There has been a lot of talk recently about some “KeyKeg” beers qualifying as real ale. Essentially, these are vessels in which the beer is held in an inner bag within the container, in a similar way to bag-in-box wine, and the dispense gas exerts pressure on this bag to push the beer to the bar, but doesn’t actually come into contact with it. If the beer in the keykeg is unfiltered, and therefore retains its natural yeast, it might qualify as “real ale”, as it could undergo a secondary fermentation, and avoid all contact with the CO2 used to pressurise the outer container.
I’m not at all convinced, though. The first objection is a technical one, that the beer contained in the bag does not vent to the atmosphere, and the part of the container outside the bag is pressurised with CO2 to dispense the beer, although the CO2 does not actually touch it. There is a distinct risk that, if the beer does actually enjoy a secondary fermentation, it will become over-gassy, especially as there is no means of removing excess pressure.
But the second objection is more deep-seated. In the early 1970s, CAMRA was formed to defend the traditional British beer that was seen as being under threat. The definition of “real ale” followed the creation of the organisation, not the other way round. It has always been problematical when it has been applied too strictly, for example in the exclusion of the Hull Brewery beers stored in ceramic cellar jars, and the refusal to accept cask breathers. Real Ale is a cultural concept, not just a technical definition.
It may be that these keg-conditioned beers qualify as “real ale” under a pedantic, nit-picking interpretation of the rules, although, as said above, in my view they don’t because of the venting issue. But, even if they do, they’re still keg, not real ale. If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, the odds are that it’s a duck. And these beers are keg beers.
As you know, I’m no narrow-minded cask-only zealot - I don’t even mind the occasional pint of Carling! I’d be happy to try them and to encourage others to do so. But it is confusing and unhelpful to yoke them in with cask-conditioned real ale, as understood by the general drinking public, as they are obviously a distinctly different product. Rather than arbitrarily extending the definition of real ale, wouldn’t it make more sense to accept keg-conditioned beers as a product category in their own right?
It has been claimed in some quarters that CAMRA has now officially accepted these keg-conditioned beers as “real ale”, but I don’t see that things have gone anywhere near that far. What has been done is to give CAMRA-run beer festivals sanction to serve keg-conditioned keykeg beers if they so choose. I think the Technical Committee has still to make a definitive pronouncement, let alone the CAMRA AGM. And, frankly, I just can’t see the latter happening.
If you want a campaign for quality keg beer, or indeed for All Good Beer, start your own, don’t try to subvert an existing campaign for something entirely different. It all rather reminds me of Labour Party entryism…