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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Real Ale - Preference or Dogma?

"Are the beers dispensed by gravity or gas?"

When I previewed the opening of the Euston Tap, this was the first question I received on both my blog and Twitfeed.  It's because the real ale taps come straight out of the wall rather than being from hand pumps on the bar.

And when I replied that they were served with gas, there was a supplemental question: "Does that mean air pressure or do they also use CO2?"

These questions are of no interest to the vast majority of craft beer drinkers.  But they are of fundamental importance to the Campaign for Real Ale.  And because CAMRA is the biggest and most influential consumer body in beer in the UK, that makes them important.

While I'm a champion of cask ale, I obviously love other beers as well - as I think do most drinkers.  But this is an issue that won't go away, and the Tap has thrown it, for me, into sharp relief.

CAMRA as a body fight for real ale.  When it suits them they fight for other stuff as well, but let's leave that to one side for now.  When it comes to British brewed craft beer, by their constitution they have to champion 'real' or cask conditioned ale.  Given that, it's quite understandable that they need to have a pretty specific technical definition of what real ale is.  That means there are bound to be some beers that are pretty close to that definition, but fall outside it.

I can accept that.  What's more bizarre is what happens to beers that do not qualify as real ale, and to the pubs that serve them.  If they are not real ale - even by a whisker - CAMRA cannot support them.  Pubs that start using cask breathers are promptly dropped from the Good Beer Guide.

I understand how they get here.  But I still think it's bizarre.

I don't know whether the beers in the Euston Tap are served with CO2 (i.e. cask breathers) or not.  But what if they were?

Let's take Thornbridge Bracia.  Normally a bottled beer, it's won numerous awards around the globe.  It's breathtaking in its complexity, subtlety, structure and power.  Now it's on cask at the Euston tap, and nowhere else.

Now, I know most CAMRA members join because they love great beer and by and large that's what CAMRA's about.  But let's focus on the hardliners, the people who propose motions at AGMs, who campaign most actively, who write stuff like this on Cambridge CAMRA's official website:

"The beer must remain untainted and utterly genuine. CAMRA have fought off all sorts of threats, some blatant, others more subtle and the image remains intact. The dishonest cask breather must not be allowed to corrupt CAMRA's standards."

If you agree with this, I would genuinely like to hear from you...

Let's say I get you into the Euston Tap and place a pint of Bracia in front of you.  Would you demand to know about gas and cask breathers before you deigned to drink it?  If I told you it was served without cask breathers, and you drank it and enjoyed it, would you then change your mind about it if I said, "Actually I lied, it is served with cask breathers"?

What would you do if I said "Why not taste it and decide if it has a cask breather or not?" Given that the main argument against cask breathers is that they supposedly affect the taste (something every brewer I've spoken to denies), surely you'll be able to tell whether it has a cask breather or not?  If you can't, then what exactly is the problem?

Because this is the nub of the debate: the Campaign for Real Ale was founded from a genuine belief that cask ale tastes better than other beers.  Whether you agree with that or not, it's an argument about the quality and delivery of the beer.  But it's about your senses.  It's about the beer.  If I give you a beer that doesn't fit with your definition of cask, but is generally regarded as a flavourful, quality beer, you could:

  • Drink it and say, "Amazing - it's not about cask or keg or cask breathers - it's just about the taste of the beer."
  • Drink it, and perhaps say something like, "Wow, I still prefer cask beers generally, but I'll admit there are some pretty damn good beers that are not cask conditioned."
  • Say, "If it's not cask beer I refuse to drink it.  It must be rubbish."

Most people I know would go with the first option.  I think the vast majority of CAMRA members would go for the second one.  But I have met people who do the third.

I once told the chairman of Edinburgh CAMRA I'd really enjoyed a pint of Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted in my hotel while visiting the city.  Because it was delivered to me at a table by a waiter, I had no idea whether it was cask or keg.  This man, who surely considers himself an expert on beer, was adamant that if it had been cask I must have enjoyed it, but if it was keg I couldn't have.  He was telling me to ignore the evidence of my senses and instead focus on a technical aspect of beer dispense to decide whether my beer tasted nice or not.

Surely it's meant to be about the taste of the beer.  Why else are we all here?  If you need to ask technical questions about methods of dispense before deciding if you like a beer or not, you are making your decisions based on dogma.  You are making a political decision rather than taste driven decision.  And I believe that means you've lost sight of what the whole Campaign for Real Ale was supposed to be about.

Some CAMRA people argue that things like cask breathers, and FastCask from Marston's, are "the thin end of the wedge" - that if we accept this, we'll see a gradual erosion of real ale until it doesn't exist any more and, by stealth, CAMRA will have been defeated.

I think that's a pretty paranoid argument.  And if I were being contentious, I'd also say "But if the quality of the beer doesn't change, what's the problem?"

CAMRA was established because beer most beer was shit.  A lot of beer still is.  But dogma, definition and politics mean that the most hardline CAMRA members often save their hostility for really good beers that simply don't meet an over-specific technical definition.

If you're one of these people, I know ranting and telling you you're stupid isn't going to change anything. But I believe craft beer bars like the Euston Tap demonstrate that the definition of quality craft beer has changed an awful lot since 1971.  I don't think your hardline attitude does anything to help beer drinkers, CAMRA's image and credibility, or even cask ale itself.

I've tried to outline the argument in reasonable terms, understand your position and specify why I think it's wrong.  I'd be hugely grateful if you wanted to respond in kind.

104 comments:

BeerReviewsAndy said...

Personally I think that provided the beer doesn't suffer I couldn't care less how it's served. However I don't think traditional methods should be eradicated or anything like that!

I've got a huge feeling a lot of it is down to the beer, some beers will suit being bottle conditioned, others not, some will suit being in a keg others in a cask, some through a sparkler others not, I think this is where we need to trust our publicans and brewers to know what their doing in order for the punter to be able to drink their beer in the best possible condition and showing off the beer in it's best light!

cheers
Andy

darryl said...

I was at Meantime's Old Brewery in Greenwich last night, and had a chat with the barman about the new London Lager they've just started to sell.

I had a taste, and he told me they were still working on the beer - mainly because it was coming out much too gassy. (It certainly was.) I hadn't realised how much a factor gas was in most lagers until then. The London Lager will be nice when they fix it, I reckon.

I wonder what CAMRA make of Meantime's Kellerbier, which doesn't have any added gas in it at all. I love the stuff, but it doesn't strike me as being radically different from their other beers, despite the different way it comes from the cellar.

Ed said...

Cask = good, keg/extraneous CO2 = bad is a very simple definition but it does have more than a grain of truth. Without this simple (or even simplistic) definition I think CAMRA would lose a lot of focus as what constitutes 'good beer' is quite hard to define.

Most people take it with a pinch of salt though so I wouldn't fret about it too much.

Fishter said...

I want good tasty beer. I'm going to make some sweeping generalisations here, so bear with me.

Kegged beer (be it smoothflow bitter or lager), is a consistently average product.

Cask beer, served on gravity or via sparkler, is more variable, depending on how it's handled by the publican.

As a newly active member of CAMRA (I go to meetings and serve at festivals), I'd also like to see a more inclusive approach to quality beer. But, I can see how some members fear that technological innovations will drive that peak of quality down while bringing the trough of direness up. We might end up with a situation where fantastic cask beer is difficult to find, while really bad cask beer is also difficult to find.

The danger is that all beer ends up average because it doesn't get the chance to shine through the technology.

(BTW, I've no issue with cask breathers, not that I know if any of my usual pubs use them.)

Curmudgeon said...

I wonder whether you'll be hearing from Richard "chemical fizz" English from the CAMRA forum ;-)

Julie@GoodBrewer said...

This is an opinion from a US craft beer drinker, where kegs are the norm over casks. Take it as you will.

But as a homebrewer as well, I'm of the opinion that the cask breather is actually a good thing. Cask conditioning relies on the internal pressure of the cask so that the natural CO2 will be infused back into the beer. The moment you start serving it with a hand pump, you are introducing air rather than CO2 into the environment, causing the cask to lose carbonation over time. Not a problem if the pub is popular, but I would wonder about that cask after it's been on tap for a several days, especially in areas where the air quality might not be so great (I wonder about infection). The cask breather just ensures that the CO2 levels inside the cask remain constant over time. CO2 is CO2 whether it's from cask conditioning or a bottle.

There are so many fantastic, kegged craft beers in the US that's it's hard for me to wrap my head around the debate. It's all about the flavor and quality of the beer, not how it's served.

Baron Orm said...

Pete, excellent post on a topic that I feel quite strongly about.

As you may know I 'baron rate' bottled ales on my website 'The Ormskirk Baron'.

