Most people from Britain, at least, will have heard of “Real Ale”. They’ll most likely associate it with old blokes with beards, woolly jumpers and the pedants and beer snobs from CAMRA. They’ll “know” that it’s not lager. They may well believe that it is heavy, turgid and off- tasting dark stuff from the days of the 1990’s short lived “Real Ale Craze”.
None of these things are true. So what IS and ISN’T beer?
Most commercial lagers as sold in Britain are not “real” beer. Beer (or ale, if you must) is a drink made from water, malted barley, hops and maybe other “adjuncts” in the form of other grains or sugar. That lot is then fermented (yeast turns the sugars into alcohol) and it is now that the prime difference emerges: Most common lagers, all keg bitters, most bottled beer and ALL “Smooth” beers are then pasteurized. So is almost ALL Guinness.
This kills off any bugs in the beer: but- and this is vitally important- it also kills off any yeast remaining. Even worse, it kills off much of the complexities of taste in the beer. To make matters worse, the beer is then usually filtered, which buggers things up even more. By now,the “beer” is as flat as a pancake and is dead. You could pour as much sugar as you like in, there’s little chance of it fermenting from any residual yeast.
The beer is then injected, rapidly, with either carbon dioxide or a mix of nitrogen and CO2. Then- oh crime of crimes!- the beer must be kept in cold conditions, because nitrogen, in particular, will attempt to get out in higher temperatures.
Lager was designed, generally, for lower temperatures, and this process doesn’t harm it as much as it does English beers or Irish style stouts. But for the latter beers, it is a travesty to allow this to happen.
Drink these, and you are drinking a marketing man’s con trick.
What’s in a word?
They say “smooth”, but they actually mean “bland”. Guinness makes a virtue out of a glaring fault: such drinks should not be served cold. Like English beers, 15 degrees C is about right. Try it with a fresh pint of Guinness. Use your taste buds properly and notice the depth of flavour. Serving drinks cold cons the taste buds: it is said that after 2 glasses of cold Champagne, one could serve equally cold, good quality dry cider and few would notice the difference. Note: warm Champagne is also a serious crime!
But “Smooth” beers are the beer equivalent of cheap instant coffee compared to real, Italian Espresso. The marketing man tells you that the beer is smooth, and makes a virtue out of the fault of being cold, but such businesses would much prefer us all to drink such rubbish: “Smooth” beers, also known as “Nitro-keg” have a very long shelf life, and like keg lager, there’s no beer keeping skills required in the pub and very little waste. Yet- and here’s the good bit!- they charge more for smooth beers!
REAL English beers and REAL Irish stouts (the type on a hand pull pump at the pub) are alive. They still continue fermenting, very slowly, and develop more character as time passes. We wouldn’t tolerate being sold food that claims to be one thing, but is actually a convenient facsimile for the manufacturer’s profits. Next time you go for a good cup of Espresso, how would you like it if you believed that they were making it properly, from ground coffee, then using a machine to blast steam through the coffee. And then you find out that it’s not actually made on the premises, and it’s not actually freshly made, and it’s actually made from coffee powder substitute?
And then they charge you more for it.
And- most importantly- don’t you think you could taste the difference?
I drink and brew real beer not because I have a beard, have a love of knitwear, pedantry or bothering landlords about using sparklers, or attacking them with “beer head rulers” and demanding my hard earned £0.002p back, because that head was 2mm larger than the (southern-centric) CAMRA beer Nazis deem acceptable.
I drink and brew real beer because it tastes better and because it’s a very old ENGLISH and, indeed EUROPEAN tradition. Yes, lager can be “Real” beer, too. But very rarely in Britain.