Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Draught v Key Keg

It is not very often that one gets the chance to sample, side by side, the same beer dispensed both on draught and from key keg at the same time in the same pub. Yesterday was one of those occasions, so in a totally non scientific experiment, I set about doing it; these are my non scientific results.

The beer I chose was Magic Rock 'High Wire', not difficult to choose since it was the only one available in both forms in the Grove.  I have had it several times before on draught but never on key keg, and I must say the draught version was on form. It is a 5.5% American style IPA, bitter yet with a subtle malt base and crammed with tropical fruit flavours. The draught version did not disappoint, living up to everything I expected. But what of the key keg ?

The first thing I noticed was it was considerably colder that the draught, obviously from the method of dispense,  and that seemed more carbonated, with a slight fizz on the tongue when I drank. To make sure that the test was as fair as possible I let it warm up as much as I could, but even then it was cooler. The problem with that seemed to be that it killed the taste to a certain degree. Whereas it was easy to taste the subtle notes in the beer in the draught version, the key keg version seemed to mask them, none of the hops came to the fore, and the background seemed almost non existent. Worryingly though, it did not drink like its strength, more like a 4% beer than a 5.5%. In short, it could have been anything, certainly not the classic I expected.

I am not averse to drinking key keg, and I understand there is a certain market for it, but on this small experiment (and it is one I hope to repeat with other beers to confirm, or negate my findings) I have to say that the draught version is a far superior beast, and slightly cheaper too. 

This is not a criticism of Magic Rock, nor their brewing methods, but merely that it was their beer that allowed me the chance to contrast the styles, and I thank them and the Grove for the opportunity to do so. 


Tandleman said...

Frankly an unsurprising result.

Richard said...

Thanks for the write up Timbo glad you liked the High Wire. I'd agree that fresh cask High Wire is probably the best flavour wise.

From our point of view though the keg High Wire allows the beer to remain in good condition flavour wise for much longer. The real control for this test would be to try both beers after they'd been sat on the bar 4-5 days.

Another reason we keg our stronger beers, as we think beers over 7% tend to stick around on the bar in many places for longer than is good for them.

Hopefully lots more keg and cask on the bar at the grove in 2012.


Tyson said...

What Tandleman said and, IMO, beers of 7%+ don't suffer from being left lomger than 2-3 days.

beeryme said...

I've found that (key-)kegs are better for the stronger more flavourful beers which on cask have the alcohol overcoming the flavour. Weaker less intense beers are usually better from cask where the subtle flavours and nuances are more pronounced.

Anonymous said...

I tried the exact same comparison last Friday evening and can generally concur with your findings. You mention that the key-keg is slightly more expensive and I'd like to point out that this is made worse by the fact that the cask is served in a "half-pint to the line" glass, whereas the keg is in a smaller "half-pint to the top" glass.

Sapphire Blue

Phil said...

From our point of view though the keg allows our beer to remain in great condition for longer than the cask.

IOW, it's a trade-off between beer quality and the brewer's convenience - same as it ever was. (And the keg costs more?)

Anonymous said...

When folk start talking about waiting for the beer to warm up am I the only one who is reminded of Asterix in Britain?

If the Magic Rock guys think their stronger beers are best presented in key keg I am not going to argue. I have found them all delicious.

However it does seem strange that beers that are already very popular on cask are now turning up in a key keg alternative, and in the same pubs that habitually serve the cask version. Just to make these brews especially tempting they are usually significantly more expensive than the cask equivalent.

To the credit of all concerned, the two versions of High Wire in the Grove were offered at the same price. I was not as underwhelmed as Timbo by the key keg beer, but I did prefer the cask.

Tim the younger

Richard said...

Phil: You missed the point, its not for the brewers convenience at all (in fact it takes more time, money and effort hence the slightly higher cost), its so that the beer lasts longer in great condition (up to a month) perfect for outlets that turn the beer over more slowly.

Not everyone who drinks beer knows about condition and cellarmanship and being in the right place at the right time to catch a cask in perfect nick, for those people craft keg is a great way to introduce them to more flavourful beer.

One other thing I didn't mention was that with our strong beers we are hopping them so heavily that it becomes difficult for us to clear the beer without a lot of time and finings. Keg drinkers are more tolerant of hop haze in the beer, and tend to drink with their tastebuds rather than there eyes.

Tyson: what about after a week, will that beer still taste good?

Timbo said...

I never anticipated one small 'off the wall' experiment to create such interest, but thanks to all who have contributed.
To clarify one point made by my namesake, I wanted the key keg beer to 'warm up', maybe the wrong choice of phrase, to try to make my test as fair as possible by removing one of the variables, (still remember my O level chemistry from the 1970's) , and giving the beer as much chance as possible to develop its flavour, and negating any chance of it resembling Car***g (other lagers are available!). Maybe a warmer day may have helped.

Matt said...

I once did the same experiment but with Thornbridge Raven Black IPA. This is really beautiful beer weighing in at around 6% and I found that the extra carbonation allowed the hop flavours to linger longer on the palette and for me the flavours were much more muddled and less pronounced in the cask version, however I had no idea how long it had been on...

I think the great think about high ABV beers being dispensed from keg is that as you don't bash them down like session beers (you don't, do you?) you want to sip them and spend time enjoying them, being colder means it's not lukewarm when I get to the bottom of the glass.

Stuart Ross said...

its not a key-keg, its a Petainer, which is still a one-way keg but the beer is still served the same as a normal steel keg with the serving gas (C02) coming into contact with the beer.

Tim the younger, we have always kegged High Wire and it sells very well but this is the first time its been on at the Grove as a trial because we haven't used this type of keg before.

Owen said...

@Richard :

There's a contradiction in your comment in that you're arguing that keg is for neophytes as they don't plan to be in the pub when cask is at its best, and it's also for experienced keg drinkers as they're more tolerant of haze.

Which is it? If a non-craft-beer drinker, who doesn't plan to be in the pub when a cask is in optimal condition (a nonsense argument, since nobody* does, and a good cellarman will keep a cask in good condition for more than a single lucky visit) is served a hazy beer, they're likely to return it.

I've never heard anyone (except brewers) say that [key]keg versions of beers are better than cask.

*Except perhaps a very small minority, who probably just want their vial to be filled with the platonic ideal of the particular beer.

Richard said...

Sorry Owen but I don't think that's contradictory at all you don't need to be a 'keg officianado' to be tolerant of haze in beer, only real ale folk have that hang up in my experience.

Cooler fizzier beer also appeals to a younger market is another point I didn't make.

We're not forcing anyone to drink keg, just explaining why we like it for the beers that we make.

Our bigger beers like Cannonball IPA will only ever be in keg because we think they taste better like that.

High Wire is a bit of a cross over in that we produce it for both dispense methods.

Anonymous said...

The single layer bag system does not allow the beer to be stored for a long time. The shelf life is quite short and the beer loses tast after a short period.
I recently heard that there is a new type of kegs on the market called Ecodraft/expodraft. It's a Belgian company that manufacturers a keg with a double bag system, increasing exponentially the shelf life of all types of beers, including the highly carbonised ones

KB said...

Keg, key keg, draught. Are these three different things or is keg and draught the same thing?