Quite a few bottle-conditioned bottles have the CAMRA 'Real Ale in a Bottle' badge on them and quite a few do not. The rest are not bottle conditioned.

@Christopher_R and I have found that the RAIB badge is by no means a sign of a quality beer - in fact quite a lot that have a badge are terrible with uncontrolled quantities of yeast, little or no fizz, etc.

A number of us were ranting about this very issue last night on Twitter so it's great that you've brought it up again!

To be honest, I'm ready to start the "Get Real CAMRA!" campaign that it should be about quality not method of dispense/bottling...

@baron_orm aka The Ormskirk Baron
http://www.theormskirkbaron.com/

Cooking Lager said...

I accept the Richard English argument, on the CAMRA forums. If Ricky says it's real ale then it's real ale and everything else is chemical fizz.

That is why the Campaign for Cheap Lout compliments CAMRA. CAMRA do there thing, and all else being chemical fizz is technically "cooking lager or bitter"

Chris King said...

That post, not the writing but the summarised comments attributed, reads in exactly the same way a lot of threads, posts, newspaper articles do when they try to sell the relative merits of cork, synthetic or screw cap closures in the wine world.

Every time i go for a drink, it is clear that someone out there is looking down on me because I enjoy a wine from New Zealand (plenty of screwcaps) or what to try a BrewDog or Thornbridge Keg to see what they are like.

I obviously care not one jot, as cask or keg, screw cap or cork - i get to try some fantastic drops, on a regular basis, and am happy to carry on as i am.

Either way, my money that could be spent on a membership will go on something far more rewarding.

Chris King said...

That post, not the style or your thoughts, more the attributed comments of others - reminds me so much of similar posts about cork, synthetic and screwcap closures in the wine industry.

Forever feel as though you are judged, and ultimately looked down upon because of what you drink or how you drink it - by people within an area of expertise that should be politely selling the virtues, rather than ramming it down your throat.

So what if i like the odd New Zealand or South Africa screw cap - or want to try BrewDog or Thornbridge cask - surely it is the choice of a drinker that in turn will also buy cask or cork at some point that week.

The CAMRA stance is very similar to (what was, not sure if it has changed?) the Italian DOCG Wine stance where they can only use cork or else it doesn't get the official support in its classification status.

In the same way that you get bad cask beer, you also get tainted wine - the fact that 'corked' is an expression suggests there is scope for a problem.

Happy to keep my membership money in my pocket and spend it on something far more rewarding.

Tandleman said...

Mostly what Ed said. And what Fishter said.

There is a good basis for worry though in the thin end of the wedge argument. It isn't just glib.

And hard line motions at the CAMRA AGM? Name a recent one and even harder, name one that got approved.

Andrew Bowden said...

Anyone who can make a British style bitter taste as good off keg as it does off cask will get my vote. I haven't tasted one yet.

Not to say I won't but they either taste a bit tinny, or they're far too gassy. Or frankly they're just crap.

What I think best however is a beer that's served in the way it's brewed to. Many CAMRA members have - for reasons unknown to me - a big thing about the use of sparklers for example. But some beers are brewed for their use - a pint of Theakston XB without one just doesn't come out right to me. Likewise a pint of Directors served with one tastes rubbish.

On the flipside, last year I visited some craft beer houses in Ireland (all keg) and whilst some beers were fine, some others were crying out for cask treatment...

Sid Boggle said...

As a member who's humming and hawing over renewal in 2011, I really hope this review CAMRA has undertaken refers to some of the fundamental issues around purpose and makes sure they still mean the same thing now as they did in the 70's.

deadmanjones said...

As I understand it, beer is created by brewers in the brewing process, which ends when it's casked (and subsequently matures etc.). This is the point at which a great beer is born or a tasteless beer is stillborn.

How that beer is delivered to the punter will never improve it and frequently ruins it, but regardless that's the landlord's (and ultimately the punter's) choice.

That we have that choice is largely down to 40 years of campaigning by CAMRA. As it and many of its members are fond of pointing out, it's not a fan club, it's a campaign, and campaigns need clear boundaries, definitions and aims. The simplest way to differentiate "Real Ale" from the bad guys is "Cask". Unless there's an alternative simple definition that can include the good guys whilst excluding the bad guys, CAMRA's standard needs to remain rigidly defined. Especially as the GBG is compiled from thousands of member beer scores from regional divisions across the UK.

Does this stop CAMRA leaders, members and the public enjoying beer that falls outside the definition? No. Go for your life.

As a member, I'd very much like to see the Campaign championing cask, slagging off the bad guys, and shrugging its shoulders about anything else. But I definitely don't want to see it confusing a simple definition with a lot of contradictory addenda.

Barm said...

You miss out one possible reaction: "This is pretty good, but it would be even better served well from the cask".

crownbrewerstu said...

The Euston Tap probably has the same cask dispense system as most pubs but they have chosen to put a tap on the bar instead of a hand pump, we could do the same thing here at the Hillsborough Hotel if we wanted, we already have compressed air/co2 pump assisted lines for our casks.
as for cask breathers that's a completely different subject. I personally don't see the point of them.

jesusjohn said...

I understand supporting cask and wanting to avoid this method of dispense carrying excess CO2, but cask breathers - well fitted and calibrated - don't do this. They replace one set of damaging gases (i.e. air and, consequently oxygen) with a non-damaging alternative in CO2.

Some higher-strength beers would benefit hugely from having a breather fitted. As would pubs and bars who want to serve cask but cannot for throughput (gig venues also suffer here).

I love all methods of dispense - what matters is that good beer be recognised as good beer. I *do* have a preference for cask - chiefly to do with mouthfeel; kegs, even at sufficiently low carbonation, seem to deliver sharp bubbles.

But it's precisely that preference that has me fail to understand the objection to well-fitted breathers.

Bob said...

I used to be quite militant, it had to be cask, nothing else would do. This was mainly a reflection of the sad state of kegged beer in the UK though, which I think it part of the issue. In the UK most non-lager served from keg, is some sort of smooth flow, extra cold excuse of a malt beverage, really not nice. In the US, the vast majority of their craft beer is dispensed from keg and it's pretty damn good.

So the whole cask == good, keg == bad thing, is mainly down to the fact tthat we just haven't had any good kegged beers from UK breweries with wide spread distribution. This is obviously changing with some breweries now putting various good beers into keg. I noticed that they had kegged Thornbridge Kipling on in the Euston Tap on Saturday, the cask version won the beer of the festival at Cambridge earlier in the year.

Personally I can't wait for the day I'm forced to go into some trendy wine bar or tacky nightclub and I find that Thornbridge, BrewDog, Lovibonds or some other UK craft brewer has their beer being dispensed from keg, it'll make my day. Viva the keg revolution!

As for the Bracia, I couldn't care less how it was dispensed, the half pint I had at lunch on Saturday was arguably the best UK beer I've had this year.

Jason said...

I can see CAMRA's problem- they want to support and promote Real Ale. But without a simple objective definition of Real Ale how can they maintain standards. I don't see how they could use a subjective test such as taste. Perhaps they should employ taste experts- I volunteer for the Suffolk post!

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

Taste is way more important than dispense. It's vitally important to protect cask ale and champion it, but not at the expense of enjoyment of beer.

There's nothing that means that cask ale tastes better. Nothing. It can be the best example of good tasting beer when all elements of it's production, conditioning and serving come together in harmony, but it's no guarantee of quality.

I'd rather a beer came to me with a low carbon footprint and tasted great, without been too expensive, before I worry about how traditional it is in it's production.

Cask ale can be an amazing product and it should be championed, but quality comes first. I'm a beer lover not a method of dispense lover and the Sheffield Tap and Thornbridge Bracia are examples of what's a good about beer.

And Ed, actually, gas doesn't = bad by default, some people like that.

@fishter I don't want to see average beers take over, but consistent quality isn't easy I guess!

Tyson said...

Can I make just a slight, but important, factual correction. Most people in CAMRA aren't bothered about cask breathers and this is tacitly acknowledged in how the GBG works.

Pubs that use cask breathers aren't actually excluded from the GBG, but beers that are sold via them are.

So, if a pub has four beers on and a slow selling Mild on CB (which is not uncommon) then the pub would appear in the GBG but the MIld would be excluded from its listing.

Pete Brown said...

I've got another posy in the pipeline about cask = good, keg = bad, so I'll leave those comments for now.

But there is another issue - even if you believe cask is always best, part of this problem is the definition of what cask is. I don't want to have the full debate about cask breathers here because most of my readers really couldn't give a toss, but something that looks, tastes, smells like and is brewed as cask beer is not considered cask beer by CAMRA. It's the simple black and white way they see it that riles me.

