Wednesday, 17 April 2013

It's Not All Good


Is anyone else getting fed up of the cask versus keg debate or is it just me? Thought not. I am pretty cheesed off with it, but will have to gird my loins to speak against one or two anti craft motions at the CAMRA AGM, not because I'm a big proponent of craft keg. Most of it - at least at the supping rather than sipping end of it - is pretty dull in my view - just like most cask is a bit samey. My drinking experience tells me that kissing lots of frogs is a bad idea percentage wise. You rarely find a princess. Better by far at my time of life, to eliminate that onerous task by drinking what you know to be good, or what is recommended by people you trust. I've done the beer hunting bit to death and now, though the experimentation and hunting rears its head from time to time, by and large, I just prefer to drink beer for enjoyment and with my friends.

Mind you, I say that as a personal thing. I have done plenty of beer exploration and experimenting in my time, but I'm well again, though I really do recommend it to our younger beer drinkers, as you need to go through that pain to get to, if not nirvana, equilibrium. But then again, I am a beer drinker - side swipe following - not a fan boy. Drinking beer to learn and discover is one thing.  Doing it because it is fashionable, quite another, though as in most things in life, one thing leads to another, so maybe even that isn't all bad.

Reading the AGM motions and looking at the election address one of the CAMRA National Executive contenders, I get the feeling that there is a bit of unease at best and hostility at worst, to our new cohort of keg devotees.  I've thought about it and while there is no need for CAMRA to change its priority of real ale,  there is no need for a dog in the manger approach either.  Keg beer appeals to a certain kind of drinker that associates it with experimentation, cutting edge and hip.  Why not? I feel pretty relaxed about it overall.  Where there is a mixed approach to cask and keg, it works well and as most of the keg stuff is strong, it gives more choice when a similar cask wouldn't be finished before going flat or off. (By the way - if you could polish off a cask of strong beer in the first couple of hours, it is usually superior in developed flavours). But I digress.

Choice is good, keg bashing is bad, CAMRA bashing is bad, beer drinking is good.  Not all beer is good and the idea we should all just drink beer and not care how it is dispensed doesn't work for me.  I'm a real ale man and always will be.  When kept well it beats the keg equivalent into a cocked hat.  It has drinkability in a way that keg doesn't.  But modern keg beer isn't always a bad thing.  It's that choice thing again and especially where there is a mixed offer, it gives the chance for drinkers to compare and contrast.  I don't think there are that many ale drinkers that never drink cask, just as there aren't so many CAMRA members that never drink keg.  There is of course a need to protect live beer, as there is a thin end of the wedge and it would be bad if it disappeared, but the way to do it is by continually promoting real ale and always pressing for better quality at the point of dispense.

I'd be happier if we were discussing beer quality more at the AGM.  It doesn't seem to be mentioned this year, though I will try and do so.  Quality is always cask's Achilles heel.  We should give a lot more attention to that. 

I'm off to the launch of a new Lees beer tonight.  I'll know people.  That's as much of  a draw to me as the new beer. 

47 comments:

RedNev said...

Regrettably, a reasonable approach doesn't work with defensive people who want to be offended with what they see as the establishment, i.e. CAMRA. The existence of the new keg doesn't worry me, but I've no interest in it myself. Just as well really, as I don't know anywhere I can buy it. Real ale is the first choice of pubs and bars who are interested in putting good beer on, and craft keg is very much an over-hyped minority interest.

Locally I am occasionally asked what this craft keg is about. When I explain (and I do so factually), there's usually a look of disappointment: "Is that all?"

I'm bored with this futile debate, if you can call it that, especially as most of the debating seems to take place only on blogs, not in real life.

As I've said before, it's only a matter of time before the big boys begin using the word craft: John Smiths, Fosters, Stella, etc.

RedNev said...

As for quality, I know you like to bang on about that TM, but there has never been a time when all real ale was good. In the 1970s, we had poor beers like Greenall Whitley, Matthew Brown, Whitbread and Watneys, and I've been told by older drinkers that Bents was usually rubbish, but cheap. Having been drinking for more than 40 years, I honestly believe that the quality of beer has never been as high as it is now.

Tandleman said...

Indeed Nev, but the price of quality is eternal vigilance and quality isn't a bad byword at any time. If you go off the straight and narrow - the well known - it isn't always great.

I liked Greenalls Bitter too.

Cooking Lager said...

When one is tired of the craft beer debate, one is tired of life. it is the grist to the mill of beer bloggery. Refresh yourself by contemplating artisinal beer.

py0 said...

I think most people, both CAMRA members and non-members alike, are tired of this bizarre obsession over judging a beer based on minor technicalities about exactly how it has been stored, served and distributed and have been for many, many years.

Its about as relevant and useful a method of distinguishing good beer from bad as the colour of the font.

RedNev said...

