Friday 21 December 2012

Obsolete technology

I was sent a pocket diary the other day. You know, one made of that quaint stuff called paper. It was a well meaning present from a supplier. I doubt I'll use it as I have a smart phone. My smart phone can store dairy diary1 type information, tell the time, send texts, emails, tweet, browse the internet after a fashion and can be used to phone people. It is smaller than the pocket diary and does a whole load more. I change my smart phone about every 3 years, mainly because I use it a lot and it breaks due to heavy use. It confuses me why anyone who is possession of a busy life requires a paper diary that only lasts a year.

Facsimile machines are another thing that baffles me, along with typewriters and steam engines. Although I'll admit that the romantic part of me does see the point of museum railway companies that are for the purpose of amusement for occasional family outings and something for well meaning enthusiasts to be enthusiastic about. However, having a father who is something of an over enthusiastic railway bore I tire very quickly of the noisy, dirty, inefficient modes of transport. I like to travel in comfort and speed these days.

Cask beer is of course a Great British tradition, but I do wonder if it is now being pushed beyond the scope of its very outdated method of dispense. Don't get me wrong, I do not wish to see its demise and hope that it will continue to be strong where it is well executed. But there are places that seem to feel the need to serve cask beer, and beer drinkers who are overly choosy due to, what I believe to be a misguided view, that cask beer is always better.

The number of times I have tried my beer, in two different venues, knowing full well that the beer is from the same gyle, racked on the same day, and delivered on the same run but the taste in the two pubs has been very different. It would be very easy to blame cellaring techniques. It would be easy to blame dirty lines, and sometimes these are the reasons. Sometimes however, it is simply down to the very real disadvantage of cask beer and the fact that pubs are urged to have it, even though they would be better with an alternative method of dispense for their micro-brewed beer.

I feel that some of the issues do make consumers quite sure that they "don't like bitter" and "I only drink lagers" when that same group, when faced with micro-brewed keg, irrespective of the beer style, are more likely to have a go. Distrust of handpulls, especially with younger demographics, is a problem that faces the microbrewery industry.

As we expand at Hardknott we have to make choices as to what technology is best for us to continue to invest in. We will have to increase our container population, our container washing throughput capacity and our racking facilities. Is it wise to continue to invest in cask equipment when the technology is outdated, the market is driven more by cost than quality and often portrays a quint, marginal and sometimes even amateurish marketing image?

The reader no doubt will have their own view.


1To be fair, although it was a typo, I can store information about milk too. Thanks Phil.


John Clarke said...

Since you are pretty much known as a blatant BrewDog wannabe, I guess ditching cask (and I assume this blog post is a softening up for that) was the next logical step for you to take.

Obviously this is a business decision for you to take but if it's based on the utterly misguided notion that cask is now "outdated" (really? when it's one of the few areas of the on trade in growth?) I fear you may be riding for a fall.

Unknown said...


Firstly I think our tact has changed somewhat over the last 6 months or so. Indeed, I have every admiration for what James et al. have achieved, but we are not them and it has become time to realise that we have to carve our own niche.

So, let's not cloud this discussion by referring to those guys too much, unless it is to illustrate how successful they have become despite turning their back on cask.

From a business point of view I have a complete open mind as to the relative merits of cask. I can still sell my beer in cask and while there are people out there who wish to buy it at the price I wish to sell it for I will still sell it in cask.

But this is not my point. Cask sales are growing, but not, in my view, because people generally want cask, per se, but because people want more micro-brewed beer. Local, artisan products are in growth. Beer is no exception to this. The general public have been persuaded by CAMRA, erroneously in my view, that cask is the only way to dispense artisan beer. This is wrong.

Not every occasion, not every beer and certainly not every venue suits cask. Most people prefer keg beer, as a general rule. It is still the case that the majority of beer is not cask.

I do think cask is an outdated and old fashioned technology. Like steam engines it's OK in its place, but micro-brewed beer could benefit from a broader approach with a more modern technology.