I would completely agree that smoothflow bitter is a fucking abomination of a beer (though I do like the odd Guinness). But tasting Pilsner Urquell beside Foster's - two carbonated keg lagers - it's evident that there are far bigger factors affecting the taste.

And the quality of keg beer is changing. Not all of it, but some of it. The cask only position will only become increasingly harder to defend in the face of some awesome beers.

deadmanjones - how that beer is delivered to the punter will never improve it and frequently ruins it - completely disagree.

Right about the fact that the simplest way to differentiate quality is cask versus keg. But it is over simple. And that means it can't be applied as a hard and fast rule, but as more of a general guide. I guess that's what I'm arguing.

Jason Stevenson said...

Pete, a very balanced review, as you know at Lovibonds we serve all our beer in Kegs. I think that in the past this was associated with pasteurised, filtered low quality beers which our beer is not. Serving in keg allows our customers to serve great beer without having to worry about it spoiling after a couple of days.

I think there should be a rethink within CAMRA to consider craft beers that are not served from cask.

After all CAMRA did start of as the campaign for revitalisation of ale. Is the Craft Brewing movement not just helping to put a breathe of fresh air (or CO2) into this and give the beer drinker a wider choice away from generic larger?

Should it not be about the quality of beer going into the container and not the method of dispense?

Jason.

deadmanjones said...

You disagree with "how that beer is delivered to the punter will never improve it and frequently ruins it"..?

You know of barkeeps who can take bad beer and magically make it good beer? Or take good beer and make it even better, simply in the act of pouring it? Shurely shome mishtake?

Beer Beauty said...

'TASTE rules the roost'in my book. The whys and wherefores of HOW beer is served are neither here nor there for me personally. I put my fingers in my ears and shout LA-LA-LAAAAAA to any nit-picking from people and just drink.

Pete Brown said...

DMJ - partly that's cos I'm taking the broadest possible interpretation of 'delivery' and including pub cellarmanship. I believe the very best landlords do improve the beer after it's been delivered to them, the ones who know the beer and their cellar intimately.

The other thing is that the presentation and aesthetics if a beer do improve it - serving it in the wrong glass, pouring it badly etc don't necessarily spoil a well made beer, but getting them right certainly enhances it.

Rob Nicholson said...

Hmm, I'm quoted a little of of context in this as my comment was first and I said I didn't personally care how it was dispensed. But knew the question would be asked.

MusicRab said...

I'm a CAMRA member and I haven't met (yet) any of the hardliners to which you refer. If you're telling us that the Euston Tap exists despite the attitude's of these hardliner's then that's a shame. I assume that the Tap sells real ales along with craft beers? Or is a wedge being driven between the 2?

Pete Brown said...

Whoa, MusicRab!

If I was saying the Tap existed despite CAMRA I would have written the words "Despite the best efforts of CAMRA, the Euston Tap has opened.". I didn't. And nothing I wrote gave the slightest hint of that sentiment.

As for 'driving a wedge' between cask ale and craft beer - that's the exact opposite if what I'm doing. I use craft beer as a term for great beer that includes, but us not limited to, cask ale. That's the whole point of my post

As for the extremists - that's a direct quote from one in the middle of the post. If you haven't met them yet, enjoy it while it lasts.

Cooking Lager said...

Isn't complaining that CAMRA contains some ale jihadists a bit like complaining the church contains some people that don't like gays and women?

It takes all sorts to make a world, including the nutters.

Most of the CAMRA members I know make a good attempt at passing for normal human beings but there will always be those that accept any doctrine without question and forget the wider goal while sticking to the minutiae of detail.

Still, it's fun to have a pop at them. Well done.

Ben Hodgkinson said...

I predominantly drink bottled beer for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I live in Lancaster, an area with a serious lack of decent pubs that serve beers that interest me, and secondly, because I work as a drinks retailer, so I'm usually tasting bottle samples or buying out of our stock.

My occasional forays into pubs serving 'Real Ale' are invariably disappointing, and the vast majority of bottled ales with CAMRA endorsements on have been utterly uninteresting.

I've not tried enough kegged beers yet to be able to judge cask vs keg, but I've also not got enough desire to wade into a technical issue like that anyway. For me it doesn't matter how it gets in to my glass, as long as I enjoy it. And enjoy it I do.

Gary Gillman said...

Bob put his finger on it. Great ale in the 60's and 70's seemed to go from one extreme to another. Keg beer was pasteurized, sweet and bland (usually, a sort of canned beer in a large can but not even as good oddly as many bottled and canned beers.

There was no middle ground between real ale and keg beer. Actually there was a little. Conal Gregory and Warren Knock in Beers of Britain, a mid-1970's beer and pub guide, chronicled pubs where traditionally dispensed brew was still available. (I have often wondered what happened to these gentlemen considering the importance of their book in my estimation). Although they always preferred real ale to other forms, occasionally they would comment favourably on a brewery's keg beer, either because it wasn't pasteurized or the top pressure was kept to just a few pounds so the gas didn't get into the beer. (This was not cask breather because they were talking about filtered beer).

However, one can tell reading the book that unlike the craft beer phenom in the States, it was again all or nothing in practical terms, i.e., little keg beer appeared non-pasteurized in particular.

Well today, that's changed somewhat in England. Mash and Air in Manchester and the operation on Great Portland Road London were the first or amongst the first I believe to offer crafted ale in the American way, and it was very good.

And so CAMRA's points are less important today due to this development of seeing good keg beer in England. I don't like the term keg in this connection because it connoted (almost always) a pasteurized beer, but the term has stuck I think.

Nonetheless. Nonetheless. The best beer in the world is English cask ale without the breather. It's been proven to me time and again. CAMRA were, and are, right on this issue.

What is not true though and sometimes gets conflated, is that any cask beer is better than any beer served by a different dispense. It's not true because some cask beers, even when well-served, are just not good beers. Still, I agree with CAMRA that everything short of their definition of real ale is a short cut. Standards matter and their position is sort of like the real beer law in Germany, once you start allowing exceptions (other than the hallowed ones we all know and admire), it's a slippery slope.

Gary

Anonymous said...

There are quite a few big hitters steering clear of commenting on this post... Afraid of upsetting someone or burning their bridges? You know who you are...

If you are one of the beer bloggers in question: Grow a pair!

Sycophants!

MicMac said...

I'm a pernickety sod, a long-term CAMRA member, good beer lover & a brewer, so perhaps I come with additional prejudices to the average hardline CAMRArak :~)

As I've mentioned recently elsewhere (mainly Twitter & other blogs) I think that there's an argument for CAMRA to tighten or at least clarify its definition of what is 'real'.

To my mind, the campaign was launched to try to preserve good British beer, made with decent ingredients, by a quality brewery & beers that had not been overly processed.

For me, there are now many beers that are classed by CAMRA as 'real' that don't fit with various parts of that broad description (& some that do, but aren't classed as being real!).

E.g. - I am told that the FastCask process includes filtration of the beer before its reseeded with the magic 'beads', similarly the majority of the big name bottle-conditioned beers are also filtered ('sterile filtration' - 0.45microns a process which strips colour & flavour from a beer) before being again reseeded with fresh yeast. I'd say both of these forms of processing stray far from the simple un-messed-about-with beers that I think CAMRA's founders had in mind, yet they both now seem to have the campaign's approval.

Conversely Thornbridge's entirely unfiltered bottled beer is deemed to be non-CAMRA-kosher (it's cleared of much of its yeast by centrifugation & carbonated, possibly naturally, but in the tank, not bottle).

From a campaigning point of view, I think CAMRA really should focus much more on quality (i.e. educating people that just because a beer is served from a cask doesn't mean it's necessarily any good - it can be dull, or badly brewed, or stale, etc).

I think CAMRA should largely stay true to their origins of supporting good natural beer, but perhaps we/they can stretch their remit a little to incorporate support of good beers that don't meet their strict definitions (e.g. quality UK-brewed keg & bottled lagers & other modern craft-brewed keg beers).

MicMac said...

I'm a pernickety sod, a long-term CAMRA member, good beer lover & a brewer, so perhaps I come with additional prejudices to the average hardline CAMRArak :~)

As I've mentioned recently elsewhere (mainly Twitter & other blogs) I think that there's an argument for CAMRA to tighten or at least clarify its definition of what is 'real'.

To my mind, the campaign was launched to try to preserve good British beer, made with decent ingredients, by a quality brewery & beers that had not been overly processed.

For me, there are now many beers that are classed by CAMRA as 'real' that don't fit with various parts of that broad description (& some that do, but aren't classed as being real!).

E.g. - I am told that the FastCask process includes filtration of the beer before its reseeded with the magic 'beads', similarly the majority of the big name bottle-conditioned beers are also filtered ('sterile filtration' - 0.45microns a process which strips colour & flavour from a beer) before being again reseeded with fresh yeast. I'd say both of these forms of processing stray far from the simple un-messed-about-with beers that I think CAMRA's founders had in mind, yet they both now seem to have the campaign's approval.

