Nitrokeg - The Truth
If you have ventured into a Greene King pub recently, you may have noticed
three things. Firstly,
how consistently excellent is Abbot Ale nowadays.
Secondly, what a splendid addition to the Kings Court seasonal beers is the cask
stout, Royal Raven. Thirdly, that a contraption may have appeared on the bar
dispensing something called Wexford Ale.
An Insult to Irish Culture
What is this apparent Irish intruder? Well, it is certainly not real ale. Rather it
is an example of the latest craze in the brewing industry, nitrokeg. There are
plenty of other examples, many with Irish names, like Caffreys, Kilkenny and
Milligan's Mist. The Irish connection exists simply because, in marketing terms,
Ireland is fashionable at the moment. Nitrokeg versions of big brewery cask
ales can also be found - John Smiths, Boddingtons, Tetley.
Goodness and Life Removed
Nitro, like all keg beers, undergoes a great deal of processing at the brewery.
It is firstly chilled to make it easy to filter out all of the residual yeast.
This renders the beer entirely sterile. It will also be pasteurised to make the beer chemically stable.
Gas and Chemicals Added
Old style keg beer then had to be pumped full of carbon dioxide to give it an
ersatz form of life. The result was a cold, bland and very fizzy product. As the
new name suggests, nitrokeg uses a mixture of gases dominated by nitrogen,
which makes the beer less gassy, but no less cold and bland, as you would
expect of something quite dead.
Served to Sip, not Sup
Clever marketing, especially the spurious Irish angle, has helped sales since its
introduction a couple of years ago. But the weather last summer was just the
boost that nitrokeg was depending on, as purveyors of cold drinks raked in the
dosh. Many pub cellars were apparently unable to keep cask beer in prime
condition during the protracted hot weather. As well as picking up a lot of the
lager and "traditional" keg trade, a portion of real ale drinkers took the
opportunity to see what the stuff was like. Most real ale drinkers subsequently
reverted to their traditional tipple, unable to tolerate the gut-busting texture.
For others, the dedicated followers of fashion, the fad passed.
Brewed for Economy, not Flavour
If you want to drink nitrokeg, that is your business, but there are four things you
should be aware of:
- nitrokeg is expensive - usually 20p or 30p a pint more than cask bitter.
- because it is generally served with a large head, you will not get anything like
a pint of liquid in the usual brim-measure glass.
- the brewery processing ensures that there is very little flavour.
- most importantly, nitrokeg is not real ale; it is quite dead.
Real ale is a natural living beer which continues to condition and develop
flavour in the cask. A well-kept pint of a good real ale is a highly rewarding
taste experience. Nitrokeg may be consistent, but it is consistently boring.
What the growth of nitrokeg does show is that real ale cannot rest on its laurels.
People will divert if there is indifferent, poorly kept cask beer around. CAMRA
will continue to press for high standards in the brewing and presentation of real
ale. Those breweries and pubs which achieve excellence will be highlighted,
those which achieve indifference or less will be castigated.
ALE Spring 1996 No. 284
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