real ale

Real ale loyalist or a craft keg fanboy?

Imagine you’re out in a strange town which has two pubs.

Pub #1: The King’s Arms

A pub which serves real ale in good condition. On the bar, Greene King IPA, Old Speckled Hen, Courage Best and Marston’s Bitter.

Pub #2: The Red Lion

Sells only kegged beer. On the bar, Thornbridge Chiron, Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted, Fuller’s London Porter and Magic Rock Human Cannonball.

Which pub would you choose?

We’d be in the Red Lion, like a shot.

A week later, you’re in a different town, which also, coincidentally, has just two pubs.

Pub #3: The Bird in Hand

Sells only real ale in good condition. On the bar, Fuller’s London Porter, Thornbridge Kipling, Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold and Acorn Barnsley Bitter.

Pub #4: The Turk’s Head

A pub which sells only kegged beer. On the bar, Brain’s Smooth, Guinness, Wells Bombardier and Greene King IPA.

Which pub would you choose?

We’d be in the Bird in Hand.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that we don’t subscribe to the idea that craft beer is the antithesis of real ale in the UK, and that we hope the conversation doesn’t go any further down the route of keg=good/cask=bad than it already has.

41 replies on “Real ale loyalist or a craft keg fanboy?”

And your point is what exactly? As Mudgie says, the Red Lion would certainly sell at least a couple of “interesting” cask beers as well. I have to say that as an exercise in pointlessness this posting has to take some beating.

John — oh dear, someone’s tired. The point is that dogmatic tribalism is daft. And you should probably just stop reading our blog.

Like John, I’m struggling to see the point of this post, unless it’s to flush out the real ale bigots and point at them.

In your first extremely unlikely scenario, I’d certainly try the Red Lion, but if I was in town for any length of time I’d probably end up propping up the bar in the King’s Arms. I’m not a “real ale loyalist”, if by that you mean someone with a dogmatic commitment to real ale – I don’t generally drink keg because I don’t generally like it. I’m not an anti-keg bigot, either; this isn’t about “chemical fizz” – I’m well aware that keg 5a.m. Saint (say) is a very different animal from the Red Barrel of old. It’s just not an animal I like very much (unlike the cask version, which was fantastic).

Phil — more aimed at the emerging keg bigots. Again, if you find what we write consistently annoying and/or confusing, write us off and read other blogs.

Never mind – I seem to have completely misread the post. (Mind you, so does everyone else, so I’m in good company.) And Robin Turner’s an idiot.

Or possibly put another way. Given the choice between a Brewdog bar or a Greene King pub which one would you choose to satisfy your tastebuds?

Ben — kind of, although we’ve tried to keep this more abstract. In your example, all kinds of stuff other than the beer on offer would come into play. Brewdog have made themselves so objectionable that many people, even if they don’t like Greene King, would rather drink in one of their pubs than a BD bar.

In the second town described above, would James Watt, who “doesn’t like the cask thing” choose The Bird in Hand? We’d hope so, or he’d be drinking bad beer to support his new and perverse keg dogma.

red lion sounds good (but prob bit pricey) but if the lion is full of prats like robin turner im going for a pint of marstons in kings arms!

While it’s sensible to keep The Scottish Brewer out of it, my first thought when I read Mudgie’s comment was “in practice BrewDog bars never have cask, but they might well have all the beers mentioned at the Red Lion”.

I’d warrant that there are other bars that are similar.

That Huffington article is tripe, and I’ve tried to get people not to pay any attention to it already elsewhere. Zealots of any ilk should be ignored.

I like your point. Now here’s another question:

You’re in The Mash Tun. They’ve got Guinness, Greene King IPA and Old Speckled Hen on keg. Bombardier, Ruddles and Spitfire are on cask. What do you drink? (I’d look to the lagers here, even if it’s just the usual…)

Opposite is The Hop Sack. They’ve got Thornbridge Jaipur, Magic Rock High Wire and Dark Star Saison on keg. They’ve got Thornbridge Jaipur, Magic Rock High Wire and Dark Star Saison on cask. What do you drink? (I obviously order a half of everything…)

Mark — in the Mash Tun, probably Spitfire or Bombardier, if they were in good nick, unless there was a really good lager. Boak says she’d have a tomato juice.

In the hop sack, one of each between us.

Ooh! Rattles out of pram time. Nevertheless I’ll keep reading because some of your stuff is quite good.

John — glad to hear it. Now we’re all breakfasted and have had our morning coffees, do you understand why we took “as an exercise in pointlessness this posting has to take some beating” badly?

Well, I still think it’s pretty pointless as I can’t see what you’re trying to do here. Presented with those (highly artificial) scenarios different people will make different choices for all manner of reasons (and in fact I would suggest that the same person might make different choices depending on time, place, mood, company etc). Which gets us where and tells us what exactly? Pointless exercise? Looks like it to me.