Conversely Thornbridge's entirely unfiltered bottled beer is deemed to be non-CAMRA-kosher (it's cleared of much of its yeast by centrifugation & carbonated, possibly naturally, but in the tank, not bottle).

From a campaigning point of view, I think CAMRA really should focus much more on quality (i.e. educating people that just because a beer is served from a cask doesn't mean it's necessarily any good - it can be dull, or badly brewed, or stale, etc).

I think CAMRA should largely stay true to their origins of supporting good natural beer, but perhaps we/they can stretch their remit a little to incorporate support of good beers that don't meet their strict definitions (e.g. quality UK-brewed keg & bottled lagers & other modern craft-brewed keg beers).

HardKnott Dave said...

MicMac,

You hit the nail firmly on the head; cask is no indication that the beer has not been heavily processed. I've been trying to say this for some time. Much beer that is put in cask has been through conditioning tanks and not conditioned in the container from which it is served AT ALL.

I'm not against this and indeed stabilising the beer in the brewery does result in better beer, but to say it is cask conditioned is erroneous in the extreme.

Good beer is good beer. Bad beer is bad beer. More and more these days the relationship between good beer and cask beer is being disassociated.

Phil said...

Ultimately it depends what you think the Campaign part of CAMRA is a campaign for. I can imagine a Campaign for Craft Beer, which would celebrate and promote craft beer (whatever that actually means) in all its forms, keg included. The object of such a campaign would be to make craft beer more easily available for its enthusiasts, and to turn more people into enthusiasts.

I don't think CAMRA is like that, though. The starting point for CAMRA, as a campaign, isn't the membership of CAMRA but the beer-drinking public of the UK. The object of the campaign isn't to increase the number of people who appreciate real ale, but to make real ale available to everyone who drinks beer.

In this light, kegged craft beer is something of a distraction. (Arguably the whole "craft beer" concept is a distraction, but maybe that's another argument.)

Gary Gillman said...

I'm curious about the last comment. Is some beer conditioned at the brewery, filtered and (pasteurized or not) placed in traditional casks for hand dispense? Then it is not real ale and there is no blurring of the category; it isn't real ale to begin with.

Gary

Flagon of Ale said...

As someone who doesn't live in England, I guess I'm not really entitled to an opinion on the subject. However I'll give it you you anyways, and I'll say that I'm very surprised to see a sudden preference for kegged rather than cask beer. I agree that the quality of beer is ultimately what matters, but I think cask beer is hugely important as well. England is the only place on planet Earth that cask beer is readily available and I think that it should be appreciated and nourished. The push towards kegged beer will eventually eliminate cask beer and this is why I think it'll happen: First, casks are a huge pain. They have a shelf life, and they have to be handled with skill. Kegs are cheaper and any ape can put one on tap. Once that door is opened, I think breweries and pubs will push very hard to have the cheaper/easier option. It's also unlikely that once kegs become more commonplace, many breweries will be willing do to both cask AND keg because it's not very economical to do both. Here in the US, out of hundreds of craft breweries, there are maybe one or two dozen who can provide their beers in cask, and even then only one or two beers are available. I don't think it's hard to imagine England going the same way. Of course, this is all observed from afar, so I may be off base.

Gavin said...

The fact that this whole rant has been based on a blatant misquote has been overlooked. I have tasted some very good keg beers and don't ignore craft keg beer. However many that I have tried recently have been pretty underwhelming and generally I find cask to be far better. What position would you have the Campaign for Real Ale take on the issue of real ale? I don't see anything wrong with a consumer asking how a product is produced, conditioned, served, and then making his/her own choice based on this information. This rewriting of history that says cask was better than keg in the past because keg was so awful and that things might have been better if better keg beer had been around is rubbish. Watneys Red Barrel may have been awful but much keg beer was and is perfectly acceptable. Check out the comments next to the entry for the Federation Brewery GBG 1977. I drank plenty of keg in the late eighties early nineties and it was perfectly drinkable, The drawback? It didn't taste as good as real ale. I'd be interested to know how those taps work, Why? because I am interested.

Tim said...

Thank god (if he existed, which he doesn't BTW) I no longer live in the UK where simple pleasures such as proper real keg are taboo subjects as people prefer to drink ale contaminated with 500 year old stale cellar air which is home to god knows what nasties.

I am pretty sure you can't serve sandwiches which are left for 48 hours exposed to a dank cellar, but beer is fine?? WTF

Tandleman said...

This is the bit that worries me: "Much beer that is put in cask has been through conditioning tanks and not conditioned in the container from which it is served AT ALL."

Much beer Dave? How much? If there is proven to be no viable yeast for secondary fermentation, it isn't real ale. Putting it in conditioning tanks first to drop out trub, does not mean no viable yeast. I had this very conversation with a respected Cumbrian Brewer not long ago.

I've no wish to fall out with you, but I have to say what you say here is highly selective and misleading to those who know little about it. You imply cask beer is all just one big con. It is not.

The Bocking Kellys said...

While the statement on Cambridge CAMRA's website takes a pretty fundamentalist viewpoint, it is taken from the Spring 1998 edition of their branch newsletter. It's hardly front and centre of the homepage.
It's equally easy using Google to find a web reference to a blind tasting organised by CAMRA Eastern Region of beers with and without breathers which concluded that 'The trials proved that even experienced beer-tasters could not tell the difference.'
While I've no doubt that there are some people who regard the method of keeping the beer as the sole arbiter of their willingness to drink it, they're in a minority. Has the Euston Tap been empty since opening due to a perceived failure to dispense beer in the 'correct' manner? Or are beer lovers from far and wide coming to appreciate the range and quality of beer on offer? It's probably the latter and those who won't go unless it meets their narrow requirements are missing out, but you probably can't help them.

Pete Brown said...

Way to go Gavin, thanks for responding in the rights spirit:

Could you explain to me why you think this is a 'rant'? I was trying to write a reasoned, well balanced argument.

And 'based on a blatant misquote?' Sorry, but as a professional writer I find that insulting. Who am I misquoting, and where?

Pete Brown said...

OK I can see that some people might believe the Cambridge CAMRA quote was me being deliberately inflammatory and quoting something out of context.

I promise you that I googled 'CAMRA cask breathers', and apart from some technical stuff from suppliers and pubs this was the first quote that came up. There were no conflicting things to quote on the first couple of pages of the search. I therefore think it was reasonable for me to state this as an example of a typical CAMRA viewpoint. Don't believe me? Check it for yourself.

If there are CAMRA members/branches with a more reasonable view, I urge them to post those views on their websites to balance things up.

But it is an attitude I've heard many other people put forward.

Rob Nicholson said...

Part of the problem CAMRA has is that many people (inside & outside) assume it's *all* about real ale which it is most definitely not. CAMRA has five main aims on it's web site of which "Campaign for greater appreciation of traditional beers, ciders and perries as part of our national heritage and culture" is just one.

Would we put our support behind a community pub closing that didn't sell real ale? I'd like to think so.

But... some CAMRA members may think this is spreading ourselves too thin (hah!) and we should concentrate on core aims.

The reason is because to all intents and purposes the campaign to save real ale is pretty much won so CAMRA goes "What now?".

So I personally welcome to opening of any outlet of good beer. Don't care two hoots how it's dispensed except out of interest.

The misquote Gavin refers to is just using part of my comment and therefore infer that "I had a problem with the dispense" whereas it was merely interest as I'm not familiar with that form of dispense.

Ed said...

There was an aritcle in the CAMRA magazine recently in favour of cask breathers written by the person that wrote the CAMRA cellarmanship guide so I guess googling isn't always the best way to research something.

Rabidbarfly said...

As someone who's toyed with the idea of becoming a CAMRA Member(and some of them are proper 'members') I have always enjoyed all forms of dispensed beer be they bottled, cask conditioned or kegged and the main reason for my not joining is that CAMRA really do look out-dated and old these days. They really do need to rethink their stance on beer, after all didn't CAMRA come about because a lot of cask conditioned beer was shit? These days most of it isn't!
@Anonymous - name and shame the so called big hitters! and yourself for that matter otherwise you're as bad as you think they are!

Pete Brown said...

Aha!

Rob, I'm sorry if I've misrepresented you. I was combining your question with other more specific questions I was asked directly. I wasn't trying to suggest that you personally represented the attitudes I'm talking about, and clearly there was that implication.

DJ said...

