If there is one thing beer likes, it’s labels. Not a week goes by when a new acronym isn’t being wheeled out to confuse everyone, leaving them debating what on earth it stands for. IPA, DDH, TDH, HDHC, you name it we’ve had it. There’s even been a TDHNDDIPA recently thanks to Verdant Brewery down in Cornwall. Yeah, figure that one out if you can! It doesn’t stop there either, as we try to pigeon-hole beer even further into either ‘craft beer’ or ‘real ale’.
Whilst I appreciate the effort to differentiate between what could be an old-school or traditional IPA and a thick and hazy juice bomb, at what point do we just accept that it’s all beer at the end of the day? Much like the tribalism of old where people defended their favourite brand to the hilt, it seems you’re in one camp or the other, whilst disparaging your opposite number at the same time. But why?
I was pretty snobby when I first got into beer, coming from a clean slate and jumping in to hazy beer with both feet from the off. I hadn’t progressed from industrially-produced lager or moved on from cask beer to keg beer, I started afresh on the cloudy stuff. As far as I was concerned, if beer wasn’t yellow, hazy and tasted of tropical juice I wasn’t interested. This is what beer could be and what I’d been missing out on all these years.
Now whilst I still love a pint of the hoppy custard, I’m no longer averse to a good well-kept pint of cask if I see one. Heck, cask might even be becoming ‘cool’ as breweries more recognised for their juicy numbers brewing and producing beer to be pulled through a sparkler. And yes, cask beer can be hazy for those still stuck in the 1970’s sat at the back. So, with that in mind, where is the line between ‘real ale’ and ‘craft beer’? In fact, is there even a line at all?
Whilst we can try and define our beers by serving method, how they’re stored, their colour or clarity there are of course grey areas in-between. Even CAMRA’s initial definition of real ale was revised as of January 2022, showing that it isn’t possible to give something an exclusive or permanent definition. Whilst the US has a legally-binding definition of craft beer the UK doesn’t, nor is CAMRA’s coined label of real ale. There’s simply too many grey areas to enforce it.
Take recently retired local brewery Five Towns as an example. Malcolm brewed (as far as I’m aware) exclusively on cask. He had, what would be defined as, real ale within some of those casks (bitters and low ABV pales etc) however he also brewed some heavy-hitting DIPAs and stouts, some of which would elsewhere be classed as craft. So does that make it a real ale brewery that dabbles in craft beer? A cask brewery that also does keg? Or, more simply, a brewery that just produces good beer?
They aren’t the only example either, take the likes of Vocation, Brew York, Revolutions and, looking further afield, Kernel as great examples. Breweries who excel in both cask and keg beer, so how do we define or label those?
Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer here but at the end of the day it is just beer. Be it hazy, clear, hoppy, bitter, sweet, carbonated or otherwise, it’s just beer and we can enjoy it in whatever measure and how we please. No sandals and socks needed for a pint of cask and no beard on man-bun needed to enjoy a pint from keg, man or woman can enjoy either, or both, equally.
Stephen Carter, Points of Brew.
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