Friday 7 December 2012

Cold and fizzy: how to kill craft beer in one easy lesson

Reading about fellow beer blogger Ed's visit to the Meantime Old Brewery in Greenwich, I was first amused and then saddened to learn that “the keg stout was cold, thin and fizzy.

He added: “What do people see in craft keg? I suspect to do it right you need to make a totally over the top imbalanced beer and then knock enough flavour out of it by kegging to make it drinkable.”

It amused me because I suspect this is what happens if you get people who are used to handling mega-brew chilled crud and ask them to look after craft keg. All the marketing, and all the drinkers who know no better, tell them if it's keg it's meant to be cold and fizzy.

And it saddened me because it's almost exactly my experience of American craft beer about 10 years ago, and I hoped we'd learnt something in the meantime. Back then I was being served beer that was too cold and too fizzy, presumably so it wouldn't frighten off the average American drinker. I learnt that the trick was to stir some of the gas out and let it come up a few degrees to release the flavour. It needed patience though, and it should not have been necessary.

Part of the problem seemed to be a kind of vicious circle – it was as if the craft brewers were making their beers really punchy so they'd stand a chance of surviving the chilling and fizzing, so the bars chilled them ever harder to keep a lid on that scary flavour – scary to anyone used to Lite Lager, anyhow.

(To make it worse, the US was just then getting interested in cask ale, and some brewers simply tried casking their existing beers and serving at 10-12C. I remember a pint in Denver that was barely drinkable – powerful flavours that worked well in keg at 5-6C, say, were not at all pleasant when served “warm and flat” by US standards.)

I really really want the world-wide craft beer revolution to work, but for that to happen the trade needs to understand that this isn't the easy-care keg crud that had CAMRA up in arms in the 70s, and which the big lager brands are still punting out. Just like real ale, craft keg needs care – perhaps not quite as much, but it still has to be at the right temperature and in good condition.

Have you had a crap pint of craft beer lately? If you have, what do you think was wrong with it – and did it leave you willing to have another try?

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