In Brief: CAMRA and Key Kegs

Keg fonts at a central London pub.

This report by Tandleman on the Campaign for Real Ale annual general meeting is worth a read.

He argues that, on the whole, ‘backward facing motions were defeated, while progressive motions were passed’. Among those carried was Motion 15:

This Conference instructs the National Executive to investigate a labelling scheme for naturally conditioned Key Keg beer, which would allow customers to identify which beers, at the point of sale, conform with the CAMRA criteria for real ale.

This is significant, as we understand it, because it paves the way for beer in ‘key kegs’ to appear at CAMRA beer festivals, as long as they meets certain technical criteria — that is to say, that they are unfiltered and unpasteurised, contain a certain proportion of live yeast, and are carbonated without the addition of CO2 from an external source. (Key kegs use gas, but the gas doesn’t actually come into contact with the beer.)

This is not a wholehearted embrace of keg beer, overturning 40+ years of principles upon which the Campaign was built. Nor is it ‘CAMRA goes craft’. And we suspect it will take a long time for the results to be evident in the wild, too, with much bureaucracy to negotiate.

But it is important as a gesture, like that simple handshake between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro last December.

The letters page in next month’s What’s Brewing should be fun, though, while those passionate craft beer types who CAMRA has already alienated will probably regard this, sourly, as too little, too late.

UPDATE

Comment below if you like but this is mostly just a pointer to Tandleman’s post where there’s a lively discussion already underway.

23 thoughts on “In Brief: CAMRA and Key Kegs”

  1. yes i’ve been at plenty of CAMRA festivals where real ale been served via keykeg, but good to get the message out to the more isolated branches

    1. Have they ever been used at GBBF? That’s probably the one that really matters in terms of politics. (Have Googled but couldn’t quickly turn anything up.)

  2. we had stuff from revelation cat/ gadds in keykeg on BSF a few years back and there were certainly beers submitted then for other bars. Think they all went via the tech team for “viable yeast” check. There was also a cask vs keykeg tasting for staff. This was last yr of Earls court so 4 years ago now…not been since; so can’t say what’s come since

    1. Wonder if that was actually just pilot/test activity to inform the technical committee’s (quietly announced) decision?

  3. I agree this is more significant than some suggest. What strikes me is how relatively quite the ether has been about all of this. The compares with the howls of outrage etc etc that would almost certainly have ensued had the more progessive motions have fallen and the back to basics isolationist ones suceeded. Seems that CAMRA is only newsworthy if it confirms peoples prejudices.

    1. When someone asked on Twitter why more people weren’t blogging about this news, our first guess was that people are a bit bored of talking (squabbling…) about the politics of dispense.

      A couple of people also reported struggling to find a list of the motions in a place available to non-members and so I suspect a lot of people who ought to have been interested probably didn’t know this conversation was happening.

      But, yes, I think you’re right that there would probably have been more interest if Motion 15 had been rejected.

    2. I think there’s something in that – CAMRA these days (wrongly) has an image as a conservative organisation, and “conservative organisation does something not particularly conservative” doesn’t confirm anyone’s preconceptions, so isn’t news. You only have to imagine the kind of story BBC News would run about it, if they noticed it – quote from Colin Valentine saying something sensible but boring, quote from random beardie at beer festival saying something about chemical fizz, quote from James Watt saying this just shows CAMRA are irrelevant, quote from Colin Valentine saying CAMRA are more relevant than ever, quote from Protzie waffling on about something or other, meanwhile back at the beer festival we’ve found another beardie who can be prodded into saying “chemical fizz”, so are CAMRA really moving into the future? only time will tell, bosh bosh, job’s a good ‘un.

      1. Yes, what on earth could possibly be considered conservative about an organisation whose sole reason for existence is to promote the continued provision of a traditional but technologically obsolete concept.

        Its about as relevant and progressive as a campaign to bring back steam locomotives.

  4. Surely the reason that more people aren’t discussing it is simply that most people don’t care?! And wot Mr Clarke said.

