Is "real ale", beer brewed from traditional ingredients (malted barley, hops water and yeast), matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide healthier than other beers, e.g. lager?

I have often heard that real ale is healthier in CAMRA circles. Is there evidence to support that claim?

  • 2
    Lager is also brewed from traditional ingredients, the same as you list. It is possible to add others, but e.g. in Germany, where practically all domestic beer is lager, there used to be a law against adding anything else and today many brewers are following it although it isn't binding any more (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinheitsgebot). The real difference between ale and lager is in the species of yeast and the fermentation conditions they need. Which is not to say that there can't be a difference in healthiness, but that your definition would in theory fit both ale and lager.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 18, 2011 at 22:25
  • @rumtscho The definition Carnotaurus is using comes from the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a British organization dedicated to preserving and promoting traditional British beverages. While you are correct in that lagers do technically fit that description, CAMRA seems to specifically exclude lagers from the types of beer it promotes. In other words, "real ales" are traditionally brewed cask ales.
    – ESultanik
    Apr 19, 2011 at 12:53
  • @ESultanik thank you for clearing this up, due to cultural differences I wasn't aware that he is citing an existing definition given by the author of the claim. Now I know why it sounded so wrong. Maybe @Carnotaurus can add this info to the question body, so more readers can understand without reading the comments.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 19, 2011 at 13:27
  • @rumtscho I also had to look up the definition of "real ale" due to cultural differences; here in the USA, some might say that we have the opposite of the Reinheitsgebot! (Discounting the cheap, mass-produced lagers that permeate our market, of course.)
    – ESultanik
    Apr 19, 2011 at 14:51
  • All beer outside CAMRA is called "irreal" or maybe imaginary? Apr 20, 2011 at 17:21

1 Answer 1


Many of the purported health benefits of beer are based on the antioxidant prenylflavonoids present in the hops. In the ale style, the beer is generally hopped more than lagers, and therefore has about twice as much prenylflavonoid as lagers (see Table 2). These compounds do have some estrogenic traits (i.e., they can act like the hormone estrogen) which can be unhealthy in large quantities, however, the quantities in ales are generally accepted as safe (see the previous link). As for subjective health (i.e., how good people feel), beer intake in general has been shown to have a negative correlation to perceived health (i.e., the more beer people drink, the worse they feel). That study did not test against different types of beer, however, so we can't conclude anything specifically about real ales.

Another study concluded that low-alcohol real ales are particularly rich in antioxidant flavonoids and those flavonoids get are readily absorbed by the body. The study didn't, however, test against types of beer other than low-alcohol real ale.

I can't seem to find any studies that show any positive or negative health effects of carbonation or consumption of live yeast (see edit below). I do speculate that the unfiltered nature of real ales would, at a minimum, provide some additional dietary fiber.

Edit: Since live ales are unfiltered, one consumes a greater amount of yeast when drinking them versus drinking another type of beer. Yeast is rich in healthy nutrients like thiamin and folic acid, however, it can also contribute to an increase in production of uric acid, which can contribute to gout. Alcohol also causes an increase in uric acid, though, and at a relatively higher level than is caused by yeast, so the uric acid contribution of yeast is likely negligible.

This book would probably have some good references, however, I do not have a copy.

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