Draught, Keg and Cask

Cover of Monopolies Commission report on beer, 1969.

Until the 1950s, there was no real need to define ‘draught beer’: it was the opposite of bottled beer, simple as that. Then keg beer came along (Watney kegged bitter in 1936; Flowers coined the term ‘keg’ in 1955) and suddenly draught beer had a split personality.

For many people, it didn’t matter. As long as they got a ‘pint’, they weren’t fussy about where it came from. Some ‘connoisseurs’, however, knew they didn’t like keg, but weren’t sure exactly needed a new term to describe exactly what it was they did like.

They tried ‘beer from the wood’ (in common since at least the turn of the century), until some smart arses pointed out that most casks were made of metal these days anyway. While the confusion continued, big brewers happily promoted keg beers as good, traditional, draught made the way it always has been, from premium malt and hops, only slightly better.

The Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood decided the answer was to reclaim ‘draught beer’ and lobbied government for several years from the late sixties. It was a con, they argued, to call keg bitter draught. Draught, they said, was, you know, proper draught, the good stuff, from the wood, but not necessarily actually from wood… oh, sod it. They were repeatedly rebuffed by Whitehall.

In 1969, the Monopolies Commission, which had been investigating various industries in the great era of corporate mergers, reported on pubs and brewing (link to PDF). As bureaucrats are often required to do, they spent no little time establishing terminology, and came up with this handy guide:

We use the description ‘draught’ beer to include any beer which is supplied to the retailer in bulk containers and drawn to order in the pub for each customer. All the large brewers and many smaller ones now brew a kind of draught beer which has become known as ‘keg’ beer. Although the word ‘draught’ is sometimes used to distinguish traditional draught from keg beer, for the purposes of this report we call the former ‘cask’ beer. [B&B’s emphasis.]

The report, which was widely read by those with an interest in beer, probably did a great deal to popularise the use of the term ‘cask’ in this way.

The report, if you’ve got the patience, is a fascinating read, especially the opening section which summarises the types of beer commonly available and most popular with drinkers.

UPDATE: worth noting, too, that Frank Baillie’s 1973 The Beer Drinker’s Companion classifies each brewery’s beers as either draught, keg or bottled.

CAMRA members and keg

We heard the disappointing news today that some very reasonable suggestions by a CAMRA working group were rejected almost completely by the National Executive. This was followed by the rejection at CAMRA‘s annual general meeting of another sensible step towards supporting British breweries. (Though Motion 15 (more here) was carried.)

Neither bit of news was unexpected. Policy doesn’t change overnight and let’s not forget that, as others have pointed out, keg-friendly bloggers are not CAMRA’s core membership. It can’t afford to scare the die-hards away, even if that makes other members sigh and ponder cancelling their direct debits.

Anyway, here’s some thinking about where beer geeks stand in relationship to CAMRA and keg beer. We haven’t numbered the boxes this time, so apologies to those who like to label themselves. (But we’re in the fifth box down.)

UPDATE: changed the diagram. Better?

Attempt to map attitudes to keg beer against CAMRA membership.

We’ll get bored of these graphics soon. Probably. Maybe.

We will never taste what you taste

There are some champions of cask ale (quite a few) who truly seem baffled by how people can be at all impressed by kegged or bottled beer. They are no doubt sincere in finding cask ale a superior tasting product in almost every instance.

To that group of people, hearing us and others say that, occasionally, we prefer the kegged or bottled version of a beer, and that we frequently enjoy kegged beers, must seem irritating in the extreme.

In fact, they must feel pretty much how we do when we hear people say they “just can’t taste skunking“.

There’s a fundamental lack of mutual understanding which, unfortunately, could probably only be solved by a temporary swapping of tastebuds.

Note: there are also a large number of cask ale fanatics who are just awkward sods with a fondness for rigid rules and correcting people. That’s not who we’re talking about.

Wild Hop: what a corker

We’re always delighted to try new beers from Crouch Vale, the hop-happy Essex brewery. So far, they’ve never let us down. The worst we could say of any of those we’ve tried is that the beers they make with the highest alpha American hops are sometimes too grassy for our taste but, even then, they’ve always been drinkable and interesting.

We really can’t say enough good things about Wild Hop, though. After some recent pondering on the use of hedgerow hops in brewing (we’ve got a load in the freezer), the pump clip caught our eye immediately on a recent trip to Cask in Pimlico.

The pale yellow pint was served little colder than usual (fine with us) and with a thick white head. It is one of those beers which tastes like two in one. First, a rather flowery, soft, sweetish beer which is all about the hops; then, a few moments later, up pops a whole load of really satisfying, back-of-the-throat malty bite. It’s a really solid, cereal, rye-cracker flavour which, yes, makes you thirsty.

Sadly, it was one pint only — we had the last two from the cask. We will be hunting this down again next year.

Schlenkerla Helles

Last year, we met up with Ron Pattinson in Cask and spent a few hours discussing Franconia, East Germany and His Big Book. Ron spotted Schlenkerla Helles in the fridge and recommended it.

We’d not tried it before and loved it. There is no smoked malt in the beer but, being brewed in the same building and with the same equipment as their darker smoked beers, it can’t help but pick up a bit of smokiness.

We never got round to writing this up and, in the months since then, we haven’t seen it on sale in Cask. Our favourite London pub has recently, however, even further expanded it’s beer selection and the Helles has popped up again so were able to enjoy a couple of bottles this week.

In fact, if you’re a fan of Rauchbier, Cask now has several different varieties on offer, in addition to the usual suspects from Schlenkerla.