Monday, 1 April 2013

Propaganda or Maverick Opinion?

The Craft Keg verses CAMRA thing has kicked off this week. Poignant really, it's a bit like a certain struggle that occurred about 2000 years ago. I'm just wondering who is going to be crucified this time, and what will be the new replacement in the growing independent brewing empire.

Firstly, it seems there has been a CAMRA motion put forward to AGM proposing the banning the use of the term "Craft Keg" or similar in any CAMRA publication. I believe there is a good chance that this will be thrown out. If nothing else it would represent dangerous censorship, which I hope CAMRA would have nothing to do with.

Secondly, at Wandsworth Beer Festival, the program demonises keg in a generalised and un-knowlegable manor, and weaves into the rant various references to CAMRA.

This is all very unfortunate for all of us who care about the debate. Firstly, and a point I think that is extremely important, craft keg, micro-brewed keg beer, beer in-a-keg that has been less processed than the big brand pasteurised and filtered to death stuff, is different. The fact that it is more difficult to define than Real Ale1 might be a problem. But to demonise this growing sector of the beer world is, in my view, helpful to neither CAMRA nor the brewing industry in general.

But, is it CAMRA's fault?

Well, "yes and no" is my answer.

The debate is important. CAMRA must allow the debate to occur, just the same as the rest of us should. There is no reason why the debate should not occur in CAMRA publications. It does from time to time, and that is healthy. For it to occur, there will naturally be opinions that differ from mine, and those of other people who believe there are a lot of good things about keg beer made by independent breweries.

CAMRA does not have to support Craft Keg if the organisation feels they shouldn't. I would like them to do so, but that's just my view.

It is not the fact that CAMRA allow the debate, and therefore the inevitable maverick opinion that is the problem. It seems to me to be that the debate is perhaps biased in favour of the mavericks. However, to censor would be just as bad as the proposed censorship being put to the CAMRA AGM.

By not condemning the examples here, it is seen by those of us who dislike Craft Keg bashing that CAMRA official line is to condemn all keg.

So, shall we continue the debate?


1A point that I have on many occasions disputed, but to go into that discussion detracts from my main point here.


Benjamin Nunn said...

There's been enough misleading and tendentious shit-slinging from the 'craft keg' side for a few years now.

Inevitable that some would start to fly in the opposite direction at some point.

What needs to be understood on both sides of the debate is that things are not black and white (or cask vs keg) any more. It's a sliding scale.

At one end of the scale you have unadulterated cask beer, at the other end is pasteurised, filtered, high-pressure keg. And there are several possible intermediate points along this line - cask with breather, unpasteurised keg, keykeg under pressure, keycask via handpump etc.

Everyone wants to paint their perceived enemies as being at one extreme or t'other - evidenced by Brewdog's anti-CAMRA nonsense, and Mark's ill-informed rant in the Wandsworth Beerfest programme.

The truth, usually, is that they're not as far away as you or they think.

An interesting side angle is that the arguments go off at a tangent away from dispense and start to involve styles of beer. Brewdog tried to have us believe that all cask ales were bland, ordinary strength, malty bitters and milds and that these were inferior styles.

Gothique Mark does the same, allowing his dislike of American-style hop monsters into his anti-keg rant.

Again, both sides are being fuckwitted, as if bland keg mild and cask hop-forward beers don't exist...

Unknown said...


I broadly agree with what you are saying. Although I think there is much more said in support of Craft Keg than down right mud slinging against cask. And the "all keg is bad, full stop" stuff has always gone on.

There is a place for keg, where cask is not suitable. In that event nearly everyone engaged in this debate would agree it would be better if it were keg from an independent brewer than a big brand. There is much work to be done in this area.

There is also the fact that some people just prefer keg. They prefer cold and fizzy, and hat's not wrong.

If Craft Keg helps us to get to a wider audience then why is it a problem?

Tandleman said...

I broadly agree with both of you. I think too that Ben's point about a backlash from all the cask and CAMRA bashing - and let's not pretend there hasn't been - being inevitable is a good one. Equally Dave's point that some prefer their beer cold and gassy is one that should be acknowledged.

I'll be looking to speak against Motion 4 for what it's worth.

Benjamin Nunn said...


I'm very sympathetic to the idea of good keg in places where cask is impractical, and emphasised this (though perhaps not strongly enough) in my London Drinker columns at about the time of the Brewdog/GBBF boycott/ban nonsense.

What is disappointing is that this has totally failed to be borne out in reality. The range of keg beers in the keg-only pubs, nightclubs, hotels, stadia, casinos etc. is still overwhelmingly the same old Stella, Fosters, John Smiths and other usual suspects.

