Saturday 13 November 2010

Time to get serious

The latest round of whinging on about CAMRA in the world of internet beer nerdery lead me to post a fundamentalist rant of my own. Slightly surprisingly one of the comments my rant received was asking a serious question so I thought I'd better do a more serious post.

Jason Stevenson of Lovibonds brewery asked "Why do you assume that because beer is in a keg it somehow has to be filtered or pasteurised?". Elsewhere Jeff Rosenmeier of Lovibond's has said that it is a myth perpetuated by CAMRA that keg beer is filtered and pasteruised. 

Now at the simplest level kegs are cylinder shaped draught beer containers. In theory they could be filled with whatever you like, you could fill them with engine oil if you wanted to. Sticking with beer though, according to Lewis and Young in the standard industry text book Brewing: "A major change in brewing technology was the filtration and pasteurization of the beer in the brewery and packaging under pressure of carbon dioxide into metal kegs." 

CAMRA was formed in reaction against this change to keg beer, and in defence of unfiltered and unpasteruised cask beer or real ale as they define it.

People from Lovibond's have said that they neither filter or pasteruise their keg beers, but this is not what kegs were designed for and must surely be a rarity. Even if other breweries apart from Lovibonds make unfiltered and unpasteruised keg beer I'd be very surprised if production topped 10,000 barrels a year.  

Over 13 million barrels of keg beer are sold in the UK each year, so according to my estimate over 99.9% of keg beer in the UK is filtered.  So that's why I assume keg beer is filtered or pasteurised, not because of some CAMRA myth, but because 999 times out of a 1000 I'd be right.


  1. I'm all up for keg, and cask, i think they both have important input for beer. Look at thornbridge and jaipur. I'm more of a fan of that beer in the bottle, i think the cask version has a little something to it i'm not a fan of (maybe texture or carbonation). I've not tried there keg yet (if it's out now) but i think i'd enjoy it more than cask.

  2. "CAMRA was formed in reaction against this change to keg beer, and in defence of unfiltered and unpasteurised cask beer or real ale as they define it."

    Well, no, Camra was formed to fight for tasty beer. The founders knew little more about dispense methods and the rest than the average drinker in the pub. They quickly attracted thousands also fed up with crap beer, who included people who DID know about the technical details of beer production and dispense, and who ensured that Camra's rules declared that tasty beer was incompatible with certain storage, handling and dispense methods. Camra was also founded six years before Michael Jackson wrote the World Guide to Beer, and informed British (and American) beer drinkers of what lay beyond their insular concerns. The argument now is whether, 40 years on, the attitudes CAMRA took in its earliest days, when cask ale really did seem under threat of death, are compatible with the beer world of the 2010s. Nobody's arguing for the return of Watney's Red Barrel, however.

    I was interested in your description of "internet beer nerdery" - I just checked, and of the 17 commentators on my contribution to the argument over at the Zythophile blog whose views could be assessed as "pro" or "anti", 11 were "pro" (including all the other four or five brewers who commented) and the six "antis" included four of the leading members of the UK beer blogging fraternity – yourself, Tyson, Barm and Tandleman. So Camra appears to have some pretty heavyweight internet support on the "Stalinist" side of the argument, if I may be so rude as to call it that.

  3. the "Stalinist" side of the argument, if I may be so rude as to call it that

    Why certainly, as long as we can call your side of the argument the Side Of The Argument That Smells Of Wee.

    Seriously, Martyn - *what*? "Stalinist" in what sense? This just seems like random name-calling.

  4. Whilst (according you your facts) 99.9% of kegged beer is filtered and or pasteurised this does mean that every keg of beer is!!

    expanding your logic, according to the ONS the population of the UK in 2009 was 61.8 million less than 0.01 percent of the population committed a 'key offence' therefore we can abolish the courts and remove the criminal justice system.... because clearly crime is an irrelevance statistic!!

    And this is our "major issue" with this whole debate, CAMRA are a respected "authority" on beer in the UK, well at least as far as the general public are concerned and when their website has such statements about Keg beer:

    Stating that kegged beer is fizzy filtered/pasteurised muck that is served cold to disguise the taste or lack of it!!

