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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