The problem with CAMRA for me is they are the Campaign for Real Ale and not Quality Ale. It is important that someone continues to champion propper cask conditioned ale served in the traditional manner to keep it alive. However the public need to be aware that quality can be achieved and dispensed in other ways. I am just as happy to have beer from a cask with a breather attached as I find in some cases it is the superior product. I want to be able to purchase decent beer in clubs and bars that survive off the weekend trade and this is not going to come from cask so there needs to be a push for better quality keg. Someone needs to start up CAMQA although that sounds a bit like a fruit.

Bob said...

I've just re-read the article as I was a bit confused by the mentions of Cambridge CAMRA in the comments, not sure how I missed that the first time round. I feel that using the quote you have with out specifying when or what it was from to be quite disingenuous. The quote is from “A personal view“ article in the branch news letter from over twelve years ago, to try and indicate that it is some sort of CAMRA standpoint is duplicitous at best and downright deceitful at worst.

While I can't speak for the branch any more as I am no longer on the committee, I know that the vast, vast majority of Cambridge CAMRA members couldn't care less about how the beer is dispensed. This is due to the fact that the vast, vast majority of Cambridge CAMRA members are only members so they can get into the summer beer festival for free, while skipping the extremely long entrance queue.

If you want us to believe your assertion that you weren't trying to be inflammatory with that quote, then I would suggest, seeing as you're a professional writer, that you provide references to the quotes you use at the end of your articles.

Fishter said...

@rabidbarfly
Your comment on how most cask beers aren't rubbish these days did make me chuckle.
I was in a GBG listed Wadworth pub last night. None of the beer I had was good. One pint was bad and was returned. The other two were bland brown beer - one labelled as an IPA!
It wasn't faulty, just poor in terms of taste.
The tastiest beer was from Castle Rock, and even that wasn't as good as I expected.

levyblue said...

as an ex camra member.. this article has rekindled my interest in beer, indeed, I am now thirsty.

I will now join and be an active member.. not a pasive member...

Great article, infact, great debate. I will definately bookmark this blog

Gary Gillman said...

Some good points on both sides.

U.K. keg beer always struck me as quite different to real ale. At its best, as I said earlier, it reminded me of a good canned or bottled ale. I like some of it certainly, indeed Fuller's beers when sold in that form in North America are excellent.

The typical U.S. craft product sold on draft, and most of it in bottle, is not pasteurized but my understanding is most U.K. keg beer was and is, and therein lies a quality difference in my opinion.

But Mash and Air, when I first tasted their products, seemed to be going more for the U.S. craft approach of selling filtered but unpasteurized beer and I'd say that trend has gained in recent years. Beer in that form is closer to real ale IMO, but still is not the same.

Regarding again cask breather, I've had the opportunity to frequent places which use it and places which don't, and my impression was the beer was better without such treatment. I could be wrong, but that's how I feel. This is not to say I am against it, and well-kept cask with a light topping of CO2 can be a good solution for many types of outlets.

I can't see any contradiction to wanting to see real ale thrive in its CAMRA form but also tipping my hat to the many kinds of ale and other beer out there which don't follow CAMRA's strictures. Good beer is good beer, I fully subscribe to that.

Gary

Ron Pattinson said...

I wish people in Britain would stop using the term "craft beer". It's totally meaningless.

At least there's an agreed and simple definition of cask beer.

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

Yes Ron but 'Real Cask Ale' no longer covers the remit of what brewers & pubs are doing in the UK.
I'm comfortable with the term craft beer & will continue to use it as I am a craft brewer.

Cooking Lager said...

Ron, the English language isn’t defined by an authority; it is defined by its popular usage. German is a prescribed language and has a language authority and has been known to reform its language, altering both the spelling and conjugation of words and the grammar. Users of that language are required to follow the alterations of the language reform authority in order to correctly use the language. The English language has known no such thing. “Craft beer” is a popular term in the US and UK and by its usage becomes part of the language. What it means, though, is ambiguous. A craft is a branch of profession that requires some particular kind of skilled work. Adding the chemicals to Carling requires skill. You could call any beer you like “craft”

Pete Brown said...

*Fights temptation to start banging on about language, meaning, post-structuralism and Jacques Derrida because this is already painful enough*

Barm said...

It's always CAMRA getting bashed. As far as I can tell, there are, proportionately, just as many complete tools among the ranks of the anti-CAMRA "craft beer drinkers". They're just a generation younger, that's all.

Jeff Rosenmeier said...

Sorry Ron, but I think craft beer is going to stick. It is a much more inclusive term than 'cask beer' and the new generation of brewer and beer enthusiast can easily relate to it. I too, am a craft brewer.

I've seen this debate make the blog rounds for years now and I hate to be negative, but we are all wasting our breath. Unless our power of persuasion somehow encourages someone within CAMRA (I gave up my 12 year membership last year) to come up with a resolution, campaign for it and take it to AGM, the definition of Real Ale as they see it isn't going to change.

After being in the beer business a while now I find CAMRA pretty much irrelevant. We still can't make enough of the evil keg beer to keep customers satisfied, and to me, that is all that matters.

I really like Tim's comment about the extremely unhygienic nature of 'real ale'. As a brewer with OCD, I am so, so happy my containers come back home completely sealed and full of an inert gas. You know what, if I didn't have OCD we could probably just fill them again. I feel the pain of my craft brewing brothers and sisters that receive their containers back full of spare furniture, hardened protein, yeast and best of all fruit fly larvae. I don't know how you do it...Actually, I'm surprised the European Union hasn't shut the whole thing down...

Gavin said...

Ok perhaps rant was the wrong word, though I feel partially vindicated over the misquote, perhaps not deliberate though. Other than that I think my post was quite measured really. I like a lot of what you have to say but sometimes, maybe, you set up a straw man to burn, and, I think this is one occassion, thats just my opinion though. As for cask breathers, it's old hat, people really need to get with the tech, Race Cask Ventilators, great little gizmos.

Ron Pattinson said...

Cooking, all my family are German. It must be rubbing off.

John Clarke said...

Let me get this right. You decribe yourself as a professional writer and yet you dig up what turns out to be a 12 year old "personal viewpoint" from the depths of a CAMRA branch website and think this is "reasonable for me to state this as an example of a typical CAMRA viewpoint", without apparently researching its context or anything else. Right. Hmm.

As you also say "I can see that some people might believe the Cambridge CAMRA quote was me being deliberately inflammatory and quoting something out of context". Indeed. Either that or being decidedly unprofessional.

Which is a shame really as there is much in your piece I could agree with, and I say this as both a CAMRA activist and chairman of a (distinctly non-ideological) CAMRA branch, although like most branches we have a number of purists in our midst, but then again what organisation doesn't?

Having said that, I certainly would not go to the touble of getting soemthing on our branch website to state a contrary view to that dug out of the Cambridge archives. Why - well, I think most CAMRA people and branches are sufficeiently comfortable and confident with what they are about without feeling the need to jump through hoops to satisfy over excitable/ deliberately inflammatory bloggers.

I feel I can't let "Hardknott Dave"'s comment pass either. Tandleman has already addressed this but I would say that in my experience (of both knowing and talking to brewers and seeing how casks behave at beer festivals), to say that "Much beer that is put in cask has been through conditioning tanks and not conditioned in the container from which it is served AT ALL" is just cobblers, and as Tandleman says, dangerous cobblers at that. Just out of interest - does any Hardknott beer condition in the cask?

beerfan said...

A cask is just a container. As is a bottle, and a keg. If you take a standard keg in it's usual configuration, then whip the spear out and replace it with a slightly shorter spear, you have some space underneath. If you then fill that keg with live beer and let it carbonate, you can still draw off the beer using a beer engine and either allow the headspace to be filled with air or add very low-pressure CO2 just like a cask breather. You never have to tilt the keg, as all the crud stays below the pickup.

Maybe doing just that is a way to weaken CAMRA's jihadist views on keg and allow them to join the real world to some extent.

Pete Brown said...

Jesus Christ.

John, you accuse me of quoting selectively and taking things our of context, and then do exactly the same to me.

As I've said, I did NOT go digging into any archives trying to find an atypical quote that made CAMRA look unreasonable. I didn't have to. As I said, when I Googled 'CAMRA cask breathers,' that's what came up. I wish some of the more reasonable views expressed on here by CAMRA members came up, but they didn't.

As I said, if you disbelieve me, all you have to do is do the same Google search yourself. If the passage is 12 years old, if it doesn't reflect the views of CAMRA generally, that's not my problem. If anyone else uses the Internet to try and find out what CAMRA's views are on this issue, that's what they'll find.

I'm not taking this quote and using it to create a warped attack on CAMRA. I'm using this quote to illustrate an attitude I've heard expressed many times before I found this quote - an attitude that sees pubs that love great cask beer blacklisted by CAMRA, an attitude that does CAMRA no favours, an attitude that divides people who should be united by a love of great beer.

