opinion real ale

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.

12 replies on “We will never taste what you taste”

“there are also a large number of cask ale fanatics who are just awkward sods with a fondness for rigid rules and correcting people”

Indeed, and others who go beyond that to elevate cask- and bottle-conditioning almost to an article of religious faith.

I think there is a basic difference from being impressed by keg beer – or not being – and being impressed with the keg version – or not being – of the same beer normally found on cask. It can be argued that keg beer is best suited to the less everyday drinking stuff, due to its inherent gassiness, though of course UK keg lager does blow a big hole in that argument I readily admit. (But I would say that the two drinking experiences (ale and lager) are different.)

It would be difficult indeed to justify some of the experimental stuff, or some of the way out in strength stuff, as a cask beer, as its turnover is likely to be slow and result in spoiling before the cask is sold.

My point of view is that it is horses for courses and that blind adherence to one or the other, irrespective of circumstance, is unwise. In other words if you enjoy it – good for you whatever it is.

It’s not a matter of whether you enjoy “craft” keg beer, it’s more a matter of whether you enjoy paying the vastly overinflated prices charged for it.

A beer such as Thornbridge Tzara is simply not worth £4.20 a pint, however you try and spin it.

T_i_B — we’ve always said that we’re happy to pay for “a drink” rather than X pence per volume of liquid. If we don’t think it’s good value for money, we won’t pay it, but £2.10 for a half of something interesting/rare/strong doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. Wouldn’t do a session on it at that price, though!

Tandleman/Ben/Curmudgeon — I think we’re in agreement on this: it’s daft to decide what you do or don’t like the taste of based on any kind of rules. (Although prejudices (e.g. the positive effect of nice packaging) can be hard to overcome.)

Ed — you’re with the paramilitary wing of CAMRA these days, aren’t you…

“£2.10 for a half of something interesting/rare/strong doesn’t seem unreasonable to me”

The trouble is that Thornbridge Tzara is not rare, it’s not strong and it’s not even all that interesting. As such I think it’s fair to say that it qualifies as a rip-off. It’s not the only key-keg beer that is sold at rip off prices either.

And what’s more there are only a small number of key-keg beers that tick all three boxes, which leaves the average consumer baulking at the price of such beer and leads me to conclude that unless the cost comes down it will remain a niche product only of interest to rich beer geeks and nobody else.

Pete Brown had quite a good stab at describing the difference between keg and cask a while ago. The idea was roughly that with cask you get a blend of flavours that develops in your mouth, whereas kegging gives you a kind of snapshot of all the separate flavours, which go off in your mouth one after the other. Having tasted 5am Saint on cask & keg (and Zeitgeist on cask and in bottle), I’d pretty much agree with that. I just think the slow-developing-flavour-soup experience is far, far, far superior – in fact it’s what sold me on cask ale in the first place.

Phil — I think I recognise what Pete is describing there and it’s probably why, generally, but not in every case, we do find cask conditioned beer has more zing. I still don’t know exactly why this is, though. Lighter carbonation? Or something to do with the gas being released from suspension more slowly? (Have observed bottles of homebrew pour flat and then develop a lovely head as they settle, whereas ‘fizzy’ beers tend to pour with huge heads and settle down to scum.)

Having said that, I’d imagine (a) some people don’t recognise that difference between cask and keg and (b) wouldn’t necessarily agree that the soup is preferable.

I find it’s a lot easier to lose the hops in a cask beer than keg or bottle. A hop-driven beer designed for cask, but served another way will still have plenty of hop. However, a hop-driven beer designed for keg but served on cask, more often than not seems to come out as biscuity porridge.

Strictly keyboard warrior I think. On a more serious note you’re right that a lot of people do seem to see their personal taste as some objective truth.

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