Friday 2 June 2023

Fresh Ale? Neither Nowt nor Summat.

Every so often something comes along claiming that it will solve a particular problem. They come in many forms - superfoods which will give you a wet nose and a glossy coat if you eat enough of the right stuff - knee supports that fool the gullible into thinking that buying them will solve your bone on bone knee problems and obviate the need for surgery - that one got me - they don't - and so on and so forth. The simple fact is that when someone comes up with such things is that they rarely pass the smell test, so let's have a look at one that has recently come up in the beer industry.

"Fresh ale" is the latest thing, it seems.  What's that, you may well ask?  You may reasonably be thinking, "that'll be beer that is served before it gets too old" -  and why wouldn't you?  After all, they do this in some brew pubs where the beer is sold straight from conditioning tanks, so that'll be fresh, won't it?  Or what about cask beer - live beer served from a cask  - that has only a short shelf life. No, that's not it either, it seems. What about the initiative, launched only as recently as September by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) called Drink Fresh Beer?  This is "A campaign that recognises cask beer is in “steep, sustained decline” and is struggling to shake its “male, pale and stale” image will be launched at the Future of Cask Seminar on Thursday 22 September". That must be it then, surely? Well no. Guess again. It isn't that, either.

So what is it? It is a new keg beer, that's what. And you'll not be at all surprised to find out that it is "different and exciting."  What could it be, I hear you ask? Well, Drinks Business has the lowdown. It's a keg beer with lower carbonation, developed by Otter Brewery. It is explained thus:

"When we put it into a keg we actually low-carbonate it, so it has a much gentler and softer carbonation which is designed to emulate the carbonation of cask ale as far as taste goes in terms of mouthfeel. The second major difference is that when it is served, it doesn’t run through chillers in the cellar. Instead, it runs through the python or whatever assets the pub has to allow the dispense temperature to be around between 8.5 – 10℃. So, it is slightly cooler than cask ale, but it is not as cold as keg, and it is slightly fizzier than cask ale, but it’s not as harshly carbonated as keg".

Now at this point, rather than quote more chunks of the Drinks Business article, I urge you to read it for yourself, though I will offer comment on one more paragraph, and it is this: "CAMRA should be for it, not against it, he insisted.(The guy from Otter Brewery)  After all, “CAMRA now promotes ‘World beers’ which are in keg. If they are doing that, why wouldn’t they look at something brewed in the UK that is in keg and talk about it just as favourably?”

Now, of course, even a cursory read through this will have most readers thinking that there is nothing new here at all. This is just another keg beer positioned to fill and bridge the so-called gap between younger and older drinkers, lager and ale drinkers and traditionalist and modernisers.  We have been here before, and they have failed before. In Lancashire parlance, they are neither nowt nor summat, and will almost certainly be seen as such by the drinking public.

There is however another point.  It can and in this instance, clearly is, the case that in bending over backwards to "modernise" in an attempt to bring in younger drinkers to the cause, CAMRA is giving the impression to many, that real ale - cask conditioned beer - is just part of its mix rather than its reason to be. That is a dangerous position to be in. 

When the champion of cask conditioned beer appears to the trade and trade press to have a negotiable position on the subject, alarm bells should be ringing at CAMRA HQ.

The already weak case for this "breakthrough" is undermined by admitting the longer shelf life of this non-live product is a key feature. Otter also assures us that this is not a fad product. Let me know in the comments. 

Let's hope that if fresh beer is as relevant as it should be, that CAMRA and SIBA put some more welly into their original initiative. Cask beer may be suffering, but it doesn't yet need replacing with keg.


Anonymous said...

My local GK publican hasn't seen it but thinks it fad - yet another dispense on the bar.

TheWickingMan said...

As you say it's another pointless fad that misses the point. If you're going to do cask just get it right, if not don't bother. I may have been unlucky but recently I seem to be having a poor run of stale pints. Not vinegar, but definitely not a decent pint. I'm now very wary about real ale in a pub I don't know. Sadly that also include GBG pubs in some counties. As Martin T tells me I'm spoilt by my local.

Tandleman said...

Yesterday my mate Mike and me tried a couple of beers in the Lass o' Gowrie Manchester. Both tasters were vinegar. GK owned I believe.

Curmudgeon said...

But if pubs don't have the turnover or commitment to keep cask properly, then surely this is preferable to conventional keg beers?

Professor Pie-Tin said...

It'll go the same way as Guinness in long-neck bottles for the nightclub crowd that Ireland tried and failed.
But if this summer is going to be as warm as predicted cask will be challenging - I'm already coming across warm flat pints.
By the way old sport a great tip in your Twitter feed about Aldi sourdough.
Mind you they go like, well, hot cakes in my local one so timing is everything.
Good bread at a decent price.
If only I could find a good Jewish rye for toasting.
Have a great summer.
The Ashes and afternoons of pints in the beer garden listening to TMS..
Happy days.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

My two lads are at Lord's.
£19 for a pork gyros.
Robbing bastards.
Home of cricket ? Rip-off Central more like.

Trandleman said...

Sounds better than cask ale to me.
A tasty pint of bitter that isn't off like a lot of cask beer is.
Will opt for that if I see it and leave the cask ale to losers.

Tandleman said...

Great to hear from you Prof. Wise words as always Glad you found the bread tip useful. Happy summer to you too.

Anonymous said...


Tandleman said...

Good luck with that one.

Paul Bailey said...

I'm still trying to get my head around this one, which is why I've held back from commenting, and for the record, I have read the Drinks Business article. I also made my views on the CAMRA-SIBA sponsored, "Drink Fresh Beer" initiative, quite clear, last year

I'm assuming the Otter offering is a filtered, sterile keg beer, rather than being cask-conditioned, but then served up by "top-pressure" CO2. The latter was the most common type of beer, in the south-east, when I first started drinking, back in the early 1970's.

Part of me, wants to agree with Mudgie, that the Otter offering is preferable to conventional keg beers, especially in pubs that don't have the commitment or turnover to keep cask properly, but as a commentator on the CAMRA Unofficial Facebook page, pointed out, "It'll be interesting to see if the new 'fresh ale' beer category will help lager drinkers migrate to cask or if it actually cannibalises real cask ale for good."!

Anonymous said...

The process is sound buts it’s hardly revolutionary

Curmudgeon said...

I've written about this on my own blog here:

Citra said...

Lager drinkers will probably regard it as flat keg and cask ale drinkers will probably regard it as flat keg.

The Stafford Mudgie said...

Glucosamine works wonders for bone on bone knee problems. It obviated the need for my knee replacement surgery.
“Positioned to fill and bridge the so-called gap between younger and older drinkers, lager and ale drinkers and traditionalist and modernisers” is very much like Cold Doom Bar and Cold Wainwright each of which I’ve seen about once.

Cooking Lager said...

Nobody under 50 cares much whether a beer is keg or cask. They care whether it is nice or rank. Much cask ale is too warm and mediocre and on the turn. Many drinkers will notice this is a nice glass of ale and happily drink it not caring whether it meets the criteria of an obscure beer campaign of old men.

Anonymous said...

Not only under 50 I am 85 and agree.Just want a reasonable pint.

Anonymous said...

Another attempt to bring Proper Real Keg to the masses under a different name.

Cask Socialist said...

Not on my watch. We must fight this abomination.

All good cask men should rise up.