Everyone accusing me and others of 'CAMRA bashing' - what you don't seem to understand us that we WANT CAMRA to be even better than it is. I take no pleasure from slagging off the main mouthpiece of great beer in the UK. I write what I write in the vain, naive hope that it might contribute to some much needed modernisation.

Fat chance of that I suppose.

OK, THAT was a rant.

Thomas said...

I completely agree. I think CAMRA need to move away on how beer is served and work on what is correct for serving the beer to reach its maximum potential. After all it's all about good beer.

CAMRA have become jaded and it's rather sad as for all the good work they do there are very frustrating issues such as their backwards stance against kegged beer.

Euston Tap opening night was a blast. They have sorted out some niggling issues now and it's getting better. Pete; Cask and Kitchen Mikkeller night on 27th

John Clarke said...

The self defensive rant from the author of this blog says it all as far as I can see. Despite how you found it, the fact remains that you HAVE taken an ancient quote out of context. You HAVE used it as the basis for (yet enother) pop at CAMRA without either revealing or bothering to research its context. If that doesn't reflect the view of CAMRA people generally (and I think it doesn't) than it is your problem - because you are the one who used it as a basis for the argument that it does.

I'm pleased that beerfan made his/her ill-informed comments as it perhaps sums up the "cask is only a method of dispense" argument. Cask beer can quite easily be served from converted kegs. It has happened in the past and will happen again I am sure. Both cask conditioning and kegging are both more than just methods of dispense. They are both part of the production process. It is what happens to the beer in the container from which it is dispensed that mastters. With keg the answer is nothing much. With cask it is that all important secondary fermentation (which does happen despite what Hardknoot Dave would have you believe). It is ony then that the "method of dispense" comes into play and that is to some extent secondary - it can be gravity dispense, handpump (with or without sparkler, but let's not go there), electric meter or whatever. Ke gof courser is usually pushed to the bar with the help of a little gas. So can we be clear - cask conditioning is not "just a method of dispense" and I would suggest that anyone who says otherwise either know surprsingly little about the process or is being deliberately mischievous.

Andrew Bowden said...

Anyone who has ever read CAMRA's monthly newspaper, What's Brewing, and who has looked at the letters page would - over the course of the year - find at least two letters from people who are convinced that CAMRA should adopt a policy of burning all cask breathers in a huge bonfire, and that sparklers MUST BE BANNED NOW BECAUSE THEY ARE AN ABOMINATION. Without ever saying why. On either. (To be fair, some correspondents also believe CAMRA should abandon real cider, and even pub support. And to be doubly fair, most CAMRA members are perfectly normal, sensible people who like pubs and beer)

I don't think it's the majority however the fact that the cask breather stance has never been repealed (as far as I know) shows about as much rationality on the subject as the US has when it comes to Cuba.

I know nothing about cask breathers. I have no idea whether they affect the taste because I haven't done a taste test. However I've seen very little "anti" them other than irrational comments based on little real evidence. The Beer article mentioned elsewhere here was very interesting as it actually told me something about them rather than assuming I know what they are...


Whilst we're talking about CAMRA's stances on craft beer, I think it's worth mentioning CAMRA London's magazine London Drinker, which, amongst other things, does a Pubcheck column highlighting changes in pubs. Although they always state "No real ale" if there isn't, they will go out of their way to highlight pubs with interesting keg collections if - I think it's fair to say - they fit in to a kind of craft definition, although could also be described as "interesting". The trouble with "craft beer" really is that it's horrendously difficult to define in a coherent way...

Pete Brown said...

John, you seem determined to miss my point - which is that in my experience, the quote DOES reflect the view of CAMRA - not the rank and file membership, but the campaigning, vocal part.

If your experience of CAMRA is different - good for you. I'm envious.

Barm said...

Andrew, two letters in What's Brewing over a year don't represent CAMRA policy any more than Pete's Googled quote from a local branch newsletter. I find it more significant that, as Ed pointed out, BEER carried a full page article arguing in favour of cask breathers a few months back. Not really symptomatic of a fundamentalist organisation.

mentaldental said...

Beerfan. Yes you could naturally condition in a modified keg, and I am sure someone has done so. But the result would be different from the same beer cask conditioned, I suspect. My experience (from home brewing) is that the same beer conditioned in a vertical stainless steel Cornelius keg is distinctly different from the same beer conditioned in a pin. I am not sure why although fluid dynamics, hydrostaic pressure, and yeast conditioned to a particular environment all spring to mind.

Also a keg would not work terribly well with cask fining. These produce "fluffy bottoms" which sit in the belly of a conventional cask and are left there when the container is tilted as it nears empty. With a keg the bottoms will tend to get sucked up the spear, unless it is well shortened, but then, of course, there is increased ullage. It always amazes me how little wastage there is in the traditional cask.

Cask conditioned is a surprisingly complex subject and not terribly well documented.

Pete Brown said...

OK, my last comment on this before I move on.

There are some very, very good points being made on both sides, and on neither side.

What angers me though is the suggestion that I'm somehow stirring things up, quoting CAMRA out of context, representing them unfairly.

Excuse me - but a ban on cask breathers IS OFFICIAL CAMRA POLICY. Lots of CAMRA members/supporters/activists seem to be implying that CAMRA do not have an extreme negative view on cask breathers. If that's correct, change the goddam policy.

End of.

Andrew Bowden said...

Barm -indeed. And I wouldn't say it was. But really don't underestimate the power of a letters page of a members newspaper to form an opinion of an organisation... Or at least, of its members... I speak as a CAMRA member who was a bit stunned when I joined and started reading which was not long after the Green King IPA winning the Champion Beer of Britain....

Incidentally you might have noticed from my comment that I too mentioned that excellent article in Beer... I hope it's the start of a rational debate on the subject within CAMRA. Somehow I doubt it. It really is CAMRA's equivalent of Cuba to the USA.

Eddie86 said...

Damn, late to the party. For what its worth, you can have beliefs in something whilst practising something else. So you can argue until your blue in the face that simple, basic cask ale is the best, but why would you not drink a beer with a different form of dispense, or one that is 'tampered' with to keep quality to a maximum.

It seems daft to not drink beer because of its dispense or production manner - its whatever tastes best to you personally that matters. You can campaign for what you like, doesn't mean you have to refuse other drinks.

Ale-ien said...

I'm surprised that we don't see more CO2 & Nitrogen mixes. Usually 60-40 is enough to cut back on some of the masking qualities of CO2.

At our brewery we serve both a cask and a tap version of our I.P.A. The cask allows more of the floral character and continuity of flavor (oh by gum) whilst the usual system pronounces the front loaded hops and ups the effects of the IBU.

Co2 is a mild acid, and as such raises the p.h. level and accentuates the bitterness of the hops.

(which, when drinking a continually hopped Citra or Coloumbus west coast I.P.A. is probably what you're after!-like a hop just blew its load in my mouth is how one punter described it. Wonderful Blog.

Tandleman said...

Crikey Pete. You seem determined to make an absolute arse of yourself here.

Stop before it overwhelms you.

Tandleman said...

I like Jeff Rosenmaier's comments. It is right that we have someone so sure and persuasive of his cause. I don't doubt he will take the brewing world by storm, or at least a small part of it. OK the world won't be in my lifetime. Or his. But it is something to look forward to.

If you are as dead as his beer or his reasoning.

Birkonian said...

A very interesting thread. I believe that CAMRA should stick to its guns regarding definition of real ale or lose its focus. That doesn't stop members trying other beers. Most of them will find something to drink in a non-real ale pub or have spent timedrinking draught beers in Belgium, Germany etc.so won't have a problem with a 'good' keg beer. No one seems to have addressed the main problem with the Euston Tap which is the high prices.

Martyn Cornell said...

John Clarke: "With cask it is that all important secondary fermentation" - well, no, it's not even as simple as that, as I'm sure you know very well yourself, and it's rather dishonest to pretend that the changes in flavour are all down to something called "secondary fermentation. It's not really a "secondary" fermentation, but the continuation of the original fermentation, albeit slowed down. Some brewers like to leave their casks until they are effectively fully fermented out, and then rush them to the pub for almost immediate serving. Others prefer to send out the still slightly fermenting beer and let it finish itself in the pub cellar. Either way, as fermentation is ending, other changes to do with oxidation and maturation are taking place, some of which are beneficial to the taste, others of which will be ultimately harmful. If a cask beer is caught at its peak, a cask breather will considerably delay those detrimental changes. Too many people in Camra, however, react to the idea of letting CO2 protect beer from oxygen the way rabies victims react to water - with an entirely irrational fear.

Oh, and yes, there are "cask conditioned" keg beers - Hoegaarden and Cooper's Sparkling Ale, to name two.

Rich said...

I've come here after reading your books and I think you sum it up perfectly.

