Friday 28 December 2012

Complements of the season

Over the years I have been consistently critical of the dogmatic “real ale good, keg beer bad” attitude but, on the other hand, I have seen precious little evidence of “craft keg” breaking out of the beer bubble and getting into mainstream outlets.

The dinosaur view that nothing that isn’t real ale is worth drinking remains surprisingly common even now. You can see it, for example, in the postings of Richard “chemical fizz” English on the CAMRA forum, and only this month there was a letter in our local CAMRA magazine Opening Times from a prominent local member saying “I would hope that Opening Times will in future drop the ‘craft keg’ and call keg beer ‘keg’ in whatever form it is marketed (treating it with disapproval rather than tacit acquiescence)”.

In contrast, many of the proponents of craft keg, most notably BrewDog, seem to see it as a stick to beat CAMRA with for being fuddy-duddy and out-of-touch. There’s a blogpost here from Hardknott Dave in which he – I think deliberately provocatively – portrays keg as the dispense method of the future for craft beers.

There’s an interesting article by Peter Jackson in the January issue of the CAMRA newspaper What’s Brewing discussing ways of attracting younger drinkers, in which he points out the negative stereotype of real ale as a drink for middle-aged men with beards, and concludes:

CAMRA should take new craft keg on board and regard it as a friend rather than the spawn of Satan: it’s often innovative, good stuff with its heart in the right place; we drink it in Belgium, Bavaria and Prague and think it can be great. So why not embrace it here, see it for what it is, a bridge to the real thing?
There are various reasons why pubs and bars might want to stock craft keg beers
  • They are venues such as small hotels, social clubs and music venues where turnover is low and/or erratic
  • They want to offer a wider choice of unusual beers which may not sell in the volumes necessary for cask
  • They want to cater for drinkers who want a beer served colder than is traditional for cask
  • They want to put a toe in the water of offering a more “interesting” beer without committing themselves to selling twenty or more pints a day of it
But, on the other hand, thirty or forty years ago, the discerning beer drinkers of Britain decisively plumped for cask over keg ale on the grounds that, when properly looked after, it was quite simply better. They wouldn’t have continued buying real ale if it actually had been warm vinegary muck. The argument that now, across the board, keg is “better” doesn’t really wash.

All of this suggests that craft keg is something that, in the overall marketplace, should complement cask beer rather than being its direct rival. It can bring good beer to places where cask cannot reach. To my mind, it will always remain a niche product, and the large majority of decent ale served on draught in British pubs will continue to be cask. And, as I’ve said before, the big opportunity for British micros to expand keg sales may well lie in lager rather than in ale.


  1. Good points. The one wekaness in the proposition that "craft keg" may be suitable for hotel bars, sports clubs etc is that the keg beer they are likely to want to sell and charge for(and which their customers are likely to want to drink and pay for) are not the type of beers (sold at the type of prices) that make up your average "craft keg" beer these days.

    As you say lager may be the way forward - following the example of Hawkshead Brewery who now supply their rather good Lakeland Lager to Robinsons pubs in Cumbria.

  2. Spoons' Kingfisher in Poynton has Harviestoun Schiehallion on keg.

    It may not be a huge market, but I can see some boutique hotels and music venues wanting something a bit cooler than JS Extra Smooth, and breweries with a strong local identity such as Buxton and Hawkshead could be well placed to meet that need.

  3. I agree with your comments for the most part regarding U.K. breweries but keg gives us the opportunity to drink U.S., Norwegian, Danish and other quality beers from foreign parts.

  4. i think that if you lived in London you would have a different view on craft keg.i have had keg from about 35-40 british brewers and its the best brewers who have moved to keg .they realise that good beer leaves the brewery but doesnt reach the drinker in the same condition.the new keg beers are not ice cold nor too gassy(brewdog excepted)they are of course more expensive which is the reason they will struggle to sell outside the main cities.a lot of the regional brewers are aware of the threat that micro,s and keg are having on their sales and are now using pilot plants and brewing a big range of seasonal beers to combat the competition.there are lots of pubs that will probably never take keg beer but equally there are lots of pubs who are trying the new craft keg who will realise cask is a lot of hassle and wastage.
    cheers john

  5. Dickie chemical fizz is a bit of a laugh as is the odd chap that disapproves of things he doesn't personally like in Clarkeys OT. For me the RAT twattery of the month goes to a chap called Peter Jackson on the back page of What's Brewing.

    "I've brought up my three children to think cask before lager ..."

