Saturday, 2 April 2011

Keg, CAMRA & Dinosaurs.

Camrasaurus trudge on bemused by what is about to occur.

Sixty-Five million years ago the dinosaurs were wiped out by something beyond their control, why? Because they weren't advanced/evolved/intelligent enough to do something about the fate which befell them. However the race which crawled from the primordial aftermath eventually evolved into Homo Sapiens with intelligence & who now have the capability to counter such a threat that the dinosaurs faced long before it would happen.

So what am I getting at? Yes you guessed it! The Camra/Keg debate.

Earlier this week Camra's monthly newspaper was released & it contained an article written by Camra's very own messiah Mr Roger Protz the Editor of the Good Beer Guide. These are excerpts from his article:-

“Far from joining hands with CAMRA round the birthday cake, some craft brewers and beer writers have chosen this year of all years to attack the campaign for – and I almost have to suspend disbelief as I type these words – refusing to embrace keg beer.”
“At the risk of patronising them, many weren’t born or were too young to appreciate just how dire the beer scene was in the early 1970’s. The likes of Watney’s Red, Worthington E and Double Diamond were spreading like some dreadful bacillus across the country. Breweries were either closing or switching to keg production.”

“And yet, in spite of these facts, CAMRA is being criticised for refusing to embrace keg beer. It seems scarcely credible, yet the question of CAMRA and keg raised its over-carbonated head at the annual SIBA conference in February. Some SIBA members are either making keg beer or are considering doing so and wanted to know what the Campaign’s attitude would be. My reply – and it was a personal one – was that if some brewers want to make keg they are perfectly free to do so but, given the current success of cask beer, I thought they would do better to concentrate on real ale.”

Now Camra celebrates the fact it has 120,000 members yet how many have the same views as Roger? I doubt it's even a few percent, & yet how is it their policy is dictated by the minority? Surely average members voices should be heard  like Neil's thoughts here.

There are those closer to the top of the organisation who have a very fuzzy hole ridden argument about why the new wave of  keg beer should not be credenced:-

They harp on about keg beer of the 70's being awful dead filtered beer, a fact that no-one can deny. But they incorrectly describe keg beer as a 'style', keg is NOT a style of beer, it is a mode of dispense as is cask beer. I read a comment in reply to Roger on the BeerCast blog from Mark at the BeerBirraBier blog & he hit the nail on the head so instead of regurgitate his comments I'll copy & paste them:-

"Maybe having lived through the 70’s is preventing Roger from seeing the difference between a poor beer being put into a keg and a great beer being put into a keg. GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT. A brilliant beer doesn’t become poor just because it’s put into a keg.

The method of dispense is a means to an end. Some styles are enhanced by one particular closure whereas others are worsened. Put a beer in the container that presents it in the best possible way to the drinker. Simple."

"For hop-forward, American style IPA’s and IIPA’s, nothing beats the higher carbonation and extra chill of a keg. Sampling any of them at the GBBF bar that CAMRA forced into gravity dispense casks proved that … although it seems the mere presence of them at the festival is testament to CAMRAs forward thinking …"

Now herein lies the very crux of the issue, Camra say keg is a style which was characterised by pasteurised dead beer from the 70's. The crucial differences here are the beer being kegged by the new wave of craft brewers is non-pasteurised, largely unfiltered beer that is of infinitely higher quality than 70's dead keg.

You drink our cask ales & enjoy them, then believe we sneak around in the early hours pasteurising & dumbing down our wares ready for keg with a mind to destroying ever popular cask ale in the UK? C'mon Roger surely not even you believe that! The fact that most new wave keg beer is 'KeyKeg' which is essentially real ale in a keg the only difference is it is slightly pre-carbonated & served without a beer engine or a sparkler, no extraneous C02, none.

This is about handing choice & diversity to the consumer to grow our market share, not to destroy our beloved cask ale in the UK. It's a about having a diverse show with many facets to take yet more share from the macros.