Who.

Gives.

A.

Shit.

Does your beer taste good? That's surely the only question that needs to be asked. I was a member of CAMRA and I liked it. i liked their passion for beer and they do fight the good fight for beer drinkers, more power to them.
The mags were good too.

I remember, though, getting a bit annoyed at their issue of the day when I was a member - the full pint. They were all over it - pushing parliament for legislation, wanting the introduction of lined pint glasses. I just thought - if you think your pint's not full enough, surely you can ask for it to be topped up? I've done that. Everyone I know has done that. many pubs have a sign behind the bar ASKING you to do that. So it's a non-issue. Like the whole how-your-beer-gets-to-you issue.

So yeah. Good post!

Pete Brown said...

Hmm. Tandleman abandons his usual position as one of the most reasonable, intelligent, engaging, articulate and persuasive defenders of CAMRA I've ever come across and instead just starts insulting people. Strange what this particular brings out.

Must have had a bad pint.

Gavin said...

I went into a famous Birmingham real ale pub today. It has 18 cask ales but I really fancied a stout or a porter. unfortunately for me I have not been very impressed with the porter that they had on, it's just not to my taste. I still wanted a stout though and so opted for the keg stout. A few months back the pub got rid of the Guinness and replaced it with a keg stout from a small British lager brewer. It's ok, has some nice cocoa flavours, bit of roast, sweeter than Guinness. For my taste it was better than the cask porter but I wasn't going to have another. The one thing that let it down for me was that it tasted like a keg beer. Forcing Co2 through a beer effects the flavour and does so in a way that I don't like as much. Beernut has given me some food for thought about keg beers providing a better hop profile. i don't know whether I am convinced but I have been thinking about the level of carbonation left in my pint and how that effects the hop flavour. I would like to try some of these new keg beers to get an idea of this. I don't think it will change my belief that cask is better on the whole and I still want camra to campaign for real ale. It's easy to be complacent about the availability of real ale when every other pub, bar and venue is starting to sell it. On the whole I think cask ale is better, all things being equal. I don't think that makes me stupid or ignorant, I'm quite happy to try a good keg beer or any keg beer but I think I will almost always draw the same conclusion.

Tandleman said...

Pete: Must have had too many pints I'm afraid. Sorry. I'll put it differently later, but I do think you are more than a bit all over the place on this one.

Tandleman said...

Oh. And gin seemingly. I blame Tyson. And myself of course. )-;

crownbrewerstu said...

Andrew Bowden "which was not long after the Green King IPA winning the Champion Beer of Britain...." WRONG!!! I know its probably not very important but as I was the assistant brewer at Kelham Island brewery in 2004 (which I assume is the year you are referring too) I feel I must point out that Kelham Island Pale Rider beat GK IPA in the CBOB competition, unfortunately no ever remembers that fact because of all booing for GK when they were announced as runners up.

Andrew Bowden said...

Believe it or not, I originally typed Silver in that comment and then thought I'd do a double check on the internet just to make sure I remembered correctly.

So I did a search on Google and on cursory glance it appeared that Greene King IPA had won. I say cursory glance. If you look at most of those results and missed the single one that mentions "runner up", you'd have typed what I did!

I remember the whole thing because it's the only time I've ever written to What's Brewing where I proclaimed that I'd recently been in a pub (The Foresters, West Ealing) and had a truly amazing pint of Courage Best. Absolutely totally and utterly brilliant pint. Which at that point was not something you could say about it. So I wrote to say that if that pub could make that beer taste divine (it was, interestingly the only real ale they sold - indeed their entire selection was tiny) then why shouldn't Greene King IPA be able to do it and win second prize.

crownbrewerstu said...

easy mistake to make given the evidence presented by a google search...
I just tried 'Champion Beer of Britain 2004' and didn't find anything that obviously mentioned Pale Rider.

Thomas said...

How can keg be bad when the most wonderful beers from the US are suited for keg format? Also the best beers I've had in Europe this year - Narke; Struise, etc have been from keg format.

The top beers in the world are often served by keg when they are available on draught. The notion that keg is bad is not helpful for the industry at all.

Boak said...

Also coming a bit late to this.... As Camra members, we often struggle to read What's Brewing, but nor do we take it that seriously. As you know, we've delighted in beers stored and dispensed in all manner of ways. There are some excellent points about the false dichotomy between keg and cask flavour-wise, and there are indeed many excellent keg beers these days.

However, I do have some sympathy for the thin end of the wedge argument. I think Flaggonofale made a really good point earlier, which highlights why CAMRA was needed in the first place. We have something special here, not just the existence of cask ale but the mainstreaming; the fact that even mediocre pubs feel they ought to serve it (some of them might be better off not doing if they can't look after
it, but that's another story).

If the price we have to pay for that is a few idiots (to whom few people even in CAMRA listen) making the occasional silly comment, I'll live with that.

Rob Nicholson said...

>Excuse me - but a ban on cask breathers IS OFFICIAL CAMRA POLICY

I know and it represents the view of the hard liners who are able to attend the AGM :-(

Jeff Rosenmeier said...

Tandyman wrote to Jeff Rosenmeier: "If you are as dead as his beer or his reasoning"

Tandyman, come on down we'll break out the hymocytometer and a bit of methylene blue and you can tell me how dead my beer is.

Please keep your ignorance to yourself, it is embarrassing.

Tandleman said...

Jeff - I have already apologised to for misplaced remarks through too much of the wrong mix of booze. (These things do happen and I dare say I won't be the first or last, not that that's an excuse). You were included in that general apology and if that was not clear, happy to repeat it and make it clear now. When I get things wrong I apologise. No ifs or buts, but a straight apology which you now have. I hope you accept it.

As for general ignorance. Up to you and others to decide, but in terms of what you do, I've always said I want to try your keg beers and will when I see them.

newsfromthenorth said...

As a long standing CAMRA member from the 1970s I can remember the dark days when the mass marketing of chemically enhanced keg products very nearly led to the death of beers with flavour and regional identity. The recent re-emergence of the term 'keg'
therefore sends shivers down the spine and it will be culturally very difficult for the survivors of those dark times to adopt the casual 'I don't care how it's served' attitude displayed in comments on this blog
However, we are now in different times and looking back, the issues I had with 'keg' were
- The products lacked flavour, particularly as they were served cold
- They were overly fizzy due to crude application of too much CO2
- They were snapped up by lazy landlords who couldn't be bothered looking after beer
- They used inferior ingredients compared to many of the traditional brewers
- They focussed corporate investment on marketing at the expense of product development
- They would ultimately have led to a loss of craft brewing skills through the adoption of scientific process automation
Looking behind the 2010 version of keg, you will find a very different world which typically includes:
- Beers with a huge amount of flavour representing a full and expanded range of beer styles
- Brewers who seek out quality ingredients
- Interested and engaged outlets who are an integral part of the craft beer movement
- Beers which will stand up to and maybe even benefit from, chilled dispense
- A proliferation of skilled brewers who share knowledge and experience
A very different world and one in which even an old CAMRA believer, like myself, might be tempted to try a pint of Brewdog or similar from a keg. Just the one, mind you!

Tyson said...

Come on folks. This thread eems to be running out of steam a little. There are still some valid points to be made. I think we need further comment and discussion. Not least because I've got £5 riding on this topic reaching 100 comments.

BLTP said...

The Beer in the Euston tap is very good. Last time we went we had some from a bottle and some out of a tap in the wall (may have been a a bear or duck on the the tap) all were very good. We also had a natter and lovely chat about Frank Sidebottom and then some nice beer from tap this time I think it's tasted of lost of things and was nice. We then had some pizza which was also nice and then listened to the Cure which was also very good.
I didn't see anyone with a camra.

Graffiki said...

At the end of the 18th century it became common to add finings to ale to aid the clearing and settling process. This was a revolution, from this point on there would be clear beers and a lot less in the way of digestive issues I suspect.

If we though were to actively condemn and ignore all forms of technical production progress we would indeed have to ban finings also.... They do not represent the traditional way to brew... or do they? Wooden barrels vesus metal barrels? Aluminium versus steel?

I am not sure that excessive action would be so widely accepted as the hatred oft felt towards the Co2 assistance used in many cellars.

Progress is a necessity and for a large ale organisation of CAMRA's standing not to allow this in their ever wisened thinking pattern is very short sighted. Progress is often good... embrace it... or wither.

Ski Test said...

My wife and I attended our first CAMRA event last night. Let me put this in context; I like beer, my wife likes beer. I waste my time with a website that reviews the worst pubs in my home town, telling the punters which to avoid and why.

