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Archive-name: uk/food/realale
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Version: 1.28
Last modified: 28/07/2009
Maintainer: Brett Laniosh (

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Frequently Asked Questions for

Corrections and additions to: Brett Laniosh
The latest version of this file can be found at:

J.Bennett, R.Candeland, M.Enderby, P.Fox, B.Laniosh, L.Mousson,
S.Pampling, N.Worthington.



Part 1 The Charter

Part 2 Netiquette
Q: How can I ensure that I don't make a fool of myself when posting?
Q: Can I post the same message to other newsgroups?
Q: Can I advertise my favourite beer, pub or beer festival?
Q: Can I post about real cider and perry here?
Q: I'll be visiting the UK/sometown soon. Is this the place to ask for
Q: Can I attach a file to my posting?
Q: When I reply to a message, should I return the original text?
Q: How do I avoid starting or getting involved in a heated debate?
Q: What are all these meaningless (eg FWIW, IIRC) letters that people are
Q: Is this newsgroup run by CAMRA?

Part 3 Glossary of common terms

Part 4 Glossary of common beer styles

Part 5 What is and is not Real Ale;
Q: What is the definition of Real Ale?
Q: What is so special about Real Ale?
Q: Why are brewers so keen to sell pasteurised beer?
Q: How do I know if a beer is 'real'?

Part 6 Beer, brewing and serving
Q: What is the brief history of beer in the UK?
Q: How is beer brewed?
Q: What is the cask breather argument about?
Q: What is the swannecks and sparklers argument about?
Q: How can I buy real ale for use at home or for an event?
Q: Beer X: Has it changed?

Part 7 Drinker's rights
Q: Can I ask for my money back even if I have drunk some beer?
Q: Can I insist on a sparkler being removed?
Q: Can I insist on a top up to a full pint?
Q: How can I tell if my beer is not in good condition?

Part 8 Resources
Q: What real ale related organisations exist?
Q: What real ale resources can I find on the Internet?
Q: What is the Good Beer Guide?
Q: What other beer guides are there?
Q: What books are there about brewing and looking after beer?

[Part One - The Charter] Cask-conditioned ales and related topics

Charter: newsgroup will be used for the discussion of
traditional cask or bottle-conditioned beers and the places they are
consumed in from the ingredients that are used, the brewing process,
dispensing methods, flavours, quality and tasting to the pubs that serve
them.  Due to the unique nature of our cask-conditioned beers the
newsgroup will be mainly be for discussing beers brewed in the UK but
discussion of any beers which qualify as traditionally brewed and cask or
bottle-conditioned that are available in the UK will be appropriate.
Discussion about the aims and achievements of the Campaign for Real Ale,
associated campaigning and CAMRA organised festivals also will be welcome
as will the issues of prices, duty and the current trends of all UK
brewers, large, medium and micro.

Related issues such as British pub preservation and real-ale home brewing
will be welcome as will relevant comparisons of real ale with it's market

(Off topic postings will be sympathetically directed to the relevant and
already existing newsgroups.)

Binaries are not permitted on this group, however references to relevant
FTP-able material and Web URL's are welcomed.

Announcements concerning real ale issues are welcomed if they are from
non-commercial organisations but blatant off-topic or commercial
advertising and job adverts are not permitted.


[Part Two - Netiquette]

Q: How can I ensure that I don't make a fool of myself when posting?
A: It is recommended that you spend some time reading this newsgroup
before you post to it. When you post, make sure you have something
worthwhile to say, say it accurately and remember the readers here want
REAL ALE. Foreign matters are normally best in or

Q: Can I post the same message to other newsgroups?
A: Please consider carefully before cross posting to other newsgroups. In
particular be careful about replying to a cross-posted message and
upsetting the members of another newsgroup.

Q: Can I advertise my favourite beer, pub or beer festival?
A: Yes. Newsgroup readers are always keen to hear of Real ale events and
products but are easily upset by repeated and off-topic posts and will
reprimand you in public if you mislead them.
Please have the courtesy to use an informative subject line.

