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  1. What is CAMRA?
  2. What does CAMRA do?
  3. What is this “Real Ale” stuff?
  4. So, if this dead keg beer is so poor, why is so much of it sold?
  5. Is Bitter Real Ale, and lager not real ale?
  6. Where can I find Real Ale?
  7. How do I recognise Real Ale in a pub?
  8. Why do you say Real Ale is better?
  9. Is it more expensive?
  10. What is so bad about “non-real beer? I often have it.
  11. I do much of my drinking at home, so Real Ale doesn’t apply to me. Is that right?
  12. My local doesn’t sell Real Ale. What can I do?
  13. You guys all work for breweries don’t you?
  14. Doesn’t beer make you fat?
  15. It’s hot. I need something refreshing. That means lager, doesn’t it?
  16. Any more questions?

What is CAMRA?

A national consumer organisation. Apart from a small co-ordinating staff in St Albans, the rest of the 70,000 plus of us are volunteer members. You could be one.
The membership is organised into “Branches” which co-ordinate campaigning and social activities locally. Back to top

What does CAMRA do?

We lobby in Parliament for things such as legislation to ensure you get a full pint, for flexible opening hours and for the freedom of choice for a licensee to stock guest beers.

We publish books, newsletters and posters to draw the attention of the consumer to important issues.

We publish local pub guides for most areas of the country as well as the best-selling national Good Beer Guide to give you an unbiased guide to the best beers and pubs wherever you are.

We publish or distribute a variety of other useful guides featuring:

  • accommodation 
  • Room at the Inn
  • eating out 
  • Good Pub Food Guide
  • pubs for families
  • Best Pubs for Families
  • take home beer
  • Good Bottled Beer Guide
  • the overseas scene
  • Good Beer Guide to Northern France
    Good Beer Guide to Belgium, Holland & Luxembourg
  • home brewing
  • Home brewing
    Brew your own British Real Ale at Home
    Brew Classic European Beers at Home
  • ……and many more.

We present Awards and Certificates to consistently good pubs.

We hold Beer Festivals in may localities, to enable you to sample traditional beers, ciders and perries from independent producers (these are the keen ones, who care about quality and taste. Not to be confused with the mega-national leisure combines run by accountants and advertising executives!) Back to top

What is this “Real Ale” stuff?

All beer starts out the same way. Malted barley, water, a spot of yeast, and hops to taste. (although some of the less committed brewers use inferior quality ingredients.)

It’s what happens next that makes the difference between Real Ale and the second-rate stuff that we call “keg beer”. Back to top

Real Ale

The traditional method is to pour the beer into casks (barrels) and after a while, sell it. That’s it.

The yeast carries on doing its job, converting the sugars from the malt into alcohol. This is a complicated piece of biochemistry for such a little beast, but it creates a complex and sophisticated set of flavours as this “fermentation” continues in the cask. The process produces a modest amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) which gives the beer a little life and stops it seeming flat.

That’s Real Ale, and looked after properly, it can be wonderful.

Clearly, a living product needs to be looked after well, and the good cellarman, skilled in his craft will work hard to ensure that every pint reaches you in tip-top condition.

Keg Beer

Before the beer leaves the brewery, it is filtered or pasteurised to kill the yeast. At a stroke this means that the taste stops developing, and it can taste rather thin and lacking in character. To mask the deadness, they pump lots of CO2 into it, which usually caused flatulence in the unfortunate consumer. In recent years, they have sought to correct the worst effects of their blunder by changing the gas to a mixture of Nitrogen and CO2. This creates the so-called “smooth” or “creamflow” beers, which are widely promoted as traditional beers. As you can see, they are not. They are simply the latest variant of keg beers.

Dead, but with a fake impression of life, they are the zombies of the beer world. Avoid them at all costs!

Needless to say, the people who commit such unspeakable practices with your beer have more of an eye on profits than heritage, and will often use inferior quality ingredients. That’s what happens when accountants get ideas above their station! Back to top

So, if this dead keg beer is so poor, why is so much of it sold?

The answer lies in advertising. The mass of the British Public is not particularly discerning, and will buy just about any old rubbish if you spend enough on a high-profile advertising campaign. This creates an artificial demand for an inferior product. Perversely, it is usually sold at inflated prices too, adding insult to injury. Back to top

Is Bitter Real Ale, and lager not real ale?

Not necessarily.

Bitter is a traditional British style of beer, getting its name from the slightly bitter flavour imparted by the use of hops.

There are over 1000 bitters in the UK which are real ale. You can recognise them as they are usually served by a Hand Pump or straight from the barrel.

There are a score or so of bitters which are served in dead, keg form These are generally found spewing from little illuminated boxes on the bar, or from those pretentious brass T-bar fonts. They are mostly household names. Like Domestos or Toilet Duck, you should not drink them!

Lagers, in the UK, are almost always not real ale. They are simply a sub-style of keg beers, often given a fake Germanic or Scandinavian name to kid you that they are not produced in a factory in Wrexham or Moss Side. A cynical ploy to cash in on the market for “foreign” beers which grew up with the package holiday boom of the Sixties, they are extremely poor imitations of various European styles.

