’s GBBF (9 August), Brown told visitors that craft beer and real ale have more in common with each other than die-hard real ale fans would like think.

For instance, the definitions of the two segments in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) are based on common usage, rather than actual industry meanings.

He explained: “People say craft beer doesn’t have a definition, well as a matter of fact it does.

“In the Oxford English Dictionary, it was first described as a ‘beer with a particular flavour’. It then updated the definition to ‘a beer made in a traditional or non-mechanised way by a small brewery’. This is the definition and it’s evolved over time like craft beer has.”

The OED’s definition for real ale also differed from the one used by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and made no mention of the brewing process or that it went through two fermentations.

‘Incomplete and different’

“It’s the same as the craft beer definition,” Brown continued. “It’s incomplete and different to the trade’s. The thing about the OED is that it’s [definitions] are based on common usage and this is how both of these terms are being used [by consumers].”

The beer writer and broadcaster then went on to counter criticism that ‘craft beer’ was only used as a marketing term and had no relevance.

“Craft beer is a marketing term and people say that like it’s a bad thing,” he explained. “Marketing is not bad, a lot of big breweries use marketing to sell awful beer, but it can be used well by talented people.”

CAMRA used marketing well itself by saying member beers were fermented twice and as result were ‘real ale’.

“If you don’t like marketing terms, then you’re in a bit of trouble,” Brown added.

He then went on to shut down real ale fanatics’ defence that the brew only came in kegs and craft beer was just sold in bottles or cans.

“Real ale and craft exist in multi-packaged formats – real ale comes in bottles too,” Brown said.

“Breweries are now packaging beers in cans with live yeast for the second fermentation and this is recognised by CAMRA, so format is not a relevant argument.”

Most popular format for craft

In fact, the most popular format for craft beer to be served from in pubs was keg, Brown added. “Some 64% of craft beer sold in the on-trade is in keg, according to CGA Strategy figures.

“What’s the problem? Why do people on both sides (craft and real) dismiss the other?” he vented.

“I think it often comes down to the origin – people say craft is from the US and real ale is English, but both sides are on the international stage. They should be getting on in harmony and working with each other.”

The Americans didn’t discount real ale as “boring and British”, but quite the contrary, he added.

“Last year, I interviewed the boss of the Brewers Association Bob Pease and he said American brewers were inspired by British ale in the first place, that Americans made those big hoppy flavoured beers because they were inspired by British beer.”

The only thing the two sides needed to remember was that none of this was about real ale or Americanisation, but “making really good-quality beer”, he said.

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