The better keg beers are typically making their home on the bars in two kinds of outlet: 1) fantastic beer geek 'Craft Beer Co' type-pubs where there is also a huge cask selection. 2) completely new, trendy 'craft' bars like those run by Brewdog.

Where craft keg is clearly not achieving much market penetration (at least not yet) is the areas where the case for its existence can be best sold to hardcore CAMRA types as a half-decent second-best option. (Basically anywhere that people who normally drink cask order Guinness).

I'm indifferent on Motion 4. I can understand where it's coming from BUT a call for clarity in a world where the lines are becoming increasingly blurred is unlikely to achieve much and might add to the confusion.

I was probably one of the first to read the Wandsworth Common programme rant as I arrived fairly early at the preview night and it was obvious that it would stimulate debate over the coming days (and possibly generate some publicity for Le Gothique). Especially when the Rocky Head beer arrived on keg.

Part of me wonders if it was deliberately provocative in a bid to raise the profile of the beer festival. 'Doing a Brewdog', in essence...

Neville Grundy said...

I'll be voting against the motion, and if it were passed, I'd refuse to implement it in the CAMRA magazine that I edit - and there's nothing CAMRA could do about it, because we don't use CAMRA funds to pay for our mag.

Actually, I'm quite bored with the cask v. craft 'debate', and in the real world it means nothing to the average drinker, whatever they choose to drink.

Phil said...

Where craft keg is clearly not achieving much market penetration (at least not yet) is the areas where the case for its existence can be best sold to hardcore CAMRA types as a half-decent second-best option. (Basically anywhere that people who normally drink cask order Guinness).

Good point. In fact I'm starting to wonder if this "second best" route for craft keg* is actually happening anywhere. Has anyone seen a 'craft' font in a bar with no cask (hipster joints like BDs' excepted)? Is anyone actually brewing craft keg with an eye to places where they would take cask but wouldn't be able to shift it quickly enough? It seems to me that most of the brewers producing keg are fairly loud and proud about it, & don't present it as a second-best at all.

*The phrase "craft keg" does in fact have a clear and simple definition: it means "all those beers which people refer to as 'craft keg'".

Phil said...

Forgot to add...

most of the brewers producing keg are fairly loud and proud about it, & don't present it as a second-best at all

...which means they haven't really got room to complain when cask advocates get equally territorial in return. I'd happily take a keg BrewDog/Magic Rock/Red Willow/Hard Knott if the only alternative was Guinness/Carlsberg/Stella. If a cask BD/MR/RW/HK was on offer, I wouldn't touch the keg if you paid me. That's comparing craft keg with decent cask, of course; I might feel differently if the cask choice was something like Spitfire or Deuchar's "IPA". Craft keg "guests" in boring pubs could be an option. But even that would be keg as second-best.

John Clarke said...

Well if I was at the CAMRA AGM I'd also be strongly opposing Motion 4 (as it is I'll be in Amsterdam at the Meibockfestival).

What really annoys me about this nonsense (and a point I'd be making if I was at Norwich) is that the authors of the motion and the tripe in the Wandsworth programme is that they assume that "craft beer" = "Keg beer". Of course it doesn't and I think those who suggest otherwise are unwittingly pursuing a dangerous line.

While the term "craft" is pretty meaningless (which I think was the outcome of the debate I took part in at IMBC last year) it is nevertheless gaining quite a bit of traction and is being used more and more widely. And although esentially meaningless is does also carry a positive cachet implying added value and quality.

CAMRA therefore has two choices about the term. It can collectively close its eyes, stick its fingers in its ears, shout "La la la" and pretend it's not there. Or, it can claim a piece of the action for itself. For me the latter is the obvious course of action - cask is just as much craft as keg (perhaps more so given the additional level of expertise that is required to sell it on top form) and rather than trying to expunge the use of the word from our publications we should have the confidence to embrace the word and plug "craft cask ales" and make reference to "craft ales on handpump" etc.

By the way I think it's also fair to point out that nothing you have quoted in your post is down to "CAMRA" per se, just some of the numpties who populate our ranks

Unknown said...

Benjamin, you make some very valid points. Mainly, yes, it is disappointing that Craft Keg does not make more impact in the places we'd like to see it. And you're right, it does seem to appear where there is already a good cask selection. i.e. good beer occurs where good beer occurs.

And this would be a new point; let's try and get more good beer into places where there isn't good beer rather than argue about which good beer is better.

Which makes me agree with Nev, really, perhaps we shouldn't be having the discussion at all. Of course we will, none the less.

