Thursday 2 January 2014

Not A Fan

London Murky may well be my favourite beer descriptor of 2013, so well done to Robsterowski who I think can safely be said to have first coined it.  I don't care for murky cask beer myself, though I am a little more inclined to forgive it from bottle. (Well I might be in certain circumstances, but that's a separate post.)  My reasons for my dislike of cloudy cask beer are twofold.  OK. Maybe more than twofold, as my mind is racing into three plus reasons.  Firstly, to me at least, it doesn't look right.  Secondly, again to me at least, it doesn't always taste right.  This I admit may be in my mind (though not always), as I remain unconvinced that there are more good things than bad things floating around in the gloom. While mostly these are spent yeast cells and  proteins, I don't feel comforted by that, as I don't care for yeasty tasting beer. There are other by products of the brewing process that can remain in suspension too, such as tannins, starch, oxalic acid and more, that may well account for some of the haze.  These are just some of the bad boys.

My third reason is confusion.  I have already written about this and would add that there is something else. A fourth reason if you like. There is a temptation, which I think I have seen in action, for bar staff to attribute to any beer which is hazy or cloudy, the phrase "It is meant to look like that."  Now this may be just a guess, or they may be being disingenuous, but it all adds to the confusion. How do I know whether what I am being sold is working beer that hasn't finished its secondary fermentation, rather than one that is meant to be cloudy?  Nor do I know if the brewer is just incompetent. Truth is, I don't know other than by my taste and experience why it might be cloudy.  And I could well be wrong and on dodgy grounds for complaint if I'm not happy. To my mind, this all adds an unwelcome variable to me as a cask beer consumer and one that I didn't have to take into account before.  Before if the beer was cloudy, I took it back. What we are getting now isn't nearly as straightforward. Of course you can just dismiss me as an old fuddy duddy and say that I should learn to live with it.  Well I'm not so sure about that and am minded to do something about it.

The CAMRA AGM isn't a million miles away and I might just put forward a motion about how this confusion, which I see as (in the main) detrimental to cask beer, should be addressed.

Visual stimuli are very important to beer. Yes we do drink with our eyes.  We decide a lot about a beer before we even taste it.


Neville Grundy said...

Of course we eat and drink with our eyes: our senses aren't independent of each other - they feed all their information into the same brain. If a beer isn't brewed or served looking attractive, I'm not attracted and my money will stay in my pocket, especially at modern prices.

Bailey said...

You're absolutely right that a beer's appearance sends to the taste-buds.

The sticking point for me is that the clear=attractive is learned -- a cultural prejudice, and a matter of taste.

For whatever reason, I don't make that association (perhaps growing up seeing people drinking hazy scrumpy cider in Somerset?) and I actually find some 'murky' pints rather more appetising looking than clear ones. In my mind, there's an expectation of 'juiciness' and maybe more body.

John West said...

I broadly agree - with one caveat (and also a question).

My main area if agreement is that it introduces an unwelcome variable ("this beer is unfined and cloudy; this beer is fined and cloudy because it has not reached condition or we're at the bottom of the cask").

But I do wonder - Tandleman himself here says cloudy cask is bleurgh while cloudy bottles are (depending on personal preference) ok. Are we talking the difference between fined and unfined beer?

Can unfined cask, well conditioned, be ok, while fined cloudy beer has fish guts in it?

One last thing - does unfined beer *have* to be cloudy? Surely if still aged early enough, it would only be a haze?

Neville Grundy said...

JJ: I was for many years a home brewer, with some of my beer bottled and some in plastic casks. I never used finings and I never had cloudy beer.

steve thack said...

An unfined beer that's intended to be cloudy can certainly be amazing. My experience these are rare but becoming more common. Beer with a natural hop haze (different from yeasty cloudy) is equally gaining popularity. The unfined generally in my experience announces itself as such (and well kept id expect a light cloud not soup) which both attracts 1 set of drinkers and puts off those likely to send it back. Camra encouraging labeling and education is certainly no bad thing, any attempt to control or discourage unfined beers would be bloody daft in my opinion. Education though is good - only year or so since I last saw gent moaning his hoegarden wasn't clear ;-) !

Anonymous said...

