Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why keg is best.

Ever since J.W. Green of Luton started kegging beer in 1946, the advantages of this modern, hep, 20th century paragon of packaging over the old-fashioned, unreliable and generally shite alternative has been obvious to producers and consumers alike.

So why are we still revisiting this old argument? Some blame CAMRA for interfering in the value-free workings of the market which was making "cask" extinct: For foolishly diverting the asteroid of shareholder value as it plumetted towards the oblivious dinosaur that was real ale; For sentimentally interposing the landrover of publicity between the oligopoly's pack of hyenas and the huge-eyed baby gazelle of freedom; For rashly squandering the antibiotic of choice on the mortally sick puppy of an industry distorted by excess vertical integration.

With keg of course, we can extend the product shelf-life and deal with longer and more complex supply chains. We need no longer restrict ourselves to those outlets that can look after the product - but now sell to anyone who can hook up a gas bottle - there's loads more of those than there are good pubs.

It's not just brewing, it's beverage technology! It's totally now!

With keg we can get more people drinking our lovely "craft beer"! Of course we can. We can secure the future of beer. Just like J.W. Green did.*

* Became Flower’s. Taken over by Whitbread who are no longer making beer - they're in the business of providing hospitality.


Anonymous said...

Errr … I'm not aware that anybody has been suggesting bringing back Watney's Red Barrel, or even Flower's Keg. Mass-produced keg beer is crap. The arguments are that (1) Camra's obsession with CO2 is actually harming the championing of beer in Britain today and (2) there is still a war to be fought on beer quality, which Camra appears to be doing little about.

Incidentally, a couple of historical points - cask beer was declining a long time before keg appeared, as sales of bottled beer rose dramatically from at least the early 1950s onwards. Although JW Green's was experimenting with early forms of keg beer from at least 1944, the company didn't start selling it until 1955, the year after it had reversed itself into the smaller Flower's of Stratford upon Avon to give itself a better brand identity. Flower's eventually asked Whitbread to take it over in 1962 because the board had dumped its previous MD, Bernard Dixon, the man who introduced Keg, in 1958 and then proved incapable of running the company properly and grew fearful of someone like the Canadian EP Taylor snapping them up after a hostile bid.

Oh, and your version of blogger won't let me sign this in my real name, except by putting it at the end of the post.

Martyn Cornell

StringersBeer said...

I'm utterly at a loss as to how CAMRA's championing of naturally conditioned beers is supposed to hurt the sales of good beer packaged in other ways. Do consumers generally really take so much notice of CAMRA saying "this is real ale" that they consider gas-propelled beers a lesser breed?

Taking your second point, the "war on beer quality": In the last year of pub-going I've had to take back 1 (one) pint. This isn't because my standards are low, and it wasn't from some fly-by-night micro. The (not named) free-house is GBG listed and has been for many years. The brewer is a long-established north-west regional, popular with CAMRA members in and around Manchester, and known for a range of rather dull beers.

Now, I'm not saying I haven't had other pints that I didn't like, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like them fresh at the brewery.

I don't know how much beer is failing checks in the cellar and never getting on a pump - I gather that in some pubs it should be more.

How do I avoid the quality crisis that I'm assured we're living through? Simple - I don't usually go into crap pubs. If I have to, I'll drink something that they find harder to fuck up. This will often be keg or bottle.

So that would be my suggestion for continuing the war on bad beer - don't drink it. Go to pubs that have good beer. But remember that the GBG isn't the bible, merely a collection of hints put together by fallible humans (which is actually how I think about the bible).

Now we come to the point of craft keg - there are outlets which aren't tooled up for cask and therefore make an attractive potential market for those craft brewers who don't see adequate growth potential in the (highly competitive) cask sector. At the same time, a number of craft brewers are working in styles which are usually served from keg - good for them. These commercial factors are driving the campaign for recognition of keg.

But why would we expect CAMRA to promote types of beer other than Real Ale? We wouldn't expect "One man and his dog" to do a special feature on cats. Or that the "Horse of the Year Show" would include roller-skating parrots.
Yes, I know there's the cider anomaly...

If we think there's a need for an package-agnostic "Beer Promotion Society" shouldn't we be getting on with forming one? Or is it easier to sit round complaining that CAMRA hasn't done it for us?

[snipped... came over a bit personal]

Disclosure: We're CAMRA and SIBA members - not what you'd call active.

Neville Grundy said...

"We wouldn't expect 'One man and his dog' to do a special feature on cats."

You've hit the nail on the head in fewer words than I did!

Flagon of Ale said...

""We wouldn't expect 'One man and his dog' to do a special feature on cats."

You've hit the nail on the head in fewer words than I did!"

Amen to that