    The public take that as gospel!!!

    This is not the case as you have shown, however it leads to the more radical and uneducated members of CAMRA actually campaigning against our business because we are doing something immoral!!!

    Our aim is to make and sell great tasting and diverse beers, you would not think this would make us heretics but apparently it does!!

    All we want is for CAMRA to acknowledge that their sweeping statements are no longer true, times have changed and things have moved on from the 70's.

    CAMRA should respect the wishes of the brewer and their choice of dispense methods. I am not saying that they need to support us, or even support keg, but just acknowledge the elephant in the room.

    If this happened maybe the more radical members of CAMRA would accept us for what we are, leave us alone and start focusing their efforts on things that do matter like the pub tie.

    We are not the thin end of any wedge we are 0.1% of an great industry, we are not heretics, we don't try and turn other brewers to the dark side!!


  5. Ghost Drinker: The one bottle of jaipur I had was a bit flat, so dare I it say it a bit more extraneous CO2 wouldn't have gone amiss!

    Martyn: I wasn't at the founding meeting of CAMRA but I think it's reasonable to say that from a very early stage they have been anti-keg and pro-cask.

    It's interesting your use of the word 'Stalinist' as it's my fellow beer nerds whinging on about CAMRA as if it's some sort of totalitarian organisation whose members blindly follow the letter of the law and impose it on the beer industry that gets on my tits. Pete Brown whinged on about CAMRA and cask breathers but lets face it the vast majority of times if cask breathers are being used no one but the publican will know and it won't make a blind bit of difference to anyone. And even if people do know cask breathers are being used the ultimate sanction that CAMRA have is to not list that beer in a Good Beer Guide entry. It's hardly like they send the KGB round is it?

    Jason: In the terms of my fundamentalist rant you are undoubtedly a heretic but this is my serious post so I'll move swiftly on.

    If you accept that 99.9% of kegged beer is 'fizzy filtered/pasteurised muck that is served cold to disguise the taste or lack of it' then it's a very good rule of thumb to avoid keg beer like the plague. Now again, if this is taken to absurb lengths you could end up drinking cloudy vinegar instead of a better keg beer but even amongst CAMRA members I think this would be a pretty rare occurance.

    I don't see 'proper real keg' as an elephant in the room, more a mouse in the corner. I'd be happy to see CAMRA find a way of accommodating it and CAMRA members that campaign against you are being plonkers but it doesn't alter the fact that 99.9% of the time CAMRA are right.

  6. Blimey, looks like I'll have to pulp this blog now...

  7. Ed,

    My original comments were based on the fact that our business is based upon that 0.1%, and we need to speak up against the misconception that All keg beer is the same.

    A small acknowledged from CAMRA on their website and to their membership that things have moved on since the 70's and albeit small percentage of cases this may not be the case would be a start even adding "in general" to their keg statement would be a start.

    When we host meet the brewer type events we often find the cask argument can to a small degree overtake the event, that is until the beer silences the critics!

    This however is not limited to a tiny percentage of CAMRA members as some have suggested and can often be at a level where you would think CAMRA had issued a fatwa against Lovibonds...

    I am often at the sharp end of these vitriolic attacks, and have developed an adversity to sweeping statements that are not correct hence the original statement.

    On average I would say 20 new customers walk into our tasting room in a weekend, 2 of these will walk out without even trying our beer because we don't use hand pumps!!

    If we use that as a general rule of thumb, that's 10% of the general public that fall into your "cloudy vinegar" drinker not as rare an occurrence as you suggest.

    This category have been so brainwashed that they are prepared to cut off their nose to spite their face, and "preach" to their friends about the evils of Keg without even trying it!!


  8. If you're seeing two people a week like that I can see why you get annoyed, but I'd be very surprised if it's 10% of the general public. Maybe it's time I had a poll...

  9. Jason - I've been looking at the Lovibond's Web site for information about why you keg your beer, but found nothing; the fact that your draught beer is keg rather than cask isn't even mentioned.

