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Not a Real Ale Definition At All

I am uncertain how many readers will have seen the latest CAMRA definitions of real ale, in a single two page document dated November 2020. I don’t think they had been widely distributed until you included them in the February / March 2021 London Drinker. Yes it is now definitions, plural, but does no longer actually define real ale at all. It defines cask ale and live beer, either of which might be real ale or might not. How did we come to this?

Probably to placate the supporters within CAMRA, who want to support and promote new wave keg beers, there is no mention of the acceptability or otherwise of different methods of draught dispense. From what I understand so called live beer dispensed by gas (not air) pressure being applied, with that gas being in contact with the beer, would now be regarded as real ale. This is after 50 glorious years of saying it would be disqualified.

I doubt this ill-fated document would help anyone, in future, to definitively identify if any individual beer on offer is a real ale, which is more than sad as we are principally the Campaign for Real Ale. I am convinced we must go back to the drawing board and produce a draft that leaves no room for dubiety when it comes to ingredients, manufacture and dispense and then have this validated or rejected democratically by the membership at a National AGM. One cannot fail to recall the ferocity and intensity of debate on this issue, in past years, when changes to the definition had been proposed. Cask ale is under enough threats without this latest dilution of our total commitment to real ale by removing the previous clarity on the unacceptability of extraneous gas, under pressure, being applied to it during storage and dispense.

Our previous definition was one paragraph, lucid and punchy and has long been adopted by the Oxford English Dictionary as well as many other dictionaries and reference books. I note that, to date, none of those have adopted our new so-called definitions.

Roger Corbett

Editor’s note: in accordance with our policy of giving a right of reply, Roger’s letter was forwarded to those who drew up the definition for comment.

Thank you for giving me a chance to respond to Mr Corbett’s letter. It is incorrect to say that the new definition does not define ‘real ale’; it very clearly defines real ale as ‘live beer’ and then goes on to give a full technical definition, the crux of which is that live beer contains live yeast and enough fermentable sugars: any beer “that when first put into its final container contains at least 0.1 million cells of live yeast per millilitre, plus enough fermentable sugar to produce a measurable reduction in its gravity while in that container, whatever it may be.

This definition is more scientifically based than our previous one: “beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed.” Any beer with enough live yeast and sufficient fermentable sugars will undergo a secondary fermentation, and so in practice the definitions are identical as regards the nature of the beer. What has changed is that we have removed any description of dispense from our real ale definition. This is because it is simply incorrect to imply that a beer becomes a different product if it is dispensed in a different manner. CAMRA retains policies on our preferred dispense methods in other documents.

The extra definition of ‘cask conditioned live beer’ differentiates what some might still consider to be the only real ale from the generic concept. It also helps us to continue to campaign for this particular method of presentation of live beer, linked so strongly as it is with our pub and club campaigning.

Catherine Tonry
CAMRA Technical Director

Dark Beers

I sadly missed the virtual Beer and Cheese tasting held by North London. This echoed an event held some years ago by local property developers in Biggin Hill who, on opening their marketing office, had a stall demonstrating the matching of beers to cheese. Most enlightening to me at the time as I was not driving! I do see however that yet again, the favourite beer type was porter or stout. A fact held out at beer festivals (remember them?) where it is always the dark beers that sell out first. But, how can we persuade the (wo)man in the street of this? It is not long ago that I nagged one of my locals to stock a porter and to this day the publican reminds me he had ‘a little more wastage than anticipated’ and he stocks a variety of beer types. Trying to get an ordinary local boozer to stock at least one nice cask stout or porter seems to be so hard and especially galling when you see how much ‘super cold’ Guinness is being sold at that venue. Suggestions please?

Kent Sadler