Neville Grundy said...

"All generalisations are dangerous, including this one." Alexandre Dumas fils.

"The general public have been persuaded by CAMRA, erroneously in my view, that cask is the only way to dispense artisan beer." Without quoting CAMRA's propaganda against smoothflow and old-style keg (which even real ale-only people like me recognise are different from modern craft keg), can you point me in the direction of one piece of CAMRA literature that might illustrate your sweeping statement?

Unknown said...


"Without quoting CAMRA's propaganda against smoothflow and old-style keg"

Or perhaps the general propaganda against "fizzy chemical beer"

I don't think I need mention anything else, I believe that by itself is quite damaging enough.

I note your comments on Tandy's blog that points out the damage that this kind of negative rhetoric causes and applaud your refusal to allow such nonsense in your local CAMRA magazine.

There is still a very present element of the "all keg is bad" approach in the mantra of CAMRA's defence of cask. I could very easily find many quotes in many places. It's Friday, and pub time, so I'm not going to look for them right now. I may find them in our local CAMRA mag when I do get to the pub.

Phil said...

I've never had a keg beer and been amazed. It's happened more times than I can think with cask beer, a few times with bottles but never with keg - not once. And when I've been able to compare, I've never had a keg version of a beer which was a patch on the cask version.

On the other hand, I've never had a keg beer that was anywhere near as bad as a bad cask beer. For consistency with mediocrity, keg definitely wins.

Phil said...

My smart phone can store dairy type information

If I were you I'd get the beer thing cracked before moving into milk - that's a really competitive marketplace.

Alistair Reece said...

At the end of the day, who gives a shit the kind of tap it comes out of as long as it tastes good?

The cask fan insisting that every thing is better on cask is really no different, and in my opinion obtuse, from the craft zealot who has this notion that corporate structure defines the quality or otherwise of a beer.

Companies should be free to do whatever the hell suits them and their target market, as long as they deliver a quality product.

Really, the circles we go round and round in sometimes infuriate me. Just give me good beer and I am a happy man....simples.

Ed said...

Companies are free to do whatever the hell suits them and their target market, whether or not they delivery a quality product.

Rob Sterowski said...

Like you, I wouldn't give up my smartphone and I would never go back to a paper diary. But I also write with a fountain pen, shave with a safety razor and ride a bicycle that was made in 1974. Old is not necessarily obsolete.

Neville Grundy said...

Your phrase "the general propaganda against fizzy chemical beer" and insults in a minority of local CAMRA mags ('zombeers' is particularly crass one) are aimed at the the smooth and old keg that I mentioned; I've never seen such comments applied specifically to craft keg. Just indicate to me any issue of 'What's Brewing' or 'Beer', or indeed any literature from CAMRA HQ, that disproves my point. I've said before that insulting people's choices of drinks is both bad mannered and self-defeating. After all, you'll never hear, "That real ale man has just called my beer chemical fizz, so I'll switch to Hopfeast IPA immediately."

In addition, CAMRA policy is that the drinker should have a choice; logically that includes real ale, but equally it should include other drinks too. This means people who insult other types of beer are not abiding by CAMRA policy, and therefore cannot be said to represent the campaign.

Talking of insults, is Velky Al saying I'm obtuse for preferring real ale? Ignoring what my taste buds prefer would be silly.

Phil said...

Wot Nev sez. I've tried 'craft keg' beers several times and always had the same result - Magic Rock, BD, Red Willow, the beer was just never as good as the cask (which is unfortunate in the case of BD).

Jeff Pickthall said...

" Just indicate to me any issue of 'What's Brewing' or 'Beer', or indeed any literature from CAMRA HQ, that disproves my point. "

I hear versions of this defence time and time again.

I was engaged in conversation by a national executive chap recently. He made the very same point - "it's not CAMRA official policy, it doesn't appear in any CAMRA literature therefore it doesn't happen".

