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The Curious Case of Crafty Keg

by Helen Thu Jun 20th, 2013 at 01:44:50 AM EST

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is one of the most successful consumer organisations in the world.


Beginning in the 1970s, it challenged the prevailing beer industry in Britain which was trying to push low-quality, taste-free, cold and fizzy keg beer & lager onto drinkers. It succeeded to the extent that Real Ale, the traditional beer style of the UK, is now available in nearly every pub in the country.

It was able to do so because it created a black and white distinction between real ale as demanded by CAMRA and the keg beer sold by the mega-keggeries. As wiki puts it, ďCask ale or cask-conditioned beer is the term for unfiltered and unpasteurized beer which is conditioned (including secondary fermentation) and served from a cask without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressureĒ. A line in the sand was drawn; one side good, the other bad.

Now while this has worked very well with British beers, it is a line that is difficult to hold when dealing with beers from different traditions. It is one thing to refuse to accept ďfakeĒ pilsners brewed in large chemical plants in Wales, another thing entirely when dealing with the authentic filtered and pasteurized pilsners from Pilzen or Budowicse. Or Belgian and German beers. And how to react to American beers which are mostly British in style, but are served as keg beers ?

The Great British Beer Festival solves the conundrum by saying that beers brewed outside of Britain will be available on specialist ďForeignĒ beer bars. On said bars CAMRA will turn a blind eye on such issues as filtering and dispense, simply saying that these are authentic styles in their originating countries.

This is a line that has been held successfully for 30 years but which is now beginning to come under fire. And the problem is the popularity of American Craft beers. Just as 25 years ago when British real ale inspired the Craft beer revolution in the USA, now they are returning the favour and are inspiring modern British brewers with their powerful sharply defined flavours. However, it's not just the flavour they want to copy, they want to do it as keg beer

From a purely commercial viewpoint, keg beers are easier to handle, more stable and more reliable; the very reason the big breweries wanted them 40 years ago. However, as the new British craft brewers would argue, if you can have the stability and have great flavours as well, whatís not to like?

Well, from a personal standpoint Iíve never had a craft version of a cask ale I thought was as good or as interesting as the original. The flavour is thinner and less complex; for those who know Iíd compare it to the difference between Kristal and Heffe Weissen beers. Drink the two different versions of the same beer side by side and there is almost no comparison. It is the same with craft versions of real ales. They are usually served too cold and too fizzy by UK standards, the very same problems that CAMRA railed against 40 years ago

Nevertheless, Craft is coming. BrewDog led the way and, having ignored CAMRA and remained both credible and commercially successful, they are now being followed by more breweries. A pub near me even held a festival of them.

So, how should CAMRA respond? They have, after all, been here before; with the Cask Breather. This was a system which allowed a beer to mature, but once matured, prevented the beer going off by flooding the cask with an inert gas at atmospheric pressure. Or at least that was the theory. CAMRA resisted this for several reasons, not least of which was that it was an obvious wedge issue, in that once the cask breather was allowed it would have been difficult to argue about other gases and different pressures. Before you know it, we would have had low quality keg beers back again, only this time CAMRA wouldnít have a hard and fast line to hold against them.

And here we are again and itís still true. Nobody doubts the integrity of the people at BrewDog and elsewhere, I donít think they want to abuse the keg beers they brew. But others would. By way of example, the craft beer festival I attended had some lovely beers, but they were served so cold they were tasteless. This was in a pub with several real ales on tap served in immaculate condition. When I complained that the beers were too cold, the landlord simply pointed out that;-

a)it would warm up

b) his other customers didnít mind.

Ah back to the dark old days of poorly presented beer drunk by people who donít care so long as itís wet. But donít worry; itíll be warm enough if you wait for it to go flat.

Thatís whatís wrong with keg. If real ale is abused, itís undrinkable and you have a good case to get a different beer or a refund. If keg is abused, itís your hard luck. And thatís why, despite the fact that it will push a few of our more interesting brewers outside the tent, CAMRA will continue to say no.

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Coming from America, the idea that beer would ever be serve in any way other than supercold seemed odd.  Now, it did seem strange to me when I saw the Thai putting ice in their beer, but I could understand the thinking behind it.  But warm beer?  Incomprehensible.  I remember hearing several jokes about Brits and their warm beer.  But of course it's not just beer that should be ice cold, but everything, even water - or so I thought.

In my years living in Japan, though, Ive changed.  It started with water.  I mainly drink water straight from the tap, and just got used to drinking it at whatever temp it came out.  It was too much work to cool it down.  Now I prefer it that way.

Then it was wine.  People say that white should be chilled, but with my small fridge, and my buy and eat on same day shopping habits, chilling wine properly was too much work.  Now I'm used to it, and find that when its chilled, its too hard to really taste, especially with the fruity and sweeter wines from South America that I usually drink.

