British Ales… Steeped in Tradition

A quick note from the editor:

Hello friends and readers of leaveitotheprose.  I’d like to welcome P Corcs to our writing team.  This is his first article for us, which I read on his family blog yesterday.  It seemed fitting for our milieu, so he graciously contributed it to leaveittotheprose.  I encourage you to read and comment on P corcs’ Ale-musings.  Make him feel welcome!   Ladies and Gentlemen… I present P corcs:  

 As this is my first front page contribution I would like to give a quick intro. I, Patrick (P Corcs) Corcoran am a born and raised Minnesotan. Just last fall I had the opportunity to move to London with my wife for her job. We will be here for two years and hope to travel Europe during this time. My blog contributions may involve travel and experiences, as with this blog, but may also be general life stuff. Thanks to everyone who have contributed so far. I enjoy reading all the different viewpoints and additions… it is exciting when there is a new blog as you never know what it will be about! Anyway, without further ado, here is my first post. I hope you enjoy it.

“Frost Brewed, low carbs, light, filtered, carbonated” These phrases are pounded into the heads of the American public as the big beer companies battle for market share. They are associated with everything good and refreshing when choosing a beer. The ads play over and over in hopes that when we are standing in front of endless choices at the corner liquor store, we will somehow associate their beer with what they tell us we desire in a beer.

For many British, these are all the things they hate in a beer.

To understand this view we must understand the role Ale has played in the history of Britain. Ale has been brewed in Britain probably since established civilizations inhabited the island, or in numeric terms at least since 2,500 BC. For most of this time period, say until about 100-200 years ago, most people brewed their own ale. It was often the primary beverage, especially in major urban areas like London where the water supply was often less than appealing. It is safe to say that Ale has been as much a part of every day life of the British for the last 4500 years as say cell phones and the Internet are for us today. I mean… what would we possibly do without our daily blog fix?


Building on the importance of Ale, let’s look at how and what has been brewed for 4500 years. Nobody can say exactly how or what was used, but it is pretty safe to assume from the archaeological record that not much changed during that entire time. Ale was brewed in casks, with water, some type of cereal, yeast, and spices. Hops wasn’t introduced in Britain until the middle ages as flavoring and as a preservative. The key part in this process has always been and remains the cask. Using all natural ingredients the ale develops full flavor and conditioning right up until it is served. In a sense, the yeast is alive and acts to condition and create the flavors and aromas until the cask is drained. This process of secondary fermentation sets all cask ales apart from the large processed beers.

To continue our education, lets look at the main differences in beer. We generally label everything as beer (before hops was introduced beer was called ale in Britain, since hops, beer became accepted as the general term). Beer has two main categories, ales and lagers. The common difference is the fermentation process. Lagers use bottom fermenting yeast, low temperatures, and then conditioning in tanks. Ales use top fermenting yeast which forms a thick froth, higher temperatures, and is a shorter process.


So why all the fuss about “real British ale” vs. that fake American lager crap when the processes seem similar? Well the difference is that British Ales, to add to and reiterate the earlier description, are alive and natural, they have a limited shelf life and must be kept at certain temperatures to achieve full flavor – cellar temperature (hence the American idea of “warm British beer”). Mass produced beer is filtered to remove all yeast and ingredients, then it is pasteurized to make it sterile… they kill the beer! The Brits see this as killing all the taste and aroma at the same time. They believe that beer is served cold in America to disguise the lack of taste and the carbonation is only a let down as they expect the froth to bring up the flavor and aroma but are left with fizzy nothingness.


As some of you may know I’m an ale guy and I’ve bought into everything these Brits are preaching! Back home in Minnesota my favorite beer is Summit Extra Pale Ale. But even a beer with great flavor and bitterness like that isn’t like ordering a cask ale at a pub that is poured using a pump handle to draw it straight from the cask in the cellar. It only took me a couple pints to get used to cellar temperature, now I don’t even notice it anymore. It is true what they say about the flavor and aroma of a true cask ale, there is no replacement or imitation!

So while it is true today that the best selling beer in the UK is Carling, a massed produced lager, there still is a very large and strong population that will ever only drink “real ale” and will in fact look down on you for drinking “fake beer.” They even form large organizations, one being CAMRA (almost 100,000 strong) – The Campaign for Real Ale – whose motto is, “Campaigning for Real Ale, Pubs and Drinkers’ rights since 1971.”

beer4Whether you agree or not with the Brits perception of Beer you can’t fault them for their loyalty and dedication to their heritage and right to drink real ales from real pubs! Cheers!

PS. If you live in the Twin Cities area, go to Great Waters Brewing Co. ( in St Paul, they serve CAMRA approved cask conditioned ales, hand pulled at cellar temperature! If you don’t I challenge you to do a little research and find a bar near you that serves true cask conditioned ales to see what all the fuss is about! 

Submitted by: P Corcs


4 responses to “British Ales… Steeped in Tradition

  1. Great post P Corcs. I’m an ale guy too. question: Now that you’ve gotten used to cask ales, would you say they’re better than the beers we’re used to (i.e. a Summit EPA)? Which do you prefer?

    I’ll definitely get to the Great Waters Brewing Co., or Town Hall Brewery in Minneapolis. CKcasselman informs me they have cask ale for $4 during happy hour.

    I heart beer.

  2. Good stuff, Pat! I love a good Summit Pale Ale myself and would enjoy trying the ‘real’ thing.

    Gruber- When you make this said mission, I want to be by your side.

    Hooray for beer!

  3. I would say I prefer a cask ale at a pub. I say that only because the whole described experience plays into it. As far as a bottled beer I prefer a Summit EPA. I haven’t found a bottled beer here that is better!

    You guys will have to let me know how it goes!

  4. Hey P Corcs, got to try my first true cask ale last night, and it was a delicious experience. Tons of flavor, got the fruitieness, the bite of hoppiness, but not overwhelming. I think what set it apart from non-cask ales, at least for me, was the body, the sense of weight to it. It’s like it sat heavy on the tongue, if that makes any sense, but was still a very smooth drink.

    Kudos to the cask.

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