Phil, I'd object a little with what you are saying about us there. We want to have a slice of that keg action, yes, but we've not gone as far out into pushing it as some others who have left us a little behind. I'll sell my beer in whatever container gets it sold best. In that respect we still sell way more in cask. I'm pushing out our keg into some of the places that it should be i.e. places that don't have great beer on draught. More later.

Can't argue much with the rest of Phil's points, although I'm fairly promiscuous when it comes to choosing either cask or keg. I'll choose (Tandy, did I get that right?) either, depending.

I had already seen that Tandy had put forward his firm "against" vote with respect to motion 4 and it's good to see Mr Clarke say the same.

Was the beer festival trying to be deliberately provocative? You know, I hope so, even if it makes me seem a little bit of a numpty for swallowing the bait.

StringersBeer said...

Wandsworth, a "generalised and un-knowlegable manor"? You take that back.

John Clarke said...

My fear Dave is that they weren't deliberately trying to be provocative but did in fact geuinely believe what was written.

Curmudgeon said...

It does seem to be the case that (apart from dedicated keg bars of the BrewDog type) the likelihood of finding "craft keg" in a pub is directly proportional to the likelihood of finding "craft cask". Likewise with interesting bottled beers, as it has been for a long time.

While it may seem a logical choice for music venues, restaurants and small hotels and guest houses, in practice there doesn't seem to be much take-up in those markets.

Cooking Lager said...

I can tell you what "craft" means. A pub in my neck of the woods sells it. It is regional family brewery beer with a marketing makeover sold for 50p a pint more than most of the other boozers, and about a quid a pint more than the spoons. The boozer seems a bit more poncy than it once was and now has wine menus on the tables and sadly appears somewhat bereft of custom.

Though the term appears to have a different meaning to the home/drinking in front of a computer market. It means better grog than the lower orders neck.

Therefore the beardy weirdies ought to back it to the hilt because what is required is rebranded more expensive weird pongy grog! It's trendy isn't it? Maybe the kids will like it and stop all that facebooking and xboxing and go out and save the pubs that actually they are not really welcome in until they are 45.

Unknown said...

Morning Cookie,

Good to see you're back at work and bored. I do notice a trend here on the timing of your comments.

Anyway, interesting points you make. It's a long time since I've made the point about style of operation when it comes to pubs. Of course there is a place for up-market and a place for economy. The 'Spoons model is economy and the "Craft" model is the posher and more expensive style. Which works and where is an interesting point.

On the issue of customers versus price, it is important to note that it costs a certain amount to dispense a drink, make the customer feel welcome by chatting, clean up after said customer, clean the glass, put it away etc.

What may seem like a quiet pub can, in fact, make more profit. A busy but inexpensive pub needs to shift a lot of beer to make any profit because the margins are a lot tighter.

Either model can work in the right place with the right people and the right pricing.

But, most importantly, I haven't caught up with an underlying point that's coming through here. Craft Beer isn't about method of dispense. Cask can be craft and often is. Not always, I'd venture, and some of the bigger brewers are hitching onto this.

This is quite key I think. There is a lot of cask out there that is frankly dull and boring. Indeed a while back I had a half of kegged bitter made by Molson Coors. It was actually really rather nice and better by far than some cask beers I've drunk. I forget the brand. Worthington's perhaps. It might have been blended with some rejected White Shield for all I know, but whatever, I enjoyed it.

Perhaps Craft Beer should just mean good beer. And of course, what one drinker thinks is good is always going to be different to what another drinker thinks is good.

But, there is the point that John makes that CAMRA should perhaps embrace Craft as a term for cask beer.

Cooking Lager said...

Bang on Dave, and what's more being bored in the office and not wanting to start work makes anyone a beer and pubs expert. But really, anything which makes you a living, you will support. Whether that be a term like "craft" that enhances the price you can charge or kegs that maintain consistency of product so you can maintain the value of your brand and stop publicans from ruining it. No bad thing.

But you know, some punters will buy into it and punt up, and some will keep their hands in their pockets. Some beardie weirdies like Clarkey appear to like shelling out their hard earned, some like Tand & Nev appear sceptical. It takes all sorts to make a world, and not a jot of it makes any difference to 99.9% of drinkers.

Me? I just say what I see, like that irish fella on the game show whilst being as tight as a nats chuff money wise.

Tandleman said...

I am always aware that the one certain thing about money is that some bastard somewhere will try and relieve you of it. The trick is to know when that is worthwhile.

Shelling out top dollar for beer is rarely that occasion for most people.

Cooking Lager said...

Eye, Tand, but is the beard club an organisation of independent thought with a broad unifying liking of ale & pubs or is it a borg collective?