Q: Can I post about real cider and perry here?
A: The charter doesn't mention cider or perry but it does state that
issues related to real ale are welcome. There is a cider mailing list
at .
These is also a comprehensive ukcider wiki at

Q: I'll be visiting the UK/sometown soon. Is this the place to ask for
A: Yes as long as you don't overdo it. The more specific you are about
your itinerary, the better the chance of getting specific recommendations.
You'll frequently be recommended to get a copy of the CAMRA Good Beer
Guide, which contains details of real ale pubs recommended by CAMRA
members. See Part 8 Resources for more details.

Q: Can I attach a file to my posting?
A: One of the most common errors is to post attachments such as images,
HTML code or Word documents to messages. PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS.
All messages should be plain text.

Q: When I reply to a message, should I return the original text?
A: Only selectively. Do not unnecessarily quote someone else's message. 
There is nothing worse than having to re-read a message to find a Me too 
from you at the bottom.

Q: How do I avoid starting or getting involved in a heated debate?
A: If you want to post something that may cause annoyance to others,
consider an email posting to those concerned. There is nothing worse than
having to read a debate on a newsgroup between two antagonists.

Q: Is this newsgroup run by CAMRA?
A: is a public newsgroup and completely 
independent from CAMRA.

[Part Three - Glossary of common terms and beer styles]

(Some terms have a specific meaning or can be confusing.)

A.B.V.: Alcohol by volume as a percentage. 3.5(%) is session beer. Beers
of 5% and above are strong.

Barrel: A unit of measure (36 gallons). NEVER used to describe a round
thing in a cellar. See 'Cask'.

Burton Union: A method of fermenting beer in which yeast is transferred
from large casks into subsequent brews. The system was once used in the
brewing of Draught Bass but now only Marstons use the system to brew their
Pedigree ale.

B.C.A.: See Bottle Conditioned Ale

Blanket Pressure: A low pressure of CO2 or Nitrogen added to a cask. Can
make the beer fizzy and is not recommended.

Bottle Conditioned Ale: A bottled beer where some or all of the secondary
fermentation takes place after bottling.

Bright: (1) Clear. Real ale normally drops bright a day or so after
being racked. (2) Can be used to describe beer that has been filtered to
improve the polish. Keg beers are always bright, having been filtered
and pasteurised.

Carry keg: A plastic container with a pressure safe top designed for the
transport of small (typically four pints) amounts of real ale.

Cask: Generic term for what most people would call a beer barrel. A cask
doesn't specify any particular size. See Pin, Kil etc.

Cask conditioned: Yeast works on remaining sugars after being casked. This
produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The latter dissolves in the beer and
gives it life when served. Typically it takes a week for this process
(also known as secondary fermentation) to happen.

Condition: The amount of carbon dioxide in the beer. Excessive carbon
dioxide will produce a beer that is too gassy and sharp. Too little will
result in a flat insipid drink.

EBCU: European Beer Consumer Union, a federation of beer consumer
organisations. Camra is the main movement, with 75% of the members, but
there are groups from Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland,
Italy, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Estonia, with more
knocking at the door regularly. Aims are to exchange experiences and
co-ordinate campaigning at an European (ie more than EU) level.

Fining: The process of clearing the beer by adding 'FININGS'. The finings
act to clump together fine particles so they fall to the bottom of the
cask. A typical dose might be 1.5% by volume, normally added before the
cask leaves the brewery. (One possible reason for cloudy beer is that
either the original dose was too little for the amount of yeast sediment
generated during secondary fermentation or the cask has been repeatedly
shaken up and the finings have as a result of this become tired.)

Finings: Thick liquid frequently and traditionally derived from seaweed or 
fish bladders, which precipitate fine particles.

Firkin: A 9 gallon cask.

