The rise of craft beer has accelerated in the US and is quickly becoming more and more popular in the UK. This has caused the establishment of craft beers being more readily available by breweries to pubs and festivals. Many breweries who traditionally brew cask ales have started creating their own keg beers to partake in this new part of the market. For example, Abbeydale have recently brewed there first craft beer “Pale #1”. Thornbridge continue to offer some of their traditional cask ales (Jaipur, Saint Petersburg, Wild Swan etc.) in keg form and have proven popular throughout Sheffield.
This has encouraged more and more pubs to provide keg beers and therefore a broader range of beers; for example, the refurbishment of “The Cavendish” on West Street has allowed 6 taps for keg beer to be added. As well as this, the establishment of the “BrewDog” bar on Division Street has prompted even more craft beer availability in Sheffield offering up to 20 different types of keg beer from a wide range of breweries. SIBA’s “BeerX” festival held at “Ice Sheffield” saw many keg beers on offer from a wide range of breweries such as Bradfield, Acorn, Saltaire etc. therefore promoting this growing beer form.
Craft and keg beers usually have more fizz, served a lot cooler and have a higher price tag than cask ales which has caused many ale lovers to turn away from this type of beer in favour of traditional casks. The association of cold and sparkly has some ale drinkers concerned as it feels too familiar to your standard lagers – Carling, Carlsberg, Fosters etc.
However, keg beers have a lot to offer in terms of taste, appearance and aroma. Abbeydale’s “Pale #1” has passsionfruit and peach overtones which leaves you feeling extremely refreshed, and while Thornbridge’s “Jaipur” is one of my favourite cask ales, I enjoy it more so in its keg form. BrewDog’s “Punk IPA” is generously hopped with a sharp bitter finish and there black IPA “Libertine Black Ale” is much hopped while retaining malty overtones. While the prices of kegs may be higher, they are an exciting form of beer that can be full of flavour.
I am not saying that we should turn our back on cask and turn to the fizz, but if you are ever in the Rutland, passing by the Cavendish, wandering along Division Street or wherever else keg beers are on offer, give them a try. They are on the rise all over the UK and will most likely be here to stay; therefore they are worth having every so often, even if it is every so often. Most pubs will offer you a taste and you have nothing to lose (except a few extra pence).
Editor’s comment – CAMRA’s position
I’ve included this article by Mark, one of our branch Young Members contacts and a student at the University of Sheffield as it reflects a question that still gets asked regularly – if CAMRA is about good beer, surely good beer is good beer regardless of dispense method?
Well, lets first of all look at what CAMRA is about. We have grown into a big successful consumer group that campaigns on all sorts of issues that affect beer drinkers and pub-goers, however at heart, as the name suggests, we are the Campaign for Real Ale – set up to promote the availability of real ale.
CAMRA’s definition of real ale, in basic terms, is beer that goes through secondary fermentation in the container it is dispensed from (cask conditioning) and is served without the addition of gas. Real Ale that has been cared for properly by both the brewer and publican has a natural sparkle from the secondary fermentation and doesn’t require gas adding – meaning it is a natural drink that tastes full flavoured as the brewer intended.
CAMRA isn’t about campaigning against other drinks on the bar, just about ensuring real ale is available – Britain’s traditional quality beer, however the reason a lot of older members get a bit twitchy when keg gets mentioned is back in the 1970s when CAMRA began, keg was the enemy, threatening the survival of real ale. They remember some truly dreadful keg beers that were launched such as the infamous Watneys Red Barrel. Back then keg was all about big brewers cutting costs and quality and about giving publicans a beer with a longer shelf life – akin to replacing fresh milk with UHT long life milk. CAMRA was formed by drinkers unhappy at the increasing difficulty in obtaining good beer.
Back to the current era, whilst we do have poor keg beers such as the smoothflow bitters and generic industrial lagers, keg isn’t really the enemy, the new wave of craft kegs which have become fashionable, inspired by brewers in the USA, are bringing us keg beers brewed with quality ingredients and passion with some absolute hop monster IPAs, rocket fuel chilli stouts, Belgian style sour beer and more, some with quite high ABVs! Many of these go into the keg in a similar state to real ale, the only difference being gas is added on dispense to create artificial carbonation.
So – if these craft kegs are good, why doesn’t CAMRA move with the times and campaign for good ale rather than real ale?
Well, there is a problem of course. If you are campaigning for something you have to be able to define what you are campaigning for. We’ve defined real ale. Good is a bit more subjective…… There is also a danger of course that if everyone goes down the keg route in future we will lose the tradition of natural, cask conditioned beer.
So the CAMRA angle is simple – we campaign for real ale. We acknowledge craft keg is out there and adding some interest to the pub scene and we don’t campaign against it, we simply consider it outside the parameters of what we do.