British style "traditional"1 beer is often best represented in cask. It is as simple as that. I don't think I know a single beer enthusiast who would have an argument with that. Not even my very good friend Jeff Pickthall, who is a confirmed and uninhibited CAMRA basher. I share some of his concerns, but to use the phrase often used, it would be a shame to throw out the baby with the bath-water. CAMRA is not all bad and cask beer is good.
Much contemporary beer is great from cask. There are plenty of modern beers that are fantastic served through hand-pull and I hope that some of mine classify in this group. There are also in my view, a number of beers that are generally better in keg. They are generally the stronger "craft" beers that have, up until recently, been responsible for some beer enthusiasts to drink more at home than in pubs or bars. The progressive craft keg market might well be small, it might well never overtake cask in volume, but it is growing and I'm interested in that as a brewer and a drinker.
The irony is that beer served from cask often contains more processed material than beer that is mass produced. Chemicals, you see, cost money. The main addition that is used in cask beer is Isinglass, which is made from processed fish guts and also contains chemicals like sulphur dioxide and citric acid.
Most brand keg beer by contrast is chill filtered and although I cannot guarantee these substances are not used at all, I know for a fact they are used in significantly lower quantities. Filtering, or separation of solids by centrifuge uses less chemicals and therefore costs less money to make. They are, therefore, not chemical beers at all.
I have been interested in kegging for some time. I've tried some trial kegs and found mixed success. I like the idea of completely unfiltered beer and beer that does not use isinglass. This seems just about impossible to do unless you can afford to leave it in a conditioning tank chilled to -1°C for six weeks.
I've recently racked some Infra Red into 20l kegs and there is a second trial keg of Queboid which is loaded right now into the van for delivery to the Rake Bar. The Infra Red has light filtering and the Queboid just chill conditioning. Both are likely to have haze to some degree, but I hope to acceptable levels.
I am a supporter of the idea of kegging beer over 6%. There is no reason for keg beer to be overly fizzy and indeed, I expect some keg enthusiasts will proclaim my interpretation to be under-carbonated, as the carbonation is likely to be very similar to cask. Of course I have no control over the take up of carbon dioxide in the pub and as most keg set-ups will quickly introduce extra carbonation I expect this might be a problem. In any case, for beers at this strength the sale time makes cask impractical except for high turnover pubs and beer festivals.
With luck we will be rolling out our kegs over the next few weeks. We would love you to try them and let us know what you think, good or bad.
1OK Jeff, just shoot me now.