British real ale vs. American craft beer: A short guide (full sample)

British real ale vs. American craft beer: A short guide (full sample)

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Whether you are from the UK, the US or another part of the world, local brewing and beers are enjoying a surge of popularity. This article explores the differences between British real ale and American craft beer. Whichever side of the Atlantic people are on, the increase in local breweries producing delicious, tasty beer means there’s plenty of variety.

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The differences between British real ale and American craft beer

Beer has enjoyed a well-deserved renaissance on both sides of the Atlantic over the past few years. Craft and artisan brewing has become an incredibly important part of the beer scene.

Local breweries have sprung up all over the UK and the US, brewing a huge variety of unique, tasty, and varied ales and beers. There are now over 2,000 small breweries in the UK and over 6,000 in the US. This surge in popularity is good for beer drinkers everywhere, but you might be wondering: "What's the difference between British real ale and American craft beer?"

British real ale

Real Ale refers to cask-conditioned beers that are brewed and consumed in the UK. The term was coined by The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in Britain in the 1970s.

American craft beer

The term American craft beer hasn't been around quite as long, but it's widely understood to mean the tradition of US microbreweries producing limited amounts of regional beers. That's not where the differences stop though, as there are plenty of other differences between the two drinks:

  • Real ale is generally made by aging beer in a cask and then serving directly from that cask.

  • Craft beers are often produced in stainless steel vessels and then sometimes have carbon dioxide added to provide more carbonation or fizz.

  • 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 profound differences in flavor between real ales and craft beers: real ales often have quite a malty, many-layered flavor, whereas craft beers tend to be hoppier and strongly flavored. This is by no means the case all 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) or the saison farmhouse ale, which aren't commonly available in the UK.

  • Both craft beers and real ales are generally produced locally, using traditional methods and are distributed in a limited geographical area.

What is important to know is that both real ales and craft beers can be superb. Whether you enjoy something 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!

Content originally written by Paul Maplesden, a freelance writer, and edited by me.

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