Is this the acceptable face of keg beer?


May 19, 2015 by richpilot

Cwtch cask ale (left) and Cwtch keg (right).

Cwtch cask ale (left) and Cwtch keg (right).

Richard Bennett, licensee of The Pilot of Mumbles, weighs up the pros and cons of keg beer…

As we know, CAMRA was started in 1971 by four men from the north-west who were “disillusioned by the domination of the UK beer market by a handful of companies pushing products of low flavour and overall quality”. Most of these beers were filtered, pasteurised and force carbonated.  Because of this, many summarise CAMRA’s fight as cask v keg ale.

It’s happening!

Now Keg is back!  Visit many city pubs in the UK and you will find a choice of keg beers at least equalling the cask offering in quantity.  The new wave has now reached Swansea albeit with limited availability so far.  Swansea’s early adopters are The Pilot and The Park in Mumbles and The Griffin in Wind Street.  Brewers offering these “craft keg” beers include Tiny Rebel, Celt, Butcombe, Cotswold Spring and Brew Dog.  Swansea’s own Boss Brewing Company has just launched a craft keg lager, Boss Bare at 5% abv.

So what exactly is “Craft Keg”?

Craft keg begins life as real ale. Indeed, some brewers will produce cask and keg from the same batch.  Once fermented, the beer is either put in a cask where secondary fermentation occurs or it is kegged by being artificially carbonated e.g. by CO2 under pressure.

When beer is drawn from a cask, it is replaced by air. When it leaves the keg it is replaced by CO2 .  This means that keg beer keeps longer than cask, which is an advantage to the publican.  Cask is served at cellar temperature, say 12C, whereas keg is flash chilled to 3C.  Keg offers real ale taste but served gassy and chilled.

So is it any good?

Take Tiny Rebel’s Cwtch as an example.  This Welsh red ale is a treat on cask.  Great colour, clarity and taste Tiny Rebel style!  On keg it’s a different beast.  Cool, hazy, with a terrific aroma from the bubbles and a bigger taste.  The keg Cwtch is unfined so the yeast is in suspension and so are all the flavours that finings can drop out of the beer.  Now, not all craft keg is unfined as not all cask is fined but this is the extra dimension that you can taste on Tiny Rebel keg.

What about CAMRA?

Clearly, craft keg cannot be defined as a real ale as it’s served under CO2.  However, it is far from the brew that drove our founders to take action in 1971.  Indeed, Roger Protz said recently, “this is not a battle between cask and keg, but between good beer vs. industrial beer”. So, with that endorsement, go out and try some. You may be surprised.

What do you think? Please leave a comment below.


3 thoughts on “Is this the acceptable face of keg beer?

  1. yachty says:

    Given the choice of a fizzy beer from the big multiples or catch on keg I would go catch, as a conspiracy theorist last year the brewers association of the big breweries have specified that all chillers and pythons are set to zero degrees, as you describe it above you are bound to get haze, some pubs are now installing multiple pythons an serving keg crafts at ambient just as their casks and those that suit it at 6 or 7 craft may be the poor cousin when in keg but should we let the big brands kill it by forcing it to be served badly, if they kill the kegs and bottles the cask will die as well I want to support both!

  2. Dafydd Wiliams says:

    Dead right. I understand that keeping cask ale is tricky but carbonated ‘beer’ just isn’t the same.

  3. Nigel ace says:

    Keep it real….keep it cask.

    Keep forced CO2 out.

    Pubs like the Pilot don’t need keg but I can see if would better than nothing, say at hotels or places where there is a lower turnover of beer.

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