Free House:  A a pub that is not bound by any agreements to sell any 
particular brewers products. A much abused label, that frequently adorns 
pubs that are not free in any way shape or form - see tied house.

Gravity: (1) Serving method. A tap is hammered into the end of the cask
and glasses filled directly from it. (2) Until recently the strength of
beer was quoted by O.G. or Original Gravity. This was determined by how
much sugar was dissolved in the liquor before the yeast was added. The
more sugar the more alcohol will be present after fermentation. Hence a
high gravity beer is a strong one.

Green (Green beer): Fresh from the brewery and not yet matured in the
cellar. Most beers come to no harm at all by being left for at least a
week before tapping. (See Cask Conditioned)

Guest ale: A beer from another brewery. (Possibly, in the case of a free
house, a beer out of the ordinary run.)

Gyle: A batch of beer in a single brew.

Hand Pump: Bar mounted hand pull. (NOT a tiny tap or connected to one.)
The handle is connected to a piston, which draws beer from the cask along
a pipe to the spout.

Hogshead: A 54 gallon cask (now rare).

Keg: Pasteurised, filtered and artificially fizzed up beer.

Kil, Kill, Kilderkin: A 18 gallon cask.

Landlord: A publican. Confusing as a pub landlord might actually be a
tenant! The term originates from the days when an inn would provide

Licensee: A Publican. Licensing magistrates give licences to serve
alcohol. The implication is that publicans can lose their licence if the
magistrates think they are not a suitable person to run a pub. Possibly
because they have been known to flout licensing laws or otherwise come to
the frequent notice of the local constabulary.

Nitrokeg: Variation on 'Keg' using Nitrogen as well as or instead of
Carbon Dioxide. Used to produce 'creamy heads' ala Guinness. Not real.

Pin, Polypin: Four and a half gallons. A polypin is a collapsible
polythene bag inside a cardboard cube. Often non-returnable. A good bet
for a party at home.

PINT: Promotie Informatie Traditioneel Bier, Dutch beer consumer
organisation, started up as CAMRA Netherlands.

Publican: Person in charge of a particular pub.

Racking: The process of transferring beer from one container to another.
In the brewery it refers to the transfer of the beer from a holding or
conditioning vessel into the cask.

Re-racking: The transfer from the cask to another vessel - usually after
the beer has been left to settle so the beer can be served bright in
situations where traditional cask beer can't be served.

(Re) Racked-beer: Beer that has been transferred from a cask to container
after being allowed to settle, leaving the sediment behind. The remaining
beer can be safely transported, for example in a carry-keg for a party.

Spiling: For transit and storage a cask is sealed. A vent hole is provided
on the top of the cask. Some while before being served the peg sealing
this hole (the spile hole) is knocked through to open up the beer to the
atmosphere. This is spiling. Once done the cask will have to be used
within a few days.

Stillaging: The process of setting up the cask on a stillage (usually in
the pub cellar) ready for venting and tapping.

Tapping: Fitting the tap, like spiling, consists of knocking through a
seal and inserting a tap. Unless this is a gravity system the tap will
then be connected to the pump ready to draw.

Tenant: Publican. Many publicans are essentially operating a franchise.
They pay rent to the brewery as well as being tied to take their beer.

Tied house: A pub owned by a brewery (or pub company) that is tied to
selling what the brewery says. There are many pubs who claim to be free
but have done deals (such accepting loans on generous terms) in return for
guaranteeing to take certain brands.

Ullage: Waste beer left at the bottom of an empty cask or overflowing into
a drip tray. It should not be filtered back into the cask. Most brewers
allow for a proportion of 'lost' beer.

[Part Four - A glossary of common beer styles]

Please be aware that exact definitions are not possible.  The explosion in
smaller brewers experimenting, making this especially so.  Always look at
the pump clip because for example some 'milds' eg. Sarah Hughes, are

Ale: A beer brewed with a top-fermenting yeast. It used to refer to a beer
made without hops but this is not the case now.

