A tale of two beer festivals: GBBF versus LCBF

If I had wanted confirmation that the “non-macro” British beer scene is now split into two separate camps, serving different constituencies, with remarkably little cross-over between them, considering that both sides are dedicated to the pursuit of terrific beer, two events a couple of weeks back could not have made it clearer.

In West London, the Campaign for Real Ale’s annual Great British Beer Festival at Olympia delivered the products of around 350 different cask ale brewers to some 50,000 people over five days. Meanwhile, over (almost symbolically) on the other side of the city in East London, at the Oval Space in Bethnal Green, the first London Craft Beer Festival, on for three days in a considerably smaller venue, served beers from just 20 brewers, (only four of whom were also at GBBF*), most or all of it dispensed from pressurised containers that would have kegophobe Camra members fobbing with fury.

The most remarkable contrast between the two events was not the rather different attitudes to the idea of how “good beer” could be dispensed, however, but the very different sets of people attending each festival. The GBBF crowds were a wide selection of the sort of drinkers you might find in any pub in a middle-class area, minus the families though mostly male and skewed, it appeared to me, towards the over-40s – indeed, I’d say the number able to get to Olympia using their Boris bus pass (ahem – like me) was considerably greater than in the pub population at large.

The GBBF crowd
The GBBF crowd: older, mostly male. Your dad’s beer festival

The LCBF crowd, in contrast, was in parts almost a parody of hipsterdom: man buns and “ironic” short-back-and-sides with beards, plenty of checked shirts and Converse All-Stars, and with the hipster “ironic band T-shirt” (where you display on your chest the image of a beat combo popular with teenyboppers in the late 1980s) replaced with the “ironic beer T-shirt” (Tusker lager – I must dig out my Foster’s Special Bitter T-shirt from 1994 …). There were far more women as a proportion of the audience at the LCBF, and the age range was considerably narrower (and younger) than Olympia: I was older than 95 per cent or so of everybody else at the Bethnal Green event by a good 20 years, and (unlike Olympia), while there were plenty of beards, I was wearing one of the very, very few showing any signs of grey.

your little brother's beer festival
The LCBF crowd: younger, hipper. Your little brother’s beer festival

What else was there to convince me I wasn’t in Olympia anymore, Toto? The seating looked like it had been nicked from a pub in Shoreditch: worn padded leather sofas and ex-cinema swingdowns. The food, in utter contrast to the meat pies and curries available at the GBBF, included roast shoulder of goat in a coffee and black cardamom sauce (recommended beer: porter), and cured breast of wood pigeon with blue cheese rarebit (recommended beer: IPA). The music included Craig Charles DJing (not while I was there, alas) and an “alternative indie-electro-pop band from France” (the festival programme’s description) called We Were Evergreen.

The pricings were rather different, too: at the GBBF a ticket costs £10 (less for Camra members) and the beers work out at around £1 to £1.20 or so for a third of a pint (my preferred glass size for beer festivals now – if a particular beer’s rubbish you waste less, and I can also drink more individual beers without falling down). At the LCBF, tickets were £35, but that included 15 vouchers for a third of a beer at a time. However, as far as I could work out, each voucher was specifically for one particular brewer’s beer, so if you wanted, say, two different beers from To Øl, you had to go and buy another voucher – and if you couldn’t drink through all five pints’ worth of vouchers, the average cost of your beer escalated dramatically. Something to work on for next time, LCBF organisers, I think.

I wonder how many people, like me, went to both the GBBF and the LCBF – and how many Camra members went to LCBF? My take on the GBBF is coloured by the fact that, as a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers for 25 years, and Camra for 36 years, and as a journalist covering the hospitality business, I know a fair number of people likely to be at the first-day trade session, so a large part of my time there this year was spent chatting to people I hadn’t seen for some time. The beers are almost a sidebar to the conviviality (though I did make sure I was in the queue for both the Courage Imperial Russian Stout from the cask and the draught Greene King 5X – that last one made highly amusing by having to deal with the people who, not knowing about 5X, couldn’t understand why anyone was lining up for a Greene King beer.)

At the LCBF I didn’t think I would know anybody, though I was wrong: Andy Moffat, head brewer at Redemption in Tottenham, North London, spotted and hailed me, and was kind enough to give me a free glass of the brewery’s new Pisco Pale, a 4.7 per cent beer flavoured with Peru’s national firewater, even though it wasn’t strictly on sale at that hour. This is basically a draught Submarino, without all that faffing about dropping the glass of spirits into the tumbler of beer, and the pisco, even though only a small amount goes into each cask, gives a fantastic aroma to the final beer.

LCBF logoAnd what about the other beers? Some very impressive brews, actually, which if there were any Camra members there sceptical about the “craft keg” movement, should have persuaded them that, yes, properly brewed and handled, keg beers can easily be the equal to almost any cask ale.

Having written about session IPAs earlier this summer, I had to try Magic Rock‘s version, at 2.8%. The carbonation actually helps with the lack of alcohol here, boosting the mouthfeel, meaning I don’t think this would work as well on cask. I was getting quite a bit of sulphur on the nose, alongside a good American hop hit – grapefruit, passionfruit, you know the thing. Ultimately, though, while one glass was enjoyable, and I’d have it as my sole pint if I was driving, it was ultimately too thin, for me, to consider for an evening’s session.

