uk.food+drink.real-ale FAQ

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Version: 1.26 Last modified: 01/06/2007 Maintainer: Brett Laniosh (ufra@catshill.com)
Frequently Asked Questions for uk.food+drink.real-ale
Corrections and additions to: Brett Laniosh (ufra@catshill.com) The latest version of this file can be found at: (
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Contributors: J.Bennett, R.Candeland, M.Enderby, P.Fox, B.Laniosh, L.Mousson, S.Pampling, N.Worthington.
The uk.food+drink.real-ale FAQ
[Contents]
Part 1 The Charter
Part 2 Netiquette Q: How can I ensure that I don't make a fool of myself when posting? Q: Can I post the same message to other newsgroups? Q: Can I advertise my favourite beer, pub or beer festival? Q: Can I post about real cider and perry here? Q: I'll be visiting the UK/sometown soon. Is this the place to ask for recommendations? Q: Can I attach a file to my posting? Q: When I reply to a message, should I return the original text? Q: How do I avoid starting or getting involved in a heated debate? Q: What are all these meaningless (eg FWIW, IIRC) letters that people are using? Q: Is this newsgroup run by CAMRA?
Part 3 Glossary of common terms
Part 4 Glossary of common beer styles
Part 5 What is and is not Real Ale; Q: What is the definition of Real Ale? Q: What is so special about Real Ale? Q: Why are brewers so keen to sell pasteurised beer? Q: How do I know if a beer is 'real'?
Part 6 Beer, brewing and serving Q: What is the brief history of beer in the UK? Q: How is beer brewed? Q: What is the cask breather argument about? Q: What is the swannecks and sparklers argument about? Q: How can I buy real ale for use at home or for an event? Q: Beer X: Has it changed?
Part 7 Drinker's rights Q: Can I ask for my money back even if I have drunk some beer? Q: Can I insist on a sparkler being removed? Q: Can I insist on a top up to a full pint? Q: How can I tell if my beer is not in good condition?
Part 8 Resources Q: What real ale related organisations exist? Q: What real ale resources can I find on the Internet? Q: What is the Good Beer Guide? Q: What other beer guides are there? Q: What books are there about brewing and looking after beer?
[Part One - The Charter]
uk.food+drink.real-ale Cask-conditioned ales and related topics
Charter: uk.food+drink.real-ale newsgroup will be used for the discussion of traditional cask or bottle-conditioned beers and the places they are consumed in from the ingredients that are used, the brewing process, dispensing methods, flavours, quality and tasting to the pubs that serve them. Due to the unique nature of our cask-conditioned beers the newsgroup will be mainly be for discussing beers brewed in the UK but discussion of any beers which qualify as traditionally brewed and cask or bottle-conditioned that are available in the UK will be appropriate. Discussion about the aims and achievements of the Campaign for Real Ale, associated campaigning and CAMRA organised festivals also will be welcome as will the issues of prices, duty and the current trends of all UK brewers, large, medium and micro.
Related issues such as British pub preservation and real-ale home brewing will be welcome as will relevant comparisons of real ale with it's market competitors.
(Off topic postings will be sympathetically directed to the relevant and already existing newsgroups.)
Binaries: Binaries are not permitted on this group, however references to relevant FTP-able material and Web URL's are welcomed.
Advertising: Announcements concerning real ale issues are welcomed if they are from non-commercial organisations but blatant off-topic or commercial advertising and job adverts are not permitted.
Moderation: None.
[Part Two - Netiquette]
Q: How can I ensure that I don't make a fool of myself when posting? A: It is recommended that you spend some time reading this newsgroup before you post to it. When you post, make sure you have something worthwhile to say, say it accurately and remember the readers here want REAL ALE. Foreign matters are normally best in rec.food.drink.beer or alt.rec.beer.
Q: Can I post the same message to other newsgroups? A: Please consider carefully before cross posting to other newsgroups. In particular be careful about replying to a cross-posted message and upsetting the members of another newsgroup.