    Ed - Curmudgeon had a poll on "craft keg" a bit back. I was one of the minority who said they probably wouldn't drink it - BUT (it's a big but) if I walked into the Lovibonds "tasting room", found everything was on keg and had it explained to me why that was I certainly wouldn't turn round and walk out.

    So Jason (again), instead of repeatedly complaining that your version of keg beer is being unfairly ignored, maybe you could tell us more about why your beer is on keg, and for that matter what you mean by 'keg' - if you haven't filtered or pasteurised the beer, presumably there is some secondary fermentation going on in those kegs (perhaps rather slowly).

  10. We don’t mention it on our web site as we prefer to let the beers speak for themselves rather than make a big song and dance about the method of dispense. Ironic I know given the nature of this debate!!

    Once our beer is brewed it goes into conditioning tanks where it is cold conditioned at 2 degrees for about a week this allows the yeast to flocculate and drop from the beer leaving it bright, however as we are not filtering there is some yeast left and in theory if we added sugar it would be capable of fermentation albeit slow, although adding sugar to our beer is not something we would welcome.

    Jeff being American was clearly influenced by the craft brewing revolution, and I have been influenced by my years of travelling abroad with work, both of us were often disappointed when we would order a beer only to send it back because it was off also by the limited choice that is often available in most local pubs that have sadly gone down the gastro pub route.

    Why was it off, poor cellar management mainly but a lot of times down to the fact that a lot of places can just not serve cask ale without incurring lots of ullage, and therefore would not, this meant that lots of places that would like to offer great beers to their customers small hotels and restaurants that simply don’t have the turnover to serve cask.

    The change really came when Jeff went into the only freehouse in Henley to have a pint of his beer only to find it was off after 3 days this came as a shock to him as his beer at home kept for far longer in Kegs. From that point we went with keg and never looked back, our 6 firkins sit in a corner and we use one a year, which we supply to Andrew Lovibond (last of the Lovibonds family to work for the original business) who takes it for his local Ale and Steam festival.

    We serve our beer in 20l kegs (currently Cornelius kegs just changing to a Franke keg) our beer does not have a great shelf life but keeping the volume small ensures a quick turn around and suits the majority of our customers. It allows them to sell great beer without the ullage problem and without it spoiling. Although served with top pressure we are very careful to balance the system to ensure the beer does not become over-carbonated.

    End of part one....

  11. Part Two...

    We like to think we make and sell a premium product and as we have doubled production but still struggle to keep up with demand our customers seem to agree. Ensuring that the customer receives a quality pint every time is one of the corner stone’s of our business, to this length we even clean some of our customers lines and manage their cellars on their behalf.

    I would say at least 50% of our customers are not people who would traditionally drink “real ale” and if we can help to educate the British public away from the notion that there are three types of beer available Lager, Bitter and Guinness, then all the better. As well as our four main beers we also produce special barrel reserve beers and even homage to Gueuze. We do not expect that everyone will like every one of our beers but we hope that they will find one that suits them.

    A lot of our customers are <35 and have experienced some great continental beer on their travels, when they return home they have become educated enough to know that Budweiser is not really the “king of beers” but equally would not want to drink mild. If anything we are actually encouraging the younger generation away from the wonderful world of inbev and over to the side of Craft Quality beer, something with flavour, complicity and depth brewed with passion and care where quality is held in reverence above all else, surely this can’t be such a bad thing?

    I fear that you would be part of that 10% because we explain our beers as we take people through them, and as the 10 % have more than often made up their mind before they have even tried the beer or asked us about it, we don’t even get the chance to explain our position.
    If yourself or anyone reading this blog would like a tutored tasting through our beers I would be happy to indulduge you, just drop me an email and let me know when you wanted to come down I will happily take you through our beers the thoughts and process behind them even their food parings. And would gladly welcome your feedback on our product.

    Regards, Jason.

  12. Thanks Phil, the poll does the job pretty well with hardcore anti-kegism at 5% of beer nerds, which seems about right to me. And good point about the Lovibonds website, the FAQ seems to miss out the most Frequently Asked Question!

  13. Thanks, Jason - very informative. This may be a silly question, but what temperature do your beers generally come out of the tap?

