The Early Days of ‘Craft Keg’

In October 2007, in an article in the Financial Times (13/10, p5), journalist Andrew Jefford considered an exciting new development in British beer: ‘craft keg’.

OK, so he didn’t use that exact phrase, but he did say this:

Spindrift keg font.Anyone who has ever sat and sipped the day away in a craft brewery in the US will have tasted the answer [to poorly kept ale]. Breweries such as Sierra Nevada… produce great ale in keg rather than cask-conditioned format… Keg ales have a tatty reputation in Britain. Why? They have usually been the work of big brewers who have produced timid, bland recipes using cheap ingredients.. The visionary Alastair Hook of the Meantime Brewing Company in London’s Greenwich is the only serious British small brewer to specialise in beers of this sort…

Jefford’s article wasn’t about Meantime, however, but a new beer from the rather conservative and revered Adnams’ of Southwold in Suffolk.

Adnams’ Spindrift hit the market when this blog was about six months old (we don’t recall ever tasting it) and when BrewDog, in operation for less than a year, was still producing ‘real ale’ and bottled beer.

It was trumpeted as a clean-tasting ale for those who preferred lager, with 28 bitterness units, First Gold and Boadicea hops, and pale and wheat malts. It was unpasteurised but sterile-filtered, with 1.8 volumes of CO2 — more than most cask ales, but less than most lagers. Its ABV was 5%, and it sold at £3.50 a pint. (About £4.20 in today’s money.)

Mr Jefford concluded as follows:

I think it could be one of the most significant British beer launches of the new millennium… So bring on the Spindrift. And bring on more competitors, too.

Spindrift did not, in the end, have a huge impact. It almost certainly suffered because, in Jefford’s words, ‘its heretical keg nature means that Spindrift is off the radar for cask-ale fundamentalists’, while the nascent ‘crafterati’ probably found it too timid — more Fuller’s Discovery than Anchor Liberty.

In around 2010 Adnams’ yanked Spindrift from their keg lines and reinvented as a bottled beer in distinctive blue glass, but there are now plenty of ‘posh keg’ beers from all kinds of British breweries, including Adnams’ themselves.

UPDATE: Spindrift is apparently still available on keg but now at 4%.

12 thoughts on “The Early Days of ‘Craft Keg’”

  1. The Three Compasses on Hornsey High Street in North London still has Spindrift on tap, if you wanted to try some next time you’re in town…

  2. I was going to say, every Adnams pub I’ve been in has spindrift on tap. Its nicer than lager, more refreshing than real ale. A good option for a session beer on a summer’s day in the beer garden.

    We’re still IN the “early days” of craft keg, aren’t we? The market has clearly not yet stabilised to a competitive price point. There’s no logical reason why keg should be pricier than cask.

    1. See also: Irish beer blogs complaining about the “cask premium”, complete with knowledgeable commenters explaining patiently that of course cask is going to be dearer…

      (OK, I’ve only seen one blog post matching this description, so ‘beer blogs’ is an overstatement.)

      1. Yeah, it doesn’t really bear up at the bar. Mostly the relative price of beer in any Irish pub will depend on the strength and how many people had to be paid to get it from the brewery to the drinker. Dispense doesn’t really come into it.

  3. Can anyone pinpoint the moment when micro became craft ?
    Because for the life of me I can’t remember anyone complaining that micro-breweries were too expensive.
    Yet,like craft breweries, they produced small batches of often experimental beer but didn’t charge a fiver a pint for them.
    The answer,of course,is Brewdog.
    The bastards.It’s why I loath them with a vengeance.

    1. My OH took me by surprise the other day (oo-er) when she asked, “Since when has the kind of beer you like been trendy?” It’s a good question (and one which our hosts may be able to answer). For as long as there’s been a fashionable ‘bar’ scene (which I’d personally date to 1990) there have been fashionable bars with handpumps, but new bars opening with three or four handpumps, and serving Red Willow & Ticketybrew instead of Pedigree and Bombardier – when did that become the norm?

      1. Prof — the turn from micro to craft is a 1990s thing, really, but people were moaning about the price of beer in CAMRA-friendly pubs in the 70s, Firkins in the 80s, and places like Mash & Air in the 90s.

        Phil — the earliest example of what we’d call a ‘craft beer bar’ was North Bar in Leeds from 1997 — a really cool bar that just happened to have great beer, including cask ale — but it’s really in the lifetime of the blog that they’ve become easy to find outside a few urban centres. When we stumble across a would-be trendy bar with GK IPA or Bombardier, we say, slightly snootily: “Oh, how very 2003!”

        Both — I am obliged at this point to point out that is exactly the kind of territory the latter part of our book covers…

  4. £3.50 even for Adnams seems a touch expensive for 2006/7, bearing in mind I know for a fact in 2005 (May 18th if you’re wondering 😉 ) when I bought two pints of Explorer handed over £5 expecting change and the barman said actually I need another 20p, I was more than just a bit shocked, so shocked I can still remember it nearly a decade later 🙂 this was when you could buy that years Champion beer of britain for about £2.20 a pint.

    not saying it didnt come with a reassuringly premium price, but it wasnt nearly a quid more than even their most expensive cask ales at the time.

    and Id disagree with Py, it wasnt available in every Adnams pub, or even actually widely available in most cask pubs as a general rule, that was the thing about it, you tended to see it in pubs where it competed more alongside lager or smoothflow, or clubs (social/sports/night) and restaurants where there was little chance of cask really surviving that well on low turnovers, and this was the time when Adnams were moving into wine sales,kitchen stores and general distribution of beer they have a number of euro lagers they sell to pubs that may have taken the spot for Spindrift in some places and not in others. it was really trying to find ways of making money through not just being someone who made cask ale.

    so not saying it wasnt in any Adnams pub, I recall it being sold in the Sole Bay Inn, and some of the more middle of nowhere country pubs they had, but I dont remember seeing it in the Lord Nelson for instance or anyway that classed itself as a cask pub, even if it sold keg lager sourced from Adnams, whereas I could guaranteeably find it Newmarket racecourse (probably still can though theyve kegified some of their cask lines now as well there)

    so it was off the radar because it was sold in places that cask ale drinkers didnt tend to visit that much,, then they started bottling it in blue bottles as a kind of relaunch, again I dont remember it being that expensive could pick up 10/12 bottles albeit 330ml for not much more than £12-£15, right around the time they started sponsoring a local football club who I always wondered had something to do with colour (but probably not) but you had these bar fridges full of blue bottles that kind of stood out until Wkd blue sat next to it, and now theyve been relaunched again in brown bottles and I cant say I remember the last time I saw it really, its definately still around but maybe harder to spot as the gigantic pump dispenser has probably gone and the bottles are fairly anonymous.

    but I think they just started experimenting a bit more with their cask ale to fill that gap, and you got Ghost Ship around 2010 which I kind of consider as a son of Spindrift spiritually at least if not much more closer than that, and as I say they kegify some of their cask beers for some places, and now with Jack Brand kegging it up as well, theres not much room for Spindrift anymore.

  5. I drank a pint in Gatwick airport recently and hated it. Little to no flavour but with none of the crispness of a good lager.

    They took the worst elements of both and produced something less than the sum of the parts.

  6. “Craft” does not really overtake ” micro” as the dominant adjective until around 2004 or so. The co-exist for a few years. Likely a product of a Beer Association executive subcommittee around 2001 well before they were scraping the bottom of the barrel for “crafty”!

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