“Craft Keg”, a term which has been used for several years but has not successfully defined yet, has been one of the most talked about sectors of the beer market recently.  There is a big enough following among beer lovers now to be able to officially build a bandwagon and recently this wagon has found a nice steep hill to build some momentum up with.

A rough description of Craft would be 1) a beer brewed by a small independent brewer 2) where only the 4 basic ingredients and natural flavourings are used (e.g. Coffee Porters and beers like Ilkley Siberia flavoured with Rhubarb) 3) lists all the ingredients on the bottle and shows where it was brewed 4) production is not contracted out to other larger breweries.  An additional fifth clause would be that the small brewer should also have no more than a small percentage of it owned by a major brewer (20% was suggested).

This description, paraphrased from a Brewdog suggested definition is as good as any I have seen, and is adapted from the American definition of Craft Beer which has a much longer official history.  The “Keg” part of the name is simply the delivery and containment method, so lets not get hung up on that.  Others have come up with equally valid wording, but the above appeals to the technical side in me.

However, as with many bandwagons, people who many of the occupants don’t think belong there will always try and jump on board.  2013 has been that year for “Craft Keg”.  Three companies which most drinkers would have heard of have launched beers labelled as such, these being Thwaites of Blackburn (Lancaster Bomber, Wainwright), Fullers of London (London Pride, ESB) and Marstons of Wolverhampton (Pedigree, EPA).

Lets start close to home with Thwaites.  I have a soft spot for this brewery for one reason, I used to work up wind of their brewery and in walking back to the train station after work I had 10 minutes of taking in the bread like scent of fermenting yeast emanating from the chimney, for a beer head a lovely smell.  They also do a good solid range of traditional ales and their 13 annual seasonal beers are always good for a pint or two.  It is some of these seasonal beers which will make up a large part of their “craft keg” launch after several years in cask and / or bottle conditioned form.  13 Guns, an American Pale Ale leads the launch, with Triple C (a three hop beer), a black IPA and a lager to follow.  As a drinker I have no objection to these beers and would no doubt purchase a pint or two, but is this craft keg?

Ignoring the multinationals, you can call all three of the breweries under discussion large brewers in a UK context as they are available widely available across the country, own a significant estate of pubs and in Marstons case are part of a much bigger national group.  So it fails on this criteria as do the beers I will discuss later in this article.  However on the other criteria, it will pass with few problems.   The intentions are probably genuine in this case, and of course the average drinker will ignore the craft keg label and see Thwaites on the pubs and enjoy a good beer.  But if we are looking at if they can fit in the wagon, you would put them hanging onto the back of it using an umbrella, being dragged along scrambling to get on board ala Jackie Chan in Police Story.

Marstons are up in the dock next with Revisionist Craft Lager, the first line when this was mentioned in the Morning Advertiser quotes “This new beer was designed to tap into the growth in craft beer and to put a British twist on the New World styles found in the craft-beer sector — a sector that can command an average 33p per pint more than premium lager”, so it is a more premium lager for premium lager drinkers which can be priced very close to £4 a pint (or more).  In this case, I guess they got the horses hind feet in the ribs and the bandwagon is disappearing over the horizon.

Fullers are last to be tried, Frontier is “a 4.5% beer which aims to bring new drinkers to the brand as well as tap into the growth of craft beer around the world by describing itself as a new-wave craft lager”.  So many of the arguments which apply to Marstons also apply here.  But how do you get a “new wave craft beer”, the UK scene is far too young to be able to use that term which infers that the cutting edge beer sector has a bleeding edge as well and a big brewer is taking the lead.  Fullers have jumped on the bandwagon and are now trying to ride the horse, which will quickly buck them off and have a good stomp on their body Looney Toons style before disappearing into the distance.

These won’t be the last to try and eventually Craft Beer will become mainstream, at which point a new sector for the innovators will be born.  Re-invention is the key to evolution, beer is no exception.