The Revolution Will Be Pressurised

Amongst all the noise about 'craft keg revolutions', let's attempt some clarity.

The majority of draught on-trade beer drank in the UK is kegged.

The majority of that kegged beer is lager.

The majority of the remainder is stout and bitter.

The craft / boutique / artisinal whatever-you-will keg is a niche within a niche.

The revolution will not come from these beers.

The revolution will come when a major brewer with font space secured in outlets throughout a comprehensive national distribution network chooses to enter the market.


When a keg beer is brewed that appeals to the casual cask fan. And the lager fan.

When the market predictions say the time is right.

When a brand can be developed, researched, trialled and promoted.

I fully expect, within the next five years, to see a major nationwide keg brand launched, appealing to cask ale drinkers looking for more consistency and to lager drinkers looking for more flavour. Something gold. Something premium.

And it will shift the axis of the UK beer market.

The revolution will be pressurised. Just not in the way that the geeks think it ought to be.


  1. Hasn't that already happened to a certain extent with Boddington's? Or are you thinking something more along the lines of Sharp's Doom Bar in keg?

  2. The majority of people who drink those keg beers drink by brand, not by taste. Why would they move from their Carling to something else? And why would an ale drinker make the step up to a national brand that's now on keg? And why would the geek/beer lover drink the kegged national brand?

    I'm sure that a big brewer will do this sometime soon. I don't think it'll make much difference though. On-trade is in decline as it is and it'll take something pretty special to change that and a national mentality to drinking.

    Lager drinkers drink lager, real ale drinkers drink real ale, the craft/geek/curious/open-minded drinker will choose a variety but they will buy it from specialist places and go out of their way to get there.

  3. Answer to Mark's first question: marketing. That's why they drink Carling in the first place. Answer to the second, 'cos the chances are they're already drinking it: Moravka, Meantime London Pale -- local brands ripe for national expansion.

    I can see it happening. But I still can't see it shifting the axis of the UK beer market. When did that last happen? Caffrey's and the rise of smooth?

  4. You're right and wrong. Right in your analysis of the current market, wrong in your prediction. That's not going to happen in the next five years. If ever.

  5. Reluctant Scooper1 June 2011 at 12:40

    @Darren T; sort of, but that's taking an existing product and tinkering. I'm thinking of something outside a portfolio, whether newly formulated or already kegged.

    @Mark; you answered your own question: brand. One that attracts lager drinkers for its image, cask drinkers for its taste, without alienating either. The geeks can sit in the corner and drink something else.

    @The Beer Nut; For drinkers who want something that isn't lager/stout but don't have a cask option available. And who can't stand smoothflow.

    @Tyson; if it's here within five years, I'll let you buy me a pint of it :-)

    @Stringers; the problem with AB InBev is the tinkering - it seems to start with an association to Stella and then tries to find a degree of seperation. That's why they fail.

  6. It's funny this one. I remember five or so years ago some pubs in East Anglia suddenly getting a really interesting beer list despite being pubco pubs. I'd ask 'what's going on?' and the landlord would say 'the pubco's giving us a free run on a cask ale.' Most unlike the pubcos, I thought - and it was still a rarity.

    But since the rumblings of 2007 and the full-on crash of 2008, pubcos have had to look at their estates as businesses and not simply real estate investments. So we've seen an explosion of interesting beer in pubco pubs, with Punch doing a good job, Greene King noticeably weakening in the face of lobbying from keen licencees and Mitchells & Butlers' Nicholsons managed chain leading the way.

    It won't be long before these pubcos realise the potential to extend this thinking to the keg fonts. Already in London - and what happens in that London is picked up by marketing bods and suits - there are, as Beer Nut mentions, many Punch names carrying Meantime keg fonts. Likewise, several freehouses are stocking keg Brooklyn and Camden Hells. The Byron burger chain also stocks bottles of Brooklyn - the New York beer is fast becoming ubiquitous in bottles and the go-to in swanky but cask-free places such as hotels, gig venues.

    At the lower end of this activity, we've already seen scores of pubs - yes, including pubco pubs - take on Budvar and Urquell. I know a freehouse that gave up on Urquell in 2003 due to supply issues. Now it's widely available.

    My point is it will only take a pubco push of Brooklyn, Sierra Nevada or Meantime nationwide to make the craft keg scene an almost instant reality. Those such as Thornbridge positioning for that moment are right to do so.

    For that reason, I think those saying 'craft keg is a niche within a niche' are missing what could well be a significant shift in the on trade in the coming five years.

    Even as pubs have closed in huge numbers, the number of pubs serving a variety of interesting, well-kept cask beers has markedly shot up. I think those pubs benefiting from that shift and pulling in affluent punters will soon see the pubcos also open up their keg offer.

  7. Well put, John. My only quibble concerns where a "significant shift" becomes an "axis shift". Seems to me that the people who will lose out in the move will be the purveyors of crappy keg.

    I assume -- and correct me if I'm wrong here -- that it has been the purveyors of crappy cask who have lost out as the number of cask-focussed craft breweries has exploded in recent years.

  8. I don't see that any established major brewer could pull off what you describe as any product would still be tainted with the associations of "old keg". If "craft keg" does break into the mainstream, it will, as Jesusjohn says, be through the expansion of the likes of BrewDog, Thornbridge and Meantime.

  9. So all the major brewer has to do is buy BrewDog, Thornbridge or Meantime then send out a press release that they won't be interfering in the brewery's processes.

    Page 1 of the MolsonCoors playbook.

  10. I would love to see how James Watt would spin that one. "One fearless independent brewery taking a stand against the forces of apathy and conformity! Molson Coors!"