QUICK ONE: BrewDog and Real Ale

BrewDog has just announced LIVE beer (their capitalisation) – a version of their session-strength Dead Pony Club packaged with live yeast and conditioned in the keg.

Of course they are oblig­ed to present it as a great break­through, and deny that it’s any­thing like CAMRA approved real ale, for the sake of pride, just as CAMRA could only grudg­ing­ly approve of cer­tain keg beers after much soul-search­ing. (See Chap­ter 14 of Brew Bri­tan­nia for more on that.)

Live beer being poured.
SOURCE: Brew­Dog. Pho­to by Grant Ander­son.

The thing is, quite apart from the fact we’ve been hear­ing gos­sip about this for months – tales of Mar­tin Dick­ie and team earnest­ly study­ing cask ales with note­books in hand in Scot­tish pubs, a false rumour of cask ale’s immi­nent rein­state­ment at cer­tain Brew­Dog bars – it was inevitable Brew­Dog would do some­thing with live yeast at some point.

Imag­ine the pick­le they’ve been in since they made a big deal of drop­ping cask half a decade ago just as Amer­i­can brew­ers decide it’s the cut­ting edge of alter­na­tive beer cul­ture.

Imag­ine how annoy­ing it must be to know, in your heart of hearts, that beers with live yeast are inter­est­ing, are a part of tra­di­tion with a com­pelling sto­ry, are the beer equiv­a­lent of stinky cheese and sour­dough bread, but that you’ve made it a point of prin­ci­ple not to do it in large part because your ‘brand val­ues’ (mod­ern, hip) are at odds with the Cam­paign for Real Ale’s (tra­di­tion­al, cur­mud­geon­ly), as well as for con­ve­nience. Not very ‘craft’.

Now CAMRA are find­ing a way to live with kegs (of a sort), and Brew­Dog are find­ing a way to live with real ale (of a sort), is it too soon to start dream­ing of demo­bil­i­sa­tion and street par­ties? And might we see a Brew­Dog stand at the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val in 2017?

28 thoughts on “QUICK ONE: BrewDog and Real Ale”

  1. Look­ing for­ward to try­ing it, hope­ful­ly this ver­sion of Dead Pony Club won’t have the usu­al elas­tic band note in the taste.

    PS A sim­i­lar com­ment on BD’s web­site does­n’t appear to have made it through their mod­er­a­tion process.

  2. As Tiny Rebel were adver­tis­ing cask Punk IPA at their fes­ti­val a cou­ple of weeks ago, have they been tri­al­ing this for a while?

    1. Tiny Rebel wrote a blog post about that: it was keg Punk degassed at their end, not by Brew­Dog. There might be more to it than that but it seems unlike­ly.

  3. Pah! Hip­sters and their “dis­cov­er­ies”. It’ll be Elvis Juice on VHS next.

  4. I just hope this pro­motes cask ales in some way (any pub­lic­i­ty is good pub­lic­i­ty?). I’d kill to have access to more cask ales out here in Berlin.

    Does CAMRA even sup­port cask ales out­side of the UK? They should pro­mote cask ale glo­ry world­wide, rather than strug­gle with their image at home.

    1. CAMRA does not overt­ly pro­mote cask beer out­side the UK as it hopes con­sumer organ­i­sa­tions in a coun­try will pro­mote qual­i­ty beer. Sad­ly, Ger­many does not seem to have an active con­sumer organ­i­sa­tion that http://www.ebcu.org/ is aware of.

  5. The use of the word ‘extra­ne­ous’ in BD’s post might be an olive branch to us beardies.

    Con­di­tion­ing in key-kegs isn’t new but I won­der what mate­r­i­al the kegs are made from. PET is per­me­able to oxy­gen.

    What real­ly inter­ests me is how pres­sure is con­trolled. Unless you know the exact amount of fer­menta­bles before any prim­ing is added you can­not pre­dict the pres­sure. This is where some inno­va­tion must have hap­pened as I’m sure BD don’t want to be send­ing explo­sive devices to their bars.

    I won­der if this ver­sion of Dead Pony Club uses the same yeast as the keg/bottle ver­sion. This post from Thorn­bridge on how dif­fer­ent the approach is to pro­duc­ing cask and keg ver­sions of ‘the same’ beer is good read­ing for beer geeks.


    1. What real­ly inter­ests me is how pres­sure is con­trolled. Unless you know the exact amount of fer­menta­bles before any prim­ing is added you can­not pre­dict the pres­sure. This is where some inno­va­tion must have hap­pened as I’m sure BD don’t want to be send­ing explo­sive devices to their bars.”

      Oth­er brew­eries have been cop­ing with this for a while now… a good brew­er knows his beer and yeast, under­stands his atten­u­a­tion. A real­ly good brew­er also does accel­er­at­ed fer­men­ta­tion tests to ver­i­fy what they think they know.