The next glass was Kernel’s Ella pale ale, a cloudy brew which increasingly grew on me as it went down: I thought I detected something almost chocolatey when I started with it (no idea why), but that was replaced by a more Belgian note, with a great full mouthfeel and, again, lovely “American fruity” aromas: very satisfying. Which I couldn’t say about Black Betty “black IPA” from Beavertown, almost the festival’s local brewery, from nearby in Hackney Wick. This was much more a heavily hopped sweet stout than a black IPA, and most of it went into one of the large plastic bins placed handily by each brewer’s stall for slops.

Fortunately Mikkeller was there to show how hoppy brown beers ought to be made, with Jackie Brown (or “Jackie Fucking Brown”, as it was labelled on the stall, underlying the link to the Tarantino movie): the sweetness was dialled right back, and a complexity of roast and chocolate malts came through, with laid over the top a lovely carrotty, gingery malt topping. That’s the way to do it.

Another disappointment arrived with Camden Town’s Gentleman’s Wit: it looked like lemon meringue pie, and tasted like it as well, sugary where it should have been sharp. Maybe an actual quarter of a lemon in the glass might have helped. Crate Stout, from another new Hackney Wick brewery, handled that side of the beer experience much better, a lovely light chocolatey glassful just lifting off at the end of the delivery from being too sweet.

The “craft keg” equivalent of cask ale’s Boring Brown Bitter is citrussy pale ale: so easy to do, so difficult to do well. Well done, then Siren Craft Brew, which only started up in February this year in Finchinhampton, near Reading, and supplied the LCBF with as good an English-brewed American IPA as any I’ve had. It’s not difficult to guess that the man with the brewmaster’s apron on here had masses of experience bunging hops into coppers, and indeed, Ryan Witter-Merithew has a hugely impressive CV encompassing well-known breweries in the US and Denmark. Soundwave IPA, unusually, lets the malt have almost equal billing alongside the mango and grapefruit, which walk hand-in-hand with a touch of burnt toffee. I shall definitely be drinking more Siren.

In all I had an excellent afternoon, marred only by the lack of any hard-line anti-craft keg Camra people around to grab by the hair while forcing them to drink a glass of Soundwave or similar and shouting in their faces: “Admit it, ye fecker – it’s great and yet it’s not cask!” Still, frankly, that’s an argument which is increasingly becoming irrelevant. I went to a talk in Bloomsbury earlier this week on “Using Digital Humanities Techniques to Study the History of Beer and Brewing”, by Harvey Quamen, associate professor of English and humanities computing at the University of Alberta, which was vastly more interesting than it might sound (and which gave me and the people I went with much amusement when a quote about the history of porter from one of my books popped up on screen during the presentation: it must have been unnerving for Professor Quamen to suddenly realise the author you are quoting is sitting in the audience staring at you). Afterwards I and Tim Holt, editor of the Brewery History Journal, went down to the nearby Holborn Whippet, for a pint of something craft. As we looked around the Wednesday evening crowd, it was clear that, just like the LCBF, the drinkers were all (apart from us) under 40, at least 40 per cent of them were smartly dressed young women, and everybody – including the smartly dressed young women – was drinking beer: not a pinot grigio rosé to be sighted. And I’d be prepared to bet that of the 153,000 members Camra now has, not a one was in the Whippet that night.

*Thornbridge, Dark Star, Redemption and Harviestoun, since you ask

0 thoughts on “A tale of two beer festivals: GBBF versus LCBF

    1. I think you’ll find it was Charles Dickens who was first – who can forget Sidney Carton’s words as he raised a pint of Santerre’s Guillotine IPA to his lips and declared: “It is a far, far better beer I taste than I have ever tasted before …”

  1. In the last two weeks I’ve had outstanding real ale and outstanding craft keg in both Huddersfield (The Grove) & Scarborough (North Riding Brewpub) and I’m sure neither destination could claim to be part of the ‘urban beer bubble’. Really good piece Martyn. You give the impression that you enjoy both sides of the coin, so do we, pubs are improved by offering both options. I’m 46, a real ale drinking CAMRA member and a craft keg lover, I’ve got a feeling there are more of us out there, they just need to fight the fear and put their hands up!!

  2. I dunno, I was tempted to go the the LCBF but when I realised it was the same week as the GBBF it was a non-starter.

    Also I was in the Holborn Whippet last weekend despite being over 40 and a CAMRA member, and the last tweet I saw from them said they sell more cask than anything else. But then again cask is better then keg!

    1. It’s funny, I was tempted to go to GBBF, but then realized it was the same week as LCBF and it was a non-starter :). (lapsed CAMRA member, age 31).

      I’m really glad London is getting a festival in the same vein as Mikkeller’s excellent Copenhagen Beer Celebration.

      Cask is great, but I’ve found that dispense method is a poor proxy for beer quality.

  3. I know which one I’d rather be at. Anywhere outside the UK good cask ales are like hens teeth. Craft beer festivals, on the other hand, are in abundance.

  4. “Admit it, ye fecker – it’s great and yet it’s not cask!”

    It happens – and why shouldn’t it? There are some great bottled beers out there, after all, and a lot of them are brewery-conditioned just like keg. But in my experience it just doesn’t happen enough. Offhand I can think of four keg beers which have really impressed me (from Moor, Red Willow and Marble(x2)), alongside a lot of others which have disappointed me to a greater or lesser extent (from Red Willow, Marble, Magic Rock, Hard Knott and Lovibonds, as well as the Scottish brewery). This evening I had a Wild IPA (cask) after a Red Willow “continuously hopped” PA (keg). I’m a staunch Red Willow fan & usually don’t care too much for Wild, but the contrast between these two was staggering – the RW was nice enough & I could see what they were trying to do, but the flavour just kind of sat there. There was so much more going on in the Wild beer it was untrue.