Bitter: A highly hopped beer and the most common type of draught ale.
Bitters can range from below 3.5% up to 5% ABV.

Brown ale: A bottled, lightly hopped and sweetish mild ale. Usually lower
in gravity though there are exceptions.

Golden Ale: Pale, straw or amber in colour. 
A strong hop character leading to a refreshing character.

Heavy: A Scottish and North East term for a medium strength beer usually
light in colour!

IPA: India Pale Ale. Strictly speaking a high strength pale ale for export
but the term is commonly used for light bitter ales.

Lager: A British term for a continental beer made with a bottom fermenting
yeast using different malt and hops than most bitters. They undergo a long
secondary fermentation at a low temperature. Most British lagers are weak,
inferior versions of their mainland Europe namesakes.

Light ale: A low gravity bottled ale. Scottish light ales are usually dark

Mild: A lightly hopped beer, often dark in colour and usually low in
Old ales: See Winter ales.

Pale ale: A medium gravity bottled ale. The term is used in the South West
to refer to low gravity draught ales.

Porter: A dark and sweetish but well hopped beer.

60/-, 70/-, 80/-, 90/-: 60 shilling, 70 shilling, 80 shilling, 90 shilling
ale, all terms for Scottish beers. They equate, very roughly, to mild,
light, heavy and strong.

Stout: Usually very dark, heavy and well hopped beer. Dry tasting with a
creamy head. Though the term is no longer used, Milk Stout is thought to 
have been so named because it contained lactose, a sugar derived from 
milk. As lactose cannot be fermented by yeast, the sugar stays in the beer.

Wheat beer: A beer originating from Bavaria where it is known as Weizen.
The wheat is added to the mash and results in a refreshing summer drink.
Both pale and dark versions are available, some are brewed to be drunk
hazy, some brewed to be drunk clear.

Winter ale: Usually a high gravity and full-flavoured beer sold during the
winter months. The name is now synonymous with Old ale.

[Part Five - What is and is not Real-Ale]

Q: What is the definition of Real Ale?
A: Real ale MUST be alive when you drink it. This is the fundamental
definition. The alternative is pasteurisation. (ie killing off the yeast
before the beer leaves the brewery.) Real ale continues to ferment in the
cask or bottle after leaving the brewery. This process is known as
secondary fermentation. As the fermentation proceeds after putting into
casks (cask conditioned) or bottles, (bottle conditioned) the carbon
dioxide produced is dissolved into the liquor and gives the beer a natural
measure of 'Condition' (see section 2.b). If you have killed off the yeast
before casking you have to add CO2 to make the beer fizz. In the majority
of cases real ale will be brewed with traditional (or variations of)
recipes using traditional techniques.

Q: What is so special about real ale?
A: Taste. The secondary fermentation allows the complex and interesting
flavours to develop and produce a beer of far more character and taste
than the non-real version. Because real ale doesn't use extraneous gas,
your beer will not bloat you like keg version can.

Q: Why are brewers so keen to sell pasteurised beer?
A: Because it keeps for many months, is easy to standardise month in month
out, and doesn't require any attention in the cellar or at point of sale.
If they arrange the gassing up correctly the beer is served with a large
head which looks like it ought to on the telly, but being air and not
liquid is an excuse for serving short measures - every drop paid for but
not served is pure profit.

Q: How do I know if a beer is 'real'?
A: Look for the words real ale or cask conditioned. For most people
the handpump is the sign of real ale but things aren't always that simple.
Some unscrupulous brewers and pubs use what looks like a handpump but is
just a keg dispenser. Sometimes real ale is served with added gas
rendering it 'non-real'. In certain parts of the UK (West Midlands, North
West) it used to be common for real ale to be dispensed with an electric
pump. If in doubt though, just ask. Bottled real ales are invariably
marked Bottle Conditioned and you may well be able to see sediment. The
following are NOT real and are Keg beers - all Nitro Keg such as Caffreys
and Guinness, Tins and most bottled beers. If it is served through a tiny
plastic tap attached to a fancy bar mounted advertising box or array of
taps on a brass frame then it is NOT real.