Q: Can I advertise my favourite beer, pub or beer festival? A: Yes. Newsgroup readers are always keen to hear of Real ale events and products but are easily upset by repeated and off-topic posts and will reprimand you in public if you mislead them. Please have the courtesy to use an informative subject line.
Q: Can I post about real cider and perry here? A: The charter doesn't mention cider or perry but it does state that issues related to real ale are welcome. In addition two cider mailing lists exist. The addresses are:
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/ and
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These is also the ukcider website at
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Q: I'll be visiting the UK/sometown soon. Is this the place to ask for recommendations? A: Yes as long as you don't overdo it. The more specific you are about your itinerary, the better the chance of getting specific recommendations. You'll frequently be recommended to get a copy of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, which contains details of real ale pubs recommended by CAMRA members. See Part 8 Resources for more details.
Q: Can I attach a file to my posting? A: One of the most common errors is to post attachments such as images, HTML code or Word documents to messages. PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS. All messages should be plain text.
Q: When I reply to a message, should I return the original text? A: Only selectively. Do not unnecessarily quote someone else's message. There is nothing worse than having to re-read a message to find a Me too from you at the bottom.
Q: How do I avoid starting or getting involved in a heated debate? A: If you want to post something that may cause annoyance to others, consider an email posting to those concerned. There is nothing worse than having to read a debate on a newsgroup between two antagonists.
Q: What are all these meaningless (eg FWIW, IIRC) letters that people are using? A: In order to speed up typing, it is common on the Internet to use acronyms. Common examples are: FWIW (For what it's worth), IIRC (if I remember correctly), HTH (hope that helps) and RTFM (read the flaming manual). You can find these and others at: (
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Q: Is this newsgroup run by CAMRA? A: uk.food+drink.real-ale is a public newsgroup and completely independent from CAMRA.
[Part Three - Glossary of common terms and beer styles]
(Some terms have a specific meaning or can be confusing.)
A.B.V.: Alcohol by volume as a percentage. 3.5(%) is session beer. Beers of 5% and above are strong.
Barrel: A unit of measure (36 gallons). NEVER used to describe a round thing in a cellar. See 'Cask'.
Burton Union: A method of fermenting beer in which yeast is transferred from large casks into subsequent brews. The system was once used in the brewing of Draught Bass but now only Marstons use the system to brew their Pedigree ale.
B.C.A.: See Bottle Conditioned Ale
Blanket Pressure: A low pressure of CO2 or Nitrogen added to a cask. Can make the beer fizzy and is not recommended.
Bottle Conditioned Ale: A bottled beer where some or all of the secondary fermentation takes place after bottling.
Bright: (1) Clear. Real ale normally drops bright a day or so after being racked. (2) Can be used to describe beer that has been filtered to improve the polish. Keg beers are always bright, having been filtered and pasteurised.
Carry keg: A plastic container with a pressure safe top designed for the transport of small (typically four pints) amounts of real ale.
Cask: Generic term for what most people would call a beer barrel. A cask doesn't specify any particular size. See Pin, Kil etc.
Cask conditioned: Yeast works on remaining sugars after being casked. This produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The latter dissolves in the beer and gives it life when served. Typically it takes a week for this process (also known as secondary fermentation) to happen.
Condition: The amount of carbon dioxide in the beer. Excessive carbon dioxide will produce a beer that is too gassy and sharp. Too little will result in a flat insipid drink.
EBCU: European Beer Consumer Union, a federation of beer consumer organisations. Camra is the main movement, with 75% of the members, but there are groups from Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Estonia, with more knocking at the door regularly. Aims are to exchange experiences and co-ordinate campaigning at an European (ie more than EU) level.
Fining: The process of clearing the beer by adding 'FININGS'. The finings act to clump together fine particles so they fall to the bottom of the cask. A typical dose might be 1.5% by volume, normally added before the cask leaves the brewery. (One possible reason for cloudy beer is that either the original dose was too little for the amount of yeast sediment generated during secondary fermentation or the cask has been repeatedly shaken up and the finings have as a result of this become tired.)