I've got no issue with cloudy beer but it should be made clear on the pump clip it is supposed to be that way. i.e. Moor 'unfined' versions.

That said, I think unfined isnt the right word, because to a casual drinker 'fined' or 'unfined' doesnt mean a thing.

'Naturally hazy' is better i'd say.

I agree confusion needs to be avoided, but lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Tandleman said...

But what is the baby here Neil?

Tandleman said...

Steve. Hop haze is an interesting one and one which I am ambivalent. I am never sure whether it is, at least some of the time, bad brewing.

Anonymous said...

The baby is tasty beer!

Unfined Moor is far superior in flavour to the regular versions IMHO.

Many other hazy beers which are meant to be hazy would not taste as good were they treated in a way to ensure they are pin bright.

I agree education and clarity is the key, but not that all beer has to be pin-bright.

Should go with out saying but just my personal view!

Tandleman said...

Neil. I have never had the opportunity to taste Moor beers side by side in that way. I'd like to try as I generally enjoy them.

Of course I'm conditioning the beer!

Erlangernick said...

Next time, I'll have Herr Roppelt serve you Kellerbier in a Weizenglas or a Glaskrug...we'll see how well you like it then!

One of the craftier pubs should offer fined and unfined casks of, say, Windy Pale or Thornbridge Wild Swan, so that we can see (and taste) for ourselves.

As a non-Briton, I grew up without the burden of associating cloudy beer with fishiness.

Rednev, as a regular homebrewer of really hoppy, low-gravity pale ale, I'm curious: how did you get your beer clear? Just letting it mature properly? Did you bottle condition?

I bottle condition my beer, not by priming, but by bottling it when the primary fermentation is j u s t about finished. After a week or so, the *cloudiness* is pretty well gone, but the *haze* takes at least a month or 6 weeks to drop out. (I begin drinking it within days of bottling though.)

Tandleman said...

Nick. Herr Roppelt may well make hazy beer but he doesn't make cloudy beer. The former can be forgiven.

Neil: Not pin bright I agree, but murky?

Yvan Seth said...

There's haze and then there's murk.

I'm seeing quite a few photos/reports of properly murky "unfined beer" lately.

In my experience beer from a cask of unfined Moor (I think they're *all* unfined now), properly looked after, has a light cast to it through to maybe a mere haze in the case of bigger beers like Hopiness.

I wonder if some pubs just use "unfined" as an excuse to bung a cask in and put it on with little chance to settle? Which isn't doing "unfined" as a form of beer any favours IMO. (It's "hop haze"... apparently... haha.)

And perhaps some breweries have issues too... because I've had quite a few very murky bottled beers in the last year, that seem to simply refuse to settle in bottle. And it's not bloody "hop haze".

Murk does have its place in some styles of beer of course...

Curmudgeon said...

Either beer is intended to be cloudy (or potentially cloudy) or it isn't. If it falls into the first category, then declare that fact at the point of sale and let drinkers make up their own minds. If in the second category, then cloudiness is indicative of a brewing or cellaring fault.

Paul Bailey said...

Having met you a few times Tandleman, I would certainly not describe you as an old fuddy duddy, any more than I would describe myself as such. I certainly think you are right to sound a note of caution over the issue of cloudy pints, especially where it relates to cask-conditioned beer and what CAMRA’s stance should be on this.

There are a number of brewers around at the moment who have taken a deliberate decision not to use finings in their beer. This is because they either wish to appeal to the vegetarian/vegan market or, because they feel that beer without finings is somehow fresher.

I’m not sure what their logic is over the last point, but some of them maintain that beer without “fish-guts” as they insist on calling finings, somehow tastes fresher, and therefore better. We also have the additional issue of keg beer that is supposed to cloudy; something that goes against all conventional wisdom. After all, one of the main selling points when keg first appeared, was that it was it poured sparkling bright, and was idiot proof!

These are areas I would like to explore in a post of my own, as I feel brewers who are promoting cloudy beer have overlooked quite a few important points; either deliberately (for their own convenience), or for the simple reason they wish to be different; to stand out from the crowd. It could all boil down to plain cussedness, but that’s for another day, another post and potentially a whole new debate to decide.