    And the amount you have to pay to take this particular gamble is really starting to grate. The RW keg was 20% dearer than the Wild (which wasn’t cheap to start with), despite being 20% weaker. Also this evening, I passed up a chance to try Moor’s JJJ IPA on keg, even though I’ve heard great things about it, as it was being sold at £4 a half. Surely this is a bubble. Surely.

    I think in your scenario I’d come back at you with

    “Admit it, ye fecker (yerself) – it’d be better on cask! (And, in all probability, cheaper.)”

    1. Yes – when I attended the Macclesfield “Twissup” we dropped into RedWillow and were given the chance to try this IPA on cask and keg. Those attending (old style CAMRA people being in a distinct minority) were asked to vote on which they preferred. The cask won hands down.

    2. Well, no, I don’t think there’s any guarantee at all it would be better on cask, unfortunately. It OUGHT to be, if properly brewed and looked after. But my experience is that 50 per cent of the cask beer I drink is only just on the right side of acceptable, 20 per cent is really not that good at all, just 20 per cent is actively good and only 10 per cent is actually terrific. What I WILL concede is that terrific cask is always (so far, in my experience) better than any keg can reach. But my average craft keg experience, so far, admittedly on a much more limited basis, has always been better than my average (emphasis on average) cask experience, simply because there’s so much poor to mediocre cask beer on sale in pubs. And the number of actively poor pints of craft keg I’ve had is tiny. So if the premium charged for craft keg is a reflection of the lesser chance of getting a poor point (albeit set against the reduced chance of getting a truly wonderful pint), then it may be worth it.

      1. my experience is that 50 per cent of the cask beer I drink is only just on the right side of acceptable, 20 per cent is really not that good at all, just 20 per cent is actively good and only 10 per cent is actually terrific

        I must be either very lucky with my beer or very choosy with my pubs – I don’t see a quality problem with cask these days. In my experience cask beer divides more like 5:25:40:30 – where craft keg would be more like 0:30:65:5. Either way you have a 70% chance of getting something better than adequate, but the odds of getting something outstanding are much better on the cask side.

        It sounds as if craft keg is being sold to some people on consistency and others on novelty. Plus ça change eh?

        1. Well, I think craft keg is being sold on the strength of being supposedly great-tasting beer, actually, and nothing else. Now, whether or not it IS great-tasting will depend on the view of the taster …

          1. Well, you say yourself that the premium might be justified by consistency. As for novelty, at the bar down the road you can get eight cask beers for £3-£4 per pint and twenty-odd keg beers for £5-£8 per pint. The cask beers come from people like Arbor, Moor, Wild, Magic Rock, Bristol BF & so on and are pretty damn good. Why do people willingly pay so much more the keg beers? I vote novelty.

          2. 50 years ago, of course, the “novel” keg beers of the 1960s – Red Barrel, Tavern, Double Diamond and so on – also commanded a price premium, and also promised consistency. Thoughts, everybody?

          3. Where “smooth” is sold alongside cask bitter – as in the tied pubs of the Greater Manchester family brewers – the “smooth” invariably commands a price premium.

      2. I know my reputation is not that of Mr Sunshine where beer quality is concerned, but I would say of cask beer 10% is terrific, 20% is pretty good, 40% entirely acceptable, 20% borderline, 10% downright poor.

  5. I would have been at both but for the annoying failure of LCBF to provide details of what beers would be available & I wasn’t prepared to run the risk of shelling out 35 quid for beers that I wasn’t interested in or that I could get elsewhere cheaper (and not have to suffer a DJ). Plus I knew that I would be at GBBF for 4 days before and my 56 year old constitution isn’t as robust as it once was. Shame, as I would have liked to make a contribution to the grey beard count. It does strike me though that the “craft” beer crowd is in danger of becoming as stereotyped as the CAMRA mob.

  6. The question is really whether, as the first commenter asks, this kind of beer will break out big time and challenge and topple CAMRA’s hegemony.

    It is a gastronomic issue ultimately, not a demographic one.

    If keg at its best is so grand, why didn’t British bottled beer emerge to render real ale nugatory? It has had 100 years to try. And now the draft version is trying, using non-traditional hops.

    CAMRA and what it, ahem, unbolted was more than a specific expression of demographic and a bruiting of something interesting or (yes) even good. It was a sea change in beer history, like Elvis or The Beatles were in rock.

    A glass of citrussy or piney fizzy beer is flavour of the month – whether it will turn out to reflect underlying deep emotional appeal and the high gastronomic qualities of British draught beer made primarily with British hops remains to be seen.

    On the simple issue of whether any kind of this beer – and I enjoy much of it, make no mistake – can approach the finest English cask pale ales, I say there is no contest. A well-kept Old Hookey, London Pride, Fuller ESB, Holt’s Bitter, Courage’s Director, Ind Coope Burton Ale (if still available, I mean the bitter), leave those in the dust.


  7. Hi Martyn, not that it’s totally relevant but you should get yourself to Indymanbeercon at Victoria Baths, Manchester. It’s going to be its second year and should be ace.

