Keg Was Better on the Day

Tetley sign, Sheffield.

In 1976, the Sunday Mirror invited Michael Hardman, a founding member of the Campaign for Real Ale, to take part in a beer ‘taste test’. He walked right into a trap.

Tasting ‘blind’, Hardman joined his fellow judges in declaring a keg bitter, Tetley’s Drum, the unanimous winner, and the Sunday Mirror duly declared it ‘the best beer in Britain’.

Hardman was quoted in the article, admitting that Drum was ‘very good’ and that he wasn’t surprised by the result.

CAMRA had, in effect, publicly endorsed a product of the very type it had been set up to do away with.

Campaign members were not impressed: they wrote to What’s Brewing declaring it a ‘fiasco’ and berating Hardman not only for taking part, but in particular for appearing to speak positively about keg bitter.

Hardman argued that he had only reacted honestly — the real ales, in the middle of a famous heat wave, had not been at their best, and the keg had been ‘in better condition on the day‘. He also defended his decision to take part, saying that CAMRA needed to take every opportunity it could to reach mainstream audiences.

Nonetheless, a lesson was learned, we think: we can’t recall hearing of anyone from CAMRA being lured into a similar cask vs. keg blind-tasting since.

There was only so much space available in Brew Britannia and not every nugget we came across made it into the text, so there will no doubt be more posts like this in the coming months.

14 thoughts on “Keg Was Better on the Day”

  1. There were several long hot summers in the ’70s, and cask ales were not always at their best in unchilled cellars. During those summers I remember seeing far more lager being drunk than was usual, and I have always thought that this was *a* factor in the rise of lager sales, with the ’70s being a kind of bridge period between the ’60s, when lager sales were miniscule, and the ’80s, when lager had become mainstream.

    If all keg beers had been of the quality that Drum seems to have been, CAMRA would have had a much harder time of it. Also, whatever defenders of cask might say, a demand arose (or was created) for paler, chilled, carbonated beers that has never gone away.

        1. We found a reference on Eddie Gadd’s blog, but that seemed to suggest it was a behind-closed-doors technical committee thing, with little chance of public embarrassment.

  2. And of course – back in the mid-seventies cellar cooling was something of a rarity.

    1. I think that was a “can anyone actually tell the difference” test, and the answer was a resounding no.

      Of course, CAMRA decided to ban them anyway, because creating unhelpful and arbitrary technical distinctions is just how we roll, baby.

  3. There was a blind tasting of cask breathers done at the Derby AGM some years ago-in a pub-and, quella surprise, no one could spot it.

    As for keg v cask, there have been several contests, although they don’t seem to be publicised. Perhaps CAMRA are too afraid to open that can of worms? Anyway I attended one at the Sheffield Tap to compare Thronbridge keg and cask. and on that occasion, cask won.

  4. Keg may have forced cask to up its game but cask forced keg to do the same in the form of American craft keg, which until became the almost exclusive way draft American craft beer was served (filtered, fizzy, chilled except more recently they let it stay hazy often).

    And in turn this kickstarted a trend for the same kind of taste in England – with a full-bore hop taste that 19th and mid-20th century U.K. brewers never would likely have abided.

    So it oscillates back and forth.

    It would be interesting to know if that Tetley’s was pasteurized. Some keg beer wasn’t, and if reasonably hopped and not too full of adjunct, and not too fizzy, one could see how it would resemble a well-kept pint of real ale.

    A test like that is a one-off, it doesn’t prove anything.

    Gary

  5. I’m pretty sure Drum has always been bog standard pastuerised keg. I’m surprised no one has suggested repeating the experiment today.

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