Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Bursting out of the bubble

Boak and Bailey recently posted about St Austell Brewery in Cornwall putting some of their stronger and more unusual ales in kegs, and speculated as to whether this might lead to more breweries introducing more lower-volume guest ales on keg, where by definition turnover isn’t the problem it is with cask. In theory, the idea has some merit but, as I said in the comments, I’m not convinced that in the general run of pubs the customer base who go for cask would be interested in “craft keg”, especially one produced by a family brewer rather than a micro. It would just be seen as another keg beer.

Historically, keg ales and lagers have been preferred by those who do not trust the variability of cask beer, and continue to account for over 80% of draught beer sold in pubs. That market, to my mind, is adequately catered for by the likes of Carling, Stella, Guinness and John Smith’s Smooth. As B&B say, “Overheard some chaps in the pub discussing this the other day: all in their fifties, and all said that bad pints in their twenties put them off for life, hence they were on Stella Artois.” Also see this post of mine from 2009. I can’t honestly see that craft keg will have any appeal to those who put great store by consistency.

I could be wrong, of course, but I just don’t see craft keg bursting out of the beer bubble at all. I’ve created a poll to ask people whether they think we will see any craft keg beers appearing in Wetherspoon’s – surely the definitive sign of a product having gone “mainstream”. And if it did go mainstream, there would be a lot of muttering about “the thin end of the wedge”.

I would have thought there was more scope for putting beers like Leffe and Innis & Gunn on keg which don’t have a direct cask equivalent.


  1. We already have Hilden Belfast Blonde on keg in wetherspoon over here, which kinda fits the craft keg bill; so its already happening. I also believe Brewdog were in talks about supplying Punk to spoons once the new brewery are up and running unless it was just hearsay

  2. Come one Mudge, beat tand with a crafty keg post. 100 comments is the target!

    Craft keg will remain a niche for the following reasons:

    Extreme taste is an acquired taste of beer geeks. The hoppiest beer has as much chance as the saltiest crisps or sweetest wine.

    High abv’s are the opposite of where the mainstream market is heading. Most mainstream drinkers are turning their nose up at higher abv drinks and are not about to alter their behaviour to drink one or two halves. 4% is the new 5%.

    20 years ago the market had tolerance for “reassuringly expensive”, these days less so. The resilience and growth of cask beer in pubs is, dare I say it, much to with it being cheaper than the branded keg. Cheap chic is not naff.

    Craft keg has none of the fundamentals of free range food and is in the main little more than beer concentrate knocked up by small brewers using the same commodity industrially farmed produce as the mainstream brewers. Be nice to little chickens by all means and eat a free range egg, but who really gives a toss about the “values” of craft beer?

    Craft keg in America grew against a backdrop of commodity beer, here it competes with an existing beer enthusiast market of cask and quality foreign imports which have catered for the niche market uninterested in commodity beer for years.

  3. I think you're broadly right, Cookie, although it's entirely credible to see Spoons taking up Punk in at least some of their outlets.

    Now, to get to the 100 comments mark I really need to come up with a controversial post topic that somehow blends craft keg with the s*****g b*n ;-)

  4. What I'd add Mudge is whilst craft beer has grown in the states against a decline of commodity beer, is there really any sign of it shooting out of a niche and being a mainstream product over the pond?

    When they remake Smokey and the Bandit with Colin Farrell will he be transporting Sierra Nevada instead of Coors?

  5. Actually, as I've posted before, I'd say that craft beer in the US now occupies the market territory held in the UK by mainstream cask beers and PBAs.

  6. It'll be many a year before your bog standard working man's boozer has a double hopped IPA on the row of taps. But I really wouldn't be surprised to see a limited range of UK keg beers - like Punk or Jaipur, maybe something dark - slowly displace foreign lagers as the "premium" keg option in the slightly more upmarket joints. I'd be surprised if places like All Bar One aren't doing this within 6 months. Spoons are normally only 6 month to a year behind once something hits the mainstream.

