This months Session is being hosted by the Reluctant Scooper and the topic is Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter?.
When this session was announced, I was quite excited. I initially thought I’d try and track down a beer that is sold on all forms of dispense and compare them. Unfortunately, there appears to be no-one in the UK that currently does this with the same beer.
Both Adnams Bitter and I think, Fuller’s London Pride, are available in cask, keg, bottle and can, but the strength of the beer differs depending on the dispense, so they don’t really count. Some brewers have the same beer available, at the same strength in cask, keg and bottle, both BrewDog and Thornbridge spring to mind here, although there are probably a few more, but they don’t can their beer.
This put me at a bit of a loss, if I couldn’t write about a single beer what could I write about? I could make this the shortest article ever, by just saying, no, dispense doesn’t matter, as long as the beer being dispensed is good. But I have more to say than just that, maybe enough to say, that multiple blog posts would be better than what’s below, but I digress.
There seems to me to be a difference in perception about some forms of dispense in the UK, that’s different to most other countries. This is mainly due to the prevalence of cask conditioned beer in this country. Kegged and canned beer are thought to be the bastard inbred cousins of cask and bottles and are thus shunned by a lot of real ale drinkers as being inferior.
Is this perception really warranted though…? It’s very hard to say, that no, it isn’t warranted, when you walk down the beer aisle in any supermarket and it’s stacked high with cans of mass produced industrial lager and smooth flow versions of previously decent cask ales and not a lot else. It’s also very hard to say, that no, it isn’t warranted, when you walk into a pub and all the cask ales on offer are bland, boring, brown session beer, that hasn’t been looked after and tastes of vinegar.
I think the main reason why this perception exists is due to the product that is being put into the various forms of dispense. The vast, vast majority of keg beer in the UK is, for me, a mass produced undrinkable excuse for a beer, it’s totally vile. Similarly with canned beer, the vast, vast majority is the same mass produced undrinkable excuse for a beer that’s sold via keg. Real ale dispensed from cask on the other hand, is, with a few exceptions obviously, normally very, very good, at least where I drink it is. Similarly, the bottled beer I buy, while it’s not cask, can be just as enthralling to drink.
However, I know for a fact, that kegged beer can be just as good as casked beer. I spent a bit of time in Rome last year and frequented Brasserie 4:20, Bir and Fud, Open Baladin and Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa’, all of which serve fantastic kegged beer. The vast majority of the beer I drank was from those kegs and it was produced by some of Europe’s most progressive and highly thought of brewers. I don’t think I had a bad glass during my whole time there and the vast majority of the beer I tried, was simply phenomenal.
I have also drank kegged beer at The Euston Tap and at Cask Pub and Kitchen, both of which are in London and both of which offer an amazing variety of cask beer as well. Again I’ve not had a bad one and some have been truly outstanding. Similarly, I had cask beer from both these establishments that was simply jaw dropping, a testament to the combined skill of the brewer and the love shown by the cellar man.
As far quality beer in a can though, it was only the other day that I got to try my first taste. The Caldera Pale Ale was perfectly pleasant, but just like Rogue’s Juniper Pale Ale, it left me wanting. The Caldera IPA on the other hand was a revelation, quality, tasty beer in a can, I’ll have to buy some more. Tasting it, was for me, the final nail in the coffin of the question posed for this months session. So to answer the question, no, dispense doesn’t matter, as long as the beer being dispensed is good.
So why are we even having a debate about the different forms of dispense, when really, it’s the beer that’s inside the container that that we should be discussing? I think it’s just that in the UK at least, there hasn’t been any quality keg or cans, so they have an image problem. CAMRA have been, rightly, banging on that cask is best for years, but now that there is good quality beer in kegs and soon to be quality beer in cans, from UK breweries, cask no longer contains the best beer by default.
I for one, am looking forward to trying good quality beer from all from of dispense, especially from cans and the new fangled "real keg", because dispense doesn’t matter, it’s the beer inside the container that matters.