Q&A: What Was the First Kegged Craft Beer?

What was the first kegged “craft”? Freehouses had keg lines – something must have been number one.’ Paul, Edinburgh (@CanIgetaP)

Bai­ley has recent­ly been read­ing What Was the First Rock­’N’Roll Record? by Jim Daw­son and Steve Propes. Rather than declare an answer it puts for­ward a list of 50 can­di­dates from 1944 to 1956 and explains the claim each has to the title. We’re going to steal that approach.

Watney's Red Barrel (detail from beer mat).

1. Wat­ney’s Red Bar­rel, Lon­don, 1931.
Wait, bear with us! It was the first keg bit­ter, full stop, and when it first emerged was a well-regard­ed export qual­i­ty beer. We’ve tast­ed a clone of a 1960s ver­sion and it was bet­ter than some keg red or amber ales cur­rent­ly being put out by larg­er brew­eries through their craft sub-brands.

1970s photograph of two men in horn-rimmed glasses inspecting beer.
Tom­my Mar­ling takes the tem­per­a­ture of draught Guin­ness watched by Mr Bill Steggle, licensee of the Cock at Headley near Epsom. SOURCE: Guin­ness Time.

2. Draught Guin­ness, 1958.
Please con­tin­ue to bear with us. In the mid-20th Cen­tu­ry draught Guin­ness was a super-hip beer and appar­ent­ly very tasty, but hard to find. Tech­ni­cians at the brew­ery worked out a way to reli­ably dis­pense it from one ves­sel with a creamy head and it went on to take over the world. It was brewed in both Dublin and Lon­don. CAMRA vet­er­an Bar­rie Pep­per is once report­ed to have said that if all keg beer had been as good as draught Guin­ness CAMRA would nev­er have got off the ground.

a. Ger­man and Bel­gian beers began to appear more fre­quent­ly in Britain at the end of the 1970s, usu­al­ly  bot­tled, but occa­sion­al­ly on draught. In the mid-1980s Sean Franklin at Roost­er’s and Peter Austin at Ring­wood con­sid­ered keg­ging their beers but nei­ther bit the bul­let.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Q&A: What Was the First Kegged Craft Beer?”

The Campaign for Unreal Ale: Deleted Scene

Our first piece for All About Beer magazine, ‘The Campaign for Unreal Ale’, went live this week.

We want­ed to focus on a par­tic­u­lar moment and chal­lenged our­selves, as with the recent piece on Covent Gar­den ’75 in BEER, to use only the words of those involved.

Of course, there’s a bit of a con there: the faux-oral-his­to­ry for­mat implies the absence of an author when, in fact, we’ve select­ed quotes from much longer tran­scripts, based on ques­tions we asked, in order to tell a par­tic­u­lar sto­ry in 1000 words.

By way of addi­tion­al con­text, here’s a bit from Alas­tair Hook we did­n’t use:

[My crit­i­cism of CAMRA in The Grist] didn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly chime with the heart-chords of SIBA mem­bers who were most­ly cask ale brew­ers. In fact, it wound them up.

The late Michael Jack­son told me, ‘Only ever talk good things of beer’, and that’s what I try to do, so, for all their ills, CAMRA have spent decades pro­mot­ing good beer. (I’m just not sure they know what it is.)

I don’t have a prob­lem with CAMRA – I don’t think about it. It’s irrel­e­vant. What was strange was when I gave a talk at the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val but my own beer, from Mean­time, got stopped at the door by some job­sworth who wouldn’t have it on the premis­es because it wasn’t real ale. Isn’t that weird? Absurd.

It’s no won­der that peo­ple are some­times con­fused about Mr Hook’s stance on CAMRA: even though it can sound extreme – ‘the idea that oxy­gen improves beer is just absurd’ – it’s actu­al­ly rather com­plex and, dare we say it, emo­tion­al.

We’ve illus­trat­ed this post with pic­tures of Hook and Hay­don scanned from 1990s copies of The Grist, the copy­right hold­ers of which All About Beer weren’t able to track down. If that’s you, and you’d like us to add a cred­it or remove the image from this post, let us know.