There are many outlets around the country installing guest keg lines & it is proliferating, fast! So what will be your response? To ignore, to denigrate? Does that not make you as ignorant as those who ignore cask ale?

You are becoming defensive to what the current wave of exciting UK brewers are doing & instead of talking to us & finding out solid facts about what we are doing you quickly scurry back to the hills waving the 'evil keg' banner. We are not saying we are going to overnight shift our production into keg, cask will always remain king in Britain, all we ask is some credence for our innovative efforts to draw more drinkers into the quality beer market.

I'm excited about where this industry is going & what we have the potential to be, the US market is currently the perfect antimatter to the UK market, the majority of their beer is keg but cask beer is growing in popularity over there & guess what?! They are positively embracing it, as they believe it adds value to their industry, just as superb quality keg beer adds to our market.

I'll leave you with @neil_bowness  thoughts because he is a Camra member & I am not.

"I would like to challenge you and CAMRA on this front: stop preaching, stop lecturing and try educating by helping drinkers make an informed choice, not just telling them that it is good because it comes from out of a cask."

"Far too often I’ve seen beer being lauded for it’s real ale and local credentials, but the liquid has been verging on the undrinkable. I am fortunate enough to live in Cumbria, a county with over 30 breweries and which I’m happy to help promote but - hand on heart - I cannot truthfully say that all of their beer is good, but I will continue to support them."

"Yes, cask beer may have been lost in the UK* had CAMRA not been established, and yes, the real ale market is doing very well, but don’t think for one minute that every pub in the land would suddenly see a massive reversal in fortunes off the back of introducing more cask ale.

To bring this to conclusion, I feel your article shows that you and many CAMRA members are still in a mindset that was relevant in the early 1970s - to illustrate, in the very first paragraph, you make reference to Spitfire aircraft in the last world war. This outlook reflects a generational attitude which CAMRA could do well to distance itself from should they wish to continue in any meaningful fashion for another 40 years."

Surely it's time to stop looking backwards & back patting for a victory 20 years since won & embrace what's ahead, if not you will end up becoming a 'liberation remembrance club'. You could learn an awful lot from SIBA's progressive all embracing stance & evolve with the times to become  relevant, potent & fit for use in our modern, dynamic beer world, if not, it's the way of the dinosaurs I'm afraid.


Anonymous said...

This annoys me too. I have a home dispense kit, and I exclusively drink real lager-style beers bought by the keg from Pivovar.

These are some of the best brews the Czech Republic can offer, are usually unpasteurised, and knock our UK lager-beers into a cocked hat. Read that again - they TOTALLY eclipse the quality and flavour of anything on offer in the UK. Buying by keg is also considerably cheaper than buying in a pub and compares well to buying in a supermarket.

I personally want to put stuff in my mouth that tastes fantastic, and I don't care much how it gets there. So whether it's cask, keg, key keg, or frankly in leaky saddlebags on the back of a lame ass, I really don't give a hoot, so long as it tastes good and doesn't make me ill.

Neil, CAMRA member.

Ed said...

I dunno, I'll drink anything if needs be but I still like cask beer best so it doesn't bother me at all if CAMRA keeps it's hardline anti-keg stance.

Sid Boggle said...

Didn't I read somewhere recently that CAMRA's technical committee were talking to the people who make key kegs?

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

Sid - If that is indeed true that will be a most welcome development.

The Beer Nut said...

If you're not a member you don't get to preach, I think.

Personally, I don't see a mass extinction for CAMRA. Cask, as you say, will always remain "king" in Britain, even if it's not what most beer-drinkers drink. No-one's going to romanticise keg, and neither should they.

CAMRA, I think, is destined for the same retirement home as the Society for the Preservation of Beers From the Wood: increasingly aging and of less and less relevance to the ordinary beer drinker. They'll never die out and, frankly, I'll raise a glass of 1.038 brown bitter to that.

