Following on from my last post: I’m still in search of a workable definition of ‘keg’.
Let’s say you’ve kept your beer conditioning at the brewery until it’s more or less ready to go; the yeast is dropping out of the liquid and sticking to the bottom of its own accord. What happens next?
You could pasteurise it; this will kill any remaining yeast and give you flat beer. You could filter it; this will remove any remaining yeast and also give you flat beer. If you do either of these things, you’re going to need to carbonate, and sticking the beer in a sealed container that’s pressurised with CO2 will let you kill two birds with one stone. I can’t see any obvious reason why you would also have to chill it, but that seems to come with the territory.
Alternatively, you could take the view that if it’s dropping bright it’s ready to go, and stick it in a keg without any further ado; the keg is basically just a large bottle, only with some gas in to make it easier to serve. Better still, you could stick it in a key keg, which really is just a large (collapsible) bottle inside a pressurised container. And you could chill it if you wanted to – but again, I can’t see any reason why you would have to.
Unfiltered, unpasteurised, uncarbonated, brewery-conditioned beer isn’t cask, and as such I guess it’s not Real Ale. But the differences between this kind of beer and pasteurised, carbonated keg seem far more significant than the similarities – and the similarities to cask are, potentially at least, more significant than the differences.
Which raises two questions. Firstly, is CAMRA’s definition of ‘keg’ still fit for purpose, or is it a relic of the old battles? Should the line be drawn differently – are today’s ‘smooth’ bitters even made the same way as the Watney’s and Double Diamonds of my youth? Secondly, it baffles me that ‘craft keg’ advocates so often stress how different those beers are from cask real ale, and how similar they are to the old keg offerings – they’re cold! they’re fizzy! they’re expensive! The question is, why do they do this? What’s good about keg 5 a.m. Saint is mostly that it’s 5 a.m. Saint; if it didn’t have the extra carbonation and it was served a bit closer to cellar temperature – key-kegged, for example – it’d be a bit less like keg lager, but it’d be a lot nicer.
Or am I missing something?