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The word ‘Craft’ in brewing, friend or Pandora’s box

2015-06-14

It’s a subject that will not go away, so I thought I would chip in with my view, as a brewery owner and more importantly a seasoned beer drinker. I’m not going to quote any dictionary definition, the fact is if you ask most people to define a ‘craft industry’, they will use words like ‘small’, ‘manual’, ‘passion’ and ‘independently owned’ to name a few.

The issue I have is the term ‘Craft Beer’ is increasingly being used in the UK to define one style of beer at the exclusion of the other that is Keg and not Real Ale.  The term ‘Craft’ should relate to the approach and methodology around making the product, the problem arises when the subsequent word can be further categorised.

Real Ale has been craft brewed for many years but it was never thought necessary to prefix real ale with the word ‘craft’ as it was already distinguishable from the Keg beers being mass produced.  Now Keg is making a comeback and in many cases because of the stigma attached to the word Keg, many brewers, not all, are simply calling their beer a craft beer implying that it differentiates it from Real Ale because it is craft, it doesn’t.


I would like to see brewers being more open about their product, if they are a craft brewery, then state whether their beers are craft keg or craft real ale, or both.

So why is Keg making a comeback? One of the earliest exponents of this approach was Brew Dog, siting the nasty lagers and bland beers on offer as some of their reasons for entering this market. But wait, had not Thornbridge been a shining example, before Brew Dog as to how you can make very interesting Real Ales and wasn’t one of Brew Dogs flagship keg beers Punk IPA very similar to the bottled version of Jaipur IPA….not really surprising was it?

Now I am not trying to have a go at Brew Dog here, I really like their beers, though still prefer cask conditioned. What I am trying to figure out is why there is such momentum. Brew Dog choose Keg over cask for a reason and they certainly have been successful and kick started the movement. Many would argue and I would agree, that you get more variety of flavour with any product served at 12 degrees Celcius than ones served much colder, even water from the Thames tastes good chilled (1). So if flavour was a primary factor, why Keg?

In my view the ‘why’ keg is simple, it is profit margin. Yes it costs a little more to make a Keg beer, higher hop content to counter loss due to cold serving, some filtering to varying degrees, but that should not reflect to upwards of a 50% increase in the price of a pint over a cask beer at the pump. HMRC do not distinguish between their duty on a 5% beer between cask and keg, they both pay the same.

The other advantages of Keg over cask include shelf life and the increase in sales opportunities to bars, night clubs, hotels and restaurants who are not geared up to take real ale. Keg can also be a conduit to cask ale, as these same people may be tempted to seek out the cask version of some of the keg beers on offer.

So the box has been opened, will Spire Brewing Conpany make a craft Keg beer alongside our craft real ale? Absolutely we will, we have to serve the market and it makes business sense, for the reasons already mentioned, but we will not lose focus from the craft real ale alongside.

The slight concern I have is that now the lid has been lifted will we one day start to move away from making exciting and distinguishable craft keg beers, developed by brewers to be replaced by the dreaded and feared brewer’s that were culled in the 80’s. I am talking of course about the ACCOUNTANT BREWERS!

My plea to brewers is , by all means offer choice, brew craft keg beers but don’t abandon the passion for craft real ale, which is probably what brought most of you into the business in the first place.

(1) http://www.thameswater.co.uk/about-us/850_2587.htm

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