    I fear that you would be part of that 10%

    The 10% that turns and walks out? I certainly hope not. It would depend how long an answer I got when I asked if you had anything on hand-pump - a flat 'No' would just make me think you were serving... well, keg.

  14. Phil, Our beers are served between 2-7 degrees depending on the beer, our biggest problem being this time of year sometimes the beer can be too cold in the tasting room. It is in a "barn" and we can't always heat it up. Although we do say to people to heat their beer up in their hands to get release the flavour.

    I would hope that no one would ever just get a "flat No" but an explanation as to why we do what we do and an offer to try the beer and make up your own mind.

    The first question you should be asked is "have you tried our beers before?" if the answer to that is no, the next sentence you should hear is "well lets correct that for a start"

    We often get ladies that come in with their husbands/partners when we offer them a tasting they say "oh no I don't like beer" our answer to that is that they just haven't found a beer that they like yet. Once they try them the response that mainly comes back is "oh actually that quiet nice!!"

    We encourage everyone to try our beers and make up their own mind, Jeff and I are not there all of the time especially at the weekends and we work hard training staff so that they will be able to answer most questions.

    However if someone was making a special trip to see us and email us before we would be happy where possible to make ourselves available for a chat.


  15. This is quite a fascinating discussion, but I'd like to ask one question of Jason. It is this:

    Why does CAMRA need to promote the possibility of good British brewed keg when there is so little of it around, that those reading the statement would have severe difficulty in finding it and given the percentages, be more likely to be mislead by a qualifying statement about the nature of keg beer, than by a more general one, which is likely to be true in 99.9% of cases?

    If I'm ever in Henley on Thames, I'll let you know!

  16. CAMRA don't need to promote anything, we are not and have never asked for their support, or their ok to brew and sell our beer the way we want to.

    All I am saying is not all Keg beer is bad and although it may be a small percentage that is good, it is still a percentage and therefore people should not put out statements stating that all keg beer is the same. That is like saying that all cask beer is great because it is in a cask, and we all know that is not the case...

    As above we would be really happy if people put a caveat of "in general" or "most" before slating kegs.

  17. Sorry Jason. I'll happily downgrade "promote" to "mention" if that helps, but the premise is the same.

    You point about some cask being poor is music to my ears. People don't say that often enough. I bang on about it all the time. CAMRA could do a lot more to promote (that word again) quality. It isn't always the pub that buggers the beer up.

    I kind of agree though that the para on cask from the main CAMRA site could do with being updated. I might just suggest it.

  18. I just don't think CAMRA or anyone should have statements on their web sites that are incorrect, no matter how small the percentage.

    As above adding an "in general" or "most" to their statement would not mislead anyone, it would just correct an incorrect statement.

    It is this type of statement that leads to people quoting it back to us as the Law or is part of the Reinheitsgebot !!! Telling us it is impossible to do what we do and our beer must be filtered or pasteurised and is "dead" because CAMRA say so.

    This leads to people actively campaigning against us because CAMRA say what we are doing is impossible and no matter how we explain it they simply don't believe us because CAMRA the UK authority on beer says so.

    I don't care if people don't drink our beer because it comes out of a keg, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I would also not be so conceited to think that everyone who does try it will like it.

    However when people take a stance against us, and talk negatively about us without even trying our beer because an organisation says something that is untrue, now that I have a problem with..

    And when I see it repeated on bloggs I will attempt to correct this misconception.


  19. Sorry, I'm seven months late responding here, but "Stalinist - sticking rigidly to the party line, and unwilling to accept criticism or the possibility of alternative viewpoints".

  20. It's a simple fact that the vast majority of keg is either filtered and pasterurised or sterile filtered.

    And the reason I'm not too bothered about the tiny minority of 'craft' keg beer is not due to me toeing some party line. As it happens I have a great deal of experience of unfiltered and unpasteurised keg, having kept beer like that in my kitchen for many years. And when it starts getting flat I top it up with extraneous CO2. I like it, I drink lots of it, BUT it's not as good as cask beer.

    Now your tastes my differ, and you may think I'm a fussy bugger but you know, this is a beer blog, what did you expect?