Finings: Thick liquid frequently and traditionally derived from seaweed or fish bladders, which precipitate fine particles.
Firkin: A 9 gallon cask.
Free House: A a pub that is not bound by any agreements to sell any particular brewers products. A much abused label, that frequently adorns pubs that are not free in any way shape or form - see tied house.
Gravity: (1) Serving method. A tap is hammered into the end of the cask and glasses filled directly from it. (2) Until recently the strength of beer was quoted by O.G. or Original Gravity. This was determined by how much sugar was dissolved in the liquor before the yeast was added. The more sugar the more alcohol will be present after fermentation. Hence a high gravity beer is a strong one.
Green (Green beer): Fresh from the brewery and not yet matured in the cellar. Most beers come to no harm at all by being left for at least a week before tapping. (See Cask Conditioned)
Guest ale: A beer from another brewery. (Possibly, in the case of a free house, a beer out of the ordinary run.)
Gyle: A batch of beer in a single brew.
Hand Pump: Bar mounted hand pull. (NOT a tiny tap or connected to one.) The handle is connected to a piston, which draws beer from the cask along a pipe to the spout.
Hogshead: A 54 gallon cask (now rare).
Keg: Pasteurised, filtered and artificially fizzed up beer.
Kil, Kill, Kilderkin: A 18 gallon cask.
Landlord: A publican. Confusing as a pub landlord might actually be a tenant! The term originates from the days when an inn would provide lodgings.
Licensee: A Publican. Licensing magistrates give licences to serve alcohol. The implication is that publicans can lose their licence if the magistrates think they are not a suitable person to run a pub. Possibly because they have been known to flout licensing laws or otherwise come to the frequent notice of the local constabulary.
Licensing laws: The sale of alcohol has been controlled for 300 years though the basis for current laws came about during World War 1. A rough summary of the current rules for pubs is: Can't serve alcohol to anyone under 18 (with certain exceptions). Mustn't serve outside set licensing hours. ie generally not after 11 pm weekdays and 10.30pm Sundays or before 12 mid day on Sundays. Mustn't serve people who, in the landlord's opinion, have had too much to drink already
Nitrokeg: Variation on 'Keg' using Nitrogen as well as or instead of Carbon Dioxide. Used to produce 'creamy heads' ala Guinness. Not real.
Pin, Polypin: Four and a half gallons. A polypin is a collapsible polythene bag inside a cardboard cube. Often non-returnable. A good bet for a party at home.
PINT: Promotie Informatie Traditioneel Bier, Dutch beer consumer organisation, started up as CAMRA Netherlands.
Publican: Person in charge of a particular pub.
Racking: The process of transferring beer from one container to another. In the brewery it refers to the transfer of the beer from a holding or conditioning vessel into the cask.
Re-racking: The transfer from the cask to another vessel - usually after the beer has been left to settle so the beer can be served bright in situations where traditional cask beer can't be served.
(Re) Racked-beer: Beer that has been transferred from a cask to container after being allowed to settle, leaving the sediment behind. The remaining beer can be safely transported, for example in a carry-keg for a party.
Spiling: For transit and storage a cask is sealed. A vent hole is provided on the top of the cask. Some while before being served the peg sealing this hole (the spile hole) is knocked through to open up the beer to the atmosphere. This is spiling. Once done the cask will have to be used within a few days.
Stillaging: The process of setting up the cask on a stillage (usually in the pub cellar) ready for venting and tapping.
Tapping: Fitting the tap, like spiling, consists of knocking through a seal and inserting a tap. Unless this is a gravity system the tap will then be connected to the pump ready to draw.
Tenant: Publican. Many publicans are essentially operating a franchise. They pay rent to the brewery as well as being tied to take their beer.
