This could possibly be the most mundane, ordinary, middling, boring beer that will ever be posted on Aleheads. Back when The Brotherhood was formed, when blood was exchanged, when vows were written, we Aleheads agreed that no review shall be written on typical, everyday beers. We figured most of our readers had downed a pint of Guinness, had suckled the teat of a Budweiser long-neck, and had even tossed a lemon into their wife’s Blue Moon (We know it was for your wife, no need to embarrass yourself). I don’t need to tell you that Coors Light gets a zero hop rating. If you need a review of medicore beers, I’m sure there’s a website for you somewhere. So, why am I reviewing Newcastle? Well, check out that cool keg!
Newcastle Brown Ale doesn’t need much of an introduction. Look in most any package store and you’re sure to find 6 and 12 packs of clear, highly skunkable bottles. If you’re lucky enough to find the 12 or 16 oz cans, you’ve got a better package, but still nothing to write home about. The draught version is the only place where the true Brown Ale really shines through. Unlike Samuel Smith’s offerings, Newcastle bottles do absolutely nothing to preserve the buttery, creamy flavor that lends so much to this humble British style. A bottle of Newcastle is a waste of anyone’s time, but then again, I’ve put down hundreds of bottles in my day so I’m not criticizing. And that my friends is why there was no hesitation when I saw the 5 liter mini-keg of Newcastle Brown Ale sitting on a fluorescent-lit shelf. See, I knew I’d be travelling far North over the holiday weekend and sweating my ass off in 95 degree heat. I wanted something light, something familiar, and honestly just something that I could drink pint after pint while sitting in a camp chair. Scorned in the past, it’s time to give Newcastle another try in its “Sort of” natural state.
Brief history on mini-kegs. They’ve been around for a long time and the Germans perfected the package with companies like Bitburger, Spaten, and Lowenbrau flooding the market with their offerings. Homebrewers have grabbed these empty cans for years and now you can even buy a small tap system that works with little CO2 canisters to force the beer out and keep it fresh. The problem I always had with these kegs is all the different paraphernalia and taps that never seemed to be consistent between packagers. Eventually the industry worked out some kinks and put self-tapping cans on the market, but these always seemed to leak all over my fridge and just acted like a giant can with a pop-top. Flat beer within a couple of days was pretty standard. Alas, Heineken saves the day and comes out with their own contraption titled DraughtKeg. Allegedly stays fresh for 30 days, comes with its own tap, stands upright in the fridge – Problem solved. Unfortunately, Heineken did a silly thing and filled the DraughtKeg with Heineken. What were they thinking? Due to a fun little partnership, dictatorship, ownership, or whatever you want to call the Newcastle/Heineken relationship, finally there’s something else filling the DraughtKeg that should be a bit more palatable.
Poured from said DraughtKeg that was chilled for the recommended 10 hours, my Newcastle hit the glass with plenty of pressure and left a good 4 inch head behind. It took a couple of pours to get the system right, but regardless, this looked like a draught that you’d see in any bar. No skunky nose, no metallic smell, just fresh goodness coming up from the glass. That buttery deliciousness that’s present in the best English Browns comes through perfectly and adds a great deal to the smoothness of this brew. Slightly bitter in the finish, the only knock on this beer is a slight sourness at the end (Also, it’s not overly complex). The mouthfeel reaps the most benefit from the DraughtKeg since the carbonation is absolutely perfect. Due to extreme heat and several other beers on hand, the 5 liter keg lasted throughout the entire week. After 7 days in the fridge, tapped, the last beer had just as much carbonation as the first and showed no signs of degradation. Drinkability is fairly high, but the creaminess gets old after a couple in a row.
For comparison’s sake, I’d give the original Newcastle Brown Ale in glass bottles a 1 hop rating. I like that beer and drink it on occasion, but it’s not that great and I think few would argue that it’s anything beyond ordinary. For the DraughtKeg version, I’ll bump this up to 2.5 hops. That’s a huge increase and clearly the mini-keg lets the true beer shine through. When you consider that the 5 liter keg is $20, that equates to roughly $40/case or about 50% higher than a case of Newcastle bottles. Still, if you have kids and can’t make it out to the bar as often as you’d like you might as well have one of these guys on hand. Draught beer at home is a special thing indeed.