  7. Replacing lagers appears to be a golden nirvana for many beer campaigners and belies one of the significant shifts in British beer culture, namely that lager is now an established drink on the market reinforced by foreign travel. Better lagers may replace the cooking lagers that have devalued themselves as supermarket special offers, but lager isn’t going anywhere. Nor will it ever.

    A feature Tand & Pete Brown hinted at was the extension of the term “craft”. I suspect many a national, family & regional brewer are looking at the £6 pints sold in craft beer bars and wondering how they can get a piece of it. Thwaites own “craft” range is no surprise. I expect many more beers of cask & keg to appear with the nomenclature “craft” and be made by existing larger much disparaged brewers. Oh the cheek of it.

    The much lauded overtaking of mainstream keg ales by cask brands is as much to do with the decline of smooth bitter as an aging product not drank by new younger customers, as fantastic growth of cask ale. Maybe the term “craft” does offer the next innovation.

    The club & hotel market, served by mainstream keg products, may indeed be due for an overhaul but I suspect the “craft” keg products that enter that market will not be craft as beer geeks understand it.

  8. Hasn't all this been gone over before? There are a lot of warning signs on price for craft keg and now there is talk of it breaking out of its niche, albeit in a small way. That wider availability will bring market forces into play. That is a downward pressure on prices.

    As for the US, the percentage of craft would be tiny if you excluded Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams etc. who produce each in excess of several million US barrels. Though their movement is much broader and less exclusive.

  9. Last time I was in a JDW (about a year ago during their 2011 autumn fest), they had Blue Moon on. It's classed as 'craft' in its market of origin, so unless there's more hair-splitting to be dealt with over whether any brand owned by Coors can be 'craft', I'd say it's already happening in some of their pubs. Doesn't have to be an impy stout or double IPA to be craft...

  10. Tandy, Anchor produces less beer than Fullers - there are plans to expand tho'. Your other two examples are spot-on. I imagine the US Brewers Assoc have to keep raising the ceiling or watch the market share of craft plummet if SN or SA have to be excluded.

  11. The question to ask is if the Spoons flog Brewdog IPA, will bearded types get 50p off?

  12. And will it be on the Beer & Burger offer?

  13. I suspect Brewdog might insist on you buying a gourmet burger.

  14. The term Craft Beer really bugs me,surely all older brewerys craft their own beers as they are unique to that brewery.
    As for Brewdog they now term their beers craft and charge the earth for them and they are too gassy in my opinion.
    I think Craft beer is now a licence to rip customer off.

  15. "Hasn't all this been gone over before?"

    To some extent, but the points are worth making that "craft keg" is unlikely to appeal either to the mainstream cask beer drinker or to those who value consistency over character.

  16. I think assuming that the reason that the people who don't drink cask don't drink it because of a preference for consistency is only one reason of many.

    As I've said before, in my experience the main reason people drink lager or cider is simply because its cold, whereas cask beer is not. Many of them openly acknowledge the disappointing flavour, but there's simply no other alternative.

  17. I agree - there is a very genuine demand for beer served colder than natural cellar temperature, which wasn't really possible until the widespread adoption of refrigeration in the 1960s. Many CAMRA stalwarts are somewhat in denial about this.

  18. Thinking about it, St Austell have pretty strong links with Nicholson's (they make their house pale ale), so I wouldn't be surprised to find out that their London pubs are the ultimate target for these new kegged beers.

  19. Lord Egbert Nobacon31 October 2012 at 09:11

    Even the name craft is a load of bollocks.
    Some numpty thinks bunging shitloads of hops into the brew makes him a craftsman ?
    Fact is most craft beer is like the worst CAMRA pong - undrinkable to mainstream topers.
    I could stop 50 people in the street and I bet none of them have ever heard of Brewdog - it's just the equivalent of a jazz mag for all the beer wankers to get off on.

  20. Another point is that, even if "craft" is defined quite narrowly to exclude all family brewers and the more mainstream micros, most craft beer in the UK is still cask, not keg or bottled.


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