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%.