I’ve travelled, lived and studied in North America, the Far East and Europe so my tastes run from Bohemian Pilsners, via American craft brewers to developing a particular fondness for East European porters and stouts. We live in the centre of a large Northern city. We have a friend who has a real ale pub right in the middle of town. He’s in the running for our CAMRA local pub of the year, and in the spirit of gerrymandering we thought we’d join up and vote for him.

Having watched a Hornby train destroy much of Corrie we decided to risk a CAMRA wander. It’s destroyed my life. I now realise that I have a script inside me, as desperate to get out as the Alien in John Hurt’s stomach. It’s going to be called The Tickers and it’s going to be as big as The Office. I can’t rest until it’s been written.

Picture the scene, a real ale bar filled with team CAMRA. Checked shirts, bad hair, drooling over the Jaipur. Drinks are ordered, not with any apparent desire to enjoy the experience. A series of halves are parked on the bar. Aromas are savoured, clarity is checked. A finger is dipped into a freshly drawn half, then rubbed on the inside of a cheek [for tasting, not scratching]. A pub full of people apparently passionate about beer, yet displaying all of the warmth of butterfly collectors discussing humane killing.

Now we’re not teenagers, in fact, God help us I’m over 40, yet I was a mere child in this gathering. Not only a child by calender, but a child in attitude, dress, demeanour, mannerisms. Mrs Pubwatcher will tell you that I dress like a Grandfather. Team CAMRA dressed like his gardner. I’ve always regarded CAMRA as something of a middle-class pass time, something confirmed by the accents asking for a sample of every hand pull beer on the bar before settling on the first one. However, if some poor soul had walked into the middle of this gathering and looked rather than listened they’d have assumed it was a gathering of tramps, slowly eking out their halfs to make them last all night.

Beer is about enjoyment, relaxation, noise, laughter. It’s about taste, pleasure, and friends. Where did it all go wrong ? They must have been normal once. They must have laughed once, they can’t always have dressed like the wurzels.

Moving into Attenborough mode we stepped back and watched the complete lack of enjoyment associated with every sup. Wilde said that the cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing, well this gathering seemed to understand the specific gravity of everything, but tasted nothing - other than to decide whether the hops were Kentish or Saaz.

WHO CARES ! Beer, and drinking ought to be about pleasure, taste. A social and a sensual experience, yet team CAMRA seemed to engage in the drinking equivalent of spending time under the duvet with Claudia Schiffer using a ruler and compasses to compare the radius of her left and right nipples.

Yet we’ll be back. It was one of the oddest nights of my life, but next time I ll be prepared. I can’t resist the prospect of creating a living Bateman cartoon in the style of the man who. This one will be the man who ordered a pint of John Smiths during a CAMRA wander. Of course the best part will be the reply from our bar’s patron ‘what the f**k for’ ?

Ski Test said...

My wife and I attended our first CAMRA event last night. Let me put this in context; I like beer, my wife likes beer. I waste my time with a website that reviews the worst pubs in my home town, telling the punters which to avoid and why.

I’ve travelled, lived and studied in North America, the Far East and Europe so my tastes run from Bohemian Pilsners, via American craft brewers to developing a particular fondness for East European porters and stouts. We live in the centre of a large Northern city. We have a friend who has a real ale pub right in the middle of town. He’s in the running for our CAMRA local pub of the year, and in the spirit of gerrymandering we thought we’d join up and vote for him.

Having watched a Hornby train destroy much of Corrie we decided to risk a CAMRA wander. It’s destroyed my life. I now realise that I have a script inside me, as desperate to get out as the Alien in John Hurt’s stomach. It’s going to be called The Tickers and it’s going to be as big as The Office. I can’t rest until it’s been written.

Picture the scene, a real ale bar filled with team CAMRA. Checked shirts, bad hair, drooling over the Jaipur. Drinks are ordered, not with any apparent desire to enjoy the experience. A series of halves are parked on the bar. Aromas are savoured, clarity is checked. A finger is dipped into a freshly drawn half, then rubbed on the inside of a cheek [for tasting, not scratching]. A pub full of people apparently passionate about beer, yet displaying all of the warmth of butterfly collectors discussing humane killing.

Now we’re not teenagers, in fact, God help us I’m over 40, yet I was a mere child in this gathering. Not only a child by calender, but a child in attitude, dress, demeanour, mannerisms. Mrs Pubwatcher will tell you that I dress like a Grandfather. Team CAMRA dressed like his gardner. I’ve always regarded CAMRA as something of a middle-class pass time, something confirmed by the accents asking for a sample of every hand pull beer on the bar before settling on the first one. However, if some poor soul had walked into the middle of this gathering and looked rather than listened they’d have assumed it was a gathering of tramps, slowly eking out their halfs to make them last all night.

Beer is about enjoyment, relaxation, noise, laughter. It’s about taste, pleasure, and friends. Where did it all go wrong ? They must have been normal once. They must have laughed once, they can’t always have dressed like the wurzels.

Moving into Attenborough mode we stepped back and watched the complete lack of enjoyment associated with every sup. Wilde said that the cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing, well this gathering seemed to understand the specific gravity of everything, but tasted nothing - other than to decide whether the hops were Kentish or Saaz.

WHO CARES ! Beer, and drinking ought to be about pleasure, taste. A social and a sensual experience, yet team CAMRA seemed to engage in the drinking equivalent of spending time under the duvet with Claudia Schiffer using a ruler and compasses to compare the radius of her left and right nipples.

Yet we’ll be back. It was one of the oddest nights of my life, but next time I ll be prepared. I can’t resist the prospect of creating a living Bateman cartoon in the style of the man who. This one will be the man who ordered a pint of John Smiths during a CAMRA wander. Of course the best part will be the reply from our bar’s patron ‘what the f**k for’ ?

Curmudgeon said...

I'm sure I've read the exact same post before somewhere...

Skippy said...

In my opinion, it depends entirely on the beer. As Peter pointed out in Hops and Glory IPAs originally were not 'real ales' and from the recent surge of them in pubs, I don't think they would suit a keg. Saying that Tetley nitrorubbish vs Tetley cask...

I am a CAMRA member but do not know any fellow members who are so hardline. We go to the Sheffield and York Tap regularly and indulge in keg beer. It's nice. And so are many cask beers. Both have their purposes.

Willie THOM said...

seems to be a lot of drivel about why CAMRA was formed,it was formed because traditional beer properly conditioned in the cellar was becoming a rarer and rarer product.The market being flooded by tasteless gassy cold keg beer.It was not formed as someone said as real ale was very poor,though some probably was as is true today.I was a member for years and joined to help preserve real ale, and yes I was a militant who fought against those in the organisation who would have us accept the cask breather,but through my activities I came to appreciate many foreign beers especially belgian which do not qualify as real ale(a very british form of beer)though many are unfiltered and are bottle conditioned,however if i ever suspected that a pub was selling beer through a cask breather I would stay well clear

Willie THOM said...

seems to be a lot of drivel about why CAMRA was formed,it was formed because traditional beer properly conditioned in the cellar was becoming a rarer and rarer product.The market being flooded by tasteless gassy cold keg beer.It was not formed as someone said as real ale was very poor,though some probably was as is true today.I was a member for years and joined to help preserve real ale, and yes I was a militant who fought against those in the organisation who would have us accept the cask breather,but through my activities I came to appreciate many foreign beers especially belgian which do not qualify as real ale(a very british form of beer)though many are unfiltered and are bottle conditioned,however if i ever suspected that a pub was selling beer through a cask breather I would stay well clear

Andrew Bowden said...

Surely if a pub served beer with a cask breather, you'd KNOW. In fact if cask breathers did what so many people said they do, we'd all know.

That no one seems to ever know when a pub is serving beer with a cask breather without asking, suggests to me that there's a lot of hype and hysteria about them and a hell of a lot of lack of actual knowledge.

I'm not saying they're good. I'm not saying they're bad. Just that it's quite obvious that no one actually knows what they do.

Jeff Rosenmeier said...

The ONLY way you would KNOW if a pub was using a cask breather would be that you no longer get rancid pints.

The handpump is a pretty primitive device and when the publican is pulling a pint, that pint has to be replaced by something. With the CAMRA approved method, it is replaced with cellar air. Cellar air is full of beer spoiling microorganisms and oxygen. Both of which spoil the beer. Oxygen causes oxidation which can make the beer taste like wet cardboard. The presence of oxygen also means that acetobacter will go to work on the beer, turning it to vinegar.

A cask breather is a very simple device. It is inserted into the shive hole and hooked up to carbon dioxide. When the publican pulls a pint, that pint is replaced with a pint of CO2 vapor. CO2 being inert has no reaction on the beer whatsoever. This is done at atmospheric pressure, therefore there is also NO effect on the condition of the beer.

Hype and hysteria for sure and yes, mainly by people who don't know what the fuck they are talking about.