[Part Six - Beer, brewing and serving]

Q: What is the brief history of beer in the UK?
A: Something like beer has probably been drunk for many thousands of
years. For centuries it has been an accepted part of northern European
lifestyle. The largest brewhouses were to be found in religious
institutions that catered for a complete community, but otherwise brewing
was on a domestic scale. 19th century industrialisation had a profound
effect on the size of breweries and started a continuous process of
takeovers and mergers with breweries and brewing companies getting larger
and more powerful. The wealth of the brewers lead to their establishing
what today we call franchises - the tied house where the publican is a
tenant of the brewery and sells only their beer.

Fortunately there are still breweries where you can see the traditional
processes used for the last two hundred years.

In the 60's the production of keg beer, increased rapidly. By filtering
and sterilising before it left the brewery, then adding gas at the pub,
the beer was easier to keep, always looked clear with lots of nice fizz.
The economics of this operation and the marketing opportunities arising
from it lead to an acceleration in the continuing process of takeovers,
eliminating small brands, closing smaller breweries to build larger, more
modern ones. Also at the time many brews suddenly became weaker.

It is easy to forget 25 years on how serious the possibility of the
complete elimination of traditional, unpasteurised beer really was. The
nucleus of consumer reaction was provided by the Campaign for real ale,
which struck a chord among many drinkers. This resulted in all the major
breweries except Guinness retaining a portfolio of real ales, even though
some of those left a lot to be desired, often being presented as if made
in small breweries or a completely different brew under a resurrected

Q: How is beer brewed?
A: Field to Flush - Barley to Brain - Brewing & retailing in a nutshell

Probably the most important ingredient of beer is barley. This is Malted,
that is steeped in water to start germination, kept nice and warm to
continue germination, then toasted to stop germination before the seedling
has had time to use up the store of energy in the grain, but not before it
has converted it from starch (non soluble) to sugar (soluble). The sugar
is what yeast uses to make alcohol. Turn up the heat a bit more and some
of the sugar turns into toffee. This adds colouring and subtle taste to
the beer. Take water, treat it to make it fit for brewing, heat it to the
correct temperature, add crushed malt, leave awhile. Drain the liquid
(called wort pronounced wurt) and rinse the malt (called sparging) to
get as much of the sugar out as possible. Add some hops and boil. Hops
give bitterness and flowery hints to the brew. Traditionally, hops means
hop flowers as picked in the field. Often peleted hops are used instead.
This is a far more compact and convenient method of handling and storing
them but some subtleties are lost. A further development is hop oil.
Although this is ideal for modern process brewing it has a rather poor
reputation amongst drinkers.

Drain into a tank to cool then add yeast. The yeast will start fermenting
the sugars from the malted barley into alcohol and carbon dioxide. As it
does so it makes more yeast. Being a biological process the yeast likes to
have a go at doing other organic chemistry on the side. The effects are
small in comparison to the main activity of making alcohol but distinctive
flavours are created by the yeast. After the fermentation has died down,
filter off most of the yeast and leave to settle for a few days. Drain
into casks. Finings, a thick liquid, is added to each cask to make the
beer polished. Some brews have extra hops added at this stage called
dry hopping. Store for a week before dispatch to let the beer condition
in the cask. (If making keg beer then here you'd heat the beer to kill all
yeast, filter all yeast out, put in a keg then carbonate. (Definitely NOT
real ale!)

In days past most beer went on brewery owned drays from brewery direct to
pubs. This is still how a lot is delivered, but nowadays there are
wholesalers. Large ones do deals with brewers to make their beers
available in more outlets. These deals are often complex packages and are
concerned with bulk distribution and marketing. Smaller ones are more
concerned with obtaining beers from smaller breweries then transporting
them all over the country to supply free houses. All distribution chains
are a possible source of carelessness in caring for beer. Free-houses are
easily tempted by cheaper beer, but this may be from a poor supply route.

