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
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.