Cask vs. Keg at The White Horse: The Verdict

The Cask versus Keg Festival at the White Horse, Parson’s Green was set out as a test of beer ideology. Is cask old hat? Can keg ever get “real”? Eight beers, two halves of each: one cask the other keg. Three tasters on the jury, one point for a win. The results are in. Catch up on Part1: Battle Plans are laid, and then read on! there’s nothing to lose but your prejudice.

Let battle commence!
Meantime London Pale Ale 4.3% ABV
What else are you going to call a brewery from Greenwich? Meantime is known for a range of beer styles and embracing keg. What would it’s cask be like? Both beers were low in carbonation, but the attractive toffee and malt in the aroma of the keg version was replaced in the cask version by a sort of rounded funkiness. I thought there might be an appley note. The verdict tipped by the cask being served too warm.
Keg 1, Cask 0.

Magic Rock Highwire 5.5% ABV
The first of several beers on today from this new brewery. In the style of an West Coast American pale ale bitter. Immediately the keg gives up its gorgeous aroma of passion fruit and citrus liveliness. Eventually, the cask catches on released those tropical fruit and delivers has an extra dimension. Is it chewier? rounder? The equaliser!
Keg 1, Cask 1.

Harviestoun Schiehallion  4.8% ABV
Schiehallion is a Scottish lager, but there its similarity to Tennents ends. It is one of the very few cask-conditioned lagers available in the UK. The lager from the keg is more carbonated, and seems more lager-y in appearance. The finish of the keg, is long and creamily malty. Definitely superior we thought, despite the cask pedigree of its brother.
Keg 2, Cask 1.

Magic Rock Curious 3.9% ABV
Curiously, Curious – an English-style pale ale, is darker than the lager. Well, curious for many lager drinkers in the UK, perhaps. The cask is noticeably warmer, but has a dense, attractive head. The aroma, of both is similar: a gentle herbiness. Both have a lemony bitterness, but the taste of the keg is thin by comparison.
Keg 2, Cask 2.

Black Isle Red Kite 4.2% ABV
It’s from Scotland but it’s not an island, I learned last year. Lovely reddish colour in both, with nutty chestnut aromas in the cask with a lovely fruitiness. The cask has a lovely fruitiness but the keg has a gorgeous mothfeel: soft and round. A score-draw.
Keg 2.5, Cask 2.5.

Thornbridge Jaipur 5.9% ABV
At this point burgers became involved because it has become impossible to resist the barbecue aromas wafting in from the green. This powerful, hoppy India Pale Ale should be just the job. The crisp hoppiness with a backbone of light malt matches the burgers brilliantly. A close one this, but the keg has slightly more fizz and it just suits the burgers, and so wins the day.
Keg 3.5, Cask 2.5

Black Isle Porter 4.6% ABV
Back to the Highlands again. The cask knocks the socks off the keg here, with its chocolatey smoothness. Here, for once, the keg seems as artificial as its detractors claim. The roasted malt flavours go brilliantly with what’s left of the heavily loaded burgers.
Keg 3.5, Cask 3.5

Magic Rock Cannonball 7.4% ABV
This is a mighty ale in both cask and keg, styled as a “hop bomb” IPA. Both versions are really good: gorgeous fruity lemony sweetness. The keg is lighter and more sherbety, while the cask is full of depth and round. At the time, I tweeted the cask had a “fruity happiness”. The auto-correcter on my phone got the better of me, but this time the cask got the better of the keg.

Final Score and verdict
Keg 3.5, Cask 4.5

Hardly a crushing victory for cask. Are we surprised either way? That “proper” keg is good? Only one cask was vastly superior: the Black Isle Porter, and only one keg was way better than its cask counterpart: the Meantime London Pale Ale.

So, what of the supposition that some styles more suited to one or other dispense? The two Magic Rock American-style beers which you might have expected to be keg-favoured were great in cask, but honestly, there wasn’t much in it. Lighter, ales seem to work better as cask, with the caveat that the sample was very small; we skipped over the Fullers Chiswick, and got into the Otley, which was only on as cask. We deserve reprimands.

If there is any clear verdict on the basis of one session: the “enemy” is not keg. If there is an enemy it is pasteurisation and strangulation filtering that rips the character out of a beer. And, serving beers at the right temperature makes a difference.

You could argue that I’ve come away confirming what I already knew, but at least I have some hard(ish) evidence to back my view up.

I suspect the battle will rage on.

Breweries

Meantime Brewery
Magic Rock Brewing
Harviestoun Brewery
Black Isle Brewery
Thornbridge

And not forgetting, this was another brilliant beer event from The White Horse.

One thought on “Cask vs. Keg at The White Horse: The Verdict

  1. Update: Text has now been changed to show that it was Magic Rock Cannonball, and not Human Cannonball, as previously stated. Thanks @MagicRockRich.Wish even more, now, that I had taken a photo of the taps and fonts.

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