The trouble is it comes out of the mouths of members and it sometimes go into print in branch newsletters. The slagging off of keg beer, lager, chemical fizz – anything outside of the narrow paradigm of real ale – is part of CAMRA custom. It's deeply insidious and it is a message of anti-connoisseurship.

I've been hearing this anti-everything-but-real-ale bullshit for getting on for three decades. I see the emergence of the term "craft beer" as a long overdue reaction against this CAMRA culture of negativity that thrives amongst more zealous and unthinking members.

Here's a recent example: "All Lager Tastes The Same"

scott davidson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
CarsmileSteve said...

What about the wychwood "what are you afraid of, lager boy?" campaign as seen on the back of volunteers' t-shirts at GBBF for several years?

Unknown said...

To all. I do feel that it is relevant that the general keg bashing of any type has a negative impact upon craft keg. Just because those who say it mean to only bash mass produced keg does not indemnify them against responsibility for the inevitable impression to casual readers that all keg is bad.

Ed said...

Good! ;-)

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

As I’ve just written a piece on craft keg for the PMA I’m very much of the opinion that it is a good thing, but I can’t bear this black and white attitude of keg good, cask not, or cask good, keg not. It’s an infantile disorder almost.

I’ve had a flat and lifeless keg from a popular craft brewery from Derbyshire as well as crappy cask — on the other hand I’ve had some magnificent beers, from bottle, cask and keg. Hey it’s beer.

Ed said...

You can count me in with Sylvia Pankhurst.

Curmudgeon said...

Although I agree with you on the "cask good, keg bad" dichotomy still put forward by too many in CAMRA, I really don't see any evidence of "craft keg" breaking through into the mainstream.

It really has not yet escaped the urban beer bubble.

There is a sound argument that it could be a good option for hotels, music venues and sports clubs with limited turnover wanting to offer a distinctive local beer.

But it's unlikely to go much further than that.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

PC — the thing is: that option is there and it’s making beer as exciting to people who are not as passionate about it as the rest of us, which has got to be a winner

Yvan Seth said...

I've missed all the fun.

Go the keg! A lot of the most interesting breweries in the UK seem to be doing it, the market is clearly growing. Pubs & bars that specialise in a mixture of great cask and keg are popping up all over the place, and seem to be doing well. It doesn't matter if it is a niche, surely there's healthy business to be had in selling a high quality product to a minority who are willing to pay for it. My total guess based on the craft beer community I know and extrapolation from there would be that this niche market currently runs to several thousand people... that's not too bad?

I'm sure breaking into the mainstream would be great for business, but even cask hasn't done that yet. Mainstream is Carling, Fosters, Stella, Guinness... ick.

If you're to break the craft/cask market into mainstreams and niches then the mainstream is shit like Greene King IPA... double ick!

StringersBeer said...

Nice troll Dave. Good haul.

Cooking Lager said...

Better than any wind up of the beards that I managed. Well done !

Simon said...

What is the value of craft keg compared to cask? Does it provide greater consistency? Is it the attraction of a nice shiny riser to compete with the megabrewers on the bar at a city centre lagerdrome? Does it make for better beer? I suspect there's a case for all three in different combinations at different times.
There's a specific kind of pub - the Market Town Taverns chain in Yorkshire epitomise it perfectly - that has to provide both for cask ale drinkers and often for circuit drinkers for whom they're another stop on a run and who expect draught lager. MTT provide a couple of Kaltenburgs, Kwak and Ilkley MJ Fortis Stout for the Guinness drinkers, and staff are always prepared to offer an alternative to John Smiths Smoothflow for the less well prepared. In that case there would be an advantage in being able to put a British craft ale or two on the risers so that the more adventurous lager boys could try something else. It doesn't take a BrewDog style schism to see the attractiveness of being able to do that but I can also see that it's not just going to be a case of putting a tried and trusted cask ale in a keg and assuming it's going to be the same thing that comes out. Personally I've never had a cask lager that I liked, and as someone else said, keg ale is still the province of the megabrewers even when some have a kind of vintage status, but there seems to be a big empty space in that Venn diagram. So go for it but do something good.