      It’s been a bit hit-and miss on car­bon­a­tion since the advent of the keg-con­di­tioned-beer craze in the UK. But we’re final­ly get­ting to a point where enough brew­ers have learnt what the hell they’re doing. Still a lot of ran­dom­ness out there, and too few brew­ers can tell me what vol-CO2 their beer is. But we’re get­ting there.

      It should­n’t be so hard… brew­ers have been bot­tle-con­di­tion­ing to non-bot­tle-bomb stan­dards for a very long time 🙂

      To a brew­ery as well edu­cat­ed & equipped as Brew­Dog this is all triv­ial.

  6. Bren­dan Dob­bin in 1990 sold cask con­di­tioned ale with casks emp­tied under nitro­gen from a calor air sep­a­ra­tor to stop oxidation.Eventually CAMRA after furi­ous crit­i­cism accept­ed Bren­dan Dob­bins argu­ment that Nitro­gen is sim­ply fil­tered air.Brendan hat­ed isin­glass as it absorbs hop aro­ma and aro­mat­ic hop flavour.

    I am Bren­dans son and I have been drink­ing my dad’s famous beers in our garage served from kegs, keg con­di­tioned and pushed with CO2 through a cool­er.

    We always say the best beer in Eng­land is in Ire­land in our flip­ping garage!

    Noth­ing new from Brew dog here,they were beat­en to the post again

    1. I’ve had a few run-ins with the fun­da­men­tal­ists on this (cask breathers etc). The idea that there is good CO2 and bad CO2 for instance.

      As air is 78ish % nitro­gen and nitro­gen is inert (sort of) there is no ratio­nal argu­ment for not using it. The insis­tence that beer must be exposed to oxy­gen (as well as bugs and micro-flo­ra) while its being served is bonkers. But rules is rules.

    2. Your dad brewed the best beers I ever remember!its s shame peo­ple can’t get access to them the Sier­ra Neva­da and Esb were par­tic­u­lar favourites I even got a bar­rel of Esb for my birth­day one year!!!!!

  7. So… in prac­ti­cal terms here we have a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment. I am in favour of this as it may step us towards fur­ther improve­ments in dis­pense. (From the cur­rent state in the UK prac­ti­cal­ly any­thing is an improve­ment mind you.)

    As far as I can see the only vague­ly edgy thing here is serv­ing modern/craft keg beer at 9.5C via a sparkler.

    Modern/craft keg beer at 1.3 vol CO2 that is fer­ment­ed in-keg with­out addi­tion­al yeast isn’t unheard-of. Most want a high­er carb lev­el. A few pre­fer low­er carb lev­els… I’ve actu­al­ly had to advise brew­eries to keep them high­er, at least 1.8 vol CO2 because any­thing low­er presents as flat via stan­dard UK keg dis­pense due to low tem­per­a­tures. (Those try­ing keg con­di­tion­ing for the first time often give kegs the same tar­get as casks… whilst real­ly they need a lit­tle more attenuation/priming for a high­er carb lev­el.)

    Which is where 9.5C comes in. High­er tem­per­a­ture means the CO2 can break out of solu­tion and the beer does­n’t look flat. This is also not an inno­va­tion – “keg ale” prod­ucts have been dis­pensed around this tem­per­a­ture since they began. I’ve a tech­ni­cal brand matrix for con­fig­ur­ing keg sys­tems for main­stream beers and much of the smooth/creamflow stuff is to be dis­pensed any­where between 7C and 13C (each beer has its own range, with 7C-9C being modal.) And we all know that on these sorts of beers a “sparkler” or restric­tor-plate is pret­ty much stan­dard.

    So we have keg bit­ter… that just hap­pens to fit the def­i­n­i­tion of “real ale”.

    Espe­cial­ly in the eyes of dirty north­ern­ers and their sparklin’ ways. 😉

    Now, I said I do like the con­cept. But even seek­ing the dev­il in the detail I can­not see what is ground­break­ing here. This has def­i­nite­ly been done before, albeit not wide­ly deployed. I do won­der what they’ve patent­ed… know­ing patents it’ll prob­a­bly be some details of process regard­ing their cen­trifuge. Which will be by the by for most brew­ers who can’t afford such toys.

    Per­haps the ground­break­ing thing is get­ting the con­cept into more peo­ple’s faces. I would wel­come pub­li­cans com­ing to me and ask­ing how they can dis­pense keg a bit warmer. This is not a tech­ni­cal­ly hard thing to do – find­ing beer to suit would be dif­fi­cult, unless there’s a mar­ket in this micro­brew­eries start cater­ing for.

    It’s an intrigu­ing devel­op­ment. But alas with the reek of dog­gie poo rhetoric rubbed all over which taints the whole thing alas. (Of course most peo­ple won’t care, and Brew­Dog pun­ters will lap it up… and like I’ve already implied I do hope it is a suc­cess… diver­si­ty in beer is what I am all about.)

    1. Fas­ci­nat­ing detail about the inter­ac­tion between tem­per­a­ture & car­bon­a­tion (and pres­sure?). Always inter­est­ing to hear from peo­ple who know things!