"I liked Greenalls Bitter too." You're a rarity, then. I was at college in the heart of Greenall Whitley Land, as they called it (they even produced white oval 'GWL' car badges). We'd sometimes catch a train to escape and get some Boddingtons down our necks.

Bailey said...

'I'm bored of this conversation so I'll just have the last word and then let's drop it.'

Tandleman said...

py0

No. Dispense and storage IS important.

Nev - I know, but I drank a lot of it and liked it.

Bailey. I didn't suggest it be dropped, or even that I would drop it. I most probably won't, but I am getting bored with it. As Cookie says though, it gets the attention.

py0 said...

Is it more important than how it tastes? Thats the question.

Nick Boley said...

Well said TM. A few of us were considering speaking against these particular motions too - they make us (CAMRA) look like dinosaurs and we know what happened to them.
well done for raising the spectre of beer quality and mentioning choice. These should be our watchwords now and into the future.

Curmudgeon said...

I liked Greenalls Bitter too when well-kept. It was the beer I learned to drink on.

I agree with your general point - it's a futile debate which shows the extreme viewpoints on either side in a poor light. And to listen to some people, you would think Britain's pubs were being swamped with a tide of craft keg, which quite simply isn't the case.

py0 said...

Slightly off topic, but has anyone noticed that a lot of fashionable craft keg breweries tend to go in for bottle conditioning, whereas the majority of mainstream cask breweries tend to brewery condition their bottled beer?

As a CAMRA member, how am I meant to know which breweries to recommend to others and which to avoid as disgraceful purveyors of fizzy muck/zombeers/whatever?

Phil said...

Is it more important than how it tastes? Thats the question.

It is how it tastes. That's the point.

To put it a bit less gnomically (is that a word?): I'll believe that keg vs cask is a 'technicality' the day I taste a keg beer that's as good as a comparable cask beer. I stress 'comparable' - I'd probably take a keg beer from BD or Magic Rock if the only cask alternative was a Spitfire or a Deuchars IPA. But compared to a cask beer from Magic Rock or a cask BD (RIP) - or even a decent midrange brewery like Thwaites or JW Lees? Absolutely no contest. Night and day.

py0 said...

Not according to CAMRA though Phil, Their own research shows that experienced tasters can't tell the difference between real ale and non-real ale, be it brewery vs bottle conditioned, or through a cask breather or not.

What most people mean when they say "I prefer cask ale" is "I prefer my beer cool and not that fizzy". They must do, seeing as take away those elements and they can't even tell the bloody difference.

Rob Nicholson said...

See blogs are useful. Just decided to read the hustings:

>I believe CAMRA is now sleepwalking into the biggest threat in its history.

Talk about blowing things out of proportion. We've never 'ad it so good when it comes to choice, quality & range of real ale.

The biggest threats to CAMRA in it's history are loss of pubs and the anti-alcohol groups.

John Clarke said...

"their own research shows that experienced tasters can't tell the difference between real ale and non-real ale, be it brewery vs bottle conditioned, or through a cask breather or not"

What research is this exactly - can you point us to it please? I know the Technical Committee could find no detectable difference between beer with or without a cask breather (which to me is a case of stating the bleedin' obvious) but I didn't think it went any further than that.

Have they really demonstrated that experienced tasters can't tell the difference between cask and keg forms of the same draught beer which is what you seem to be implying (and which is very much not the same thing as comparing bottles of BCA and brewery conditioned versions of the same beer).

py0 said...

Is that what I said John? Keg vs Cask? I thought I made it quite clear exactly where the current definition of real ale fell short.

Hey, if you can't win this argument, just make one up of your own that you can win.

Phil said...

Call me crazy, but I base my opinions on my own experience, not CAMRA's research (or anyone else's). As for not being able to tell the difference, my experience says that some craft keg beers, if they lose some of the chill and excess gas, improve almost to the level of a comparable cask beer. Some don't benefit as much, or at all.

Of course, it may be that I've just been tasting the wrong keg beers. After all, I've only tried beers from BrewDog, Magic Rock, Marble, Lovibond, Hard Knott and Red Willow - perhaps I've been missing the really good ones.

Phil said...

py0 - the red herring is all yours. It may be true that "experienced tasters" can't tell the difference between cask ale with and without cask breathers; that's got nothing at all to do with keg vs cask, which is what I was talking about in the comment you replied to (Not according to CAMRA though Phil, etc).

py0 said...

The thing is Phil, your opinion as to "this is better than that" is intrinsically subjective - as is mine of course, no denying that - whereas proper research that shows that people can't tell the difference, is rather more objective and reliable.

py0 said...

Bollocks. Lets make this clear. What exactly IS it that you claim to be miraculously able to tell the difference between when it comes to keg/keykeg vs cask?

