Real Ale in the UK

Old Aug 25th, 2007, 03:42 PM
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Real Ale in the UK

My husband and I are going to the UK next month and while cruising the internet for miscellaneous trip info, I came across this website about real ale:

http://www.vintage-pub-signs.com/cam...-real-ale.html

One of the things we're looking forward to is pub crawling so what I'd like to know is how hard is it to find traditional ale at a pub? Will it say so on the sign or is it luck of the draw when you go into the pub as to what they serve?

Or maybe what I should ask--as someone who enjoys a good pint but is no connoisseur--can you really tell the difference between real and regular?

Anything anyone wants to tell me about English pubs I'm ready to listen because we're way out of practice in this department.
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Old Aug 25th, 2007, 03:59 PM
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I think if you're really interested, you should google real ale and the name of the cities/towns you'll be in. My only experience with it was in Edinburgh, which had several pubs to choose from. We didn't go to a lot of pubs, but went the Bow Bar, one of many I read about being famous for their Real Ale selection. They had a chalkboard indicating their ales of the day, but I don't recall if there was a sign outside highlighting that aspect of the pub.

Can you tell the difference? Absolutely. Will you prefer it to the pints you usually enjoy? That depends on your taste in beer/ale etc. But by all means you should give it a try, as you won't find anything else like it.
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Old Aug 25th, 2007, 04:01 PM
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1. Yes, you can tell the difference if you like beer with taste. If you like beer served so cold that you can't taste the taste, then don't bother with real ale.

2. Look for pubs with the Casque Mark outside, http://www.cask-marque.co.uk/
There are many good pubs without the Casque Mark, but this is a good way to start.
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Old Aug 25th, 2007, 05:53 PM
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I am a big fan of cask conditioned ales,AKA Real Ale.
One of the best guides I have found is called "The Good Pub Guide" by Alisdair Aird. You can order a copy from Amazon for US$16.47 and I highly recommend it.
They also have a website.
http://www.goodguides.co.uk/
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Old Aug 25th, 2007, 05:59 PM
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Well I'll be darned but googling "real ale lynton" turned up several pubs worth investigating. We'll be in Devon for four nights so I think we'll have ample opportunity to do some tastings. Thanks zooey. I'd have never thought of refining my search like that.

ron and Lovejoy (from the show?), the website links are good!!

Now next question--inasmuch as Budweiser, Miller, and Coors are our everyday beers, what are the brand equivalents in the UK? Is it Bass and Harp?

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Old Aug 25th, 2007, 06:00 PM
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definitely - you can tell the difference.

CAMRA which you linked to is a great resource . . . .
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Old Aug 25th, 2007, 06:02 PM
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http://www.fancyapint.com has tons of listings and reviews for pubs all over London and the UK, though the London listings are the most complete.

Google "Campaign for Real Ale" and you'll find their website as well.

Lee Ann
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Old Aug 25th, 2007, 06:31 PM
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Here is another website that might be of interest, a database of real ale breweries, http://www.beermad.org.uk/

I don't understand your second question. What do you mean by "everyday beers", the most popular mass market beers? These are not real ales, since lagers are much more popular than real ales. I would guess Budweiser and Fosters, perhaps Stella, might be the most popular beers in the UK.
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Old Aug 25th, 2007, 09:06 PM
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ron, yes, I was wondering about mass market beers so I don't ask for one by mistake. There's no sense in drinking something ordinary.
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Old Aug 25th, 2007, 10:39 PM
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As others suggest, invest in two books -- CAMRA's Guide to Good Beer and the Good Pub Guide. These two books will be all you need to find the best real ale and pubs throughout the UK.

Also check the CAMRA website to see if there are any beer festivals in areas you'll be. These are a great opportunity to sample a variety that aren't as readily available.

Where will you be?

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Old Aug 25th, 2007, 11:13 PM
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"I was wondering about mass market beers so I don't ask for one by mistake"

Maybe it's just me, but this really isn't a risk I've faced for years.

First remember that, though there are some exceptions to this rule but you might as well forget about them, anyone looking for real ale in a pub won't be drinking bottled or canned beer. However, in a supermarket practicaly ever beer in a bottle these days will be interesting - including the increasingly widely available bottled Real Budweiser: the proper Budweiser, brewed by the original Czech company according to the Reinheitsgebot, and not the similarly-branded muck brewed on behalf of those American junk drink merchants. Preactically all canned beer (again, there are exceptions, but...) in shops will be muck.

Bass, by the way, is utterly respectable and is often actually sought out by lovers of decent beer. Harp, I'm glad to say, seems to have gone, unlamented, to the great junkheap in the sky

In a pub, therefore you're limiting yourself to what's on draught - and it's blissfully rare (though sadly not impossible) these days to find a pub with no real ale. At quiet times, every barman or barmaid will always be delighted to tell you about what's real and what isn't.

However dithering over ordering if there are other people waiting to be served is seriously ill-mannered. The simplest way to avoid a grave breach of etiquette is to survey the badges on the beer pumps. It's perfectly good manners to ask the advice of other drinkers before ordering - and actually, that's a terrific way of getting talking.