  8. Really interested to read this. We (Boak and I) are coming to the conclusion that there was once Big Beer and ‘underdog beer’. Now, ‘underdog beer’ has come of age and is big enough to contain sub-divisions of its own.

    Ideally, those won’t be warring factions (though we do see a bit of that already) but friendly and overlapping groups.

  9. To me, craft keg, just as its bottled and now canned counterpart containing filtered unpasteurized beer, is a different category to cask ale and always will be. Increasingly, there has been an attempt to blur the distinction by selling the craft keg or bottled/canned beer unfiltered – but it almost always is served cold and has been force-carbonated – it isn’t real ale. (Nor indeed does leaving in visible yeast and protein improve craft keg/bottled/canned IMO, but that is another issue).

    However, a lot of this beer can be very good and somehow the pungency of New World hops seems to suit it. Britain could have made this kind of beer from the early days of CAMRA on, but chose not to, probably due to cost and concerns with stability, i.e., if good beer was to survive, it was to be cask only, made initially of course (and very well) by some of the Big Six and independents, later also by the new coterie of post-CAMRA brewers. The Americans, never very good at cask, led the way with their initially chilled, fizzy, malt/hoppy unpasteurized beers, and now the latter have caught on in Britain, with the danger of people there forgetting who started all these and the range of great tastes British hop fields, now at historically low production levels, can produce.

    That’s as I see it. All these forms of beer will likely survive and public taste will assign the market shares.

    If it’s a beer world though where Old Hooky, London Pride, Fuller ESB, Adnams Bitter and so on won’t exist – that range of tastes I mean which essentially relies on English hops and yeasts for a keynote flavour – then the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. That day will never come I hope.


    1. Isn’t a lot of real ale in a bottle filtered, albeit reseeded? And is there any particular reason why keg beer has to be force carbonated and can’t condition in the keg? I do agree that a lot of “craft keg” is served too cold for my liking and I have moaned about that on many occasions. What I have been told by friends in the pub trade is that it is often rather “lively” and is a bugger to pour unless chilled. That may be down to force-carbonation. Or it may not. Either way it is capable of being corrected by the brewers concerned if they choose. There are, of course, many ways in which a beer can be handled between leaving the fermenter and arriving in your glass. The type of container from which the beer is served is, in my view at least, by no means the most significant these days.

  10. Some real ale in the bottle is filtered and reseeded, yes, but much of it sold in North America isn’t. Each will decide if the first way passes muster for real beer: I feel it does since no new carbonation is added.

    If beer isn’t force carbonated or served under pressure and is unfiltered until tapping, it is still real ale and serving temperature is optional I suppose. My understanding is the fizzy beer we get here which comes cloudy (most of the yeast is allowed to settle out in cold conditioning but some is left in which imparts a gauzy look to the beer) is carbonated with CO2 or beer gas (CO2 and nitrogen) and this to me can never be real ale.

    Certainly there is a gradation of processes and flavours and there will always be questions, but end of the day it’s kind of I know it when I see it…


  11. Craft keg is not an ‘urban beer bubble’, it’s an international movement with instances in Denmark, New Zealand, Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands and, yes, the US.

    Hoppy beers with citrus or pine are not ‘flavour of the month’, either; Sierra Nevada Pale Ale premièred in 1980.

    There will be a correction in the number of craft breweries – the US has an overheated 1200 planning applications queued for processing – but craft in kegs is here to stay.

    As an American, I joined CAMRA thinking it was a group devoted to beer quality above all but it’s shocking to me how dismissive many members are towards keg beer, no matter how good.

    CAMRA and craft should by rights be mutually supportive. If CAMRA don’t see it that way, they won’t hurt craft beer’s relevance – just their own.

    1. Exactly! Craft beer is everywhere, in the most unlikely places, urban and rural, in all parts of the world. And it is only the bigoted view of a certain hardliners in CAMRA that wants to make a clean separation, instead of 2 Venndiagrams with a common part – craft can be keg and cask alike. Cask ales can be craft, or they can be the “brain”child of a megafactory not wanting to leave the segment all to the micros – which means they can’t be called craft in any decent conversation. As to bottled ales on lees, we’ve been doing that for centuries in Belgium, and it’s only growing. Here we’re happy to call it craft, and if people within CAMRA want to keep their blinkers on, and not call it real ale, then it’s their problem. Bottled seeded ale will only increase, in the UK as elsewhere. And I won’t be starting the kegs on lees/casks with pressure debate…

      2013/9/5 Zythophile

      > ** > SlugTrap commented: “Craft keg is not an ‘urban beer bubble’, it’s an > international movement with instances in Denmark, New Zealand, Spain, > Brazil, the Netherlands and, yes, the US. Hoppy beers with citrus or pine > are not ‘flavour of the month’, either; Sierra Nevada Pale ” >

      1. I basically agree, although I’d in addition to being “the bigoted view of a certain hardliners in CAMRA that wants to make a clean separation” I’d add that a fairly cynical marketing strategy on the part of a certain canine-themed scottish brewery is also pushing the same idea.

        1. True.
          But I’ve also ordered whatever local cask beer and had the barman push me to buy a certain verdantly royal Suffolk brewery instead.
          Chasing profit before quality is the antithesis of craft brewing.
          CAMRA is caught up with which craft is not cask, when they should be noticing which cask is not craft.

