One of the key planks of CAMRA’s Revitalisation proposals is that, while continuing to recognise real ale as “the pinnacle of the brewer’s art”, the organisation should encourage greater acceptance of “quality” beers that do not fall within the definition of “real ale”. However, as I argued here, this opens up a potential can of worms. “Real ale”, for better or worse, is something that has an objective definition. “Quality beer” doesn’t, and can mean whatever you choose it to mean. Either you tie yourself up in knots by trying to come up with a hard-and-fast definition, or you don’t, in which case it’s no more than “beers we happen to like”.
You also run into the “Taylor’s Landlord problem”. As I wrote:
How about if Taylors produced a keg version of their highly-acclaimed Landlord? If that is approved, then surely that is accepting precisely what CAMRA was originally set up to fight. And if it isn’t, on what objective basis does it differ from the beers from the obvious crafties? And does that mean that cask Landlord should no longer be accepted as a quality beer either?Which leads us on to another issue, that “there remains a lingering suspicion of a hidden agenda to cut adrift many well-known cask beers on the grounds that they commit such cardinal sins as being “popular” and “easy-drinking”.” I’m sure there are those in CAMRA who think that keg Cloudwater Badger Jizz DIPA is far more deserving of the accolade of “quality” than cask Marston’s Pedigree. And, when the list was published of the ten most popular cask beers, you could sense the wave of sneering descending from the lofty heights of beer snobbery.
Samuel Smith’s only brew a single cask beer, Old Brewery Bitter, and do not offer any guest ales in their pubs. But there are six of their pubs in the 2018 Good Beer Guide, including one in my local branch area. Indeed, we have just voted another, the Blue Bell in Levenshulme, as our Pub of the Year. However, according to this Twitter poll, 40% of respondents don’t think that should be considered a “quality beer”, so presumably they have a problem with those pubs appearing in the GBG. And, if we’re accepting keg beers, then what’s wrong with keg OBB?
The argument is often made that the world has moved on, and today’s “craft keg” beers are nothing like the Red Barrel of old. But, in fact, neither were most of the pressurised beers around in the early 70s either. Red Barrel belonged to a specific market segment of premium keg beers whose recipes had been deliberately dumbed down and blandified to appeal to a mass market. Most non-real beers of the time were identical to their real counterparts in terms of recipe, and only differed in final processing and dispense. Indeed, those using the now-defunct top pressure system were to all intents and purposes real ale until someone connected up a CO2 cylinder. In what way did they differ from the modern-day keg beers described thus in the Revitalisation report?Do you regard Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Bitter as a "quality" beer?— Pub Curmudgeon 🍻 (@oldmudgie) January 25, 2018
In some cases, keg beer contains live yeast and is subject to secondary fermentation in the container. It is, to all intents and purposes, real ale up to the point that carbon dioxide pressure is applied in the cellar.Fullers are now one of the most respected of the remaining independent family brewers. Back in the 1970s, their beers were still highly regarded. But, according to the 1977 Good Beer Guide, only “16 of the 111 tied houses sell unpressurised beer.” The rest sold the same beer under top pressure – it wasn’t keg as such. But, because of this, they couldn’t be recognised by CAMRA. It has always been the central plank of CAMRA’s raison d’etre that British-style ales are, by a considerable margin, best served by cask-conditioning.
Yes, many of the present-day craft keg beers are good beers in their own right and well worth drinking. To draw a Manichean distinction between real=good and non-real=bad is silly and ignorant. And, for many of them, especially the stronger ones, the “East Sheen Tennis Club” argument applies, that they allow beers to be sold on draught that would not be viable in cask because of their niche appeal. But, broadly speaking, they would still be improved if they could be sold in well-kept cask form. And to suggest otherwise is to question what has been the point of CAMRA’s efforts over the past 45 years. Maybe we should go back to 1977 and happily drink that top-pressure London Pride.