The Search For Real Ale

London has a heritage dating back to the time of the Romans when the first pubs were established. Over time these became fondly known as ‘the local’ (‘pub’ is an abbreviation of public house). With such a rich heritage it is understandable that there are those who don’t want things to change, especially the beer. But is change inevitable?

V.S. Pritchett, writing on London, noted that he was often asked by visitors from across the channel: “But where are your squares, your piazzas, the places where people can gather?” To which his standard reply was: “Londoners do not gather.” He went on to explain that Londoners, instead, prefer to frequent their locals. Of course, after fish and chips, London is perhaps most famous for its beer and its pubs and for a large part of society it is a way of life, a place to meet after work, or to visit later for a bite to eat.

According to their website, the key difference between ales and lager is the type of fermentation used. Lagers use fermenting yeast that sinks to the bottom…

Usually, especially with winter approaching, it’s the best place to be. A fire in the hearth provides some welcome warmth, or it is provided by the people themselves, densely packed inside, laughing and talking as servers weave their way through the crowd with plates of steaming pub grub.

The brewer of each pub or brewery was traditionally able to produce his own, special taste. These days, large corporations are mass producing beer and homogenising the British brewing industry. The Campaign for Real Ale intends to stop this.

CAMRA, as they are known, was founded 40 years ago (which tells you this ‘problem’ is nothing new.) Their aim is to preserve this very unique form of British alcoholic beverage.

To be honest, I was pretty clueless as to what constituted ‘real ale’. Neither did I know the difference between ‘ale’ and ‘lager’.

According to their website, the key difference between ales and lager is the type of fermentation used. Lagers use fermenting yeast that sinks to the bottom. Ales on the other hand use top-fermenting yeast. It is the traditional method of brewing true British beer and a method which produces a wonderful array of tastes and flavours, tastes which can vary from one small brewer or local to the next.

CAMRA claims the product they promote is ‘real beer’. But what is ‘real beer’ and how does it differ from other beers?

“Real ale is a natural, living product. By its nature this means it has a limited shelf life and needs to be looked after with care in the pub cellar and kept at a certain temperature to enable it to mature and bring out its full flavours for the drinker to enjoy.”

“Brewery-conditioned, or keg beer has a longer shelf life. It is not a living product because it is filtered to remove all the yeast and then pasteurised to make it sterile. This is then put in a sealed container, called a keg, and sent to the pub.”

The problem is that removing the yeast and ‘killing off’ the product through pasteurisation also removes a great deal of the taste and aroma associated with real ale.

Click here to read more about the Campaign for Real Ale

The movement, which has over 100 000 members, annually hosts numerous festivals throughout the UK where ‘real ale’ can be swilled and the ‘true taste of British beer’ celebrated. They also publish a very useful and comprehensive list of pubs where real ale is served. And not only beer – also ‘real’ cider. (But that’s something for another time.)

We’ll be keeping you posted about festivals taking place in London.

Fancy a real ale, some good company and mouth-watering grub?

Here’s a list of top pubs serving ‘real ale’ in London:

Royal Oak

Royal Oak: A great pub, and not expensive, where you can get real ale for under £3.A place to enjoy mouth-watering braised lamb shank, game pie, and Lancashire hotpot 44 Tbard Street, Borough, SE1 4JU; 020 7357 7173

Old Mitre Tavern

Ye Olde Mitre Tavern: Serves regulars such as Deuchars and Adnams while usually selling more than two guest ales each week. They host mini-festivals throughout the year. 1 Ely Court, Holborn, EC1N 6SJ; 020 7405 4751


Carpenter’s Arms: Aside from its ale, this pub achieved some dubious fame when the Kray twins bought it for their mum in 1967. But all that’s in the past now and it’s raked up a couple of awards already: Winner of the “Fancy-a-Pint Best Newcomer Award 2008”, and Time Out Best Sunday Lunch Award (East).You’ll find a range of Dorothy Goodbody ales from Hereford’s Wye Valley Brewery as well as two Adnams bitters here.73 Cheshire Street, Bethnal Green, E2 6EG; 020 7739 6342

The Apple Tree

The Apple Tree: Real ale pumps offer Greene King IPA and Sundance, and Budvar and Staropramen can be found on draught. This pub serves honest pub grub and some more fancy items such as a ‘posh’ prime beef hamber. 45 Mount Pleasant, Holborn, London,WC1X 0AE

Jerusalem Tavern

Jerusalem Tavern: This cosy tavern serves the famous ales of Suffolk’s St Peter’s brewery – Suffolk Gold, Grapefruit, Cinnamon & Apple, and Organic. An open fire adds to the atmosphere. If you get a table you’re lucky. Once you have one, you probably won’t want to give it away as it’s a great vantage point for ‘people watching’ 55 Britton Street, Clerkenwell, EC1M 5UQ; 020 7490 4281

If you’re not lucky enough to be in the UK and close to these Pubs, get over there right away!

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  • Elijah Alcantar

    Interesting, thank you! I spent my childhood in Yorkshire in the UK, and I’ve been trying to find a recipe for this tasyy pie I remember eating all the time, but can’t remember what we called it!!! Do you know a famous pie recipe from Yorkshire?

  • Michael Korwatch

    Thanks very much for that! My mum recently harvested a garden full of tomatoes before the winter really set in, and I find myself the proud owner of two or four buckets worth! Of course I couldnt eat them all, but I did find a website full of loads more tomato recipes there. A whole website dedicated the topic!! Crazy what you can find on the internetz nowadays!!

  • Belva Kanelos

    Thanks for that. I was trying to find a warming stew recipe to get me through the xmas time, and this sounds perfect. I found an entire stew recipes site here too that seems to have loads of good stuff, maybe your readers can get some more inspiration there. Anyway, thanks again, I will bookmark and read more another time 😉