    1. I do wonder sometimes if there isn’t an element of British hipsters wanting to be US hipsters, just as 25+ years ago British yuppies wanted to be American yuppies, and imported the whole red braces, Filofax, Sol/Corona thing

  12. As a British expat in America, I completely understand and support the craft beer explosion in North America. For too long has this area been subjected to the piss-water of macro breweries, who like many American corporations are about as textbook evil as they come. For decades the only beer available here has been such bland cookie-cutter soulless garbage, that the new craft beer scene is frankly a revelation. Americans have stood up to big business, which is very uncommon as a widespread movement.
    This context allows me to appreciate the craft brew scene here in the States, but makes me completely befuddled by it in the UK. Now sure, Greene King may not be the most benevolent company in the world, but macro breweries in the US make Real Ale breweries in the UK look like Jesus riding a Unicorn of Posterity straight out of the Land of Legacy. What do the brusk craft brew hipsters of the UK think they are rebelling against? Their movement in the US has in many ways already been carried out in the UK by CAMRA. US craft beer supports small breweries, local businesses, organic ingredients, traditional methods, variety, ingenuity – just as CAMRA does in the UK. Where the hell does UK craft brewing fit in here? I fear it is just a simple carbon copy of the US sentiment, thereby being widely misunderstood in British context. I fear this can only result in the weakening of the true British legacy of this industry, which as CAMRA’s founding showed, can be very delicate.

  13. “And I’d be prepared to bet that of the 153,000 members Camra now has, not a one was in the Whippet that night.”

    I’d take you up on that fairly quickly – plenty of Camra members enthusiastically seek out craft keg. Hell, I could name two even if I restricted myself to the four people who work in my office…

  14. And in response to your opening comment that “the “non-macro” British beer scene is now split into two separate camps, serving different constituencies, with remarkably little cross-over between them” – which constituency would you put Moor in?

    (And yes, this might be a trap…)

        1. I’m unconvinced – I don’t think that craft beer will never catch on outside the “urban bubble”, but I do think that the idea of a distinct and disjoint craft beer scene is entirely restricted to the urban bubble (and the blogosphere) and only to certain people and places even there.

          Out in the rest of the country, craft beers aren’t something you go to a craft beer bar to drink alongside your fellow craft beer connoisseurs, they’re something that turn up in your local “big selection of ales” type pub or beer shop along with everything else. Local brewers in particular often seem to get craft-y beers into places that normally stick more to traditionalist beer styles. I overanalyze these things more than most people and I genuinely couldn’t divide the micros from our region (East Anglia) into Craft and Not Craft – most of them do a range that goes from the modern to the traditional, and almost all of them crop up in the same set of local pubs and off-licenses. Similarly I’ve seen Tiny Rebel take over the pumps at the Craft Beer Co in Islington, but I’ve also seen them on the bar next to traditionalist offerings from Feilinfoel in pubs in South Wales.

          And to be honest, I’m quite glad of this – it seems like a much healthier situation than the “never the twain shall meet” scenario that you’re describing…

          1. There’s a Scottish brewery that’s very keen on drawing a line between ‘craft’ and ‘real ale’, and playing us-and-them with CAMRA. A few others have gone down the no-cask route, although without shouting about it so much. But most of the brewers that get invites to things like the LCBF (or IMBC) are playing to both sides of the room, and long may they do so.

      1. This one answers itself:
        John Bryan, Production Director/Head Brewer:
        “If you could have a beer from another brewer, what would it be? Probably Ruination I.P.A from Stone.
        What is British brewing doing right/wrong? There is a lot of good in British brewing and we have some great beers out there, but some brewers do seem to be stuck in the 19th Century.
        Which country is making the best beer in the world at the moment? The USA is making the most exciting beer at the moment.”

        1. Ah cool. So all the backstreet real ale pubs around here that sell Oakham beers are actually Craft Beer Bars, and presumably just hide the craft-beer hipsters and replace them with people who look suspiciously like stereotypical CAMRA members when I turn up…

          1. So, wait: craft v non-craft in the UK doesn’t split on American-influenced v traditionally British lines?
            Then what *is* the difference?
            In the States, there are good beer bars and everyplace else.
            To an American mind, this whole argument smacks of People’s Front of Judea v Judean People’s Front.

          2. (In reply to SlugTrap…)
            Sorry, I should probably be less rhetorical in this sort of convoluted discussion. The point I’m making isn’t that Oakham aren’t Craft because their beer gets sold in lots of traditionalist pubs in East Anglia (and beyond, for all I know), it’s that although they make fairly full-on American influenced craft-style beer, their stuff gets sold alongside more traditional best bitters and milds and goes over very well with a lot of generic real ale punters rather than just with craft beer hipsters. And that the same is true of a lot of other Craft Brewers, particularly in their local areas. That the devoted craft beer hipsterati and the “anything other than mid strength brown bitter is just a fad” fundamentalists represent the minority of british beer buffs.

  15. hello! my name’s kirsty mitchell, i’m the (female, under 40, but probably not smartly dressed) assistant manager at the whippet. just thought I would say thankyou for noticing one of my favourite things about my pub; the diverse crowd who are interested in trying the different beers we offer, cask or keg. it’s really kind of you to mention us, and to mention the customers who make what we do possible, and give the place the relaxed vibe we all like so much. next time you’re in, say hello! you can’t miss me, I am the redhead.

