Interesting comment here from Martin on his village local replacing Punk IPA with "a weaker Black Sheep craft keg wannabe." I tried a (presumably) similar thing earlier this week from Greene King - their East Coast IPA, a pleasant enough blonde ale with a some lightly fruity hop flavour sat over a clean malty base. I didn't try Long Man Brewery's Crafty Blonde, which we saw on keg in a hotel bar in Eastbourne a few days earlier, but suspect that I can guess what it'd be like. (The best bitter was drinking well, but that's another story...)
But it's interesting, because these beers seem like a good examples of a new new wave of keg beers that are appearing on the bars of vaguely upmarket real ale pubs. Mostly from traditional family and regional brewers, they range from meek golden ales to full-fledged American pales, although they seldom go far past the magic 5% barrier beyond which lies loopy juice, and while they're often accomplished bits of work, there aren't many of them that'd pass for Beavertown or Magic Rock. There are precedents here in Adnams' Spindrift and the like, but it seems to be over the last couple of years that they've really taken off.
This is class of beer that gets very little attention. The traditionalists would rather talk about proper real ale, the modernists would rather talk about proper craft and the postmodernists want everyone to know they'd rather have a pint of Carlsberg than any of that fancy stuff. Not quite craft, not quite trad, this sort of thing is middlebrow, and doesn't get anyone much excited.
So the interesting question here is who, if anyone, is actually drinking them, and what purpose they serve for the pubs that stock them? For craft geeks - a niche market anyway - they're not really more attractive than cask ale or premium lager, and certainly not enough to tempt you into a pub that you might otherwise avoid. On the other hand, they're hardly a great sell for habitual lager drinkers either, at least not when actual lager is easily available.
Maybe the target market is actually regular cask drinkers, then: people who are under no illusions that this is Proper Craft, the gateway to the exciting world of barrel-aged stouts and lumberjack shirts that they've heard so much about, but who have at least been persuaded by the craft movement that keg beer doesn't actually have to be industrial lager or creamflow John Smiths, and who just at the moment, on a summer evening, actually quite fancy something a bit cold and refreshing. Or maybe - whisper it - who've been bitten by one too many pints of substandard warm-weather cask?
So maybe the old fogeys were right all along, and we really are seeing the return of Watneys Red Barrel - a safe, reliable and reasonably drinkable product that knocks cask off the bars, but it's coming from the real ale stalwarts rather than the new-wave iconoclasts. Or maybe the market just isn't there, and this sort of stuff will never get beyond the odd tap in a few bars.
I guess time will tell.