One or two micro-brewers have produced cask lagers which are real ale. These are served from hand pumps, and are worth trying, as they have much more body and character than the dead versions. Schiehallion is the one you are most likely to see. Back to top

Where can I find Real Ale?

Very possibly, in your local. A growing proportion of pubs sell Real Ale. Many that do will advertise the fact with terms such as “Cask Ales” or “Traditional Ales”. Short of pot luck or word of mouth, we suggest that you use CAMRA publications.

The Good Beer Guide is a national summary of some of our best pubs, with all the details you will need of inns with consistently high quality real ales. Covering the whole of the country, it is invaluable when travelling.

Local guide books, such as the award-winning “Out Inn CHESHIRE” (now sadly out of print) or Viaducts & Vaults, the Stockport guide, offer comprehensive guides to specific areas. 

CAMRA newsletters such as Out Inn Cheshire, Opening Times and Mersey Drinker are packed full of pub news and features on the best hostelries in each area.

This Website has a LINK to a selection of the best pubs in Cheshire. Back to top

How do I recognise Real Ale in a pub?

The surest method is to look on the bar and see how it is being served.

The traditional hand pump handle is readily recognisable, and so far as we know, this guarantees you real ale.

A few pubs will sell real ale straight from the barrel. A cask will be set up behind the bar, and a simple tap is used to serve the ale.

Finally, a very small number of pubs use electric pumps to serve real ale. Here, the best course of action is to look for descriptions or ask the staff.

If beer is served from a brass T-bar font or a weirdly shaped thingamajig on the bar, steer clear: it is likely to be an inferior keg beer.

It’s your hard-earned money: why waste it on something second-rate? Back to top

Why do you say Real Ale is better?

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and taste is a very subjective thing, but we feel that traditional beers have more character, more flavour, less gas and a better “mouthfeel” than keg beers. They also offer a great deal more choice, outnumbering identikit keg beers by 100 to 1. Back to top

Is it more expensive?

This is where value for money really scores. You expect to pay a lot for high quality food or wine, but happy to say, Real Ale costs no more than the nasty keg variety. Indeed, it is very often cheaper! Back to top

What is so bad about “non-real" beer? I often have it.

It’s incomplete. It lacks the sophistication and maturity of taste of the real thing. It generally tastes rather thin or even bland, and there is very little choice. It is a lowest common denominator drink, brewed down to a price rather than up to a standard, with an insipid lack of flavour so as not to offend regional taste buds.

In short, it’s second rate. You can do better. Back to top

I do much of my drinking at home, so Real Ale doesn’t apply to me. Is that right?

Not on your nelly. Take home beers come in a variety of types, and most of them are truly awful. Tins are for beans not beer.

Take a look at the labels on the bottled beers in your supermarket or off-licence. Some of them have the magic words “Bottle Conditioned”. That means that the yeast is still alive, just like it is in champagne. It means you’ve found Real Ale in a Bottle.

Take it home, and let it settle for a couple of days, preferably in a cool (not cold) place.

Open carefully and pour slowly.

Enjoy real ale at home.

You can even take real ale home from the pub. My dad used to have a jug from the pub with his Sunday lunch. My practice is to fill one of those 4-pint plastic containers that look a bit like an old cider jar. Quite a few pubs sell these, and the beer will keep for a day or two. I find them ideal for barbecues and parties.

Take a look at our pages on Real Ale in a Bottle for more details.

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My local doesn’t sell real ale. What can I do?

Short of moving house, or resigning yourself to travelling for your evenings out, you might try asking the licensee. If nobody has asked, he may be complacent about this deplorable state of affairs. Encourage your friends to mention it too. Landlords are very aware of the demand for products they can sell, and he may be willing to try real beer.

You should contact your local branch of CAMRA. They would be pleased to help. Back to top

You guys all work for breweries don’t you?

We sometimes get asked this at Festivals, when newcomers think we are nothing more than a trade stand. There are a few of our members who are in the trade, but not many. Some licensees have joined, and the many of the chaps who set up Cheshire's micro-breweries are members.

To answer your question: no, most of us have jobs covering the whole spectrum of human endeavour, and we involve ourselves in the Campaign because of our love for good beer and good pubs. Back to top

Doesn’t beer make you fat?

Beer is a food, like lots of other drinks. It contains some calories, and over indulgence will cause you to put weight on. I know lots of slim or shapely beer drinkers. If you moderate your intake, you should have no problem. CAMRA is all about quality not quantity. Back to top  

It’s hot. I need something refreshing. That means lager, doesn’t it?

No. Those advertising men have a lot to answer for. Lots of beer styles are just as refreshing and clean tasting. Many of the lighter bitters are ideal for hot weather. Even better are the many styles of Wheat beers which are now becoming very trendy. Back to top

Any more questions?

Please post any questions you may have, on Real Ale, Cheshire Pubs, or CAMRA to the writer on editor@outinncheshire.co.uk

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All rights reserved. Last Revised: January 1, 2013
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