    1. Very nice to hear from you, Kirsty, if you spot a fattish, red-faced slightly balding chap with a greying goatee in your bar, it may or may not be me, there are a lot of ageing beer drinkers fit that description …

  16. Gee, things could have been so different for Britain. In their seminal (IMO) mid-70’s Beers of Britain, Conal Gregory and Warren Knock mentioned that McMullen made a keg bitter that was one of the few they tasted in their cross-England tour that resembled real ale, they thought because it wasn’t pasteurized. (Perhaps too it had a goodly amount of malt and hop, as most U.S. craft kegs do). If this style of beer had been generalized, cask would (nonetheless I think) not have been rendered nugatory but might sit happily alongside its keggy half-brother. Whereas now, good craft keg is viewed as an upstart, with a natural tendency to cause divisions amongst the various beer circles. The fortunes of brewing technology, public taste, brewing economics…


  17. – interesting to read the above comments – I was at the GBBF (behind the bar) and have also tried some interesting ‘craft beers’ – however, I have a major difficulty – exactly what is ‘craft beer’ or ‘craft keg’ – 20 word definition(s) anyone?

    I’ve had a couple of pieces on this issue recently published in various publications (‘New Imbiber, Barnsley and Sheffield CAMRA magazines – both copied, below, for information:

    Craft, cask and keg …. (Written April 2013)

    In the UK the ‘craft beer movement’ is getting a lot of new drinkers, mainly younger, interested in beer and caring about the quality of what they drink. However, there is no formal definition ……. exactly what is ‘craft beer?’

    The term ‘Craft Beer’ and the associated ‘Craft Brewer’ as defined by the American Brewers Association refers to “small, independent and traditional” brewers. ‘Small’ is defined as an “annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less.” Hence, according to the Americans, virtually all of the Independents section of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide are ‘Craft Brewers.’

    They also define ‘traditional’ as ‘a brewer who has either an all malt flagship or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavour,’ (a veiled reference to 30% rice Budweiser?)

    By the American definition, cask conditioned beer is craft beer: so is keg beer if produced by a craft brewer. However, a great beer brewed by a multinational (eg. cask Worthington’s No.1 Barley Wine) would not be a craft beer whereas a bottled carbonated product produced by a small brewer (eg Aston Manor) would be ……. this is a recipe for confusion.

    CAMRA promotes cask conditioned beer (‘real ale’): the flavours come through, carbonation is subtle and it’s fresh and natural. CAMRA was founded when many brewers were turning towards mass-produced, truly awful keg products, the likes of Watneys Red, Whitbread Tankard and Worthington ‘E.’ Over 40 years later, the real ale scene is at its most buoyant for many years. However, awful keg hasn’t gone away. I recently attended a function at a large local hotel. The beer choice was Tetleys Smooth: a craft keg would have been preferable. Luckily I was the designated driver …..

    ‘Craft keg’ is manifestly superior to the likes of this. Some can be very good, and can be better than a bland, badly kept cask. Some of the more interesting, adventurous brewers (eg. Brewdog, Camden, Magic Rock, Steel City and Thornbridge) produce quantities of high quality keg beer. Locally, Dada, the Sheffield Tap, and many other bars, always have a selection. There is also a strongly rumoured imminent Brewdog Sheffield. This is likely to concentrate on highly hopped craft keg beers of relatively high abv (eg. the 10% Cocoa Psycho which is described as ‘a decadent and indulgent Imperial Russian Stout’). They will be worth sampling.

    In the UK, Craft Beer has already spawned at least one book. The associated Apple app, ‘Craft Beer London,’ was an excellent companion some weeks ago. The maps took me straight to a number of hard-to-find pubs which provided high quality beer (both cask and craft keg). In addition, I was directed to the ‘City Beverage Company’ on Old Street, where, in addition to bottled beer from a new London Brewery, Pressure Drop, craft keg Magic Rock was available to take away in freshly crown-corked bottles.

    • Craft keg is not going to go away.
    • Craft keg is enjoyed by many CAMRA and potential CAMRA members.
    • Craft keg needs to be embraced, not ignored or ridiculed.

    Perhaps the way forward is for CAMRA (or SIBA) to formulate a clear UK definition for ‘Craft Beer’ then develop a separate campaign for ‘Craft Keg,’ in a similar manner in which Apple campaigns for real cider and perry?


    Facebook comments in the ‘Drinking Craft Beer in Sheffield‘ group: Andrew Cullen, Gazza Prescott and Dave Szwejkowski – March/April 2013

    Craft Beer in London – http://craftbeerlondon.bluecrowmedia.com/

    CraftBeer: celebrating the best of American Beer – http://www.craftbeer.com/

    Craft, cask and keg …. (part 2) (written , July 2013)

    A few months ago, I wrote about the current debate regarding ‘craft beer,’ craft keg’ and similar.

    Things have since moved on:

    (1) In a Sheffield GBBG 2013 pub., I recently spotted a ‘CAMRA LocALE’ badge attached to a Bradfield Brewery keg font ….. this is not LocALE and if advertised as such breaches the Trades Description Act. LocALE is not a keg product even if it comes from a local brewery who produce a range of respected cask conditioned beers. LocALE is cask conditioned beer. I can only assume some confusion among the bar staff.

