QUICK ONE: BrewDog and Real Ale

BrewDog has just announced LIVE beer (their capitalisation) — a version of their session-strength Dead Pony Club packaged with live yeast and conditioned in the keg.

Of course they are obliged to present it as a great breakthrough, and deny that it’s anything like CAMRA approved real ale, for the sake of pride, just as CAMRA could only grudgingly approve of certain keg beers after much soul-searching. (See Chapter 14 of Brew Britannia for more on that.)

Live beer being poured.
SOURCE: BrewDog. Photo by Grant Anderson.

The thing is, quite apart from the fact we’ve been hearing gossip about this for months — tales of Martin Dickie and team earnestly studying cask ales with notebooks in hand in Scottish pubs, a false rumour of cask ale’s imminent reinstatement at certain BrewDog bars — it was inevitable BrewDog would do something with live yeast at some point.

Imagine the pickle they’ve been in since they made a big deal of dropping cask half a decade ago just as American brewers decide it’s the cutting edge of alternative beer culture.

Imagine how annoying it must be to know, in your heart of hearts, that beers with live yeast are interesting, are a part of tradition with a compelling story, are the beer equivalent of stinky cheese and sourdough bread, but that you’ve made it a point of principle not to do it in large part because your ‘brand values’ (modern, hip) are at odds with the Campaign for Real Ale’s (traditional, curmudgeonly), as well as for convenience. Not very ‘craft’.

Now CAMRA are finding a way to live with kegs (of a sort), and BrewDog are finding a way to live with real ale (of a sort), is it too soon to start dreaming of demobilisation and street parties? And might we see a BrewDog stand at the Great British Beer Festival in 2017?

28 thoughts on “QUICK ONE: BrewDog and Real Ale”

  1. Looking forward to trying it, hopefully this version of Dead Pony Club won’t have the usual elastic band note in the taste.

    PS A similar comment on BD’s website doesn’t appear to have made it through their moderation process.

  2. As Tiny Rebel were advertising cask Punk IPA at their festival a couple of weeks ago, have they been trialing this for a while?

    1. Tiny Rebel wrote a blog post about that: it was keg Punk degassed at their end, not by BrewDog. There might be more to it than that but it seems unlikely.

  3. I just hope this promotes cask ales in some way (any publicity is good publicity?). I’d kill to have access to more cask ales out here in Berlin.

    Does CAMRA even support cask ales outside of the UK? They should promote cask ale glory worldwide, rather than struggle with their image at home.

    1. CAMRA does not overtly promote cask beer outside the UK as it hopes consumer organisations in a country will promote quality beer. Sadly, Germany does not seem to have an active consumer organisation that http://www.ebcu.org/ is aware of.

  4. The use of the word ‘extraneous’ in BD’s post might be an olive branch to us beardies.

    Conditioning in key-kegs isn’t new but I wonder what material the kegs are made from. PET is permeable to oxygen.

    What really interests me is how pressure is controlled. Unless you know the exact amount of fermentables before any priming is added you cannot predict the pressure. This is where some innovation must have happened as I’m sure BD don’t want to be sending explosive devices to their bars.

    I wonder if this version of Dead Pony Club uses the same yeast as the keg/bottle version. This post from Thornbridge on how different the approach is to producing cask and keg versions of ‘the same’ beer is good reading for beer geeks.

    https://thornbridge.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/the-beauty-of-cask-beer/

    1. “What really interests me is how pressure is controlled. Unless you know the exact amount of fermentables before any priming is added you cannot predict the pressure. This is where some innovation must have happened as I’m sure BD don’t want to be sending explosive devices to their bars.”

      Other breweries have been coping with this for a while now… a good brewer knows his beer and yeast, understands his attenuation. A really good brewer also does accelerated fermentation tests to verify what they think they know.

      It’s been a bit hit-and miss on carbonation since the advent of the keg-conditioned-beer craze in the UK. But we’re finally getting to a point where enough brewers have learnt what the hell they’re doing. Still a lot of randomness out there, and too few brewers can tell me what vol-CO2 their beer is. But we’re getting there.

      It shouldn’t be so hard… brewers have been bottle-conditioning to non-bottle-bomb standards for a very long time 🙂

      To a brewery as well educated & equipped as BrewDog this is all trivial.

  5. Brendan Dobbin in 1990 sold cask conditioned ale with casks emptied under nitrogen from a calor air separator to stop oxidation.Eventually CAMRA after furious criticism accepted Brendan Dobbins argument that Nitrogen is simply filtered air.Brendan hated isinglass as it absorbs hop aroma and aromatic hop flavour.

    I am Brendans son and I have been drinking my dad’s famous beers in our garage served from kegs, keg conditioned and pushed with CO2 through a cooler.

    We always say the best beer in England is in Ireland in our flipping garage!

    Nothing new from Brew dog here,they were beaten to the post again

    1. I’ve had a few run-ins with the fundamentalists on this (cask breathers etc). The idea that there is good CO2 and bad CO2 for instance.

      As air is 78ish % nitrogen and nitrogen is inert (sort of) there is no rational argument for not using it. The insistence that beer must be exposed to oxygen (as well as bugs and micro-flora) while its being served is bonkers. But rules is rules.

    2. Your dad brewed the best beers I ever remember!its s shame people can’t get access to them the Sierra Nevada and Esb were particular favourites I even got a barrel of Esb for my birthday one year!!!!!

  6. So… in practical terms here we have a positive development. I am in favour of this as it may step us towards further improvements in dispense. (From the current state in the UK practically anything is an improvement mind you.)

    As far as I can see the only vaguely edgy thing here is serving modern/craft keg beer at 9.5C via a sparkler.

