The Session #48: Round-up

I thought the roundup for The Session #48 would be straightforward. Everyone would simply say no; dispense doesn’t matter - it’s all about the beer, stoopid.

Thankfully, most of you wrote more than that. For which I am eternally grateful.

Some of you, though, did keep your opinions concise and to the point. So, for services to precision and brevity, congrats to A Perfect Pint and The Brew Site. And kudos to Glyn Roberts, the ever-jovial manager of Rake bar in London, for his Rabid About Beer post. Glyn’s a shining wit. At least, I think that’s what the customers call him.

Was their really a question to be answered? That Thirsty Pilgrim, Joe Stange, thinks the argument has now gone, as " the majority of aficionados have tasted enough beer from enough places to know that great beer flows from all sorts of vessels." Many of you still thought that particular methods of dispense had their pros and cons.

Cask attracted several positive posts from both sides of the pond. Ale Talk declared his ‘professional Yorkshireman’ love of a beer with a creamy head on it and, whilst deciding that it's the taste that matters, noted how Tetleys’ dispense can divide his local’s pool team.

Craig Garvie make an impassioned plea for cask beer at Make Mine A Half, whilst giving a nod in the direction of quality keg from smaller brewers that are managing to displace multinational fonts in the bars of Edinburgh.

The Beer PHXation crew from Phoenix, Arizona show that cask, although a minority method of dispense in their neck of the woods, can be wildly popular when it’s done well. Which got me thinking if it’s a case of ‘cask it right and they will come’? And whether we have the parallel approach in the UK as discerning drinkers are now being drawn to bars that serve ‘quality’ keg?

Perhaps it’s the human touch of cask that makes a difference. It’s been manhandled and tapped before the intervention of a human hand on a barpull brings it to life. Brian Yaeger over at Red White and Brew certainly likes what a little real-life interaction can bring to the party as opposed to clinical, cold technology.

One method of dispense that blindsided me was the growler-fill; it’s almost unheard of in the UK. Alan McLeod at A Good Beer Blog discussed its merits at Duggan’s of Toronto, comparing it memorably to “a very long straw into the heart of the tank”. David Jensen at Beer47 also plumps for the growler but notes the legal limitations of their use in California; it seems crazy to me that a brewery can only fill their own growlers. I’m sure someone can point me in the direction of a rational explanation. Maybe.

What We're Drinking echoes some of my heart-felt sentiments in identifying the "location of consumption" as key. With the local bars having few kegs and cask being "strictly special event-grade material", bottles provide the opportunity for leisurely drinking. Indeed, something that many of you picked up on was that bottled beer gives drinkers the chance to try beers from all over the world in the comfort of your own home.

Alongside bottles, Kristy McCready in The Lighter Side Of Beer declares a predilection for kegged beer too. Although in characteristically robust fashion, she recalls her licensee days when you could have dispensed her a beer “through the gusset of a whore's drawers as long as it delivers a great pint”. I think we’ve all seen those photos, Kristy.

Bob Arnott posits that UK perceptions of dispense are moulded by current product quality, with canned and keg being all too-often "a mass produced undrinkable excuse for a beer". His experience of Italian kegs and US cans has convinced him that high quality beer can be delivered by those means - but it may take some time for UK consumers to associate low-grade dispense with high-flavour beer.

Melissa Cole is another convert to the can cause. At Taking The Beard Out Of Beer she argues that “the sooner more breweries follow in BrewDog's paw prints and band together to run a consumer campaign to get them to understand how much better the beer is when packaged this way the better everyone will be”.

But not everyone is enraptured by the allure of canned beer. Ugly packaging in a dispense designed to be guzzled doesn’t appeal to A Flagon Of Ale who believes firmly that beer needs to be drank from a glass.

And how it gets into the glass wasn’t critical to many of you. was more concerned about keeping the beer near the snowmobile's exhaust on the way home to stop it freezing. Impy Malting has tried high quality ‘Black IPA’ on both keg and cask and is content to not be fussed how a good beer makes in into the glass. Jay Zeis at A Beer In Hand is a firm believer that a beer needs to make it into the glass too, so it can open up to him.

That struck a chord. I enjoy drinking beer straight from a bottle or can and firmly believe they’d be no more aromatic or visually appealing in a glass. Perhaps that’s because they’re low-expectation beers. And perhaps that’s why much bottled/canned beer sold over at pubs in the UK has a reputation for not being the tastiest.

Tasty beer. That was the draw for many of you. How it comes to you means not a jot as long as the dispense doesn’t detract from a beer being tasty. It’s hard to disagree with that.

The beer monkey nails it; “Tasty beer is tasty beer”. Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin debates the merits of all forms of dispense but knows ultimately it’s about the taste. Leigh at The Good Stuff has enjoyed great beers all ways round and says “The best dispense system for any beer is surely the one that suits it the most”. Alcofrolic Chap argues that the quality of beer is paramount and it's actually chip-dispense that really gets his goat (as someone who remembers fondly the days when chips were wrapped in newspaper, I'm with him on that). Mark Dredge at Pencil And Spoon professes a love for many great beers, particularly for the new wave of British keg, but is still a believer in “Good beer first, container second”. And Andy Mogg at Beer Reviews says that “the but of J-Lo sized proportions” is not the method of dispense but whether the beer is at its best”.

Some contributions really tickled me. Another Drinking Blog’s ongoing revelations of each dispense form being “the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back” mirrors my own arc of beer appreciation. Adrian Tierney-Jones at Called To The Bar had a straightforward message; “the right container for the right moment”.

The declaration by Beer Search Party that they fall in the “slut category”- if the beer is good, they’ll drink it regardless - had me rolling on the floor. And the observation that we may not be getting hung up about dispense at all ”if the same care was shown by the people in the supply chain from Brewer A to Beer Merchant Z” had me applauding.

Derrick Peterman at Ramblings of a Beer Runner talks of a ‘cultural disconnection’, that the American brewing scene seems more focused on methods, ingredients and an entrepreneurial spirit whilst the United Kingdom seem to concentrate more on the context of how the beer is consumed and enjoyed. The defensive Brit in me wanted to say that was all bollocks. But I think he’s on to something - I think the British brewers have the same focus on production and ingredients as the Americans do, but the British consumer (in the main) isn’t prepared to accept non-traditional dispense for their favourite beer.

Pete Brown makes a killer point - different dispense works better for different beers depending on recipe and ABV. As he says, that’s why US double IPA works well on keg and UK session bitter works well on cask. And, by crucial expension, I’d suggest that’s why pioneering brewers on both sides of the pond get it spectacularly wrong when they force a great product into the wrong dispense method for the sake of being experimental or cutting edge.

And that’s almost the end of this wrap-up. A huge thanks to everyone that took part, particularly to those who lost their Session virginity this time around. Don’t be a stranger to the debate from now on. It’s been a pleasure to host and, incredibly, it’s been huge fun to work my way through thirty-odd different blogs to collate your views.

The last words, literally, I will leave to Zak Avery at Are You Taking The Pith? It’s only February but I doubt that I’ll read a more cogent, entertaining and damn-well-written post this year.

“Sometimes the message and the medium are, of necessity, tied closely together. But here, moving into the second decade of the 21st century, when there has never been a better time to be interested in quality beer, surely we're not going to lose sight of the message, are we? “


  1. *very small wave that turns into a nonchalant headscratch if you look over*

  2. Aarrrggghhh!!!! The one that got away; I'll add you in today. A thousand apple ogies.