We’ve all heard the term ‘cask ale’ but what does it actually mean? Simply put cask ale, or real ale as it’s often known, is beer that’s allowed to mature in the barrel (cask) in the cellar of the pub from which it is served. This process is called secondary fermentation. Like champagne evolves in the bottle, cask ale does so in the barrel.

Cask ale is essentially a natural product that’s still developing when it arrives at the pub from the brewery and remains so until it lands in your glass. It needs care and attention to realise its full flavour. The responsibility for the quality of the cask beer you drink falls squarely on the shoulders of the pub in which you drink it. Publicans need to be master cellarmen ensuring cellars are spotless, pipes are pristinely clean and the barrels are stored at the right temperature (between 10-14°C). It’s not just beer that goes into a glass of cask ale, there’s love, care and attention too.

So how do you know if a pub has a well-kept cellar? Step forward Cask Marque. An independent body with a team of qualified assessors that make over 20,000 visits a year to over 9,000 pubs. They test for temperature, appearance, aroma and taste and all beers must make the grade to gain Cask Marque accreditation. See a Cask Marque plaque displayed outside a pub and a decent glass of cask ale awaits you inside.

The beer style most associated with cask ale is a classic British bitter but cask can be enjoyed across almost every beer style. This diversity of flavours and styles ensure cask ale has the versatility to match most foods. Next time you’re in your local pub try a glass of cask conditioned pale ale, such as Adnams Ghost Ship, with a juicy burger – the beer has the depth to stand up to the big flavour of the meat and a bittersweet balance that will perfectly complement it too. Or on Sunday (or any day) roast chicken and a British bitter like Fuller’s London Pride share caramel notes that make for beautifully matched pairing.

In-fact whatever you’re eating there’s a cask ale for that. Cask wheat beers have the subtlety to accompany lighter dishes like white fish, smoked salmon and sushi, offering a sweet, tangy and spicy character that lifts and complements the delicate flavours of the fish. Moor Beer’s Claudia is a good one to seek out. If a traditional ploughmans is more your thing Alton’s Pride by Triple fff Brewery has a distinct fruitiness that’ll spike similar in the cheese. Cask can also take care of dessert. Titanic’s Plum Porter and a chocolate tart is a match made in heaven, or try apple crumble with the contrasting bitter chocolate notes of a stout such as Corvus by Wadworth in Wiltshire.

To help you discover cask ale there’s a week each year when it’s celebrated, suitably named Cask Ale Week. Ten days of events, festivals, tastings and giveaways at pubs up and down the country. You can also download Cask Marque’s Cask Finder app which will guide you to the nearest pub serving cask. The app also boasts a snazzy pump clip recognition tool – scan the beer pump clip using your phone and you will receive tasting notes, customer reviews, ratings and general info about the beer. You can then share the info via social media with your friends and you’ll also be able to build up a list of the beers you’ve tried. A handy guide and reminder of the cask ale you like.

The UK now boasts 1,900 breweries with nearly all of them producing cask beer, so there’s never been a better time to try it. So visit the Cask Ale Week website, find an event near you and join in celebrating this most British of drinks.

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