Real Ale is defined by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the Oxford English Dictionary as a name for draught (or bottled) beer from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide. Cask Conditioning is a process by which beer is prepared for serving, including its secondary fermentation. Cask Conditioned Real Ale is characterized by it’s relatively low level of carbonation, it’s brilliant clarity, and it’s relatively high serving temperature (53–57F).

What this means is that there is nothing unique in brewing British Real Ale. Traditional ingredients mean malted barley, hops, water, and yeast, but also means any number of adjunct grains, including corn, and other fermentable sugars. What is unique is the way the beer is conditioned and then served without extraneous gas.

And this means that there is more to Cask Conditioned Real Ale than a beer pushed through a beer engine. Dispense from a beer engine is currently a very popular way of serving not only cask conditioned real ale, but also any other beer. There’s no trick to pulling any beer from a beer engine–it’s just a pump.

So what is Cask Conditioned Real Ale? Cask Conditioned Real Ale is beer that emphasizes freshness above all else (with the exception of Old Ales). The live yeast in the cask adds to the sensation that this is truly fresh, live beer. The conditioning and serving process insures a level of freshness. Any beer exposed to air will stale within days. Under a CO 2 blanket, it could remain drinkable for weeks, but would hardly be fresh throughout its serving life. In addition, proper cellaring should also insure that the cask conditioned real ale is served at or near its peak. It is not uncommon in the UK to have an Ordinary Bitter go, literally, from grain to glass in less than 3 weeks. This is fresh beer.

Real Ale Style Guidelines

Real Ale
Mild 1.030-1.038 1.008-1.013 10-20 10-20 2.5-4.0
Ordinary Bitter 1.030-1.038 1.008-1.013 20-40 6-14 3.0-3.8
Special or Best Bitter 1.039-1.045 1.009-1.014 20-45 6-14 3.7-4.8
Golden Ale 1.038-1.049 1.008-1.013 15-40 2-8 3.6-5.1
Strong Bitter / ESB 1.046-1.065 1.011-1.020 30-65 6-14 4.4-6.2
Northern English Brown 1.040-1.050 1.010-1.013 15-30 12-30 4.0-5.0
Southern English Brown 1.033-1.042 1.011-1.014 12-20 19-35 2.8-4.1
Old Ale 1.060-1.090 1.015-1.022 30-60 12-16 6.0-9.0+
Strong Mild 1.050-1.065 1.013-1.020 15-25 12-16 5.0-6.5
Brown Porter 1.040-1.050 1.008-1.014 20-30 20-35 3.8-5.2
Dry Stout 1.035-1.050 1.007-1.011 30-50 35+ 3.2-5.5
Sweet Stout 1.035-1.066 1.010-1.022 20-40 35+ 3.0-5.6
Oatmeal Stout 1.035-1.060 1.010-1.018 20-50 35+ 3.3-6.0
Scottish Light 60/- 1.030-1.034 1.010-1.013 9-15 12-34 2.5-3.3
Scottish Heavy 70/- 1.034-1.040 1.011-1.015 10-25 10-19 3.2-3.9
Scottish Export 80/- 1.040-1.050 1.013-1.017 15-36 10-19 3.9-4.9
Strong Scotch Ale 1.070-1.130 1.018-1.030+ 17-35 14-25 6.5-10