StringersBeer said...
20 quid and you get a silver card, free spoons tokens or some such nonsense.

And a vote.

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

Stringers - Been there mate, for 6 years & what's this vote of which you speak? You can table a motion, but then you have to persuade Camra top brass to vote in favour & it seems their not for listening if you read Rogers thoughts.

StringersBeer said...

Honestly James, it doesn't matter. If you've decided you can't change the CAMRA old guard (and I'm not saying you're wrong) why let them bother you? Why make yourself a victim?

If the beer's good enough people will drink it. Even without creating an "issue" to crank up some publicity.
We're sure that the beer is good enough aren't we?

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

Stringers - If I'd given up on Camra I wouldn't have written this post. I just think the UK's most prominent beer consumer group should have a policy & outlook that is upto date & reflects the 'current' diverse market, not just the parts that fit their definition of Real Ale, what about 'The Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale'?

StringersBeer said...

But CAMRA isn't a "beer" consumer group. It's a "real ale" consumer group (with a sideline in cider and perry - for some reason). If we need a beer consumer group we'll have to build one, rather than hope to inherit one.

MicMac said...

All interesting stuff, & I agree with much of it, but I'm less convinced with these lines "The crucial differences here are the beer being kegged by the new wave of craft brewers is non-pasteurised, unfiltered beer that is of infinitely higher quality than 70's dead keg...the fact that most new wave keg beer is 'KeyKeg' which is essentially real ale in a keg the only difference is it is slightly pre-carbonated & served without a beer engine or a sparkler, no extraneous C02, none."

As far as I am aware a number of these modern UK craft keg-brewers are not leaving their beers quite as un-processed as you suggest.

I *believe* Meantime, Freedom, Cotswold, Brewdog, either use trad CO2 kegs (some do so in addition to using Keykegs) they also filter their beer for keg.

Similarly, despite KeyKeg's 'no extraneous CO2 in contact with the beer' AFAIK, there's nothing to stop a brewery from pasteurising &/or filtering (& force-carbonating) their beer before packaging in Keykegs.

I believe also that many quality foreign keg imports are filtered &/or pasteurised (e.g. I read that both keg & bottled Anchor beers are pasteurised, but they're still great beers).

You could perhaps argue that some of these processing methods either do no harm, or actually benefit beer flavour (BeerBirraBier suggests cooler temps & fizz improves hoppy US IPAs, I think this is very open to debate, & a matter of personal taste).

I'd like CAMRA to somehow embrace all good beer, but I doubt that's going to happen. I'd prefer them to be consistent too - many BCAs are CAMRA-Kosher despite being sterile-filtered & reseeded/primed.

Undoubtedly there is a huge difference between craft-keg & Watney's (or John Smiths Smooth & Carling, etc) & it's a shame, but I don't think CAMRA are the group to champion that distinction. I also think you underestimate the (perhaps ill-informed) support for cask over any keg, regardless of quality.

mybrewerytap said...

Well put Mike. With regard to the the 'Camra kosher' BC beers you mention, I think CAMRA would be appalled if they realised that contract bottled beers were being cold sterile filtered and then re-seeded so that they have visible (but redundant) yeast particles in so they qualify for their 'this is real ale' accrediation, but it's happening. Makes a complete arse of CAMRA's policy on BC bottles in my opinion...

MicMac said...

@MyBreweryTap - I have no doubt that CAMRA do know that many BCAs are filtered & reseeded, because they publish a book about BCAs which I think declares this & AFAIK *all* of the big name (supermarket selling) BCAs are packaged this way to give the consistency, stability & shelf-life supermarkets demand.

That CAMRA HQ gives accreditation to these beers, while seemingly concurrently not giving accreditation to Thornbridge's *entirely unfiltered* bottled beers is bizarre (I forget how Thornbridge's bottled beers are carbonated, but they were bloody lovely in my recent MyBreweryTap case!)

Dave Lozman said...