Obviously any idiot can tell the difference between cold keg and warm cask: the cold one is the keg, duh. But if you're telling me you can tell the difference between a beer that has been centrifuged and one that has been filtered, or one that has been artificially carbonated or is just naturally fizzy, then you're either delusional or a liar.

Phil said...

But there isn't any "proper research that shows that people can't tell the difference", is there? Which means that you've got no grounds for the "delusional" assertion in your last comment. And if you look at my current blog post, I've done a great deal more than "tell the difference between cold keg and warm cask".

ABrewHaHa said...

and this is how it goes, sadly there is no 'debate'. We have arguments from folk with entrenched beliefs who seem unwilling to give way.
I still don't know what craft means when applied to some breweries but not others, and when it comes to sponsorship the difference seems to evaporate.
I'm looking forward to the AGM, I expect to see some lumbering dinosaurs trot out the old 'tried & tested' arguments, but I expect most will be on TM's side.

py0 said...

Your blog post, Phil, is a joke. A bloke who repeatedly tells everyone how much he hates keg beer trying keg beer and then declaring that its cold and fizzy and tasteless. What a shocking outcome. Hardly a double blind test is it?

and yes, there has been research done, by CAMRA. Proper blind taste tests. TM refers to them above.

Tandleman said...

py0 - I do?

py0 said...

sorry it wasn't you it was John.

Tandleman said...

John does no such thing. I recall the test in question. It was done blind at GBBF and I was one of the tasters. We were given two half pints of the same beer and asked to state which one was under a breather.

The results were, as I understand it, inconclusive in that the breather sample wasn't properly identified by a majority - or an insufficient majority or whatever.

That was a controlled experiment with cask beer, both from the same batch and kept in the same way, opened at the same time etc. Extrapolation from this is rather pointless.

No keg beers were involved.

Curmudgeon said...

Surely part of the point of craft keg is that, to some extent, it is going to be cooler and fizzier than cask beer. It's not meant to be the same or directly comparable; it's meant to offer a contrast.

Tandleman said...

Bleeding obvious, but so very true. One of the main reasons I'm not that bothered about it.

py0 said...

So if cask ale was served cold and fizzy, what would the difference be exactly? Or are we saying that that is the only difference?

"Fizzy" is a tenuous one anyway; I've had keg beer that has been less fizzy than an overconditioned cask.

Phil said...

Your comment, py0, is an insulting caricature and doesn't really deserve a response - it certainly doesn't suggest you're going to read anything I write in good faith. But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt this once.

A bloke who repeatedly tells everyone how much he hates keg beer trying keg beer and then declaring that its cold and fizzy and tasteless.

Go on, quote me. Quote me telling everyone - repeatedly - how much I hate keg beer. Quote me declaring it's cold and fizzy and tasteless.

I was posting in response to a blog post which suggested that "cold" and "fizzy" were free-floating insults used by keg-haters, so I noted - no more than that - that most of the craft keg I'd tasted was, in fact, noticeably cold and fizzy. Because it was. I also noted that in some cases the flavour & aroma developed as the beer warmed up and outgassed a bit, because they did.

As for "tasteless", I referred to eight different beers, and I described one of them as not tasting of very much. Because, um, that one beer didn't taste of very much. (You'll notice a theme developing here - it's called "giving an honest account of one's own experiences". You should try it.)

And if I was some kind of anti-keg bigot, wouldn't I be gloating more? The one time I did hit a beer that was cold and tasteless (it wasn't particularly fizzy), I was really disappointed: I'd heard great things about Lovibond's and was looking forward to finding out what the fuss was about. I'll try 'em again, if I get the chance - second time lucky, maybe.

py0 said...

Every post I see of yours Phil is just a repetition of the same old "I hate craft beer its not as good as cask" speil. Its bloody boring, frankly.

There are extremists on both sides of this argument; on one side is Brewdog, on the other end is you and your awful one eyed reviews.

Tandleman said...

Now then Lads. I think telling it as you see it is something more bloggers should do, not less. If people disagree with reviews of a beerthey can always say so. I kind of agree with Phil in so far as like for like, craft keg isn't a patch on the same product in cask and here and I emphasise - to my palate.

It may well be, and it is reasonable, that some prefer the taste of beer through a lens of greater carbonation and lower temperature. That's fine too, but it doesn't make Phil's comments "one eyed" at all. His blog, his beer, his opinion.

Seems to me Phil gives the benefit of the doubt to keg in that he tries it when he sees it. I doubt that he is being perverse, or has a penchant for throwing his money away. I'd guess he is looking for the triumph of hope over experience.

I am much more likely to say what you accuse Phil of saying. That's how I find it too mostly.

py0 said...

"It may well be, and it is reasonable, that some prefer the taste of beer through a lens of greater carbonation and lower temperature."