I wouldn't personally be too prissy about confining yourself to real ale. There are lagers (like real Budweiser) that most proper beer drinkers actively seek out, and to be honest there are times when a cold lager suits the bill better than a room-temperature, relatively heavy, ale. Avoid Carling. But there's no crime in ordering an Australian recipe like Fosters to see if you like it
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Old Aug 26th, 2007, 12:48 AM
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Flanner must live in a more/less refined world than I do. In this neck of the woods, we have pubs that sell real ale (and the other junk) and pubs that don't.

I don't drink beer, but many of my friends do; so I tend to know where they are locally.

And smart marketing does try to make some of the junk look/sound like tradional beers are.

And, Michael, you just said "draught". Most pubs have draught beer and it's not "real". If you were an unsuspecting person from across the water (and I don't mean Ireland) would that lead you to understand that you need to know the difference between a hand pump and one of those electric things.

Absolutely, get the Good Beer Guide from Camra; and ask, always ask.
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Old Aug 26th, 2007, 01:56 AM
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how hard is it to find traditional ale

Don't assume that a pub selling 'traditional' ale is selling real ale. The term is meaningless and just a marketing ploy.

Look, as people have pointed out here, for signs saying real ale or cask-conditioned, or a recent CAMRA sticker.

There are plenty of pubs around where good beer is a fetish with the landlord and the regulars and these (apart from busy times) will usually be happy to let you try samples and tell you about the beers.

CAMRA's Good Beer Guide is helpful.

If you post back with an indication of where you will be going local people here may be able to help.

One last piece of advice. Don't drink with your eyes. Too many people choose beer by colour - it's taste that matters.
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Old Aug 26th, 2007, 02:18 AM
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Ah! My specialist subject!

The easy way to tell if a beer is "real" is for it to be pumped by hand - look on the bar for the distinctive hand pumps (they look like policeman's truncheons). There are exeptions to this - the northern monkeys sometimes use electric pumps. However in Devon they won't.

On the front of each pump will be a badge showing what beer is available (and also how strong it is).

There are literally thousands of beers available acrosss the country.

I used the website beer in the evening (fancy a pint mentioned above is london only) to look up Lynton and it came up with two recommendations - both of which sound great..

http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs...shtml?l=lynton

Don't be afraid to ask for a sample before you buy - we're used to Americans' strange drinking habits.

One word of warning: If you're not used to it, it can be heady stuff - some beers are rather strong - check the percentage on the pump badge, especially if you're driving.
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Old Aug 26th, 2007, 02:25 AM
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I'd managed to miss the reference to Devon. Try the local cider, in small quantities.

check the percentage on the pump badge, especially if you're driving

Not wanting to start an argument, but if you're drinking - don't drive.
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Old Aug 26th, 2007, 02:42 AM
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I'd agree - especially if you're driving on the "wrong" side of the road, but it isn't illegal to drink in small amounts (about a pint and a half is the limit).

However it isn't worth the risk.

I'd second the cider recommendation - it's nothing like the muck that Americans call cider.
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Old Aug 26th, 2007, 04:45 AM
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Everyone's comments have been good advice - but just to stress you really must at least try the cider. It is wonderful - and very strong. (BTW don't order "hard cider" -- cider in the UK IS hard)
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Old Aug 26th, 2007, 04:51 AM
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Ale IMO

Lots of good advice abovethough not sure what good fosters is.

If the beer is cold it is mass market
If the beer is from the north it will generally (I said generally) have a thickish head of bubbles. If from the south it will (I said generally) look flat with just a few bubbles.

Go read the Camra guide
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Old Aug 26th, 2007, 09:06 AM
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Well I've no end of entertainment following the links provided so thank you all. In addition to finding where to get a good pint in Devon, I've picked up a lot of tourist info as well. Pub websites are very helpful! The best one--in Exeter, the Double Locks Pub on the quay, where we can rent kayaks and paddle down the canal. We are avid kayakers so this a bonus I hadn't expected. Paddle and Pub. I am in heaven.
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Old Aug 26th, 2007, 09:50 AM
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Americans are well-accustomed to seeing beer-engine-style handles. However, ours are usually just for show and are used to dispense the same old carbon-dioxide-pressurized beer you get at the Bud Lite tap next to it. The key is to watch the barkeep when he or she is operating it. If she pulls it forward a quarter of an inch (just opens a hidden tap in front of it) and just stands there while the beer comes out, it ain't real ale. The real thing is a hand-operated pump that must be worked a bit.

I don't think you'll run into the fake-o kind much in Britain, but if you're accustomed to seeing them in the States you'll want to be aware of the difference.

Ill-kept real ale is dramatically worse than the best pressurized beer, so it's not the only thing to go by. Beer likes to be kept cool (not "warm", which is a ludicrous slander) and dispensed through clean tubing.

A top-notch pub will be able to serve you outstanding examples of a number of different styles. Going head-to-head, though, a real ale presented well will blow away the competition (i.e., other ales).

Study the badges first and if you're still flummoxed just point -- but be absolutely sure you say what size you want. Just naming a beer will annoy everyone in earshot -- you'll want to use the word "pint" or "half". This is the biggest mistake made by Americans in British pubs. "Pint of best bitter" will get good results in most places unless they have more than one.

The books recommended here are both essential.

And DO be careful -- too much real ale too early in the day can ruin your trip even if you're not driving. The stuff is so good! But you don't want to be blotto by one PM -- and you don't want to have to stop to drain some off every five minutes either. There is nothing soft about having a half if you're visiting lots of places.
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