I am going to say outright that I think the answer is no. My beer writing colleague also agreed. The Belgians for instance get along very well having no cask conditioned ales whatsoever. They have bottle conditioned and it's highly likely that some of their draft beers are still live. None of their beer, to my knowledge, would pass the definition of real ale - it is still quality beer and there are even CAMRA books on the subject of Belgian beer.
The west coast of the USA has a large number of craft brewers. The Czech republic is regarded as a quality beer producing nation and Germany can also kick out some interesting stuff. Even in Australia there is a growing interest in craft ale.
Nowhere else in the beer producing world am I aware of such a thing as cask ale - it's unique to the UK beer world.
Ah, but that's the point. Cask conditioned ale is special and should be preserved as a style of beer production, the CAMRA guy proclaims. I can't disagree with that either. But is that a reason to determine keg beers, or filtered bottled beers unworthy of consideration? If a pub does not have the throughput to be able to sell cask conditioned beer then why not recognise that compromise will permit a better range of beers to be available?
But that's the thin end of a very big wedge. I don't agree. Cask ale is cask ale and that is an end to it. If artificial gas is introduced then it ceases to be cask ale. But that does not mean it is not quality beer.
Furthermore, handpulls put some people off drinking the stuff. They don't trust it and will plump for the Guinness or Carling instead. The ability to promote microbrewed ales via more reliable dispense systems might just also be the wedge that gets people to be more adventurous with their beer drinking. Jeff Bells blog sneers at the idea a little when Adnams tried to release such a beer.
The beer drinking market seems clearly split into two. Those that will drink cask ale and those that will not. The not camp are generally filled with lager drinkers. It is possible to get lager drinkers to try real ale and I have been successful. The jump though is far too much for most. A "crossover" light coloured fizzy beer might just bridge the void.
A final point on our British attitude to quality beer is price. In reality most cask ales in this country are actually cheaper in the pubs than keg lagers. In Belgium the quality beers are much more expensive than the mass produced stuff. 330ml is typically €4.00. With the exchange rate being nearly on equality to the pound this is somewhere around £6 a pint.
I would say, that despite everything that has been done since CAMRA started, we are very much behind the Belgians in my view. The main reasons for this is that we are too hung up on price, full pints and cask conditioning.
The beer bottle pictured above is a Belgian lambic beer. Hurrah, I've finally found a non-fruit beer that Ann will drink. I can not get her to drink cask beers. She's tried but the best I can get is "that's OK" as opposed to the normal face of a bulldog licking wee wee off a thistle. This time I lost my glass and had to find a new beer to drink.