Just recently I have come to appreciate barely cooled and lukewarm beer.  I first noticed it with Belgian ales, that they really tasted completely different when cold, vs cool.  Now I'll leave beers out, and drink them at room temperature.

by Zwackus on Fri May 24th, 2013 at 09:29:43 PM EST
Hooray, chilling a beer suppresses the flavour. That is probably a good thing if it's a mass produced chemical sludge, you wouldn't want to taste it anyway; but for a good beer, serving it cold just misses out all the best bit part.

Plus, beer retains maximum carbonation at about 13 degrees C, so the colder it's served, the flatter it is

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat May 25th, 2013 at 05:08:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most wines shouldn't be colder than a cold room temperature anyway.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed May 29th, 2013 at 06:14:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tell that to the Americans I know, who refuse to drink white unless it's been chilled in an ice bucket for half an hour.
by Zwackus on Thu May 30th, 2013 at 07:48:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, sure, but they're, you know, wrong?

Over-chilling kills wines. And beer with any flavour to it too, which just makes it join the fizzy iced-drinks category (triple but unsubtle sensation, fizz-chill-sweet ie sodas, fizz-chill-bitter ie lagers).

There was craft beer on tap at our local organic fair last Sunday. The brewer malts his own home-grown barley and has planted hops so he will soon have his own. The result is carefully made and pretty good. He has what I'd call a brown ale, that is really decent stuff out of the bottle. But fizzed-up and over-chilled out of the keg, it was just bland.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu May 30th, 2013 at 08:08:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
<shrug> Americans. What can you do?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 30th, 2013 at 10:03:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So what do you say about Air France serving chilled red wine (this happened to me).
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu May 30th, 2013 at 12:15:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They're out to please American customers?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu May 30th, 2013 at 12:55:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On a flight to Montreal?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu May 30th, 2013 at 01:12:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Transatlantic...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu May 30th, 2013 at 03:05:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe this is me coming from a binge booze culture, but taste is not the only reason alcoholic beverages are drunk. There is also the alcohol, for the purpose of you know getting drunk. And then taste is just in the way.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Sun Jun 2nd, 2013 at 06:55:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some people actually manage to fool themselves that taste is what they're doing it for.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Jun 2nd, 2013 at 10:30:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I regard getting drunk as a pleasant occupational hazard. However, if getting drunk is the sole intent, then you don't need to buy beer. Just get a bottle of cheap vodka and neck it. Plastered in under half an hour.

But why? What's the point?

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Jun 2nd, 2013 at 10:37:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Vodka has greater risk of overshooting and passing out or spending the rest of the night puking.

Also, in Denmark at least, the vodka that gets you drunk cheaper than beer tastes like they dried it with benzene. Even diluting it 5:1 in cola will not overpower the aftertaste.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jun 2nd, 2013 at 01:25:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But if you just want to get drunk, who cares ?

If you want to enjoy the process, then we're back on my turf

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Jun 2nd, 2013 at 03:03:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[ET Moderation Technologyô]

Bumped for visibility.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jun 20th, 2013 at 01:44:32 AM EST
Sorry, I've been distracted

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jun 20th, 2013 at 01:31:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You weren't driven to distraction. You rode there on a bike.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Jun 21st, 2013 at 04:28:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmmm

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Jun 21st, 2013 at 09:23:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry. That was cruel. I hope you are healing well.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Jun 21st, 2013 at 09:44:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nah, don't worry. Tho' it's still very sore and I prefer to have something to knock me out at night

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Jun 21st, 2013 at 02:11:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
deadspin.com
36. Keystone. This is the worst beer currently sold on American soil. It sits behind chilled glass in a convenience-store fridge like a dumb rebuke to the explosion of American beer variety all around it. In 1978 there were 89 breweries in the U.S.; today there are more than 2,400, and most of the new ones are better than most of the old ones. In 2013 craft beer is no longer the exclusive domain of West Coast weirdos and psychotic woodsmen. These fine days you can score Samuel Adams or Sierra Nevada at the least ambitious of convenience stores and Dogfish Head 90 Minute on the least reliable of trains. And then there is Keystone, which first appeared to the world in 1989, in Chico, Calif., home of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Keystone separates itself from the rest of the crap pack by augmenting the typical stale/sour flavor profile with notes of brown bananas and green armpits. Keystone is worse than Heineken and murder.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu Jul 4th, 2013 at 05:34:10 AM EST
Heh heh.

Oh yea, some truly awful beers were brewed in the infancy of British microbrewing. And there are still some terribly dull beers being brewed, tasteless golden ales stuffed full of hops in an artless and displeasing fashion.

That said, one man's meat is another man's poison. there are some flavours eg phenolics, which a lot of people can't taste, which means they can like a beer others find undrinkable.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jul 4th, 2013 at 03:57:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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