Q: What is the cask breather argument about?
A: When a cask is being emptied over a few dozen hours Carbon Dioxide
(CO2) is released from solution in the beer into the space above the beer.
However this is a gradual process as during opening hours the spile hole
will be open to atmosphere and there is plenty of opportunity for the
ordinary atmosphere from the cellar to enter the cask as the beer is
tapped faster than CO2 comes out of solution. If, instead of letting the
cellar atmosphere and whatever pollutants, organisms and oxygen in, why
not help the natural process of CO2 release along by piping CO2 to the
spile hole? In the more brutal system this involves CO2 at more than
atmospheric pressure. A correctly set up cask breather system maintains
the pressure in the head space at atmospheric pressure. This sounds ideal,
but there are arguments for against and alternatives. The argument for is
basically that the beer keeps longer and the end of the cask has a better
head. The arguments against are basically: Even at 1 atmosphere the beer
takes up much more CO2 and the sterile atmosphere prevents ageing. The
alternatives are basically: If there is no problem then do nothing. Plan
to use casks in about three days. If demand isn't present then don't stock
it or use a smaller cask size. Use nitrogen.

Q: What is the swan-necks and sparklers argument about?
A: If you agitate the beer it foams up. This has the effect of taking
bitterness from the body of the beer into the foam. The age old method of
serving beer is to pour it direct from a tap in the cask. This spills out
under the simple influence of gravity (hence the name given to this method
of dispense) into a jug or glass. To put a pretty head on this beer hold
the glass further below the tap. Handpumps draw the beer through pipes
attached at one end to the cask to the other the spout. Obviously the beer
is agitated a bit more as the beer is forced through the pipes, pump and
valves. If small bore pipes are employed with many throws of the pump, or
impeller pumps are used, the beer is shaken about rather more. If the
spout is simply a tap with no restriction, then the beer is poured into
the glass gently. On the other hand it may be a small diameter pipe, which
is used nowadays, often in the form of a hairpin which has the effect of
shooting the beer into the glass and really stirring it up. This
small-bore hairpin is called a swan neck.

By squirting the beer through a nozzle containing small holes in it,
called a sparkler, an even greater effect is obtained. Sometimes a very
dull beer can have life added to it by passing it through a simple
restriction in a plain spout. Normally though the sparkler is used
indiscriminately to foam the beer and make it look like you see on the

The trouble is that this is not just about what it looks like. Bittering
agents especially migrate to the surfaces of the bubbles in the foam
making the foam bitter, but this flavour comes from the body. (Taste the
foam then the beer.) There is a myth that 'Northern' beers have always
been served like this. However today this appears to be accepted as fact
by many. Assume that country pubs in the south of the country will tend to
have plain dispense without swan-necks and sparklers and the opposite
applies elsewhere. The disputes arise because some people prefer, or are
simply used to, having the bite taken out of their beer. Some people don't
go by taste at all but assume the beer is flat and therefore off if it
doesn't foam up, not realising that the appearance is due to the barmaids
muscles, not the basic condition.

Q: How can I buy real ale for use at home or for a club, wedding, party
A: Often your best bet is to ask your local publican. If you think that
four and a half gallons is enough then try to get hold of a polypin. This
is a plastic bag inside a cardboard box and is often non- returnable, so
there are no worries about a deposit. All you need to do to dispense the
racked-beer (see glossary) is to turn on the already fitted tap.

