Drinkers in The Grove will recently have noticed that on their foreign beer board there are several beers that are shown as 'Key Keg'. The question is what is key keg and what difference to it make to your beer? And why is it different to other forms of beer, if it is at all ?
Beer drinkers are used to their beer being served in many ways. The easiest being gravity dispense straight from the beer cask, but we can also have our beer in bottles, with the beer either bottle conditioned or pasturised, served through a beer engine on handpull, or served, under pressure from a pressurised cask.
Cider and wine drinkers are used to their choice of tipple served straight from a box with the product in a plastic bag inside the box but not served under any pressure other than gravity. Could this be a way forward for beer dispense ?, 'Keykeg' believe so.
To make the concept of Keykeg it as simple as possible, the old idea of a cask, bulky and heavy, awkward to transport and store, let alone clean, is replaced by a box containing a polythene ball.
The ball is filled with liquid, (eg beer) and because of its makeup is flexible, and is housed within an outer cardboard container. The liquid is then dispensed by filling the space between the outer housing and the inner ball with pressure which forces the liquid out of the bag, without the pressure coming into contact with the liquid at all. There is no requirement for the space to be filled with co2, air will do the job just as well, it just has to have sufficient pressure to force the liquid out of the ball.
As the liquid evacuates the ball, the ball will sink so that eventually the box will flatten. It can then be disposed of quite easily. There is no need to return the box, as is the case with kegs.
The makers suggest that the keykeg beer has a shelf life of up to 9 months, and once opened the beer is fresh for up to a month.
I can see plenty of advantages to the system. Not the least of them being its cheapness. As I have already mentioned, it does away with having to return barrels, and the brewer having to subsequently sterilise them. They are easier to handle and transport than beer barrels, and easier to store. They allow small volumes of beer to be available for parties and the like.
Full details are available on the 'Keykeg' website, along with what the company views as their advantages, most of which I have outlined above, but the do make a big play of their environmentally friendly potential, both in transport and production.
But what of the taste of the beer ? I have sampled a few beers served through keykeg, mostly from the more innovative breweries such as Brewdog, or from foreign breweries who I assume find the system easier to transport beers from overseas. Generally the result has been quite acceptable, though may be lacking a bit of the sparkle I expect in draught beer. However the beers I have sampled have been stronger beers which I assume need a fairly long shelf life, which may benefit from the system.
Whether this is the option for every pub I can not say, but it certainly seems an option for pubs with a small turnover of a particular beer, in the same way that some pubs keep boxes of cider.
It could even be an option for beer festivals. But to expect it to replace the beer barrel may be a step too far at this stage, but there again, time will tell. We can only wait and see. In the meantime, if you want to see what all the fuss is about, call at the Grove and sample them yourself.