What Makes a Great Pint of Real Ale?

Finding a good pint of real ale is not always easy. Here are a few pointers to make life a little bit easier in finding a satisfying pint.

1) Having too many beers on draught can be a bad sign. This leads to beers that are not fresh due to some of the less popular beers being on tap for too long. Unless the pub is known for good ale. It would be advisable to stick to the well-known beers that would presumably sell quicker. Thus guarantying a fresher pint.

2) Always watch how the beer is poured. Serving real ale takes time. The swan neck hand pump works on gravity and has a piston inside. It takes a few moments for the piston to fill up after each pull. If you don't wait, air gets into the system. It leads to a poor head and adds oxygen into the beer which spoils the flavour of the beer. Brewers go to great lengths not to add oxygen to their beer as it leads to infection and beer spoilage.

3) The appearance of real ale should be clear unless stated to be a cloudy wheat beer. Also make sure there are no foreign bodies in the beer (if there are it could mean they don't clean their lines). In most cases the beer should also have a good head. A good tip is if you stick your finger in the head. There should be a nice amount of the head stuck to your finger. There are some regions where they do not like much head on the beer. A great beer will almost have a shine to it due to the crystal clarity.

4) As with wine, the aroma of the beer is also key. It can tell you a lot about the beer before tasting it. It can tell you quite simply if a beer is bad. If you detect vinegar or T.C.P. take the beer back as it's "off". You are looking for floral, fruity and resinous notes from hops. From the malt you should detect nutty, malty and caramel notes.

5) When you finally taste the beer you are looking for beery qualities. A good beer will have what we call a start, middle and end. A good brewer picks his/her ingredients so that there is story to the beer. Generally you get the malt flavours coming through first. You may get a smoky flavour and some sweetness. As the beer passes over the tongue the bitterness of the hops will come through. Finally you will get a warming feeling and sometimes a little sharpness from the carbonation. Flavours you are not looking for are metallic and sulphury.

6) As you are savouring your ale. It will warm up as it is in your hands and from the ambient temperature of the surroundings. The flavour of the beer may change accordingly. It will make a bad beer more obvious to spot as the warmer the beer the more flavour can be detected. A good beer will often get better as it gets warmer as the flavours of the malt and hops become even stronger.

7) Finally if you start with a good head on your pint and it continues always the down the glass. It is a very good sign. It means the beer has been brewed without too much agitation in the process. The more processes a beer goes through the more it is moved generally leads to less head in the finished beer.

A good beer does need to be treated well. A good pub/bar will go through set procedures to serve a good pint. In the UK there is now a volunteer mark system. It is called The Cask Marque System. Bars/Pubs volunteer to have their pubs assessed by independent auditors with good public houses receiving a pass and accreditation.

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About The Author, Matthew Oconnor
Do you love beer? Matthew, the author of this article runs a site dedicated to the latest news and developments in real ale.