The Difference Between Real Ale and Craft Beer

The current wave of enthusiasm across the globe for craft beers has bought a very good question to the fore, “What is the difference between Craft Beer and Real Ale?” A simple answer to that would be one is American and the other English, but how can this be so? There are craft beers being made in Australia and other such places, and real ales are made all over Europe. So, there must be more to it than simply the Atlantic Ocean separating two brewing continents.

Cask v Keg

Cask v Keg

To understand the nuances between English beers basically there are two types, one being keg beer which is beer under pressure and served by gas, and cask beer which is kept and dispensed without additional gas pressure. This of course is a basic and fundamental difference, some beer drinkers say that it is all down to mass production with the big major breweries producing keg beer, whilst the smaller independent breweries create real ale.

Craft Beer

Craft beer is an American term, and American-style beers are becoming increasingly popular in Europe at the moment. Beers such as Flying Dog, Brooklyn Lager, and Alesmith are becoming household names in the UK and other parts of Europe. Incredibly UK breweries are starting to produce their own kind of American beer with strong alcohol content and crazy names.

The Difference

So, what is the real difference between real ale and craft beer?

American Brewer’s Association

They both are made in very similar ways, but the craft beer tends to use a lot more hops than the British equivalent. And American craft beers tend to come in keg’s and not casks. The American Brewer’s Association has their own description of craft beer, “A small independent and traditional brew”. However, this accurately describes nearly every real ale brewery in the UK.

If you look at the main types of craft beers that are produced, they feature strong hoppy flavors and have golden colors. Whereas the good old British real ales are dark porters, brown ales, red ales and dark bitters. Again, this is not a hard and true rule just to confuse you more. Real Ales tend to be more traditional brews, made by using old recipes, techniques and ingredients. Whilst American craft beers are the brash new kids on the block, with funky labels and exciting fun names.


A spokesman from Drinks Wales recently gave his definition of the two beers in question, “Real ale is a beer that has fermented in the vessel from which it is served and the carbonation is entirely natural”. “Craft keg is a term used to describe the full-flavored beers served under pressure from kegs rather than casks, it is a modern style of beer, be it in cask, keg or bottle”.

If all this confuses you it is hardly surprising, nobody seems to have a definitive answer to our original question. Suffice to say that everybody seems to agree that both real ales and craft beers are beverages that care and attention has been given to, so that the end result is a quality product. Both styles are not mass produced and churned out as fast as the brewery can possibly manage. Perhaps the answer lies in the hands of the consumer, if you like the beer you can jolly well call it what you want.