Tied house: A pub owned by a brewery (or pub company) that is tied to selling what the brewery says. There are many pubs who claim to be free but have done deals (such accepting loans on generous terms) in return for guaranteeing to take certain brands.
Ullage: Waste beer left at the bottom of an empty cask or overflowing into a drip tray. It should not be filtered back into the cask. Most brewers allow for a proportion of 'lost' beer.
[Part Four - A glossary of common beer styles]
Please be aware that exact definitions are not possible. The explosion in smaller brewers experimenting, making this especially so. Always look at the pump clip because for example some 'milds' eg. Sarah Hughes, are strong.
Ale: A beer brewed with a top-fermenting yeast. It used to refer to a beer made without hops but this is not the case now.
Bitter: A highly hopped beer and the most common type of draught ale. Bitters can range from below 3.5% up to 5% ABV.
Brown ale: A bottled, lightly hopped and sweetish mild ale. Usually lower in gravity though there are exceptions.
Heavy: A Scottish and North East term for a medium strength beer usually light in colour!
IPA: India Pale Ale. Strictly speaking a high strength pale ale for export but the term is commonly used for light bitter ales.
Lager: A British term for a continental beer made with a bottom fermenting yeast using different malt and hops than most bitters. They undergo a long secondary fermentation at a low temperature. Most British lagers are weak, inferior versions of their mainland Europe namesakes.
Light ale: A low gravity bottled ale. Scottish light ales are usually dark coloured!
Mild: A lightly hopped beer, often dark in colour and usually low in gravity Old ales: See Winter ales.
Pale ale: A medium gravity bottled ale. The term is used in the South West to refer to low gravity draught ales.
Porter: A dark and sweetish but well hopped beer.
60/-, 70/-, 80/-, 90/-: 60 shilling, 70 shilling, 80 shilling, 90 shilling ale, all terms for Scottish beers. They equate, very roughly, to mild, light, heavy and strong.
Stout: Usually very dark, heavy and well hopped beer. Dry tasting with a creamy head. Though the term is no longer used, Milk Stout is thought to have been so named because it contained lactose, a sugar derived from milk. As lactose cannot be fermented by yeast, the sugar stays in the beer.
Wheat beer: A beer originating from Bavaria where it is known as Weizen. The wheat is added to the mash and results in a refreshing summer drink. Both pale and dark versions are available, some are brewed to be drunk hazy, some brewed to be drunk clear.
Winter ale: Usually a high gravity and full-flavoured beer sold during the winter months. The name is now synonymous with Old ale.
[Part Five - What is and is not Real-Ale]
Q: What is the definition of Real Ale? A: Real ale MUST be alive when you drink it. This is the fundamental definition. The alternative is pasteurisation. (ie killing off the yeast before the beer leaves the brewery.) Real ale continues to ferment in the cask or bottle after leaving the brewery. This process is known as secondary fermentation. As the fermentation proceeds after putting into casks (cask conditioned) or bottles, (bottle conditioned) the carbon dioxide produced is dissolved into the liquor and gives the beer a natural measure of 'Condition' (see section 2.b). If you have killed off the yeast before casking you have to add CO2 to make the beer fizz. In the majority of cases real ale will be brewed with traditional (or variations of) recipes using traditional techniques.
Q: What is so special about real ale? A: Taste. The secondary fermentation allows the complex and interesting flavours to develop and produce a beer of far more character and taste than the non-real version. Because real ale doesn't use extraneous gas, your beer will not bloat you like keg version can.
Q: Why are brewers so keen to sell pasteurised beer? A: Because it keeps for many months, is easy to standardise month in month out, and doesn't require any attention in the cellar or at point of sale. If they arrange the gassing up correctly the beer is served with a large head which looks like it ought to on the telly, but being air and not liquid is an excuse for serving short measures - every drop paid for but not served is pure profit.