OllyC said...

Keg is creeping its way out here to rural Suffolk - yes, even in Greene King country, I can get my sweaty paws on some kegged Jaipur and the like in a local bar.

Having the choice is fantastic as far as I'm concerned, but paying £5.20 for a pint isn't so fantastic. Even less fantastic when the tasty beer is served so cold that I'd almost finished my pint before I was treated to all the flavoursome delight that the Jaipur had to offer.

Perhaps I was unlucky, but all kegged beer I've had so far has been far too expensive and far too cold. Given the choice, I'd always go for cask, but having that choice is rather nice. Plus, if the brewer think that keg is the best way to serve their beer, who am I to argue?!

In summary: choice is good. Beer is also good.

John Clarke said...

I know this may be controversial but I don't think brewers necessarily have a monoploy of wisdom when it comes down to the best way to serve their beers. Some are driven as much by dogma or fashion as the died in the wool CAMRA member or "me too" beer geek.

Unknown said...

Stringers, whilst obviously part of my intention here is to provoke response, I also firmly believe in what I am saying. It's not that I feel that methods of old haven't got their place, it's just that we have to recognise that there are many ways of doing many things. Micro-brewed beer has a bigger future in keg than some would like to have us believe.

Simon, you make some very good points, which I think make good foundations for a separate post.

Olly, again, great points. The issue of keg being too cold and too fizzy for some is a valid point.

However, the specific point John makes about brewers being unable to know what is best for their beers is interesting. I could of course be mildly insulted by that. I could just put it down to friendly and appropriate provocation.

I'd like to touch on something that I think is important. One of the advantages big brands have is that they very often look after their own cellar equipment. Temperature and pressures are carefully dictated after significant research into the most popular way to serve their products.

Are micro-brewers any different in wanting their creation served the way they think best?

It will always be the case that in the specialist beer market, call it craft or artisan or wherever you like, there will be as many opinions as to the best way to serve beer as there are drinkers.

I like that. Again, the subject of another post I think.

Curmudgeon said...

Of course the original premise of CAMRA was that ordinary drinkers had a different opinion from the breweries as to how their beer was best served ;-)

John Clarke said...

I didn't say that brewers are unable to know what is best for their beers, I said they didn't have a monopoly of wisdom on the subject.

For example, you might believe it's best to serve a big imperial stout on keg as that method of dispense carries a big beer better and makes it easier on the palate. On the other hand I may think that it's best on cask as that better brings out the depth and complexity.

Both views are tenable. You may have one view and I another - to suggest that yours is superior because you made the beer and that mine as a consumer is subordinate to that is a throwback to the arrogant mindset that inflicted Watneys Red Barrel on the drinking public.

As I said you as a brewer may have a view, you do not have a monopoly of wisdom on the subject.

Phil said...

I have it from the horse's mouth (guy from the brewery whose name I forget) that Magic Rock put Cannonball in keg to make it 'lighter' and more drinkable. When I had it, it was certainly 'light' - compared to the truly wonderful cask beers I've had from MR before, it was thin, bland and forgettable (as well as being colder, fizzier and much more expensive). Of course the brewer's got a view, but I'm voting with my palate.

Rob Sterowski said...

Here in Scotland the majority of pubs and bars do not sell cask beer and a large proportion probably never will in the foreseeable future. But a significant subset of these pubs and bars do sell Blue Moon, Erdinger or Pilsner Urquell. Beers which are seen as premium products by consumers. Why shouldn’t local brewers get a slice of this market? It’s no wonder that half a dozen Scottish breweries are rushing to get their stuff into keg.

Curmudgeon said...

A newly-opened local Spoons has Harviestoun Schiehallion on keg. I've often thought that keg lager actually offers a bigger opportunity than keg ales for micro-brewers, as by definition all lager (effectively) is keg.

Angus Boag said...

" by definition all lager (effectively) is keg." Care to elaborate?