Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Keg is expensive - and here to stay

I don't think there can be any doubt that Tandleman is right about keg in general being more expensive than cask and craft keg being markedly so (where markedly = 30p-50p).

Two points:

1) Craft keg in craft beer bars (aka 'the niche within a niche within a niche') - the reason it's expensive here is twofold. First, there is the genuine extra expense in kegging for the brewer, summed up well here.

Second, there is the fact that the first craft keg wave (which started five or fewer years ago in major cities, certainly London) was foreign beer - chiefly Belgian, German or US. Some of this stuff, and Tandie is fair on this matter, is rightly pricey. But it means that new UK keg falls into that price bracket (the owner of a craft beer bar has two issues here: a) if I can charge bonkers money for it, why not? A reasonable thing, that; b) customers might ask why the foreign stuff is so expensive - easier to keep every keg in the same rough price bracket).

2) Despite this, craft keg will find a wider audience and it will do it relatively soon. As I wrote BTL at Reluctant Scooper...

'...since the rumblings of 2007 and the full-on [economic] crash of 2008, pubcos have had to look at their estates as businesses and not simply real estate investments. So we've seen an explosion of interesting beer in pubco pubs, with Punch doing a good job, Greene King noticeably weakening in the face of lobbying from keen licencees and Mitchells & Butlers' Nicholsons managed chain leading the way.

It won't be long before these pubcos realise the potential to extend this thinking to the keg fonts. Already in London - and what happens in that London is picked up by marketing bods and suits - there are many Punch names carrying Meantime keg fonts. Likewise, several freehouses are stocking keg Brooklyn and Camden Hells. The Byron burger chain also stocks bottles of Brooklyn - the New York beer is fast becoming ubiquitous in bottles and the go-to in swanky but cask-free places such as hotels, gig venues.

At the lower end of this activity, we've already seen scores of pubs - yes, including pubco pubs - take on Budvar and Urquell. I know a freehouse that gave up on Urquell in 2003 due to supply issues. Now it's widely available.

My point is it will only take a pubco push of Brooklyn, Sierra Nevada or Meantime nationwide to make the craft keg scene an almost instant reality. Those such as Thornbridge positioning for that moment are right to do so.

For that reason, I think those saying 'craft keg is a niche within a niche' are missing what could well be a significant shift in the on trade in the coming five years.'

Aside from the industry aspects, I think Thornbridge Jaipur is very good on keg and bottle but both are very harsh and - yes - carbonic compared to the excellent cask version, which is very coherent and has a superior mouthfeel.

But then it's primarily a cask beer, designed as such. I'm not sure I'd prefer, say, Lovibond's excellent kegged 69 IPA (hoppy and richly bodied but not cloying and beautifully carbonated - how?) or Bear Republic's Racer 5 on cask. When I've tried (well kept) American style IPAs north of 6-7% on cask, many (not all) have tended to be hop teas.

Keen observers will note: a) I've come out of retirement; b) the picture shows us nothing useful in relation to the article except bottles of non-real ale (illustrating a market for the stuff?!) and evidence of Campari consumption, to which I happily plead guilty.