Q: How do I know if a beer is 'real'? A: Look for the words real ale or cask conditioned. For most people the handpump is the sign of real ale but things aren't always that simple. Some unscrupulous brewers and pubs use what looks like a handpump but is just a keg dispenser. Sometimes real ale is served with added gas rendering it 'non-real'. In certain parts of the UK (West Midlands, North West) it is quite common for real ale to be dispensed with an electric pump. If in doubt though, just ask. Bottled real ales are invariably marked Bottle Conditioned and you may well be able to see sediment. The following are NOT real and are Keg beers - all Nitro Keg such as Caffreys and Guinness, Tins and most bottled beers. If it is served through a tiny plastic tap attached to a fancy bar mounted advertising box or array of taps on a brass frame then it is NOT real.
[Part Six - Beer, brewing and serving]
Q: What is the brief history of beer in the UK? A: Something like beer has probably been drunk for many thousands of years. For centuries it has been an accepted part of northern European lifestyle. The largest brewhouses were to be found in religious institutions that catered for a complete community, but otherwise brewing was on a domestic scale. 19th century industrialisation had a profound effect on the size of breweries and started a continuous process of takeovers and mergers with breweries and brewing companies getting larger and more powerful. The wealth of the brewers lead to their establishing what today we call franchises - the tied house where the publican is a tenant of the brewery and sells only their beer.
Fortunately there are still breweries where you can see the traditional processes used for the last two hundred years.
In the 60's the production of keg beer, increased rapidly. By filtering and sterilising before it left the brewery, then adding gas at the pub, the beer was easier to keep, always looked clear with lots of nice fizz. The economics of this operation and the marketing opportunities arising from it lead to an acceleration in the continuing process of takeovers, eliminating small brands, closing smaller breweries to build larger, more modern ones. Also at the time many brews suddenly became weaker.
It is easy to forget 25 years on how serious the possibility of the complete elimination of traditional, unpasteurised beer really was. The nucleus of consumer reaction was provided by the Campaign for real ale, which struck a chord among many drinkers. This resulted in all the major breweries except Guinness retaining a portfolio of real ales, even though some of those left a lot to be desired, often being presented as if made in small breweries or a completely different brew under a resurrected name.
Q: How is beer brewed? A: Field to Flush - Barley to Brain - Brewing & retailing in a nutshell
Probably the most important ingredient of beer is barley. This is Malted, that is steeped in water to start germination, kept nice and warm to continue germination, then toasted to stop germination before the seedling has had time to use up the store of energy in the grain, but not before it has converted it from starch (non soluble) to sugar (soluble). The sugar is what yeast uses to make alcohol. Turn up the heat a bit more and some of the sugar turns into toffee. This adds colouring and subtle taste to the beer. Take water, treat it to make it fit for brewing, heat it to the correct temperature, add crushed malt, leave awhile. Drain the liquid (called wort pronounced wurt) and rinse the malt (called sparging) to get as much of the sugar out as possible. Add some hops and boil. Hops give bitterness and flowery hints to the brew. Traditionally, hops means hop flowers as picked in the field. Often peleted hops are used instead. This is a far more compact and convenient method of handling and storing them but some subtleties are lost. A further development is hop oil. Although this is ideal for modern process brewing it has a rather poor reputation amongst drinkers.
Drain into a tank to cool then add yeast. The yeast will start fermenting the sugars from the malted barley into alcohol and carbon dioxide. As it does so it makes more yeast. Being a biological process the yeast likes to have a go at doing other organic chemistry on the side. The effects are small in comparison to the main activity of making alcohol but distinctive flavours are created by the yeast. After the fermentation has died down, filter off most of the yeast and leave to settle for a few days. Drain into casks. Finings, a thick liquid, is added to each cask to make the beer polished. Some brews have extra hops added at this stage called dry hopping. Store for a week before dispatch to let the beer condition in the cask. (If making keg beer then here you'd heat the beer to kill all yeast, filter all yeast out, put in a keg then carbonate. (Definitely NOT real ale!)
