Monday, 26 November 2007

Let's Start with The Sparkler

OK. Let's nail my colours firmly to the mast. I believe in sparkled beer, but most of all I believe in well conditioned beer. Sometimes there is confusion between the two so let's try and sort the wheat from the chaff. A list of beer facts:
  • good conditioned beer needs no sparkler - TRUE - but it will enhance mouthfeel and aroma to some perceptions and will adversely affect it to others
  • a sparkler knocks out all the condition from beer - FALSE - it will displace some C02 from body to head, but won't knock out the condition to a detrimental effect unless the beer is poorly conditioned in the first place
  • a sparkler will change the flavour of the beer - FALSE - it may change the flavour perception but this will vary from beer to beer depending on circumstance
  • a sparkler will bring flat beer to life. FALSE. Flat beer will still be flat. Once the initial head has gone, the beer will be as flat or indeed flatter
There is a kind of assumption that all beers are equal and that brewers & cellar-staff have conspired to ensure that there is a decent amount of natural CO2 in solution to add that lovely sparkle. All beers are primed differently. A good cellarman knows which are which. In these corner cutting, let's get it served days, beers drop bright quickly, but are they well conditioned and ready to serve? Not always.

It's all about conditioning really. Get the beer in good condition, full of natural CO2 (but not overly so) and really, after that, it is down to how you prefer it No-one doubts that mouthfeel, flavour and other variables taste different with or without a sparkler. The issue is whether they can be proved to be better or worse by a particular method. My assertion is that all things being otherwise equal, it comes down to preference. I prefer sparkled beer, but it must have the condition and not be served too warm. Too warm a serving temperature and too little condition are the enemy of cask beer. The latter two statements are also beer FACTS as they have been proved to be true scientifically. Warm temperatures cause dissolved C02 to return to atmosphere and too little condition will have the same flattening effect on beer. Don't believe me? Read "Beer and the Science of Brewing by Charles Bamforth. I have a signed and dedicated copy. Another beer fact!

* What is a sparkler? Sparklers are the devices on the end of the handpump serving spout that create tiny gas bubbles that form the creamy head on a pint in served in the North of England and increasingly commonly according to some, in the South of England.


MicMac said...

Hi Pete, always good to add a bit of contention to your first few blog posts eh?

I love your "facts" which some might otherwise describe as "debatable" or "opinions" :~)

My own perspective & experience is that it's so rare to find a cask beer so highly-conditioned as to have loads left after it's been through a sparkler, that for my tastebuds I would generally rather not have one used. (I think this is in part down to brewers not leaving much fermentables in the beer to the create the carbonation, or beers still being on sale after their initial CO2 has diminished, or possibly landlords not being so conscientious about the cellar conditioning process as they might).
Also your comment that a sparkler "may change the flavour perception" seems a bit odd - as what is flavour understood by most of us to mean other than a *perception* of taste!?

Good luck with the blog,

Tandleman said...

Cheers Mike. I think we will disagree, but your comments are more than welcome!

Anonymous said...

This subject never fails raise blood pressure. I'm formly in the "why the fuck are you serving me icecream when I ordered ale" camp. I genuinely wish I understood why people so desire a creamy head. A good ale needs no addition. I neither come from the south or the north, but the premier ale brewing region of the country.

Paul Garrard

Tandleman said...

As I sais, the main thing is condition. After that it's preference. To each, his own

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