CAMRA: Fresh Ale is handpump ‘hijack’, Otter moots drinks split on bar

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

CAMRA condemns 'Fresh Ale' use of handpumps

Related tags Otter Brewery Cellar management Cask ale Keg CMBC

The Campaign of Real Ale (CAMRA) has warned the introduction of a cask-style beer that is a kegged product made by Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company (CMBC) risks confusing drinkers about cask conditioned beers.

Meanwhile, Otter Brewery, which introduced its iteration of ‘Fresh Ale’ in May 2023, has welcomed CMBC to the market but, controversially, wants to see all ales split away from lagers and ciders on pub bars.

Both CMBC and Otter’s Fresh Ale is a product that is drawn from a handpump while under low gas pressure but is created to have a similar mouthfeel and look of cask while being fresh for 14 days (Otter’s last for 30 days) rather than usual three-day period of genuine cask ale.

CAMRA warned the fact Fresh Ale is not dispensed through a kegged beer tap is a plan to “hijack the iconic handpump”.

Keg beer is not a ‘live’ beer, in that once it leaves the brewery it contains no viable yeast and does not undergo further conditioning, unlike cask-conditioned beers which continue to develop flavour and carbonation in the pub cellar, said CAMRA.

The group added: “While CMBC has indicated that, following feedback from CAMRA, it will label so-called ‘Fresh Ale’ served through handpumps as “brewery conditioned beer”, CAMRA fears this will still confuse customers and erode their long-held understanding that only cask beer is served in this way.

“The campaign is also concerned CMBC’s plan will reduce choice to consumers and by taking up handpump space elbows out genuine cask beers produced by smaller, independent brewers.”

Handpumps are sign of cask beer

It explained beer handpumps on bars have long been the easily recognisable sign of the freshness and quality of cask beer – and it fully intends to enforce its long-standing policy that beer drinkers should not be misled at the point of dispense through the sale of non-live, non-cask beer through handpumps.

CAMRA national director and chair of the Real Ale, Cider and Perry Campaigns committee Gillian Hough said: “It’s baffling why CMBC feels the need to serve a keg beer through cask ale handpumps, when it would seem to be simpler and more honest to simply serve it through keg taps, as with all other keg products.

“It would be even better if this company, despite claiming to be incredibly proud to be a leading brewer of cask ale, actually invested in producing new cask ales and supporting its existing beers.

“It’s particularly ironic that instead it has spent time closing the historic breweries in their portfolio and now wants to cash in on that cask heritage with a keg product that hijacks the handpump.”

Otter fresh ale
Otter's Fresh Ale

Meanwhile, Otter Brewery has welcomed Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company (CMBC) to the market for cask-style beers in kegged format, claiming it launched its iteration of Fresh Ale almost a year ago.

Otter also said it would like to see a split on the bar of pubs, separating ales – including both genuine cask-conditioned beers and Fresh Ale – from lagers and ciders at the other end.

Otter Brewery managing director Patrick McCaig explained: “Currently, the majority of drinkers look to the ‘keg’ end of the bar to make their ‘bar call’. If the introduction of Fresh Ale means operators can begin to re-evaluate how they position categories on the bar (ale, lager, cider etc.) then cask ale will naturally get for more viability and footfall. 

“We would like to see all ales including the likes of Camden Pale and Neck Oil, at one end of the bar with lagers and ciders at the other. This will inevitably position cask ale among keg ale and with that generate a far greater visibility to the category we love and the one that needs attention (cask).”

Evolution to save cask

The Devon-based brewer added it was “delighted” CMBC has “seen the benefit Fresh Ale can bring to the cask ale market by launching three beers of their own”.

CMBC will put three of its cask favourites into kegged format from this month​ (March) – Wainwright Gold, Wainwright Amber and Hobgoblin IPA – under the moniker of Fresh Ale so instead of lasting three days as a cask product would, it will last 14 days.

Otter Brewery managing director Patrick McCaig said: “When we launched the Fresh Ale concept​ last year, our hope was that this could be the start of an evolution to help save cask ale.

“After having significant success ourselves with the product (which is now in more than 100 pubs), we are delighted CMBC has entered the category by introducing three fresh ales of their own.

“Fresh Ale is a product that has significant benefits for the cask ale market, not only as it bridges the gap between craft beer, cask ale and lager, but it also brings innovation and a younger demographic to the cask end of the bar. 

“For the operator, it provides a product that has a 30-day shelf life, making it feasible to a much wider range of outlets than traditional cask.  All too often a pint of cask ale can be disappointing and often this is largely due to the lack of throughput resulting from too many beers on the bar.  Fresh Ale comes with a guarantee of flavour and condition.

“We completely agree with CMBC in that Fresh Ale is designed to breathe energy and innovation into the cask end of the bar and is in no way the beginning of the end of cask ale.

“We created Fresh Ale to reinvigorate cask ale and we believe that CMBC coming into the category can only be a good thing for cask ale as a whole.”

CMBC Fresh Ale
CMBC's Fresh Ale

However, CAMRA said: “Even with additional labelling, our fear is customers – especially those who perhaps don’t understand a term like ‘brewery-conditioned’ or don’t notice the small print – will be confused.

“It also seems likely that, over time, this potentially misleading approach will erode the image of the iconic beer handpump as a clear symbol of cask-conditioned beer.

“We believe beer drinkers should be fully informed at the point of dispense and we will continue to condemn dispense practices that seek to mislead the consumer, particularly by selling non-live, non-cask beers through cask beer handpumps. 

“CAMRA calls on CMBC to either provide a genuinely live and fresh beer to be served through handpumps, to give the drinker what they expect and want, or to be honest and serve this so-called ‘fresh beer’ through keg taps.” 

Related topics The Cask Project

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