    (2) Brewdog have applied for a premises licence for the former Starbucks unit on Division Street, Sheffield. No doubt, this will have similar décor to their other outlets. I have also sampled their 10% Cocoa Psycho (described as ‘a decadent and indulgent Imperial Russian Stout’) in both bottled and keg format. It was worth the taste but I won’t be buying another bottle. Their pricing policy could be seen as extreme: seemingly high prices for strong heavily hopped keg beers (using the finest ingredients). However, you would not expect to pay the same for a bottle of appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) Red wine as you would for a litre bottle with a crown cork. Brewdog (and others) would argue that they brew interesting beers, then calculate the selling price from their production costs.

    BrewDog’s Fraserburgh brewery produced its first brew in April 2007. They moved to nearby Ellon in 2012, keeping Fraserburgh for experiments. Brewdog now claims to be Scotland’s largest independently owned brewery producing about 120,000 bottles per month, mostly for export. Prior to 2012, most of their beers were available in cask form, but cask production is now zero. Personally, I would like to see a reintroduction of cask Brewdog – better taste, less carbonisation … a superior product. Their website states ‘we are on a mission to make other people as passionate about craft beer as we are’ – but they never define what is meant by ‘craft beer’ …… surely high quality cask would qualify? – so cask Brewdog for the Sheffield launch? It’s unlikely, but worth an ask!

    (3) The Guradian produced a piece about the ‘Craft Beer’ movement. They state: ‘The craft crew, however, don’t care where beer is from, how it’s made or served, so long as – bit vague, this – it’s been made with love and it tastes great’ …….. this sounds like a definition for the vast majority of beer mentioned in the Independents section of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide ….. however, it is not helpful.

    (4) Even the established brewers are getting in on the act. For example:

    • Marston’s Revisionist Craft Lager (4%), micro filtered and packaged in 30-litre kegs. It features German Hallertau Magnum and Tradition hops, alongside Styrian hops from Slovenia and, from the UK, Admiral and Boadicea
    • Fuller’s new lager, Frontier (4.5%), filtered but unpasteurised. This is promoted as a: ‘new wave craft lager’
    • Brains have their ‘craft brewery’ and provide (bottled) IPA in my local Morrisons
    • Even Greene King (Morland) have ‘Old Crafty Hen’ …….

    So, it remains a recipe for confusion ……

    • Craft keg (whatever that is) is not going to go away
    • Craft keg is enjoyed by many CAMRA and potential CAMRA members

    At the recent CAMRA AGM, as part of his address, Chair, Colin Valentine, alluded to the way forward; “Is craft keg a problem for CAMRA? I do not believe it is. Is it an issue for CAMRA? In certain areas of the country, such as London and other cities, it is, but in vast swathes of the United Kingdom it isn’t. If it is an issue, then we should meet it head on and that is why our chief executive has been in touch with SIBA chief executive, Julian Grocock, and I have been in touch with SIBA chairman Keith Bott. SIBA members must be the biggest producers and it is them we should be talking with.”

    I’m now beginning to feel that it’s too late to work out what we are really talking about, ‘craft beer’/’craft keg’ have become marketing terms – no-one knows what they really mean …. the confusion will continue ….. it’ an induced marketing mess. Hopefully, we will return to the use of clear definitions: cask conditioned beer, keg …… and stop using meaningless terms such as ‘craft keg.’

    – Dave Pickersgill

    Craft beer: a guide for beginners ; The Guardian 13/06/2013

  18. 3 word definition: “passion before profit”.

    Even the Brewers Association criteria are problematic (witness the “craft v crafty” debacle earlier this year) so this definition seems to be the only one most in the US can agree upon.

    Brewers still have a business to run, obviously, but those who care more about the beer than turning a quick buck are who get called “craft” in America.

    Cutting the quality of ingredients to save on costs, pressuring distributors for preferential shelf placement, being vague about the provenance of your product and aggressively suing other breweries for copyright infringement are some of the practices that distinguish the like of AB-Inbev from craft breweries. That, and some bad beer.

  19. More complicated in the UK, though, innit, because there are plenty of small independent brewers doing it for “passion before profit” whose passion runs to boring brown bitters rather than black IPAs and imperial saisons. But they don’t normally get viewed as part of the “craft scene”.

    That plus “modern international styles of beer rather than mainstream British styles” would do reasonably well, though. Although it’s still (happily) a fuzzy category, as you’re getting an increasing number of brewers who’ll do one or two more modernist beers to complement their otherwise traditionalist range and conversely decidedly “craft” brewers doing their own take on a traditional Best Bitter.

  20. I agree the American BA definition is problematic, but it works for the most part – in the U.S. I wish a mass market brewer made a cask No. 1 barley wine in America – they don’t. In that context, given the history, both earlier and latter (latter being the (welcome) growth of some post-1975 brewers), the 6,000,000 annual barrel limit makes sense. BA is not saying larger entities can’t make great beer, but it is unrealistic to call such large production craft. And anyway how many fine beers a la cask barley wine are made in America by large brewers? Perhaps Blue Moon qualifies, but again I’d go back to the idea that craft in the U.S. context, factoring the history to date, should exclude mega-brewing.

    I’m good with that even though an arbitrary element enters into it, but it’s not a huge one – for the most part, the definition works well and does in fact separate real beer (in U.S. terms) from bland mass market beer.