    Modern/craft keg beer at 1.3 vol CO2 that is fermented in-keg without additional yeast isn’t unheard-of. Most want a higher carb level. A few prefer lower carb levels… I’ve actually had to advise breweries to keep them higher, at least 1.8 vol CO2 because anything lower presents as flat via standard UK keg dispense due to low temperatures. (Those trying keg conditioning for the first time often give kegs the same target as casks… whilst really they need a little more attenuation/priming for a higher carb level.)

    Which is where 9.5C comes in. Higher temperature means the CO2 can break out of solution and the beer doesn’t look flat. This is also not an innovation – “keg ale” products have been dispensed around this temperature since they began. I’ve a technical brand matrix for configuring keg systems for mainstream beers and much of the smooth/creamflow stuff is to be dispensed anywhere between 7C and 13C (each beer has its own range, with 7C-9C being modal.) And we all know that on these sorts of beers a “sparkler” or restrictor-plate is pretty much standard.

    So we have keg bitter… that just happens to fit the definition of “real ale”.

    Especially in the eyes of dirty northerners and their sparklin’ ways. 😉

    Now, I said I do like the concept. But even seeking the devil in the detail I cannot see what is groundbreaking here. This has definitely been done before, albeit not widely deployed. I do wonder what they’ve patented… knowing patents it’ll probably be some details of process regarding their centrifuge. Which will be by the by for most brewers who can’t afford such toys.

    Perhaps the groundbreaking thing is getting the concept into more people’s faces. I would welcome publicans coming to me and asking how they can dispense keg a bit warmer. This is not a technically hard thing to do – finding beer to suit would be difficult, unless there’s a market in this microbreweries start catering for.

    It’s an intriguing development. But alas with the reek of doggie poo rhetoric rubbed all over which taints the whole thing alas. (Of course most people won’t care, and BrewDog punters will lap it up… and like I’ve already implied I do hope it is a success… diversity in beer is what I am all about.)

    1. Fascinating detail about the interaction between temperature & carbonation (and pressure?). Always interesting to hear from people who know things!

  7. Now CAMRA are finding a way to live with kegs (of a sort), and BrewDog are finding a way to live with real ale (of a sort)

    To put it less confusingly, CAMRA has acknowledged that some kegged beers pass its definition of ‘real ale’, and BD is starting to serve kegged beers that pass CAMRA’s definition of ‘real ale’ – although they’re rather late to the party.

    If anyone’s going to a BD bar tonight, maybe they could print off some “CAMRA says this is Real Ale” pump tags and take them along – I’m sure they’d be glad to put them on.

    1. Unlikely, Camra is such a toxic brand with anyone under 40 that any bar or distributor with that age group as his target market would be nuts to want to associate with them in any way.

        1. I don’t think its particularly funny. Thousands of pubs have these “CAMRA approved” signs, and thousands of pubs go bust every year.

  8. I have no issues with this but as Liam above notes, cask-conditioned beer has occurred before in the Key-Keg, and I understand CAMRA was good with it.

    What is new about this process? Also, isn’t it like bottle-conditioned beer, basically?

    (By the way, I don not accept that ingress of oxygen is bad. Some believe it contributes to the character of real ale. The problem is in practice the dispense usually isn’t fast enough and the beer starts to deteriorate. But by excluding it under all circumstances, I think you could be losing something too. Just saying).

    Gary

    1. They specifically say it is different to bottle-conditioning. But the only reasons they give are the lower CO2 and yeast seeding. Both of which are bollocks points. There’s plenty of low-carb bottled beer, and loads of breweries don’t re-seed yeast (most probably don’t.) And I’m really not sure what the actual problem with re-seeding would be, they seem to paint it as a bad thing. (Unless they mean like Marstons… where beer is sterilised, before being primed and re-seeded for cask… ick.)

      So no… it’s no different really. Aside from their claim of some patentable “special sauce” which will be about some details of process and fairly irrelevant.

      The main difference is the dispense CO2, temperature and method is more like cask than like we normally experience with keg. And obviously you cannot sparkle a bottled beer. (Now waiting for someone to explain that is can be done… yet, I’m sure it can.) Anyway, it’s interesting… but will it revolutionise anything?

      (In brewing O2/oxidation are fairly universally considered to be bad for finished beer.

      Personally I abhor oxidation in a beer – but am happy to consider it a matter of taste. I know folk who like nothing better than a cask of stout on its fifth day. Which I find undrinkable. But a fresh cask served under 48 hours should not exhibit anything much by way of oxidation if well managed because there is virtually zero O2 interaction with the beer, which is displacing air with CO2 exiting the beer.)

      1. Thanks, Yvan very interesting. I do feel minimal oxygen does something for cask and this explains its ineffable character.

        In contrast, cask breather precludes it but may lose something in the process. The same may apply to Key-Keg cask, but we’ll have to await further reports.

        Finally, I discount the higher CO2 of bottle-conditioned beer because you can pour it and/or shake it in the glass to get the carbonation you like. It always amazes me how people (I’m not saying you) simply accept carbonation in any glass of beer. Easy to fix by swirling, decanting, where there is too much of course. Where there is too little, that’s different. 🙂

        Gary

    1. According to that article LIVE beer isn’t cask-conditioned – because it’s better than that. Yeah, right, whatever, do carry on and don’t mind us people who think words have actual meanings…

    2. That site is just awful. And they are constantly spamming beer groups on facebook so I’d ignore anything they had to say.

  9. As always it is a pleasure to read Yvan’s excellent discourses on beer dispense. He talks sense and should be listened to. He is around the top of the list of beery people I’d like to have a pint with.

    As for BD? Late to the party but I like the blog writer’s optimism in terms of rapprochement. The jury is out though I suspect round the corner is disappointment.

    Oh. And Py? Best remain silent.

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