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Differences Between British Real Ale & American Craft Beer

Updated on March 11, 2015
There are many differences between real ale and craft beer, although they are both delicious
There are many differences between real ale and craft beer, although they are both delicious | Source


Beer has enjoyed a great renaissance on both sides of the Atlantic over the past few years. Local breweries have sprung up all over the UK and the US, brewing a huge variety of delicious, tasty and varied ales and beers.

It's estimated that there are now over 1,150 small breweries in the UK and around 2,500 in the US. This surge in popularity is good for beer drinkers everywhere, but one question that's often asked is 'What's the difference between 'Real Ale' and 'Craft Beer'.

Craft beer is produced throughout the US
Craft beer is produced throughout the US | Source

What do the terms mean?

Generally speaking, 'Real Ale' refers to cask conditioned beers, brewed and consumed in the UK. The term was coined by CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) in Britain in the 1970s.

Conversely, American Craft Beer hasn't been around as long as a separate term, but nonetheless, it's widely understood to mean the tradition of microbreweries producing limited amounts of regional beers.

Local breweries are often very small operations, producing a few dozen barrels a week
Local breweries are often very small operations, producing a few dozen barrels a week | Source

What are some of the other differences?

Some of the other differences between real ale and craft beer include:

  • Real ale is generally made by aging beer in a cask and then serving directly from that cask. Craft beers are produced using similar methods, but with added carbon dioxide (to provide carbonation or fizz)
  • Both craft beers and real ales are generally produced locally, using traditional methods and distributed in a fairly limited geographical area
  • Typically, real ale is served at room temperature or slightly below (if the cask is kept in a cellar for example), whereas craft beer is almost always designed to be served chilled
  • Real ales are generally not carbonated (although a few of them are, especially bottle conditioned ones), whereas almost all craft beers are carbonated
  • There are often profound differences in flavor between real ales and craft beers; real ales often have quite a malty, many layered depth of flavor, whereas craft beers tend to be more hoppy and strongly flavored. This is by no means the case all of the time, but a general rule
  • Craft beers often have different styles to real ales; a good example is the American India Pale Ale (IPA) which doesn't exist in the same way in the UK


Craft Beer - A Hopumentary

Do you prefer real ale (UK) or craft beer (US)?

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In closing

What is important though, is that both real ales and craft beers can be superb. Whether you want something more British and malty, or something American and zesty, there's a brew out there on both sides of the Atlantic that will suit just about everyone's palate.

Whichever you enjoy, support your local breweries, enjoy their beer and tell your friends!


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