    But the U.K. has its own market and history, it basically invented craft ales and porters, but the market evolved from there while still retaining vestiges of an old tradition (e.g. Courage Director’s, Bass Draught where you can find it, Wells Youngs cask beers, even John Smith’s cask bitter where you can find it again) – all excellent or creditable drinks. So you can’t apply a foreign definition to that market. Still, people will do so, because ideas travel around the world fast now and people want a marketing edge. Often it is clear what it means, Punk IPA clearly is a craft beer for example. But I think Fuller ESB is too even though it uses (I assume) some sugar adjunct.

    So a new term is needed for the U.K. I would call beer that is made to a traditional standard – not just venerable in age but using a high quality approach for the style as determined by consumer experts (writers included, also bloggers and other informed people) – is “trad”. Any beer can be trad: Urquell is, Holt’s bitter is, Kernel’s is, Chimay is (still), HB’s beers in Munich are. Usually it won’t be pasteurized but sometimes it can be. I don’t consider Guinness or the creamflow-type beers or any pasteurized U.K. draft beer trad, nor most mass market lager (Heineken, perhaps, being all-malt and with a defined flavour). Trad can employ coffee and spices since at one time, many beers used these going back centuries. Trad is rad.

    What is craft keg? In the U.S., it is any draft beer that isn’t cask ale or porter and meets the BA definition. Most craft keg used to be filtered but rarely was pasteurized. Today, much of it is a little cloudy. But again difficulties arise applying a term to the U.K. which was not designed in that context or market.


  21. Cutting the quality of ingredients to save on costs, pressuring distributors for preferential shelf placement, being vague about the provenance of your product and aggressively suing other breweries for copyright infringement are some of the practices that distinguish the like of AB-Inbev from craft breweries.

    Apart from the last one, these practices are far from unknown in the UK “craft” scene.

    Interesting that ‘craft’ is coming unmoored from its original definition in the US. In the UK, of course, it never had a definition – we didn’t import a concept, we imported a word. As I said on my blog a while ago,

    “What’s happened as a result is what always happens when a group of people start using a term without any definition: it’s been defined by how it’s used, and especially by the people who use it. ‘Craft beer’ drinkers are the people who see themselves as drinkers of craft beer. ‘Craft beer’ is the kind of beer craft beer drinkers like, and ‘craft brewers’ are the brewers who cater to them.”

    Or, more succinctly,

    “Craft beer is beer made for people who like craft beer. That’s not a tautology, it’s a feedback loop”.

    1. I agree with all this. What it means I think is, the beer craft beer drinkers like to drink may be rich-tasting, unpasteurized keg beer; it may well come in cask form too; it may be bottled, with or without original or a secondary yeast; and (most importantly), it will likely have an “American” or “NZ” taste, meaning their hops enter largely into this beer. Or it may be wheat beer, or a sour of some kind, probably derived from Belgium.

      My only point was, the old “brown beer” in terms of quality, is equally craft and numerous examples will be superior to the new style coming in, but as always that is a question of taste.


  22. thanks for the various inputs – conclusion from myself is that there is no clear (UK) definition of either ‘craft beer’ or ‘craft keg.’ They have become marketing tools – a recent example is a bottle I found in our local supermarket: ‘Hatherwood, Ruby Rooster,’ (3.8% abv) described, on the label as ‘Craft Ale,’ the reverse stating that it ‘has been traditionally craft-brewed using Burton water, 100% British barley and a blend of Pale, Crystal & Chocolate malts.’ The only other clue to the brewer is the London address of the supermarket – Lidl Uk GmbH.

    A bit of research later, I discovered that it’s a product of that well-known ‘craft brewer,’ Marstons plc ……. It’s now too late to work out what we are really talking about: ‘craft beer’ and the associated ‘craft keg’ have both become meaningless marketing terms.

    Hopefully, we will return to the use of clear definitions: ‘cask conditioned,’ ‘keg’ …… and stop using meaningless terms such as ‘craft beer.’

    Final word, the price of this ‘Craft Ale’ was 99p for 500 ml, perhaps an indication of the quality of the ingredients?

  23. “The seating looked like it had been nicked from a pub in Shoreditch:” It actually was.

    “I must dig out my Foster’s Special Bitter T-shirt from 1994” yes, and do a selfie for your website.

    Great post and the comments were a good read too (or at least the first half… I started to skim after that).

  24. As an ex-pat I worked in the States in the early 80’s, after enjoying the CAMRA-led revolution in the 70s/80’s. Then, you had to travel 1000’s of miles to get an Anchor or Sam Adams. The rest was basically gnat’s piss. We’d have to make do for something Canadian, Mexican, or seek out an import from Germany or occasionally the UK. And I’m talking bottles – quality draught was essentially non-existent. Then I remember discovering Red Hook and Sierra Nevada, newly founded, and the rest is history. I moved to Australia 6 years ago and just in time to enjoy its own beer revolution. The same in NZ, and other places around the world I visited since. Five years ago, Melbourne had 14 breweries – London had 5. Now in the UK capital it’s closer to 80, and growing. There is no doubt CAMRA played its part, but they are not at the centre of this current explosion. The breweries at the LCBF will any bring any beer they damned well want to their open-minded, curious yet discerning public. Not at the GBBF, where its real ale only. And to me that is the nub of the situation. “No Rules” v “Dickensian Definitions”. By all means protect the real ale species. But I’ll sip champagne when I can, and sup Cremant, Proscecco, Cava etc when I want to try something else. And when it tastes great, I wont care where it comes from nor who makes it.

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