Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Real Ale vs Craft Beer

I like good beer, I'm not going to hide that. I'm a ticker, a scooper, a rater, whatever you want to call it, I go out of my way to find beers that I haven't tried, in the search for that perfect ale. Several of the De Molen beers come close to perfection, but perfection varies with the time of day, my mood, the season, what I'm eating with my beer, ad infinitum. No beer is perfect 100% of the time.

One thing I've been thinking about a lot recently is the balance between "Craft Beer" and "Real Ale". At the Great British Beer Festival this year, I had a number of conversations with people about various products some breweries produce, St Peters and Brewdog to name but two, and one of the sticking points about certain beers was "but it's not real ale". So, I've been thinking, does it really matter.

As mentioned above, I always want to find a brilliant beer. If I want to sit down in front of the fire, and sip away, De Molen Tsarina Esra Reserva is divine. If I'm going to a barbecue in the park, why not take some cold Brewdog Punk IPAs along? At the moment, I'm sitting here with a St Peters Cream Stout, as it goes perfectly with a rather nice chocolate cake I'm halfway through. All these beers, for me, are excellent. But only one is "real".

On the one hand, Real Ale is a carefully crafted product, still alive as ever it was, fermenting in the barrel, gaining complexity and flavour (and occasionally a few nasties). Brewing it is an art, and cellaring it, and serving the perfect pint even more so. Generally the standards of the product are good.

On the other hand, Craft Beer is a wider description for the market. Craft beer can be kegged for example. Craft beer is a carefully crafted product. Brewing it is an art. Generally the standards of the product are good. See the similarities to the above statement?

What I think my bugbear here is, is that a section of real ale fanatics, probably mainly concentrated within CAMRA, will not give a good beer a chance, because it's not "real". This is what I strongly disagree with. I know it's important to protect brewing tradition, and to promote this style of beer, but to avoid a Brewdog pasteurised beer because of its "real" credentials is completely counterproductive. I took a side-trip from GBBF to the White Horse on Parsons Green for their American Beer Festival. Some of the American ales were divine - complex stouts, speciality beers, massive hugely-hopped double IPAs, and each one I tried made me think "wow". They were brilliant. But they were "fake ales", because they were kegged.

There are too many pisspoor beers and lagers on the market, the majority of which are kegged, to turn down a genuinely good kegged beer. Even a real ale can be ruined, by infection, or bad cellarmanship, and I'm sure the same subset talked about above would be the first to send a bad ale back. As long as we defend our tastebuds from insipid mass-market driven beer, and are able to educate people about what a decent beer is all about, we have done our job.

I love real ale, and I have a lot of respect for those that brew it. But is it the be-all and end-all? No. And it never will be.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to blogger.
    The real ale in a bottle brigade get up my nose as have had some piss poor bottles explode on opening but have had some excellent brewery conditioned bottle beers.