  8. Now CAMRA are find­ing a way to live with kegs (of a sort), and Brew­Dog are find­ing a way to live with real ale (of a sort)

    To put it less con­fus­ing­ly, CAMRA has acknowl­edged that some kegged beers pass its def­i­n­i­tion of ‘real ale’, and BD is start­ing to serve kegged beers that pass CAM­RA’s def­i­n­i­tion of ‘real ale’ – although they’re rather late to the par­ty.

    If any­one’s going to a BD bar tonight, maybe they could print off some “CAMRA says this is Real Ale” pump tags and take them along – I’m sure they’d be glad to put them on.

    1. Unlike­ly, Cam­ra is such a tox­ic brand with any­one under 40 that any bar or dis­trib­u­tor with that age group as his tar­get mar­ket would be nuts to want to asso­ciate with them in any way.

        1. I don’t think its par­tic­u­lar­ly fun­ny. Thou­sands of pubs have these “CAMRA approved” signs, and thou­sands of pubs go bust every year.

  9. I have no issues with this but as Liam above notes, cask-con­di­tioned beer has occurred before in the Key-Keg, and I under­stand CAMRA was good with it.

    What is new about this process? Also, isn’t it like bot­tle-con­di­tioned beer, basi­cal­ly?

    (By the way, I don not accept that ingress of oxy­gen is bad. Some believe it con­tributes to the char­ac­ter of real ale. The prob­lem is in prac­tice the dis­pense usu­al­ly isn’t fast enough and the beer starts to dete­ri­o­rate. But by exclud­ing it under all cir­cum­stances, I think you could be los­ing some­thing too. Just say­ing).


    1. They specif­i­cal­ly say it is dif­fer­ent to bot­tle-con­di­tion­ing. But the only rea­sons they give are the low­er CO2 and yeast seed­ing. Both of which are bol­locks points. There’s plen­ty of low-carb bot­tled beer, and loads of brew­eries don’t re-seed yeast (most prob­a­bly don’t.) And I’m real­ly not sure what the actu­al prob­lem with re-seed­ing would be, they seem to paint it as a bad thing. (Unless they mean like Marstons… where beer is ster­ilised, before being primed and re-seed­ed for cask… ick.)

      So no… it’s no dif­fer­ent real­ly. Aside from their claim of some patentable “spe­cial sauce” which will be about some details of process and fair­ly irrel­e­vant.

      The main dif­fer­ence is the dis­pense CO2, tem­per­a­ture and method is more like cask than like we nor­mal­ly expe­ri­ence with keg. And obvi­ous­ly you can­not sparkle a bot­tled beer. (Now wait­ing for some­one to explain that is can be done… yet, I’m sure it can.) Any­way, it’s inter­est­ing… but will it rev­o­lu­tionise any­thing?

      (In brew­ing O2/oxidation are fair­ly uni­ver­sal­ly con­sid­ered to be bad for fin­ished beer.

      Per­son­al­ly I abhor oxi­da­tion in a beer – but am hap­py to con­sid­er it a mat­ter of taste. I know folk who like noth­ing bet­ter than a cask of stout on its fifth day. Which I find undrink­able. But a fresh cask served under 48 hours should not exhib­it any­thing much by way of oxi­da­tion if well man­aged because there is vir­tu­al­ly zero O2 inter­ac­tion with the beer, which is dis­plac­ing air with CO2 exit­ing the beer.)

      1. Thanks, Yvan very inter­est­ing. I do feel min­i­mal oxy­gen does some­thing for cask and this explains its inef­fa­ble char­ac­ter.

        In con­trast, cask breather pre­cludes it but may lose some­thing in the process. The same may apply to Key-Keg cask, but we’ll have to await fur­ther reports.

        Final­ly, I dis­count the high­er CO2 of bot­tle-con­di­tioned beer because you can pour it and/or shake it in the glass to get the car­bon­a­tion you like. It always amazes me how peo­ple (I’m not say­ing you) sim­ply accept car­bon­a­tion in any glass of beer. Easy to fix by swirling, decant­i­ng, where there is too much of course. Where there is too lit­tle, that’s dif­fer­ent. 🙂


    1. Accord­ing to that arti­cle LIVE beer isn’t cask-con­di­tioned – because it’s bet­ter than that. Yeah, right, what­ev­er, do car­ry on and don’t mind us peo­ple who think words have actu­al mean­ings…

    2. That site is just awful. And they are con­stant­ly spam­ming beer groups on face­book so I’d ignore any­thing they had to say.

  10. As always it is a plea­sure to read Yvan’s excel­lent dis­cours­es on beer dis­pense. He talks sense and should be lis­tened to. He is around the top of the list of beery peo­ple I’d like to have a pint with.

    As for BD? Late to the par­ty but I like the blog writer’s opti­mism in terms of rap­proche­ment. The jury is out though I sus­pect round the cor­ner is dis­ap­point­ment.

    Oh. And Py? Best remain silent.

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