If you have a place that will serve as a cellar for three days, (a kitchen
might just do if you can keep the beer at 14/15 degrees centigrade (56deg.
F) and make sure it won't get knocked as people pass, then you can keep
the beer as a publican would do. You need advice on how and when to tap
and spile the cask as well as the tools for the job. This is fun if you
have the time and the friendly publican. Alternatively you might want to
pick up the beer in the morning of the event and serve in the afternoon or
evening. This wouldn't normally be possible because the beer wouldn't
settle but the way to do it is to have a 're-racked' cask. Your friendly
publican drains a cask that has been maturing in his cellar into a freshly
cleaned cask on the morning of the event. Your re-racked cask can be
manhandled and tapped minutes before serving, but must be consumed on the

A carry keg with its pressure safe top is an ideal way to take a small
amount (typically four pints) of beer home. When the beer is being
transferred, make sure that any sparkler is slackened off or removed,
otherwise it froths up and by the time you get the beer home, it's already
going flat. If you can persuade the barkeeper to dispense directly into
the carrykeg, that's quicker and disturbs the beer less, but they
generally insist on measuring the beer out into pint glasses, then
decanting then into the carrykeg (hence the funnel). But a properly
maintained beer engine should be capable of dispensing measures of one
quarter pint or one half pint in each pull.
It's not essential to buy 4 pints every time though the beer does keep its
condition better if there's less airspace. But if you only want a couple
of pints, that will keep fine for an hour or so on the way home. Generally
speaking, beer in a carrykeg should be consumed within 24 hours.
Another possibility is the PET plastic pop bottle, available from any good
supermarket in 1, 1.5, 2 and 3 litre sizes. Of course you do have to make
sure that you first of all drain them and cleanse them of any sugary
residue but they are built to withstand pressurised gas and they are
usually cheaper than an empty carrykeg. Also the neck is narrower so more
care has to be taken in filling a pop bottle.

Remember that without a licence you can't sell beer. Without a licence you
can only serve beer at a private party. A wedding falls into this category
but a club event may not.

Q: Beer X: Has it changed?

This question regularly arises on the newsgroup.

Real ales, such as those mentioned above, are living products, produced
using natural processes (fermentation) from natural ingredients.

Despite the best quality control systems, some slight variations in
flavour, and occasionally colour, do occur from batch to batch, from
season to season and from year to year. Factors such as the quality of a
particular year's hop or barley harvest, the length of time since the hops
were harvested or the barley was malted, even the weather can affect the
end flavour of a beer brewed to the same recipe.
This slight but perceptible seasonal variation in a naturally conditioned
ale may be thought of as similar to that found in the finest vintage wines
and is considered by some connoisseurs to be part of its attraction.

Generally, cask-conditioned beer from the larger-scale and more
'industrial' breweries is more consistent than that from the smaller craft
breweries, but the down-side is that it is often less interesting.
Furthermore, ales with complex flavours are possibly more prone to
variation than those with a relatively simple taste profile.

The issue is compounded by the way real ale is now distributed around the
country via wholesalers and sold far from its home territory using
dispense methods other than that for which the beer has been brewed.

In addition, different beers often need to be handled differently in the
cellar. Some benefit from being allowed time to mature, while others may
not need this. A licensee having a particular beer as an occasional guest
may not know how best to look after that beer.

As a result of all these factors, a particular beer may taste different
and not as good as the drinker fondly remembers it, particularly if they
only manage to sample it occasionally.

Some breweries do change the recipes, lower the gravity or otherwise muck
about with their famous (and not so famous) brands and where this is
happening, or suspected by regular drinkers of the beers, the newsgroup
welcomes postings alerting us to the problem.

[Part Seven - Drinker's rights]

Q: Can I ask for my money back even if I have drunk some beer?
A: Yes at a last resort. If you are served bitter instead of mild or
vinegar instead of beer then make your complaint known. You have a right
to get what you ask for, and for it to be of reasonable quality. (By the
same token the publican expects you to be reasonable and know what you
want.) If the beer isn't what you're used to then that is the luck of the
draw. Real ale is never the same two days running. Regardless of Jim is
drinking it so it must be OK etc. etc. you can insist on either getting a
decent pint or your money back the choice is yours (see How can I tell if
my beer is in good condition below). If you get snotty responses to your
complaint don't go there again and tell the rest of the world not to go
there as well.