"If I'd given up on Camra I wouldn't have written this post. I just think the UK's most prominent beer consumer group should have a policy & outlook that is upto date & reflects the 'current' diverse market, not just the parts that fit their definition of Real Ale, what about 'The Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale'?"

James I couldn't agree with your quote (above) more. Very well put!

mybrewerytap said...

Micmac: so these beers are cold sterile filtered, carbonated and then re-seeded and CAMRA is happy to call it Real Ale? It suggests they don't really understand the process, because the re-seeding will be doing next to nothing with regard to extra conditioning.

Paul Kruzycki said...

James, great piece.I'd suggest that there is a place for quality Keg beer alongside the more "traditional" cask and as a "campaign" (does that make them a consumers group or something else?)CAMRA would be crazy not to look again at what Keg is doing for beer.

The recent SIBA competition delivered some amazing beers. Long may it continue.

Paul Kruzycki

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

I have just read on Ed's Beer Site that CAMRA are to have a purpose review

If your a member, make your thoughts heard.

Tandleman said...

Er James, we have had the review, or rather it is now published. I was a member of the review team, but don't expect CAMRA to change its stance on keg, though do expect it to get closer to SIBA.As Stringer said don't expect to inherit a campaign.

Regarding the quality of new keg beer, I rather think Mike has said a lot of what I think.

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

Tandleman - It's good to hear CAMRA will get closer to SIBA as they have widely encompassing remit regardless of dispense issues & are effective on a wide range of issues.

However, I am convinced CAMRA have missed a trick with regards keg, craft keg is happening organically with more & more micros widening their appeal to try & attract lager drinkers into the world of quality beer & what does that better than the font next to their macro fizz being a locally produced high quality craft keg?

It makes a logical progression for this type of drinker who may then go onto also becoming cask ale drinkers.

It also allows brewers to serve certain beers which require an extra lift of C02 to realise their full potential. Examples being our Diablo IPA & lets say Marble Dobber, I've tried both from keg & I have to say from a brewers perspective the both the beers were far superior to cask, I'm not saying it suits EVERY style but hop forward dry hopped IPA's are much better suited to keg, whereby a nice stout or session ale most definitely suits cask dispense.

The market will roll on regardless & I am sure this debate won't go away.

Brewers I know of who now are kegging or about to include:-

Dark Star
Camden Town
Steel City
Magic Rock
& more who elude me.

The list gets longer by the week & more pubs are putting in guest keg lines so it is happening regardless, it will just be interesting to see how CAMRA react over the coming years.

Tandleman said...

At the end of the day it is all about the drinker and what he wants to drink. I refute this statement particularly "I've tried both from keg & I have to say from a brewers perspective the both the beers were far superior to cask"

The judge is never the brewer once it leaves the brewery, but the customer. If the brewer chooses to put out an inferior product in cask, then maybe we shouldn't entirely trust him? These are deep waters so tread carefully.

My experience of British keg is that it is far too gassy and has all the faults of old keg with a better underlying taste. And hop forward, dry hopped IPAs are not the be all and end all of beer.

Mind you, it (keg beer) can be done well. See my post about Vienna on my blog. There is little evidence it is being done consistently well here though.

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

Tandleman - Your cheap shots & blind hypocrisy are becoming the stuff of legend in the online beer world.

These developments are happening regardless of your views which you are quite entitled to, you are free to bypass British Craft Keg as & when you see it.

Just don't try to discredit something purely because it is in it's infancy, the Germans started somewhere...

If we had quashed the notion of cask beer in the early days because of an opinion of it being poorly done where would we be now?

You do British brewers a huge disservice by insinuating we don't have the knowhow or the capability & therefore we shouldn't, that attitude gets us nowhere.

You only have to look at brewers like Meantime who have invested heavily in innovation regarding championing various dispense methods.