I only ask because I ponder whether those that may write something I may disagree with but which the author may believe makes them a numptie and me enlightened? Whether an organisation needs its grassroots to toe an official line or whether they are free to express contrary and conflicting opinion?

I see Clarkey’s point but cannot help but think expensive specialist niche beer is really nothing but the vanity of prosperous middle class professionals with nowt better to throw their money on. Harmless but nothing to excite me unless I am mocking it. Likewise a bunch of old codgers that think a pint of cheap bland brown dishwater is a great tradition worth preserving at the cost of disparaging the tastes of others is something to oppose rather than join.

But I guess it all comes out in the wash. I’m tempted to come along to Norwich and sit in the audience with a can of Kronenbourg and heckle until I’m thrown out to go down the spoons with my tokens.

As for money, someone wiser than me once said “It’s not by throwing it about, people ‘ave it”

Curmudgeon said...

The fact you are in possession of Spoons tokens does of course say something about you, Cookie.

Unless you bought them for 25p each in the local Sam's pub, of course.

I just threw 6 away for the last quarter.

Unknown said...

It would be interesting to know how many 'Spoons vouchers do get thrown away. Ours go off to student relatives who benefit greatly from the financial boost for their drunken carrying on.

The fact that there is a proportion of people that just don't go into 'Spoons, even when there is a supply of vouchers, shows that it isn't just about price.

Curmudgeon said...

It was estimated on the CAMRA forum that probably around 90% ended up being binned. The discount isn't really sufficient to get you to make a special visit to Spoons if you weren't going anyway.

And it doesn't give you 50p off a Beer + Burger ;-)

Cooking Lager said...

If you don't use yours, Mudge, the chap in the Smiths what buys them off you is the drunk one eyed scotsman that doesn't get thrown out because no one can understand his aggressive profanities due to accent. If you want actual money, lunchtime, if you want what he nicked from poundworld, late afternoon.

Benjamin Nunn said...

"cannot help but think expensive specialist niche beer is really nothing but the vanity of prosperous middle class professionals"

Well, the beer might not be, but the reason some people drink it certainly is. And I think the net goes wider than that demographic too.

'Craft beer', particularly keg and from new arrivals on the brewing scene is very much en vogue right now, but there is no guarantee of longevity with that market.

I really believe that a significant proportion of Brewdog fanboys and their ilk are the same people (or at least the same sort of people) who were into Smoothflow in Irish theme pubs in the late 1990s, then alcopops, then bottled cider over ice.

Sooner or later they'll get bored and migrate to another fad. Superchilled mead or something.

Bandwagonism, pure and simple. It doesn't mean that everything that the trend-followers like is inherently bad, just that they're drinking the beer (or listening to the music or wearing the clothes or whatever) because it's trendy rather than because it's good.

Slogger76 said...

Lets face it there hasnt been much choice in the past, especially if you live out in the sticks. A few decent cask ale pubs here and there, serving mostly boring bland beer. Whilst boring bland beer may do for some, i like beer that is nice and tasty and i also like different styles.

In todays market the vast selection of well made craft beers is great for people like me, people who like tasty beer. If ive got to be prepared to pay a bit more for a decent tasty beer than a bland boring one then thats my choice.

I source out bars where im going to be able to get my paws on some tasty beer, whether its in cask or keg i dont really mind as good beer is good beer no matter what the means of dispense.

Going into bar and not having to select from a limited number of mass market rubbish is a great thing, in my opinion.

Rob said...

Curmudgeon said: "While it may seem a logical choice for music venues, restaurants and small hotels and guest houses, in practice there doesn't seem to be much take-up in those markets."

When out in Leeds the other night I went to a college bar and a bar/restaurant. Both had locally produced lager/pilsner on and no cask. I'd say that comes under "craft keg" (and they were much nicer than the alternatives). I also went to a restaurant/bar in the suburbs where they had some local keg IPA, which had sadly run out (apparently it went in two days). None of these places were a beer destination or brewdog bar type operation. I didn't even know they would have this on before going.

I think things are changing. Maybe the first step will be in lagers, but I can see that it will grow from there. (And really, to the average person, will they really care or know the difference between a lager and a pale ale if they are both cold and fizzy?)

StringersBeer said...

Aren't a lot of keg lines /fonts heavily tied up?

Adey said...

I don't understand the argument. Craft Keg is cold, rich, strong and full bodied. Cask is flat, warm, weak and nasty. CAMRA should be celebrating the rise of beer people might actually want to drink.

Cask hasn't saved the pub, it contributes to is decline. The only growing and increasingly popular sector in the industry is craft.

Support craft keg, ditch 'real' cask.