    Then he goes on to claim that he will only buy his adult kids a drink if they choose cask beer.

    What a twat.

  6. @Cookie: yeah I thought that was a bit naff. Dinted an otherwise excellent article IMO.

  7. Seeing as pretty much every man and his dog agrees with this, I will look forward to sampling some UK brewed craft keg at the foreign beer stall, alongside the typically excellent cask ale of course, at my local CAMRA festival then.

  8. But the argument would be that not serving Irish whiskey at a Scotch whisky festival doesn't mean you disapprove of Irish whiskey.

  9. Its not a real ale festival though, unless I am very much mistaken its quite clearly labelled a BEER festival, and serves several types of beer, including both real and non-real ale.

    A more accurate analogy would be a whisky festival in which every country's whisky apart from Irish whisky is represented. It really couldn't be any more of an obvious snub if they tried.

  10. "The festival is the United Kingdom's longest running CAMRA BEER festival and currently the second largest regional BEER festival. The festival features a wide range of local and national BEERS OF ALL STYLES"

    ... which is all perfectly true, you can get lots of different styles of beer from lots of different countries. Lagers, Lambics, Weizens, Wits, APAs, Black IPas, all sorts of interesting and innovative beers.

    It just happens that these styles are accepted from any breweries in any country other than our own. UK breweries are very deliberately and obviously excluded.

    They say eventually every campaign ends up operating like its being run by a coalition of its enemies. This is a good example, a British Beer festival deliberately discriminating against its own brewers. Its utterly indefensible.

  11. Sorry "py0" this really is drivel.

    I don't know which festival you are referring to but those CAMRA festivals I go to (and one I order some of the beers for) are quite happy to sell lagers, wiezens, wits, APAs , Black IPAs etc from UK brewers, both in bottle and on draught.

    I don't know about lambics but I don't think anyone in the UK makes one at the moment do they? If they did (and if, like the Belgians they made them available on gravity or in bottle conditioned form*) there would be no problem with those either.

    I think the only UK brewers who would be excluded are those who do not make their beers available in cask and/or BCA form - and there are very few of those around (less than 1% of the current total I would guess).

    * Yes, I know there are some non-bottle conditioned lambics in Belgium but to be honest they aren't worth spending your money on.

  12. Easy on the insults, stick to grown up debate please.

    So you only accept foreign beers that are either cask or bottle conditioned?

  13. Umm - I thought you were talking about British beers and breweries here? As you said:

    "... Lagers, Lambics, Weizens, Wits, APAs, Black IPas, all sorts of interesting and innovative beers.

    It just happens that these styles are accepted from any breweries in any country other than our own. UK breweries are very deliberately and obviously excluded."

    Have I missed something here? Wasn't that the point of your rant? (which by the way was demonstrably nonsense because, as I point out, the styles to which you refer and which are produced by UK brewers do find at home at CAMRA beer festivals - sorry if you find this insulting but if you talk cobblers you have to expect to be called out on it)

    Or are you trying to move the goalposts here?

    PS - you're talking about Cambridge beer festival, aren't you? I really don't know what criteria they apply but don't go judging everyone else by one festival's perceievd (in your eyes) failures.

  14. I've asked you a question, please answer it.

    I'll repeat the question for the purpose of clarity.

    "Do you only accept foreign beers that are either cask or bottle conditioned?"

  15. Hmm, trying to duck the issue are we?

    Well I can only speak for the CAMRA festival where I order some of the beers (and run the foreign/UK bottled beer bar) and the answer there is "yes".

  16. I'm sure you know as well as I do that that is complete nonsense John. Just look through the GBBF foreign beer list here:

    Rogue beers are not "RAIAB". They're bottled the exact same way that Brewdog beers are.

    Yet one brewery is allowed, and the other is not. Curious.

  17. You seem determined to muddy the waters and change the subject here.

    If you actually read my reply I said that I could only speak for the festival where I am involved in ordering the beers (Stockport for the record). And speaking for that festival the answer to the question you posed about foreign beer is correct.

    Anyway, why have we strayed into this area? The issue I called you out on was your unfounded assertion about UK brewers being discriminated against in that CAMRA festivals* were happy to sell many beer styles (some of which you listed) apart from when they were made by UK brewers. That is and remains nonsense and you seem determined to avoid the point.

    * or again, are you just talking about Cambridge. If you are then don't judge others by what one festival may or may not due

  18. Go on then, give us a link and an example of a UK brewed Lager, Lambic, Weizen, Wit, APA, and Black IPA that are served at the festival in the same way as they would be if they were foreign brewed.

