I popped along to The Crosse Keys, a vast Wetherspoons pub in Gracechurch Street on the edge of the City of London, to have a go at a few of this autumn's Real Ale & Cider Fest beers. This hasn't really been on my radar in the past 18 months or so, but they usually get some interesting beers brewed, and I've enjoyed the practice of bringing overseas brewers in and turning them loose in some of our traditional breweries. Some of the output has been very good.
The Crosse Keys has built a good reputation for high quality and good service, and they usually run a 'Superfest' after the main fest has finished. Punters can have 'flights' of 3 third-pint measures so the keen toper can try several beers without leaving the pub on their knees. So...
There were 24 beers available, and I tried 7, all but one in thirds. They were a mixed bag in terms of quality and condition. The Odell 90 Shilling and the Mordue Red Rye Riwaka were too warm, the Fat Head Yakima Sun was a bit flat, the best of the seven were the Adnams American Style IPA and the Hook Norton Flagship. Temperature has never been a problem here before, but then I'm only in The Crosse Keys once a year. Overall, an average experience.
As I bellied up to the bar and sipped my beers, I noticed that right in front of me there was a Blue Moon tap font. It had condensation running off it, and a big illuminated badge.
Blue Moon is an ostensible 'craft' wheat beer brand owned by MolsonCoors which is very popular in the US and has been pushed here. Barm had an enjoyable piece on it recently. Still, it got me thinking. You know, the beer has a lot of promotional muscle behind it, so I assume they can offer good incentives (within the perceived 'craft/premium' niche, if there is such a thing here yet) to pubcos/licensees, and they support the brand at point of sale and elsewhere. It's a generally unthreatening 'craft beer', but the actual beer wasn't the point. It's 'craft keg' on the bar.
I recalled an email I received a few days previously from a pub in Preston called The Continental, who are plugging their upcoming beer fest. They seem to be popular with their local CAMRA branch, but there was a little sentence at the bottom of their email which came back to me as I looked at that Blue Moon font. It read, "In an exciting new feature, the pub will continue to host a number of UK and world keg beers after the festival." I don't know which beers these will be, or whether they already do well with The New Keg, but it moved my thinking further along...
Coming in the week that the spat between some small brewers and CAMRA over access to beer festivals made Channel 4 News, it made me wonder if there might not be a time in the future when we'll see some UK keg beers turning up on the list for a JDW fest. Right now it's a Real Ale & Cider fest, but could you foresee a time when they are intrigued enough by the New Keg, and the brewers brewing it, to make room for it in their festival? Of course, they have a relationship with CAMRA and all their pubs sell cask, often with variable results from one pub to the next. But perhaps in the future, the quality and consistency of The New Keg will see it elbowing its way on to a JDW bar as part of their showpiece event.