Sunday, 2 March 2014

A lot of bottle

Premium Bottled Ales are in a sense the older, staider relation of craft keg beers. They’ve been around for a lot longer, and have less of a cutting-edge image and a more mature customer profile. But they share the crucial factor that, while they’re certainly not “real” in CAMRA terms, neither are they never worth drinking.

The results of my latest poll show strong support, with 45% saying they drink them regularly, and 60% saying they did so at least sometimes. In contrast, only 3% exclusively confined themselves to bottle-conditioned ales, as recommended by CAMRA, while a much greater 18% said they didn’t drink anything at home.

As I wrote here, Premium Bottled Ales are one of the fastest growing categories in the beer market, and are viewed by many of their consumers as the bottled equivalent of cask ale in the pub. Pubs serve Wainwright, Pedigree, Abbot and Directors, and so do Tesco in the beer aisle. Most of them are the counterparts of cask beers, and their drinkers often refer to them as “bottles of real ale”. More and more, it’s not a case of “I saw that in the pub, I’ll drink it in bottle” but “I’ve had that in bottle, so I’ll drink it on one of my rare visits to the pub”.

I’d say that, ultimately, this is an even bigger quandary for CAMRA than “craft keg”. Drinking is increasingly shifting to the off-trade, and the discerning ale drinker, especially in the older age groups, is increasingly drinking PBAs. To argue that, say, brewery-conditioned Thornbridge Jaipur or Hawkshead Lakeland Gold are beers unworthy of any serious consideration is no more a credible position than claiming all craft keg is worthless. CAMRA’s policy of making a shibboleth of inconsistent and often undrinkable bottle-conditioned beers comes across as ludicrous.

It’s an interesting speculation as to whether, if PBAs had been around in 1973, CAMRA would have been so dogmatic in its deification of bottle-conditioning.


  1. CAMRA has definitely boxed itself into a corner over its stance on bottle-conditioned beers. What's worse is that its now seen to be swimming against the tide over this issue.

    I've had several inconsistent and decidedly undrinkable bottle-conditioned beers recently. I didn't buy these myself, as I now tend to avoid this category altogether. Instead they were gifts, but all were way over-conditioned and fobbed like crazy when opened, even after an hour or so in the fridge. One was also off. Need I say any more?

  2. The current poll option ought to have another option. All 10 and any I can scrounge off other beardies.

  3. '...neither are they never worth drinking.'

    That's a bold statement! These days, I find myself giving a miss to quite a few supermarket PBAs on the basis that they're too often stale, if not completely dead.

    They're rarely *off*, though, which I guess is what you mean.

    Fuller's BCAs are generally spot on, in our experience: cask-like, but without tons of yeast floating about, and consistent.


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