  5. With CAMRA, it’s damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Reject this and they are hopeless stick in the muds, etc. Accept it and they are betraying more than 40 years of real ale campaigning … [yawn]. One way or another, the Campaign had to have a policy in this technology, and someone is going to be unhappy, but what’s new? Of course, the answer is simple: CAMRA’s policies are decided by subs-paying members, not a small number of pontificating, hostile non-members. Happily there’s not too many of those here. I wasn’t at the AGM this year, but I think its the correct decision.

  6. CAMRA continue to miss the point. No-one cares about method of dispense outside of a small number of 70 year old dinosaurs who still think its 1976. Its a complete non-issue to 99.5% of beer drinkers.

    Making a tiny technical change to some obscure and pointless definition that no-one below the age of 65 cared about anyway and then getting huffy that no-one noticed sums up CAMRA perfectly. Irrelevant yesterday, irrelevant today, irrelevant tomorrow.

    1. A lot more than 0.5% of drinkers actively seek out “real ale” when they go in a pub, even though they might not be totally clued up on the precise technical definition.

      1. Well yes, because they know it is cheaper than the rip-off keg stuff. I do the same thing myself.

  7. Funny how outside of beer geek circles CAMRA seems to have a generally positive image. People might not overly care, but they do see CAMRA as A Good Thing. What’s also interesting is how even in the last 10 years the availability and choice of cask ale has risen substantially, to the extent that I’m now surprised if a pub doesn’t have cask.

    1. Nev – while you’ve been away an informal consensus seems to have developed with py’s posts. Generally it’s best not feed the troll.

  8. as I pointed out on Tandlemans blog, but I might as well repeat here 🙂 I think people are getting over excited by the mention of keg in a CAMRA context here, motion 15 simply instructed the National Executive to investigate a labelling scheme for naturally conditioned “Key Keg” beer, which would allow customers to identify which beers, at the point of sale, conform with the CAMRA criteria for real ale.

    CAMRA already have a labelling scheme for non cask dispense beer, real ale in a bottle, for bottled beer that conforms with the CAMRA criteria for real ale, a point that motion 14 instructed the National Executive to mount a campaign to promote more effectively.

    now the debate on motion 15 did touch on more than just a debate around a simple labelling scheme, motions often do get debated in this way and it touched on some of the wider concerns & technicalities of key keg/key cask, how they worked, what they even looked like, that they werent porter lancastrians by another name, and that the technical committee had actually approved them for use, I dont avidly follow the output of the technical committee so Icouldnt tell you when that happened (but I think it might even be as far back as 2011) , but I believe it was stated these key keg/casks had been used by the York branch at their beer festivals already.

    but all the outcome of passing this motion was is simply that CAMRA will come up with a label that will probably be along the lines of, “CAMRA says this is still real ale”, that will be stuck on some keg fonts that use these key keg/cask whatever you want to call them things that dispense beer that meets CAMRAs real ale definitions so that the public know when faced with a keg font, what they are infact really drinking is still real ale.

    1. I keep vacillating between thinking this is totally insignficant, for much the reasons that you just outlined, and thinking that it’s the most significant thing ever, because it’s going to mean CAMRA publically putting their stamp of approval on something that looks more like keg than cask. In principle you could now have a pub that served RAiaKK on all the keg lines but put cask breathers on all their cask lines and proper real ale fundamentalists would be obliged to bang on about home much better the keg stuff was.

    2. Personally I think you are under-estimating this. As you will see from the letters column in What’s Brewing there are still a lot of CAMRA people out there who see the k-word and start banging on about filtration and pasteurisation etc. There is widespread ignorance in CAMRA about key-keg beer and despite what the Technical Committee may have ruled that’s why you see so little of it at CAMRA beer festivals. However if a raft of these beers are “approved” as real ale, as I expect many of them to be, then a lot of that opposition will fall away. While the motion may have been presented as something that could be stuck on keg fonts to say that the beer is nonetheless CAMRA approved it’s real effect will be on what is sold at CAMRA beer festivals. And that. I think, is quite significant.

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