In our last post, we discussed the difference between bottled and canned beer which brings us nicely onto another interesting discussion; what’s the difference between real ale and craft beer? Beer is just beer, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple.
In the 1970’s, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) sought to protect and promote what they defined as 'real ale' from the mass-produced beers available at the time. But what do they categorise as real ale? Well, things have changed since their original definition and they now class real ale as 'live beer', which then begs the question as to what that is 'live beer'? In their words this is, "A beer as any 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."
To clarify, this would be a beer that is intended to continue fermentation when packaged i.e. a bottle or cask conditioned beer. It is important to note, however, that this is not a legally-binding definition, and is only one which CAMRA themselves coined and continually revise over time as the industry changes.
Just like real ale, craft beer also does not have a legally-binding definition here in the UK. It does, however, have one in the US which defines a craft brewer as, "An American craft brewer is a small and independent brewer." Small meaning producing less than 6 million barrels of beer a year and independent meaning less than 25% is externally owned or controlled.
Which begs the question, is there a difference between these two definitions at all? Taking the US definition of craft beer, real ale would fall under this umbrella, but not the reverse way round. Like most things, there are of course grey areas between the two in which beers and breweries both live. However, the simplest way to look at the two (which we believe here at YCB) would be as follows:
Real Ale: A beer brewed using traditional methods and ingredients, usually brewed to be conditioned in cask or bottle (i.e. best bitter, amber ale or pale ale).
Craft Beer: A beer brewed using more modern and diverse ingredients or techniques, usually brewed to be stored and served from can or keg (i.e. IPA, pastry stout or fruited sour).
But, as we mentioned above, some styles can fall into either category and these definitions are guidelines, not hard-set rules, and breweries can play with styles, strengths, flavours and tastes, all for the betterment of beer and its availability.