In days past most beer went on brewery owned drays from brewery direct to pubs. This is still how a lot is delivered, but nowadays there are wholesalers. Large ones do deals with brewers to make their beers available in more outlets. These deals are often complex packages and are concerned with bulk distribution and marketing. Smaller ones are more concerned with obtaining beers from smaller breweries then transporting them all over the country to supply free houses. All distribution chains are a possible source of carelessness in caring for beer. Free-houses are easily tempted by cheaper beer, but this may be from a poor supply route.
Q: What is the cask breather argument about? A: When a cask is being emptied over a few dozen hours Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is released from solution in the beer into the space above the beer. However this is a gradual process as during opening hours the spile hole will be open to atmosphere and there is plenty of opportunity for the ordinary atmosphere from the cellar to enter the cask as the beer is tapped faster than CO2 comes out of solution. If, instead of letting the cellar atmosphere and whatever pollutants, organisms and oxygen in, why not help the natural process of CO2 release along by piping CO2 to the spile hole? In the more brutal system this involves CO2 at more than atmospheric pressure. A correctly set up cask breather system maintains the pressure in the head space at atmospheric pressure. This sounds ideal, but there are arguments for against and alternatives. The argument for is basically that the beer keeps longer and the end of the cask has a better head. The arguments against are basically: Even at 1 atmosphere the beer takes up much more CO2 and the sterile atmosphere prevents ageing. The alternatives are basically: If there is no problem then do nothing. Plan to use casks in about three days. If demand isn't present then don't stock it or use a smaller cask size. Use nitrogen.
Q: What is the swan-necks and sparklers argument about? A: If you agitate the beer it foams up. This has the effect of taking bitterness from the body of the beer into the foam. The age old method of serving beer is to pour it direct from a tap in the cask. This spills out under the simple influence of gravity (hence the name given to this method of dispense) into a jug or glass. To put a pretty head on this beer hold the glass further below the tap. Handpumps draw the beer through pipes attached at one end to the cask to the other the spout. Obviously the beer is agitated a bit more as the beer is forced through the pipes, pump and valves. If small bore pipes are employed with many throws of the pump, or impeller pumps are used, the beer is shaken about rather more. If the spout is simply a tap with no restriction, then the beer is poured into the glass gently. On the other hand it may be a small diameter pipe, which is used nowadays, often in the form of a hairpin which has the effect of shooting the beer into the glass and really stirring it up. This small-bore hairpin is called a swan neck.
By squirting the beer through a nozzle containing small holes in it, called a sparkler, an even greater effect is obtained. Sometimes a very dull beer can have life added to it by passing it through a simple restriction in a plain spout. Normally though the sparkler is used indiscriminately to foam the beer and make it look like you see on the telly.
The trouble is that this is not just about what it looks like. Bittering agents especially migrate to the surfaces of the bubbles in the foam making the foam bitter, but this flavour comes from the body. (Taste the foam then the beer.) There is a myth that 'Northern' beers have always been served like this. However today this appears to be accepted as fact by many. Assume that country pubs in the south of the country will tend to have plain dispense without swan-necks and sparklers and the opposite applies elsewhere. The disputes arise because some people prefer, or are simply used to, having the bite taken out of their beer. Some people don't go by taste at all but assume the beer is flat and therefore off if it doesn't foam up, not realising that the appearance is due to the barmaids muscles, not the basic condition.
Q: How can I buy real ale for use at home or for a club, wedding, party etc? A: Often your best bet is to ask your local publican. If you think that four and a half gallons is enough then try to get hold of a polypin. This is a plastic bag inside a cardboard box and is often non- returnable, so there are no worries about a deposit. All you need to do to dispense the racked-beer (see glossary) is to turn on the already fitted tap.