Q: Can I insist on a sparkler being removed?
A: No. If you get a refusal on asking, go elsewhere. You may get excuses
like management policy, brewery insists but it is your choice. You
might get less peculiar looks if you ask for your pint without a head or

Q: Can I insist on a top up to a full pint?
A: Yes. If you ask for a pint you should get a pint!!!!!!!!! At the moment
(although the law may change on this soon), a test case has shown that
pubs can serve a pint up to 5% short, but if you feel that you are being
short changed then INSIST on a top-up.

Q: How can I tell if my beer is not in good condition?
A: If your beer tastes (and smells) vinegary it is definitely off and
you should ask for a replacement. If the beer just doesn't taste as it
should, it could be one the last few pints drawn before the barrel is
empty or a bad batch from the brewery. Again you can ask for a replacement
and often you will often see the barrel being changed shortly afterwards!
It's rare these days to get cloudy beer but again, even if it tastes ok,
you should ask for a fresh one. Don't be fobbed off by a barman telling
you that no-one else has complained about the beer. Some drinkers may
actually like foul tasting beer and others just don't like to complain!

[Part Eight - Resources]

Q: What real ale related organisations exist?

Campaign for Real Ale:
230 Hatfield Rd., St Albans Herts AL1 4LW, UK.
With 100,000 members, CAMRA the Campaign For Real Ale is the UK's
biggest and most well known real ale organisation. CAMRA runs beer
festivals including Britain's biggest the Great British Beer Festival and
produces the Good Beer Guide. Members receive a monthly newspaper What's
Brewing. CAMRA's heart is its numerous local branches.

The Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood.
This is Britain's oldest real ale organisation with similar aims to CAMRA
but on a much smaller scale.

Q: What real ale resources can I find on the internet?
There are numerous beer related pages on the internet. The following are
a good starting point.

The CAMRA site has links to the many branches of CAMRA who have their own
web site and local pub guides. The following is a very abridged list of
what is available:

British Beer and Pub Association:


Pubworld licensed trade site:

Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood:

Tony Green's real ale pages:

Bill Buchanan's RateBeer pages: 

The D2 Engineering Great British Beer site:

Q: What is the best guide to find real ale?
A: The CAMRA Good Beer Guide is the premier guide to pubs that sell real
ale. Published annually, each county is given its own section. The pubs
are selected by local branches and there are natural biases towards
centres of population and easy to reach places, but most gems are properly
represented. The pubs are chosen by drinkers and the first criterion is
the quality of the beer. Like any other guide, it is not perfect but for
real ale enthusiasts this is probably the best guide there is. The GBG
includes a useful section that describes each beer and the breweries from
where they come.

Q: What other beer guides are there?
A: The Good Pub Guide, although its primary aim is to direct people to
good pubs, includes many entries that aren't in the GBG but serve real
ales in very pleasant surroundings. It's listings show what beers are
served. A large number of CAMRA branches have produced guides that cover
specific areas such as counties or regions. Some list all the real ale
pubs in an area others are more selective. A list of these guides which
usually cost well under five pounds can be obtained from CAMRA. Some of
these guides can be found on-line.

Q: What books are there about beer. brewing and cellarmanship?
A: The following are all available from the CAMRA bookshop at

The CAMRA Guide to Cellarmanship by Ivor Clissold
Easily read comprehensive guide to terms, what goes on inside a cask,
equipment, cellar work and includes a section on how brewers recommend
looking after their beer.

The CAMRA guide to Home Brewing by Graham Wheeler
Contains recipes and information on brewing mild, bitter, porters, stouts
and old ales.

Brew your own real ale at home by Graham Wheeler and Roger Protz
Real ale recipes for the home brewer.

[End of the Frequently Asked Questions for]

Corrections and additions to: Brett Laniosh (

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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:12 PM