    Give us your complete foreign beer list as well so we can all play a fun game of spot the beer that isn't RAIAB.

    I'm not moving the goalposts at all, if you can't follow my extremely simple argument that simply reflects upon your comprehension skills. There is one rule for UK brewers (must be Real Ale) and one rule for foreign brewers (need not be).

  19. Dear me, you really are becoming very tiresome.

    Examples of UK brewed etc? Well forget that – it would take an age and to be honest I can’t be bothered pandering to you. In any event your phrase “served at festivals in the same way as if they were foreign brewed” is pretty meaningless – although I guess you know what you mean.. In passing I see you also refer to “UK brewed lambics” – just who in the UK did you have in mind with this one?

    Stockport foreign beer list last time? Happy to oblige – please don’t hesitate to point out any non-BCA beer that may have slipped through:

    Abbaye des Rocs Blanche des Honnelles, Ecaussinnes Ultramour,
    Lindemans Cuvee Renee Oude Gueuze,
    Oud Beersel Oud Kriek, Oud Beersel Oud Framboise, De Ranke XX Bitter,
    De Ranke Pere Noel, Saint Feuillien Triple, De La Senne Taras Boulba, De La Senne Stouterik, Slaapmutske Blond, Van Eecke Watou’s Witbier, De Molen Amerikaans, De Molen Jaar & Dag, De Molen Bloed, Zweet & Tranen, Emelisse Witbier, Nøgne Ø Porter,
    Nøgne Ø IPA

    And now:

    “There is one rule for UK brewers (must be Real Ale) and one rule for foreign brewers”

    You may well be right in that. I think there is a lack of consistency about this at some CAMRA beer festivals. If you’d made that point at the start we might have avoided this tortuous argument. However that’s not what you said. All you did was come up with a list of beer styles and said that they

    “are accepted from any breweries in any country other than our own. UK breweries are very deliberately and obviously excluded”

    That is simply not the case. All the beers style you listed (lambic apart – see my comments passim) are made by UK breweries and are sold at CAMRA beer festivals.

    However what I now see you were trying (and failing) to say was that while some of these beer styles are accepted in “non-real” form (lambics apart – see my previous comments) if they come from overseas breweries they are only accepted in cask or BCA form if they come from a UK brewer (well as far as some beer festivals go). That is true. Unfair? Maybe, but so is life.

    Now, go away and stop being tedious.

  20. Oh good, so we agree that I was right the whole time and that you've been talking out your arse. Not for the first time either.

    Yes it is unfair. Its also indefensible and embarrassing and, actually, easily fixed.

    You're the only CAMRA member I know who is happy with the situation.

  21. No you weren't right all along. The way you badly phrased the point you were labouring to make came out as something that was quite different and demonstrably wrong. Not my fault if you are incapable of expressing yourself clearly.

    Now that you have finally made it clear what you were trying to say all along we are in broad agreement.

    By the way who said I was happy with the situation? Doubt it's going to be fixed any time soon though.

    Oh and I see you've glossed over my foreign beer list. Thought you were looking forward to your fun game?

  22. The term "beer style" incorporates its traditional means of dispense. A cask conditioned wheat beer served at 14 degrees is quite distinctly NOT a hefeweizen. Its entirely unrecognisable from that style of beer. A hefeweizen should be served at 4-7 degrees. A German beer drinker would laugh in your face.

    A proper UK hefeweizen like Thornbridge Versa should be served at 5 degrees like it would be on the foreign beer bar.

    So there we have it; everything I have said has been entirely accurate, everything you has said was condescending bullshit. You should keep your mouth shut in future John, because you don't only embarrass yourself, you embarrass CAMRA by association.

  23. "The term "beer style" incorporates its traditional means of dispense.."

    No it doesn't. But then you do seem to enjoy making things up as you go along.

    And as for the rest of your notably stupid and immature comments - well, it's just rattles out of pram time isn't it?

    And all this from someone who won't even use his own name.

  24. John, lets not forget you started this with your childish and unnecessarily antagonistic "drivel" comment.

    And as it turns out, it wasn't drivel at all as you've been forced to admit. If you had any ounce of self respect an apology would be forthcoming at this point. I'm not holding my breath.

  25. I see Otley have now launched a couple of beers in keg form aimed at the specific kind of market I was thinking of:

    "Two of the brewery’s best loved ales are now available in keg format as well as cask, opening Otley’s beers up to a new audience in restaurants and bars that do not cater for cask or real ales."


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