Embracing Keg, Rejecting CAMRA, 1995

In 1995, a handful of Brits were beginning to get excited about American beer and, at the same time, rather irritated by the Campaign for Real Ale.

The Grist began life as, to all intents and pur­pos­es, the mag­a­zine of SIBA, in 1983, under the edi­tor­ship of Elis­a­beth Bak­er. In that incar­na­tion, it focused large­ly on offer­ing tech­ni­cal advice to small brew­ers, and pre-Beer Orders pol­i­cy pro­pa­gan­da.

By 1995, how­ev­er, its ties to that organ­i­sa­tion had been all but sev­ered, and it was being edit­ed by Alas­tair Hook, now best known as the founder of Mean­time, but then head brew­er at Free­dom in West Lon­don. Under his con­trol, and, lat­er, that of his friend Peter Hay­don, The Grist became more con­cerned with per­son­al­i­ties and the pas­sion­ate advo­ca­cy of ‘great beer’.

The Grist, November/December 1995.The November/December 1995 edi­tion (No. 67) gives us a glimpse into a time when more than one influ­en­tial voice was begin­ning to evan­ge­lise about the qual­i­ty of Amer­i­can beer and the ben­e­fits of ‘brew­ery con­di­tion­ing’, while also crit­i­cis­ing the Cam­paign for Real Ale’s dog­ma­tism. From Hook’s edi­to­r­i­al:

[Most Amer­i­can micro­brew­ery] beer is brew­ery con­di­tioned. It might be bot­tled or kegged, but always cold matured and fil­tered. The Amer­i­can micros know that with­out a con­sis­tent prod­uct there is no busi­ness… For hun­dreds of UK micros who fight to sur­vive in a fierce­ly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket, pro­duc­ing beer that by its very nature is dif­fi­cult to han­dle, the role of CAMRA is crit­i­cal. It strikes me that unless CAM­RA’s non­sen­si­cal oppo­si­tion to the cask breather and blan­ket oppo­si­tion to brew­ery-con­di­tioned beers is reversed, the micro­brew­ing indus­try will suf­fer chron­i­cal­ly. The irony is that the micros are, after all, the great­est agent for the change and choice that CAMRA claim to desire.

Else­where in the same issue, Mark Dor­ber, then man­ag­er of the White Horse, also in West Lon­don, gave an account of the Great Amer­i­can Beer Fes­ti­val XIV:

A tra­di­tion unen­cum­bered by the ide­o­log­i­cal bag­gage of our ‘real ale’ move­ment appre­ci­ates qual­i­ty in terms of flavour and absence of faults, as it should… Vibrant flavours stood out in many of the beers judged and sam­pled. (Alas, much of the UK brew­ing indus­try, by con­trast, seems reluc­tant to offend any por­tion of the beer mar­ket with its bland {aka ‘bal­anced’} beers.)

A third arti­cle by Kei­th Lar­ic (a pseu­do­nym?) in the same issue lays into CAM­RA’s ‘Cask Breather Hypocrisy’: “Per­haps we need to be less insu­lar, and to look at the best Euro­pean and Amer­i­can tra­di­tions as well.”

Just to make sure the point was absolute­ly ham­mered home, Hook also gave over two-and-a-half pages to a piece on his own brew­ery ven­ture, writ­ten by Peter Hay­don, who said:

The Amer­i­can micro­brew­ers were not able to pro­duce cask con­di­tioned beers when their rev­o­lu­tion start­ed. They pro­duced keg beers of star­tling qual­i­ty and sophis­ti­ca­tion that real­ly deserve a dif­fer­ent appel­la­tion. If a keg beer is pro­duced by a brew­er who wants to pro­duce good, excit­ing beer, then there is no rea­son why such a beer can­not be pro­duced… Keg beer is only bad when it is pro­duced by accoun­tants, or when it is mas­querad­ing as some­thing else.

OK, we get the mes­sage!

Though the term ‘craft beer’ does not appear once in any of the arti­cles – Hook uses the term (brace your­selves) “gourmet beer” – this par­tic­u­lar issue of The Grist sug­gests that the idea of a ‘third way’ that was nei­ther ‘indus­tri­al fizz’ nor ‘real ale’ was ful­ly formed by the mid­dle of the 90s.