Do you know your real ale from your craft beer?

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Drinkers at beer festivalImage source, Getty Images
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Real ale, craft beer or just a good pint?

The number of Welsh breweries could hit the 100 mark within two years, if the rate of growth continues.

A first independent craft beer festival in Cardiff is bringing together 25 brewers this weekend, while more are being showcased at another event in London in September.

Craft beer, real ale and beer made from bacon.

If you are not quite sure what it all means or where to start, we asked Buster Grant, chairman of Drinks Wales and managing director of Brecon Brewery, to provide some answers.

What is the difference between real ale and the average pint of beer?

Real ale is a beer that has fermented in the vessel from which it is served and the carbonation is entirely natural, not forced.

Most real ale is served from a cask via a hand pump in the pub. A well kept pint of real ale - and this is a skill - will have all of the flavours that the brewer intended, unlike other beers which lose something through filtration, carbonation or, worst of all, pasteurisation.

And now there is craft ale - what is that?

Ah, now there's a question! The Americans define a craft brewer as one that produces less than six million barrels of beer a year - that equates to some 1,700 million pints - more than produced in total in Wales each year!

'Craft keg' is a term used to describe the full-flavoured beers served under pressure from kegs rather than casks.

However, many brewers use the term 'craft' to describe a modern style of beer, be it in cask, keg or bottle. I leave it up to the individual to make the distinction for themselves - I prefer 'good beer'!

You seem to see it available in more pubs now, why is that?

Craft beer is becoming more and more widely available. Cardiff is becoming a Welsh hub for craft beer bars.

My view is that people are being more adventurous with what they're drinking and more discerning. They're also willing to pay more for an unusual beer and to seek out these beers.

I view it as a small but growing and important part of the beer market.

'I am usually a lager drinker - what tipple do you suggest I start with?'

I reckon I can usually find a beer from whatever range I'm working with that someone will like, whatever their usual tipple.

From our range of beers, I'd suggest for a lager drinker either our 3.7% pale ale or our 4.2% golden ale. Our Blonde is brewed as a lager, but heavily hopped with Ella hops for a tropical fruit aroma and refreshment.

So is there a point when lager and real ale crosses over?

That all depends on how you define each type of beer. I brew both lagers (bottom fermenting yeast, cooler temperatures) and ales (top fermenting yeast, warmer temperatures) and frequently brew beers that are brewed as ales, but look and taste like lagers or the other way around.

The great joy of being a brewer is that we're only limited by our imagination.

You can get beers with hints of chocolate, oranges etc in them. Are there any flavours that in your experience do not work?

I've always said that if you're going to brew with a flavouring, use those ingredients, not syrups or essences.

I do get worried about some beers I see - such as meat in a beer, like bacon for example, which has to be done very carefully.

I've had beers I didn't like but I tend to work on the imagination is the limit principle - it might work if you try it.

The industry seems to be growing fast in Wales - what is next and where would you like it to be in five years?

I'd like to see greater recognition of the fantastic brewers and beers we have in Wales and to see more and more pubs actively working with their local brewers to ensure that both locals and visitors can enjoy what we believe are amongst the best beers in the world.

We are going to see more pubs close, but I believe we'll also some outlets open as bars or something more hybrid.

In five years, I'd like to be here doing what I do now - but more efficiently, more consistently and still having a huge amount of fun as we make beer.

Image source, Harmit Kambo
Image caption,
Newport's Tiny Rebel brewery won the Camra champion beer of Britain award earlier this month

Apart from your own brew, what is your current desert island beer from Wales?

I like different beers at different times and different moods. Beers that have stuck in my mind recently:

  • Purple Moose(Porthmadog, Gwynedd) produce a range of superb beers, but my stand out would be its Dark Side of the Moose
  • Monty's(Montgomery, Powys) again have a fabulous range of beers, including their superb Gluten Free Masquerade, but I always have a soft spot for their Mischief - usually my knees!
  • Idris from Cwrw Cader's(Dolgellau, Gwynedd) was another find at a beer fest last year - really good proper beer
  • Glamorgan Brewing(Pontyclun, Rhondda Cynon Taff) have a Welsh Pale which is a great crossover beer
  • For something a little more dangerous, there's always a stronger beer from Otley(Pontypridd) either the O8 or the sublime O6 Porter

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