It’s funny how sometimes after blogging about a certain topic something completely unexpected comes along that seems to add weight to whatever the post was about. Such was the case this past weekend…
In his last post, Earth to CAMRA: Craft Keg Is Not The Enemy, Mr Fueled by Beer talked about the resurgence of keg beer from Britain’s craft breweries. Well, on Saturday he was pleasantly surprised to learn, quite by accident, that his favorite local brewery, Wild Weather Ales, has joined the fray.
It had been a day so far spent on mundane chores when Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer decided to take the scenic route back to the ol’ homestead. As we passed the Old Bell at Grazeley Green we thought it odd that at that time – middle of the afternoon – the parking lot was unusually full and then we saw why.
We knew the Old Bell was an early adopter of Wild Weather Ales so we shouldn’t have been surprised. But strung across the entrance was a large banner emblazoned with the unmistakable Wild Weather logo. And there were tons of people milling about outside the pub; clearly something was going on. Curiosity got the better of us and in we went.
Turns out Mike Tempest was there running a mini beer festival to benefit prostate cancer research. Naturally we had to stop and say hi. That hi turned into staying for dinner, and some new Wild Weather delights were thus discovered.
Mike commandeered a couple of handpumps on the Old Bell’s bar but he also set up a second makeshift bar in a side room leading out to the beer garden. And it was here that he was serving four more ales: two from cask and two more from keg. Seeing Mike’s beer in keg blew me away – and not because it was just any old steel keg either – it was like nothing Mr Fueled by Beer had ever seen before – Mike is using something called a KeyKeg.
The KeyKeg is a one-way disposable keg, 100% recyclable. Unlike a conventional steel keg the KeyKeg can be pressurized using a cheap electric air compressor rather than CO2 and its unique ‘bag-in-ball’ concept means no extraneous gas makes contact with the beer. Yes kiddies, you guessed right: this translates to ‘real ale’ in a keg – something CAMRA can and should have no problem with.
Mike explained that he was looking for a way to get Wild Weather Ales into London’s craft beer bars because, as was recently blogged here, craft keg is really taking off there. However the risk of loss from theft and transportation cost of retrieving empty kegs, not to mention the added cost of keg washing, is a major barrier for small brewery operators like Mike.
Anyway, with KeyKeg, Mike can fill kegs at the same time he transfers beer for cask or bottle conditioning. He pitches a second dose of yeast, which kicks off secondary fermentation within the KeyKeg, and after the keg is sealed the beer naturally carbonates – in other words the beer conditions in exactly the same way as ‘real ale’ in a cask or a bottle – no extraneous CO2 required. This is very different to how it works with conventional kegs where the beer must be fully fermented and in ‘bright’ condition before kegging.
Since the KeyKeg is a one-way delivery solution, and much lighter than steel, transportation costs are more than halved compared to conventional kegs. The brewer can ‘fill it and forget it’ knowing he can be 100% certain his beer will eventually find its way into the customer’s glass in exactly the condition he intended – real ale without the shenanigans associated with cask stillage in the cellar to spoil his work.
Once kegged KeyKeg beer has a long shelf life, a pretty useful property for a brewer trying to reach a distant market, or supply craft beer bars whose much greater tap lineup means the beer will stay on the bar much longer than at a traditional pub.
The most common dispensing method is by connecting to the bar’s draft font taps, or the bartender can just hook it up to a handpump. KeyKeg supplies a special coupler which connects the gas and dispensing lines and incorporates a valve that allows infinite pressure adjustment to suit the style of beer and method of dispense.
So, what about Mike’s KeyKeg? And what new Wild Weather delights did he have to tempt us? It was all new to us, and like nothing we expected. The long awaited Nelson Sauvin IPA hasn’t yet made it into the brew kettle however the hops recently arrived from NZ so it won’t be much longer. But in the meantime Mike hasn’t been idle: at this event he presented us with another killer IPA called Cumulo Citrus.
As it turns out Mike’s foray into keg, to ‘tap’ London’s craft beer bars (pun intended), actually got started at the end of June with a Wild Weather tap takeover at The Grapes, Bath Ales’ excellent pub in Oxford.
And more recently Cumulo Citrus showed up on the craft keg tap list close to Bath Ales’ home turf at the Barley Mow, Bristol Beer Factory’s brewery tap in, well, Bristol. Just an innocent coincidence perhaps?
In our opinion Wild Weather Mike has been producing some of the most interesting ales in the Reading area and Cumulo Citrus is no exception. It’s a 6% ABV wheat IPA with tons of Citra hops in it, a superb addition to the range.
It has the silky smoothness and rich mouth feel so much the hallmark of the best wheat ales combined with the intense citrus and tropical fruit aroma and flavor for which Citra is justly renowned. This makes for a winning combination in Mr Fueled by Beer’s book – simply an awesome pint – and it doesn’t stop there.
Fast forward to Sunday and Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer have just finished a 3 mile circular walk in Mattingley, Hampshire. The walk begins and ends at the Leather Bottle, an inn we had not visited since 1990. Anyway, having developed quite a thirst during our walk, we just had to stop in for a pint. And what a pint we found: another newbie from Wild Weather called “Warm Front.”
This one was on cask, a very pale Golden Ale with a hint of ginger. Hop forward bitterness in the beginning, giving way to a very nice pale malt flavor, then lastly the ginger kick on the back end. Aroma is very subtle – some floral, citrusy notes and a hint of ginger in the nose. A lovely thirst-quenching brew – it was quite reminiscent of the Ingalls Ginger Pale Ale from NW Peaks Brewery in Seattle.
Looking ahead, Mike says he should have his long awaited Nelson Sauvin brew, a Rye IPA called “Can’t Stand the Rain”, in the mash tun this week, so we can hope to see the finished brew ready at the brewery maybe a month from now.
There is also another new beer in the works: a Berliner Weissbier style brewed with lemongrass to be called “Summer Breeze”. There was a recent tweet from Wild Weather saying this latest brew will launch at the Newbury Real Ale Festival on September 13th. Needless to say, Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer will be there.
Another sign of the times: Mike isn’t alone with his KeyKegs because many UK craft keg breweries are already using them; some exclusively for their kegged beer. Just to name a few there’s Magic Rock, Thornbridge and Meantime. And it’s by using KeyKeg that Brewdog is now able to ship their beer from the brewery in NE Scotland across the world to their bar in Tokyo – where The Navy Son recently enjoyed some punk attitude.
Well done Mike with everything you’ve achieved during the six months since we visited the brewery. The outlook for Wild Weather Ales still looks bright and sunny from our perspective. 🙂