OK, one last attempt to explain the point we’re trying to make: no-one ought to be saying “I only ever drink keg” (or, as Brewdog James put it, “I don’t like the cask thing”); and, although many people might generally prefer cask, most people (like us) would choose good keg over bad cask, all other things being equal.

I guess if you don’t see the value in using a hypothesis to explore an issue in the abstract, then a casual, throwaway blogpost (where’s this ‘exercise’?) isn’t going to change your mind.

So all you are trying to say here is no-one ought to say “I only ever drink keg”. That’s it? Right.

Can I also assume then that in your scheme of things Greene King IPA, Old Speckled Hen, Courage Best and Marston’s Bitter are all “bad cask”?

Mark – in the Mash Tun I would (assuming I knew it woudl be well kept)go for the Bombardier (‘cos it’s a beer I happen to like – don’t ask me why, I just do). In the Hop Sack I’d have the Saison on keg (as I think that style of beer presents better that way) and I’d have the other two on cask (ditto).

@Mark I’d go for a spitfire in the first to see if it tastes as remembered. I’d do likewise to yourself in the hop sack, probably going all out beer geek and ordering a half of cask and keg versions at the same time for comparison purposes…though I’ve still not yet had the chance to try Dark Star saison at all!

John — and vice versa, only the hardcore would say “I only ever drink cask” and go for the King’s Arms rather than the Red Lion, all other things being equal.

I don’t think there are many people with an active interest in beer who, at present, would say “I only drink keg”, but Jeff Rosenmeier from Lovibonds seems to be going that way if comments on Tandleman’s blog and Twitter are anything to go by, and that’s what the logical conclusion of Robin Turner’s article seems to be.

As for “bad cask”, we’re using that in a relative sense here, i.e. the King’s Arms cask ales are relatively worse than the keg beers offered in the Red Lion. (Not everyone will agree with that, of course.)

only the hardcore would say “I only ever drink cask”

This is what I don’t get – I’m not a keg-hating bigot, I just don’t like keg. I try a craft keg beer every so often – if I saw a Magic Rock beer on keg (only) I’d try it like a shot – but so far I’ve always been disappointed; the only one that didn’t immediately strike me as too cold & fizzy struck me as rather nasty instead. I’m sure I’ll have a really great brewery-conditioned keg beer one of these days – there are really great brewery-conditioned bottles, after all – but I find it hard to imagine a beer that would actually be better on keg than cask. (That weird ultra-hoppy mild HTDC might be a candidate.)

Phil — but what you sound to us like you’re saying, in this comment and the previous one, is more like: “I’d always drink cask given the choice of a cask beer I like or want to try; I’ll drink keg if that seems a better option on a given occasion; but I probably won’t enjoy it as much as any good cask ale”. Which doesn’t sound that unreasonable or dogmatic.

We can imagine more and more people saying they don’t drink cask because it’s not fizzy enough and too warm, but reckon most of them would actually choose the Bird in Hand in the second scenario above.

“only the hardcore would say “I only ever drink cask” and go for the King’s Arms rather than the Red Lion, all other things being equal.”

You’ll find quite a number in CAMRA who would take precisely that attitude – indeed I (and John Clarke) could name one or two.

I doubt, though, whether outside the beer blogosphere and employees of the likes of BrewDog and Lovibonds you would find many people who claimed to be interested in beer and yet avoided cask on principle. If that was your view you would also find very thin pickings on draught in the vast majority of the on-trade.

Curmudgeon — I don’t doubt that that hardcore exists, but holding that position just seems increasingly barmy.

Are their keg dogmatists? Probably not yet, and we hope it stays that way. People that are starting to make those noises right now we don’t think really mean it and are just kicking against CAMRA.

Y’know I think the likes of James Watt at The Scottish Brewery and Jeff Rosenmeier at Lovibonds probably do mean it.

Al — heh heh — we deliberately left wheat beer, lager and imports out of the equation.

Just back from Manchester and to prove the point in Port Street Beer House I had Dark Star Smoked Porter (cask) plus Mikkeller Sorachi Ace IPA and Thornbridge Mechelen on keg. All excellent. A propos of nothing by the way, the Thornbrideg was an interesting beast – a bit like Hoegaareden woould be if it was clear, 7.4% and a zillion time better.

All of them would be my answer, if a beer is well kept then the first pub I walked into would probably be where I would stay unless service or other customer issues entered into it.

Given the total lack of decent keg in 99% of the pubs I go into I wouldn’t even bother looking at the keg fonts before studying the cask pumps. Until “craft keg” (can’t believe I just typed that) is more common it’s just not worth looking!

Yes, the lack of decent keg beer outside of the major cities is very much worth noting. It should never be forgotten that places such as the Euston Tap are very much the exception rather then the rule.

Maybe somebody should do a review of the Kings Head in Norwich versus a Brewdog bar if we want a more illuminating view on this subject.

I agree with the choices made in the blog. Quality always triumphs irrespective of dispense. ‘Quality’ depends on the individual and their worldview.

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