Is that it then? Is that all we're arguing about? Serving temperature and possibly a bit of fizziness?

Its like the Judean People's Front vs the People's Front of Judea.

I don't personally like beer served through a sparkler, but lord knows I'm not going to argue that CAMRA shouldn't support it.

Whats the difference between Brewdog keg beer and fined cask beer served through a cask breather and a sparkler? (Neither are real ale of course) Both are unpasteurised, only roughly filtered, served using "extraneous" CO2 and made unnecessarily fizzy.


Tandleman said...

py0. No it isn't it as you very well know. Nor am I going to fall into your other all too obvious trap. Find another mug.

py0 said...

You think too much of me TM - its not a trap, its a genuine question. What is the difference other than serving temperature and possibly higher levels of CO2?

In the past you could have said pasteurisation and sterile filtration etc, but a lot of "craft" keg beers make a big deal of not doing that either.

py0 said...

Why is everyone avoiding answering the question like I'm an innocent looking Swedish journalist and they're a marketing executive for Stella Artois?

Tandleman said...

Nobody is avoiding your question. If you want to know the difference between real ale and keg, the answer is out there.

Your "trap" question presupposes that certain kinds of cask ale are not real ale and poses an artificial comparison.

Perhaps you could explain the difference between cask and real ale to the rest of us first.

py0 said...

CAMRA official policy says that cask ale served with a cask breather is not real ale.

I can't say I particularly agree, but then I think the notion of some beer being "real" ale is an arbitrary and pointless distinction anyway.

pasteurised vs unpasteurised beer is a meaningful difference. Beer with a CO2 level below 2 parts per volume is a meaningful difference. Beer filtered at 5 microns or above is a meaningful difference. Beer served through a sparkler is a meaningful difference. Beer served at 5 degrees instead of 10 degrees is a meaningful difference.
All of these things actually affect the taste and feel of the beer within the glass. These are things we should be discussing.


On the other hand, a lot of stuff people make a big deal of is not particularly meaningful, in my opinion. Whether or not CAMRA recognises a beer as "real ale" according to some spurious set of rules is one such example.

Phil said...

If you weren't so determined to be confrontational and provocative, py0, you'd realise that this is a discussion some of us have been having for a while. Here's something I wrote on my blog (The One-Eyed Keg-Basher), just under two years ago:

Unfiltered, unpasteurised, uncarbonated, brewery-conditioned beer isn’t cask, and as such I guess it’s not Real Ale. But the differences between this kind of beer and pasteurised, carbonated keg seem far more significant than the similarities – and the similarities to cask are, potentially at least, more significant than the differences.

Which raises two questions. Firstly, is CAMRA’s definition of ‘keg’ still fit for purpose, or is it a relic of the old battles? Should the line be drawn differently – are today’s ‘smooth’ bitters even made the same way as the Watney’s and Double Diamonds of my youth? Secondly, it baffles me that ‘craft keg’ advocates so often stress how different those beers are from cask real ale, and how similar they are to the old keg offerings – they’re cold! they’re fizzy! they’re expensive! The question is, why do they do this? What’s good about keg 5 a.m. Saint is mostly that it’s 5 a.m. Saint; if it didn’t have the extra carbonation and it was served a bit closer to cellar temperature – key-kegged, for example – it’d be a bit less like keg lager, but it’d be a lot nicer.

One question for CAMRAphiles, one for the crafterati. Haven't had an answer to either of them.

py0 said...

They emphasise the cold and the carbonation because those are the USPs that separate their offering from the thousands of cask ales available in every pub. Surely that is obvious?

What is craft keg? Its basically beer that is colder than cask ale but tastier than generic lager.

Phil said...

Considering that the question was "why do they try so hard to differentiate craft keg from cask?", the answer "so that they can differentiate craft keg from cask" certainly qualifies as obvious. Not sure it's an answer, though.

Tandleman said...

It is probably as good as any. One point though is that craft keg is only a small part of the keg beer available. Even if you exclude lager. If you include lager, it is even tinier. In that sense definitions are still valid.

As for cask, one of the pleasures of looking after it is the coming to life of pretty flat beer by secondary fermentation. There's the real difference. Viable yeast.

There is a bit of truth that rough filtered beer has that potential viability but there is little point in going down that road. All beer starts out much the same. It has always been subject to manipulation and adjustment to suit different markets.

Coxy said...

Craft has been really good for well served real ale in London as the Craft beer establishments serve the cask well, quality has been better in the north in the past than in the south , albeit not proper real ale because of the Sparklers.

Anonymous said...

It is very funny the level of angst this argument provokes amongst the beer connoisseurs of your TINY ISLAND when 99% of the rest of the world wouldn't know a hand-pump from a fire hydrant!

Tandleman said...

Anon. Who gives a shit what you think?

Chris said...

Anon, it's the 9th biggest island in the world...