The Case for Real Ales

Hand Pump Diagram

On a recent trip to the UK my “pub mindset” changed. Like many lager beer drinkers I walked into the pub to survey the many beer taps on offer. My eyes were drawn straight to the carbonated lager options, however I couldn’t find anything appealing at the time. I then looked over at the hand drawn real ale options and my eyes lit up. The many years of craft beer drinking has served as a mental bridge into this realm, an acceptance if you like, and I ordered a pint on the bartender’s advice. And you know what? I loved it and for the rest of the time I was in the UK I more than often ordered an ale instead of a lager. 

Real ale is a beer brewed from traditional ingredients (malted barley, hops water and yeast), matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide. Before the beer is transferred into the keg, it is filtered, pasteurised or both so fermentation stops and no further conditioning takes place, which means it’s not classified as an official real ale. However, if it’s put into a cask (formerly in wooden barrels but now these days usually stainless-steel barrels) this allows the beer to continue its conditioning and it can then be classed as a real ale. 

Real Ale

So, what’s the difference you ask?  The natural carbonation from cask conditioning is generally much softer and smoother than that gained from forced carbonation. And by maturing in the cask, a real ale can take on different characters over time, whereas a keg beer is likely to be at its very best the second it leaves the brewery. 

For me it was all about the texture. On taking a sip (more like a swig) my mouth received all the craft beer notes but the texture was silky smooth. Probably because it wasn’t bursting with bubbles. And in lowering the carbonation I’m guessing my taste receptors were able to do their job more effectively. It was a revelation and one that I rushed home to tell the Hoppers. 


There are a few breweries in Australia delving into the real ale realm, Wig & Pen being the at the forefront of it all. Other breweries do a hybrid version where they lower their carbonation to suit their beer being poured from the pump. You’ll get a different experience, but beer aficionados would shake their heads and say it’s not quite the real thing. 

End result here at the Hoppers is that when I brought it up for discussion, we all quickly agreed it was something we would like, and will look into it. So, rest assured real ale lovers, there’s a more than possible chance when you walk into the brewery you might just see a few hand-pulled real ale options in the corner. Leave it with us and we’ll get back to you. 

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