Fight for your right: the battle to keep real ales alive


Story by Mikey Lowe

“Nice pint tonight.” “Pint’s spot-on.” “Cracking pint”. The humdrum cacophony is a welcoming to the weary and thirsty in an English pub. But more morbid is the signal that this “pint is dead.” The previous being as welcoming as a good host and a cuppa, the latter as dismissive as being bum-rushed out the door onto the street at the end of a night.

Occasionally I venture back to the motherland and spend time with the relatives at the local pub. Pub: is short for ‘public bar’, one that appears to have lost its pedigree for the most part in the emigration. The public bar is an institutional state-of-mind that occurs to be a part of the very fabric of the local community. It is here that you find that true or real ales of England, often quoted as ‘cask ales’. The difference between beer and cask-conditioned beer is the unsettling definition of the beer being alive. That is it continues to mature from birth until it rightly departs, into your glass, going quietly into the night.

English ales have a long tradition of being cask-conditioned. They undergo rapid warm fermentation whereby at the end of fermentation the yeast rises to the top and is skimmed off often to be cultivated for future fermentations. Despite this skimming, the beer contains many smaller yeast populations that remain at work in their sugary environment. Traditionally finings such as blood, egg whites, fish bladders and isinglass are used to settle the yeast, and then the beer is barreled and sent out. The yeast continues to ferment within the beer eating the residual sugar and expelling carbon dioxide, carbonating the cask. The point in all this is the stark contrast a cask of ale at one pub has when compared to another cask or to a different pub. As such, a good cellarman would have his work cut out for him due to the permutations that can occur from cask to glass. Such ales have a shelf life of only a few days.


Capitalising corporate breweries outdid the artisanal dedication to this artistry, stalling such a long-serving craft. By the late 1960s a large number of pubs had withdrawn cask ales due to the economic favourability of the bigger suppliers. These beers were consistent, stable, profitable, and dare I say boring?

Set up in 1971, the Campaign for Real Ales (CAMRA) was established, set to boycott blandness and reunite the British people with their beloved cask ales. Currently 164,577 members across the world unite against corporate dominance making it the largest single-issue group in the UK.

Such dominance is currently facing the craft beer movement on our shores. Budweiser and Vaucluse Bitter (aka Victoria Bitter) have recently shown their concern with ad campaigns attempting to undermine the agency of drinkers by negatively comparing craft beer drinkers to nancies and nerds and supposedly masquerading a win at a local craft beer event. I was there, they weren’t. I may be risking professional death but I’ll still be sitting comfy with a tasty frosty one past the grave. By boycotting these fascists of beer and consumer free choice can we not free the market from blandness?

Note: if you enjoy these beers then enjoy them. I just appreciate the alternative, being smashed in the face with flavour.

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