Just heard that Williams brewery's Kegger has just arrived today & they plan to Keg a range of their beer, also I draw your attention to Mark Tranter's blog on the Dark Star website for his thoughts.

I have today also recieved an email from a family brewer regarding advice on KeyKeg's.

As regards CAMRA's loosley termed 'purpose review' I refer you to Mudgie's blog entitled 'Lost in Translation' you had an opportunity & you blew it.

The market is developing at pace... You are free to stand by (with CAMRA) & watch!

Tandleman said...

Dear me. Cheap shots eh? Better not mention dinosaurs then had we? And maybe next time we meet we can discuss hypocrisy, as you don't say exactly what these cheap shots are. I would also point out what your fellow brewer Mike says, but maybe he's making cheap shots too?

Far from by passing British keg, I try it as often as I can - especially if I see something new and while you are entitled to your opinion too, I find it well over gassed in the cases I have come across. I do actually agree that often much stronger beers come over better on keg, but then again others don't. Far from wishing to quash keg beer, I want it to find its own place in the market, as it is doing and not rely on CAMRA as so many seem to think it should. For those that wish to provide keg beer, that's absolutely fine by me.The more choice the merrier. My preference will usually be cask, but not always.

It is the CAMRA angle that gets my goat. If you really read what I say, you'll know that. I was drinking craft keg beer when you were still at school - not a cheap shot but a fact and still do. Been doing it for donkey's years and was brought up on it and memories aren't all bad. I am personally quite agnostic on the keg issue, provided the quality is good. I have sought keg beer out abroad for years (and enjoyed)but that doesn't mean I want to see what CAMRA believes in change, or vicious attacks or mockery on it go unanswered. That for me as much as anything is a loyalty matter.

(There is still plenty of common ground dispense apart and I worked very hard on the CAMRA review to get more contact between CAMRA and SIBA and in many other ways too, though I'll stop now, as self justification is never very appealing.)

PS Haven't come across your keg beer yet, but love your cask.

PPS "Your cheap shots & blind hypocrisy are becoming the stuff of legend in the online beer world."

Clearly you are right given my blog ratings falling, but it would no fun at all if we all agreed. So summing up, I'll be more than happy to buy you a pint next time we meet. Keg or cask? I don't mind.

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

Tanders - Re: Cheap Shots, I refer to you branding me a 'fuckwit' on twitter after the 'Kevin' post & insinuating people should not trust me because I serendipitously found that Diablo is better in keg form.

Also with regards hypocrisy I refer you to the fact you enjoy Keg beers on your travels on the contintent yet refuse to credit any attempt at them on British soil.

I would be happy to share a beer & disagree with you the next time we meet. :)

Tandleman said...

Oh I see. I can't remember the context but it still rankles then? Sorry about that. I don't hold grudges myself - no point of blogging if you do - and of course, I get as good as I give. Better sometimes.

When I get a good keg beer here that makes we want to drink it over a good cask one, I'll let you know.

Still like your cask though. Look forward to sharing that beer.

Legs said...

Paul, yes CAMRA is a campaigning group and a consumer group. It, however is the Campaign for Real Ale, not the Campaign for Craft Beers. Keg does not meet the definition of real ale, therefore CAMRA does not support it. CAMRA does not, as a campaign, oppose it either. It appears that craft brewers who produce keg beers are in a snit because they believe their product is a real ale. Good, it may well be, in certain areas, necessary. I'm thinking of Ireland, which never had a CAMRA equivalent, so draught beer is dead, and the cellar skills needed to serve it properly are lacking. Therefore, at the moment, keg is a necessity to serve a drinkable pint. Porterhouse sprining to mind, good beer that I have enjoyed on several occasions. But Not Real Ale.

The Beer Nut said...

Cask beer is alive and growing in Ireland. Virtually all our beweries produce cask beer (you'll find them listed in the 2012 CAMRA Good Beer Guide), including the Porterhouse who produce one cask-only beer but also cask their other ales and stouts on a regular basis.