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Whichever Keg IPA They Have, Please

Keg fonts at a central London pub.

Last Friday in London I went out for a session with one of my oldest friends, someone I’ve known since we were both 11-years-old, and was frankly a bit startled when he ordered a pint of BrewDog Punk IPA.

The thing is, as long as we’ve been going to the pub together (about 20 years) I’ve known him as a Guinness drinker. He’d never touch cask-conditioned beer, AKA ‘real ale’ — his fall-back was always lager.

Now, it turns out he’s ditched Guinness and drinks kegged American-style IPA or, at a push, pale ale. (By the pint, by the way — he’s a big lad, my mate, quite capable of drinking ten pints without seeming much the worse for wear, and he likes that these beers are on the strong side, getting him pissed at about the same rate as a little Hobbit like me drinking bitter.)

It’s only one case, of course, but we reckon it says something about (a) the continuing decline in the status of Guinness as The Alternative Beer Brand; (b) the rise of aromatic hoppy beer as a mainstream product and (c) the increasing availability of kegged PA/IPA in non-specialist pubs.

Whether this is good news probably depends on whether you hate Guinness or BrewDog more.

23 replies on “Whichever Keg IPA They Have, Please”

I can’t help thinking of the anecdote on Page 69 of “Called to the Bar” (which I’m sure you have a copy of) where Tim Amsden reports taking a colleague into a pub around 1970 and, when he asks him what he would like to drink, he replies “Oh, I don’t know. Whatever is their keg.”

The same thing has happened here in Norway: IPA and pale ale are now becoming so mainstream that in a lot of pubs they’re the “default drink”. Interestingly, Norwegian consumers seem to have no idea that there is a difference between IPA and pale ale. In fact, mainstream brewers have now pretty much eroded it entirely, selling 4.5% modestly hopped “IPA”s.

Historically they’re pretty much correct – it seems that in the 1800s brewers might advertise the same beer as Pale Ale, IPA or Bitter, depending on the current fashion, the target market, etc. Plus ça change…

Ha. I sort of did but we were in the middle of talking about something more interesting so I didn’t get a detailed answer. Maybe I’ll send him a link and ask for a statement.

In Ireland where I am from, it is common enough for die hard guinness drinkers to have a back up lager or tipple in locations where the guinness was ‘bad’. As a kegged product guinness should not have that variability, but it does, and Guinness/Diageo have invested a lot in trying to eliminate it. Though I think they have killed the beer in the process. It is getting much harder to find a good pint of it anywhere (even in ireland) and the increasing availability of decent kegged ales is replacing the backup option too.

I’ve noticed it with friends who used to drink premium lager (for 20+ years). They now drink BrewDog / Camden / Kernel, and if these aren’t available go back to Peroni / San Miguel. They would never drink cask Landlord or Jaipur even. Keg IPA has the qualities they have come to associate with beer (cold, liveliness, refreshing) but with a better flavour.

* slightly off topic rant about how a lot of “weird, challenging” craft beers are often actually pretty accessible entry-level drinks compared to (eg) best bitter and how people who tell you the opposite is true are normally people who have spent thirty years acclimatizing themselves to best bitter *

I think that’s true DaveS – I am amazed by the amount of people who describe GKIPA as “accessible”.

Its not accessible at all, it has this weird mouthful-of-soil flavour to it and anyone who isn’t accustomed to it is likely to find absolutely fucking foul. A completely new beer drinker is much more likely to find a sweet, juicy pint of Sierra Nevada an enjoyable and eye-opening introduction to beer.

“Its not accessible at all, it has this weird mouthful-of-soil flavour to it ”

To you.

GK’s own research (or so they told me) suggests novice drinkers do indeed like it a lot.

Personally I find that when it starts OK, by about halfway down it’s decidedly meh, but I’d never call it “unaccessible”

When I was a novice drinker, I liked it — tasted ‘beerier’ and more bitter than the Foster’s I’d been on before but not so much that I couldn’t handle it.

Actually I got the taste for best bitter the first time I drank it (which was in 1976). But it’s certainly true that some beers have been labelled as ‘challenging’ when all they are is ‘very unlike best bitter’. My lightbulb moment came a few years ago, when I offered my OH – who rarely drinks beer – a taste of my Pictish Citra, warning her beforehand that it was pretty extreme stuff. She, of course, thought it was delicious & highly drinkable – she hadn’t been expecting it not to taste of grapefruit. It took me a while to re-educate my tastebuds to catch up, but I did it in the end.

There are plenty of people out there who thoroughly dislike beer (probably because they’ve only been exposed to the real low quality stuff like fosters and GK), but enjoy cider. Something like a saison or a sour might be a great introduction to them, but to more “I know what I like” traditionalist palates may seem “challenging”.

My son started on cider, graduated to Guinness and thence to wine, cocktails and vodka – and don’t say not on the same night I hope, because when he went out with his workmates from the place he worked on his gap year it generally was.

Anyway, I could never interest him in boring brown bitter, or exciting yellow bitter either. But the young scamp has finally found his way to beer – Belgian beer. Tripels all round!

I’m not really bothered about GK IPA vs any other traditional bitter. More about the point that most people who
a) got into real ale at a time when it was largely wall-to-wall traditional bitter and weren’t put off by that and
b) have spent a lot of the time since then drinking traditional bitter
are going to have a slightly skewed perspective on what’s straightforward and unchallenging versus what’s weird and difficult.

And yeah, as per py’s suggestion, we’ve actually got a friend who didn’t like beer because he’d tried any number of traditional ales and not really got on with them, but when we’ve subsequently tried him on some supposedly weird shit we happen to be drinking – imperial stout, gueze, double IPA, whatever – he’s found a lot of it more palatable.

The age profile of GKIPA drinkers is probably higher than any other beer. GK rep informs me that its mainly drunk by the 60 -80 age group, as its the beer that is most reminiscent of the double diamond/old rat botherer of their youth.

You could probably count the number of U40s who drink GKIPA in each pub on one hand. The ubiquity of this and other similarly unpleasant beers is probably one of the leading causes of the steady decline of cask beer sales from the 90’s onwards.

Interesting – will be become bigger than Sierra Nevada at that point and thus no longer qualify as a craft brewery?

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