There has been much written both in the blogosphere among beer writers and in this paper by myself and the editor regarding CAMRA’s attitude to keg beer.  Their view on the subject is generally considered to be both unhealthy to the beer trade generally and being too inclusive given the craft keg beer revolution which is taking place in the country at the moment.  The need for CAMRA to protect cask beer has now passed and its role is more a promotional one.  Cask beer and real ale is no longer a niche product, but rapidly pushing towards being accepted in larger volumes in mainstream beer outlets, both on pump and when bottled.

Which is why it is good news that the organisation is setting up a working party who will report to its national executive to explore this area of brewing and to plot the road ahead within CAMRA in relation to it.   I said in my pieces in Autumn last year that CAMRA was at risk of being superseded by a new organisation in the long term if it did not keep up with the trends in cask and craft brewing, or at least discuss them and have an official policy regarding them, so members knew where the organisation stood.

The policy, up to now, of ignoring them as long as possible and then criticising those who promote the products on a personal basis through the online medium, as their chairman did, was not a long term strategy.  Craft keg was starting to bang at CAMRA’s door and the knocks were getting louder all the time.  Brewdogjammed their foot in the open door at last years Great British Beer Festival before being rebuffed at the last minute.  Craft keg could no longer be invisible enemy.

While the companies making this product are still small in relation to their cask cousins, their size, influence and number are growing all the time.  Brewdog has just raised over £2.2 million in a private equity issue and other brewers such as Camden, Hardknott, Magic Rock, Thornbridge, Kernel and Summer Wine Breweryare on an upwards trajectory with some distinctive high quality beers.  Don’t confuse this with me saying that cask beer is inferior, both are equally good, but different products.  Some of the best beers I have tasted are cask, it still makes up the majority of the beer I drink and probably always will.

However my favourite breweries at the moment are keg brewers, namely Brewdog and Summer Wine (from Honley near Holmfirth).  Brewdog consistently deliver the hit that the hophead in me loves in a beer with the majority of their products, and Summer Wine do some different, interesting and excellent beers such as Diablo and their Espresso Stout.

You know the topic is hot when established cask brewers like Saltaire dedicate half a page of what is essentially a publicity pamphlet to the subject and come to the conclusion that if it is good beer then the storage vessel is not an issue.   The correct opinion from my point of view.  Good beer is good beer, same as poor beer is simply poor beer.

One of my favourite blogs in the beer arena, boakandbailey summed this up perfectly,  in a strange pub with well kept mainstream cask ales, but a distinctive range of keg beers, which would you choose.  They then ask the same question, if there were mainstream keg beers, but an interesting cask selection what would your choice be.  I had the same answers as them, the interesting beers, be they cask or keg.

There is a campaign recently launched online simply titled the “Campaign for Really Good Beer”, a name which hits the spot when describing exactly about what our attitudes should be.  I will still continue to bang the drum for the new keg brewers where they deserve it, as I will with any beer, regardless of container, that I am a fan of.  All I am is acting as a signpost at the end of the day, same as anybody who recommends anything.  Some people may consider it a wrong turn, others a nice diversion on their journey.

To finish this week, I will put up some of those signs.  I’ve been making an effort to venture into the world of stout more over the last few weeks, and have found some lovely examples. Both bottled, William Bros “March of the Penguins” hit the spot over the weekend, as did the Marble “Chocolate Marble” Stout I purchased from Bramsche Bar in Todmorden after a very pleasant afternoon sampling good ales and tasty bottles, including current favourite Brewdog.  The town is a place I hope to explore further soon, as there are a couple of pubs which seem to be embracing the ale in its centre which seem worthy of investigation.

  1. Bailey says:

    Thanks for the mention and the kind words.

    Think we’re in about the same position as you re: cask, i.e. that we generally prefer it and find, as Tandleman puts it, that “cask at its best can’t be beat”. We just find it hard to empathise with people who have yet to find anything to enjoy in the new wave of kegged craft beers, or (a much smaller group) those who would rule out ever even trying one.

    (On a side note, although I’m doing most of the typing at the moment, our blog is a joint effort. Boak, the female half of the team, is still very much involved in drafting posts and setting the ‘editorial line’!)

  2. Owen says:

    “unhealthy and inclusive”
    “Cask beer […] both in pump and bottled form”

    While I agree largely with your sentiment (though not a lot of the half-truths surrounding CAMRA’s supposed attitude to keg and BrewDog’s non-appearance at GBBF) , I will say one thing — at least CAMRA and its officers are (usually) coherent.

  3. Curmudgeon says:

    “The need for CAMRA to protect cask beer has now passed and its role is more a promotional one.”

    Hmm, there’s probably less cask beer sold now than at any time in CAMRA’s existence. See this table, which suggests that cask is only doing a quarter of the volume it was doing in 1980. Over time, the rise of lager and the overall decline of the pub trade have greatly reduced cask volumes.

    Cask may have gained market share in the last couple of years, but that’s a gain in a declining market. The risk is that it will eventually be stymied by the general decline of pubs, which is why standing up for pubs is now the key to preserving cask beer.