If you have a place that will serve as a cellar for three days, (a kitchen might just do if you can keep the beer at 14/15 degrees centigrade (56deg. F) and make sure it won't get knocked as people pass, then you can keep the beer as a publican would do. You need advice on how and when to tap and spile the cask as well as the tools for the job. This is fun if you have the time and the friendly publican. Alternatively you might want to pick up the beer in the morning of the event and serve in the afternoon or evening. This wouldn't normally be possible because the beer wouldn't settle but the way to do it is to have a 're-racked' cask. Your friendly publican drains a cask that has been maturing in his cellar into a freshly cleaned cask on the morning of the event. Your re-racked cask can be manhandled and tapped minutes before serving, but must be consumed on the day.
A carry keg with its pressure safe top is an ideal way to take a small amount (typically four pints) of beer home. When the beer is being transferred, make sure that any sparkler is slackened off or removed, otherwise it froths up and by the time you get the beer home, it's already going flat. If you can persuade the barkeeper to dispense directly into the carrykeg, that's quicker and disturbs the beer less, but they generally insist on measuring the beer out into pint glasses, then decanting then into the carrykeg (hence the funnel). But a properly maintained beer engine should be capable of dispensing measures of one quarter pint or one half pint in each pull. It's not essential to buy 4 pints every time though the beer does keep its condition better if there's less airspace. But if you only want a couple of pints, that will keep fine for an hour or so on the way home. Generally speaking, beer in a carrykeg should be consumed within 24 hours. Another possibility is the PET plastic pop bottle, available from any good supermarket in 1, 1.5, 2 and 3 litre sizes. Of course you do have to make sure that you first of all drain them and cleanse them of any sugary residue but they are built to withstand pressurised gas and they are usually cheaper than an empty carrykeg. Also the neck is narrower so more care has to be taken in filling a pop bottle.
Remember that without a licence you can't sell beer. Without a licence you can only serve beer at a private party. A wedding falls into this category but a club event may not.
Q: Beer X: Has it changed?
This question regularly arises on the newsgroup.
Real ales, such as those mentioned above, are living products, produced using natural processes (fermentation) from natural ingredients.
Despite the best quality control systems, some slight variations in flavour, and occasionally colour, do occur from batch to batch, from season to season and from year to year. Factors such as the quality of a particular year's hop or barley harvest, the length of time since the hops were harvested or the barley was malted, even the weather can affect the end flavour of a beer brewed to the same recipe. This slight but perceptible seasonal variation in a naturally conditioned ale may be thought of as similar to that found in the finest vintage wines and is considered by some connoisseurs to be part of its attraction.
Generally, cask-conditioned beer from the larger-scale and more 'industrial' breweries is more consistent than that from the smaller craft breweries, but the down-side is that it is often less interesting. Furthermore, ales with complex flavours are possibly more prone to variation than those with a relatively simple taste profile.
The issue is compounded by the way real ale is now distributed around the country via wholesalers and sold far from its home territory using dispense methods other than that for which the beer has been brewed.
In addition, different beers often need to be handled differently in the cellar. Some benefit from being allowed time to mature, while others may not need this. A licensee having a particular beer as an occasional guest may not know how best to look after that beer.
As a result of all these factors, a particular beer may taste different and not as good as the drinker fondly remembers it, particularly if they only manage to sample it occasionally.
Some breweries do change the recipes, lower the gravity or otherwise muck about with their famous (and not so famous) brands and where this is happening, or suspected by regular drinkers of the beers, the newsgroup welcomes postings alerting us to the problem.
[Part Seven - Drinker's rights]
Q: Can I ask for my money back even if I have drunk some beer? A: Yes at a last resort. If you are served bitter instead of mild or vinegar instead of beer then make your complaint known. You have a right to get what you ask for, and for it to be of reasonable quality. (By the same token the publican expects you to be reasonable and know what you want.) If the beer isn't what you're used to then that is the luck of the draw. Real ale is never the same two days running. Regardless of Jim is drinking it so it must be OK etc. etc. you can insist on either getting a decent pint or your money back the choice is yours (see How can I tell if my beer is in good condition below). If you get snotty responses to your complaint don't go there again and tell the rest of the world not to go there as well.
