Give KeyKeg beer a try

Roger Hart explains why the KeyKeg bar is worth a visit

With over 200 beers from nearly 100 breweries at the Cambridge festival alone, and many new brewers popping up, it feels like a really good time for beer. Indeed, we’ve come so far from CAMRA’s early days of kicking back against bland brews in the 1970s that the organisation is running a consultation on its future direction. Beer is great right now.

It’s also different. Lots of brewers are producing more and more interesting beers in kegs as well as casks. KeyKegs in particular are a newer form of keg that opens up options for delivering real ale with interesting characteristics.

Keeping it real

A KeyKeg is, at its simplest, a plastic bottle containing a bag full of beer. Unlike a conventional keg, the gas you pump in to force the beer out and into your glass doesn’t touch the liquid. It flows around the outside of the bag, pushing the beer out of the keg without it becoming too fizzy.

As the KeyKeg isn’t open to the atmosphere, you get all the natural, live-yeast carbonation of real ale, but without the risk of the beer gradually going flat. It cuts down on the chance of off-flavours developing from oxidation, too. Of course, some air space improves cask ale as its flavour develops over time. So there’s a trade-off. Different serving mechanisms suit different styles of beer, and having KeyKeg at the festival gives us more options.

Helping beer to shine

For example, most bitters, and quite a lot of porters and stouts, will work best in a cask. They’ll condition lightly, change gently over time, and the initial air exposure when the cask is tapped and vented will dissipate any of those odd flavours and aromas you can sometimes get with cask conditioning.

But the highly-hopped IPAs, saisons, and really dry stouts we’re seeing a lot of now are a different story. They’ll often serve better at a much higher carbonation, and want to avoid losing any hop aroma to the air before they hit your glass. Some of them are better colder, too. This is where KeyKeg can shine. It lets a brewer put those delicate, intricate aromatics front and centre, or keep a slightly-sour saison fizzy and zingy.

There are other ways of brewing like that, of course, and we’d love it if people compared. We have a dedicated British KeyKeg bar, and we’ve made sure that a few of the beers are also available on cask, so you can try both.

44th Cambridge Beer Festival

Here’s the selection we have ordered for this year’s KeyKeg bar. You can find tasting notes for all of these on our beer list.

  • Anspach & Hobday The Sour Dry Hop and The Stout Porter
  • Beach Brewery Daytona
  • Beavertown Bloody ‘Ell and Neck Oil
  • Bexar County Bitter Invention of Satan and Cowboy
  • Cheshire Brewhouse Scream If You Want To Go Faster (also in cask)
  • Cloudwater DIPA, IPA Vic’s Secret and Mittelfrüh Helles
  • Elephant School Cheru Kol
  • Elgood’s Coolship Blonde
  • Green Jack Baltic Trader 3 year aged (also in cask in an un-aged version)
  • Moor Alldayer
  • Nene Valley Mango Gose
  • Three Blind Mice Bretted Cherry Flicker, Lady Grey IPA and Russian Blud
  • Weird Beard Mariana Trench