Q: Can I insist on a sparkler being removed? A: No. If you get a refusal on asking, go elsewhere. You may get excuses like management policy, brewery insists but it is your choice. You might get less peculiar looks if you ask for your pint without a head or flat.
Q: Can I insist on a top up to a full pint? A: Yes. If you ask for a pint you should get a pint!!!!!!!!! At the moment (although the law may change on this soon), a test case has shown that pubs can serve a pint up to 5% short, but if you feel that you are being short changed then INSIST on a top-up.
Q: How can I tell if my beer is not in good condition? A: If your beer tastes (and smells) vinegary it is definitely off and you should ask for a replacement. If the beer just doesn't taste as it should, it could be one the last few pints drawn before the barrel is empty or a bad batch from the brewery. Again you can ask for a replacement and often you will often see the barrel being changed shortly afterwards! It's rare these days to get cloudy beer but again, even if it tastes ok, you should ask for a fresh one. Don't be fobbed off by a barman telling you that no-one else has complained about the beer. Some drinkers may actually like foul tasting beer and others just don't like to complain!
[Part Eight - Resources]
Q: What real ale related organisations exist?
Campaign for Real Ale: (email:camra@camra.org.uk) 230 Hatfield Rd., St Albans Herts AL1 4LW, UK. (
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/) With over 85,000 members, CAMRA the Campaign For Real Ale is the UK's biggest and most well known real ale organisation. CAMRA runs beer festivals including Britain's biggest the Great British Beer Festival and produces the Good Beer Guide. Members receive a monthly newspaper What's Brewing. CAMRA's heart is its numerous local branches.
The Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood. (secretary@spbw.com) (
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Q: What real ale resources can I find on the internet? There are numerous beer related pages on the internet. The following are a good starting point.
The CAMRA site has links to the many branches of CAMRA who have their own web site and local pub guides. The following is a very abridged list of what is available:
British Beer and Pub Association: (
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CAMRA: (
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Pubworld licensed trade site: (
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Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood: (
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Tony Green's real ale pages: (
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Bill Buchanan's RateBeer pages: (
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The Alström Brothers Beer Advocate pages: (
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The D2 Engineering Great British Beer site: (
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Q: What is the best guide to find real ale? A: The CAMRA Good Beer Guide is the premier guide to pubs that sell real ale. Published annually, each county is given its own section. The pubs are selected by local branches and there are natural biases towards centres of population and easy to reach places, but most gems are properly represented. The pubs are chosen by drinkers and the first criterion is the quality of the beer. Like any other guide, it is not perfect but for real ale enthusiasts this is probably the best guide there is. The GBG includes a useful section that describes each beer and the breweries from where they come.
Q: What other beer guides are there? A: The Good Pub Guide, although its primary aim is to direct people to good pubs, includes many entries that aren't in the GBG but serve real ales in very pleasant surroundings. It's listings show what beers are served. A large number of CAMRA branches have produced guides that cover specific areas such as counties or regions. Some list all the real ale pubs in an area others are more selective. A list of these guides which usually cost well under five pounds can be obtained from CAMRA. Some of these guides can be found on-line. (
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Q: What books are there about beer. brewing and cellarmanship? A: The following are all available from the CAMRA bookshop at (
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The CAMRA Guide to Cellarmanship by Ivor Clissold Easily read comprehensive guide to terms, what goes on inside a cask, equipment, cellar work and includes a section on how brewers recommend looking after their beer.
The CAMRA guide to Home Brewing by Graham Wheeler Contains recipes and information on brewing mild, bitter, porters, stouts and old ales.
Brew your own real ale at home by Graham Wheeler and Roger Protz Real ale recipes for the home brewer.
[End of the Frequently Asked Questions for uk.food+drink.real-ale]
Corrections and additions to: Brett Laniosh (ufra@catshill.com)
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