My own view is that if the present situation is confusing beer enthusiasts, what is it doing to the ordinary man or woman in the street? So far as CAMRA is concerned, beer that is brewed to be deliberately cloudy could undermine all the efforts made over the years to ensure the customer ends up with a clear pint. If you will pardon the pun, it is clouding the issue. It will certainly aid and abet those licensees who can’t be bothered to look after cask properly- “It’s meant to be like that, innit!” “It’s supposed to have bits floating in it!”

Without elaborating further at present, I would like to point people in the direction of an excellent post on this subject made by Ghost Drinker, back in May last year.

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Your being to soft Tandy, beating around the bush. Yeast haze , protein haze and hop haze all taste bad, that is the biggest issue. Those 'extra flavours' are harsh and to the detriment of the beer. Brewers please get them out of your beers and hipsters please stop hyping hazy harsh beers. With the exception of hefeweizen, saison, wit of course.

Tandleman said...

Got me bang to rights Kieran. I plead guilty. I've been reading too much Boak and Bailey.

Will get off thst fence in my next post.

Curmudgeon said...

Yes, agreed with Kieran. I'm right behind you in making a more robust response to the spread of this nonsense. Cloudiness in "normal" beers is virtually always a fault and should not be excused away as "character".

Also see this post from Phil on "Oh Good Ale".

Erlangernick said...

"There are other by products of the brewing process that can remain in suspension too, such as tannins, starch, oxalic acid and more, that may well account for some of the haze. These are just some of the bad boys."

[emphasis mine]

You imply that hazy beer is, or at least can be, bad. Yet Roppelt's Kellerbier, while lagered for 6 weeks, is hazy but good, especially because it's lager.

Yes, of course there's a difference between hazy and cloudy. Everyone seems to be in agreement on that. But if a beer is hazy because it hasn't been fined, though it's not *yeasty*, nor is it *cloudy*, is it bad just because it's not bright? Only if it's cask ale, but not if it's sort-of-cask lager?

(Of course, a litre of Kellerbier costing what a pint does in London might allow for some forgiveness.)

Meh, at least you admit it may be in your mind. I admit I'm really proud of my homebrew when it's 6 weeks old and as brilliant as a Pils...though it starts to fade quickly then!

Erlangernick said...

Should be a question mark after that "especially because it's lager."

Tandleman said...

Nick. Kellerbier is a different matter. Customer expectations aren't the same.

There is no confusion in a hazy Kellerbier.

Erlangernick said...

But *why*? Do you think haze in lager is not from "bad boys", whereas in ale it is?

Just trying to understand the prejudices and expectations.

Tandleman said...

I rather thought I had explained it. Real Ale drinkers have traditionally expected clear beer. It has only been recently that this expectation has been challenged.

Kellerbier drinkers as far as I know will give a bit more leeway as they expect or will tolerate, because of what it is, a bit more haze.

Dave Unpronounceable said...

Hmmm, so because real ale drinkers have always expected clear beer, real ale should always be clear? Brewing progresses, it doesn't have to stay the same forever. 20 or 30 years ago there were probably people saying 'real ale has always tasted of toffee and twigs, it's what people expect, we don't need all these fancy american hops'.

Adding finings shouldn't make your beer taste fishy, unless it's still in suspension, in which case you will have a cloudy pint and it will be a bad thing. But finings almost always pick up flavour elements as well as protein and yeast and will strip them out too. An unfined beer that has been allowed to settle will taste better than one that has been fined. In some cases it will be almost as clear if not as clear - but this depends on the yeast, hops and numerous other variables

Dry-hopping is likely to create haze (and yes I see a big difference between haze and cloudiness), but a dry-hopped beer will taste better than an equivalent non-dry-hopped beer (assuming you like hops that is!).

We've considered doing away with finings, we reckon most of our direct customers would be fine if our beers were unfined and hazy, but have to see about the ones that go through wholesalers.

Remember, the UK is pretty much the only country that obsesses over clear beer. Is it really that we're right and everyone else is wrong? In Italy for example clear beer is a sign of industrial brewing - I love the (apparently true) story about how some UK beer got sent back by an Italian festival cos it was clear and therefore industrial!

On the flipside, I've been involved in a festival beer tasting where not only did beers get marked down for being less than crystal clear (not by me!), some were disqualified from the whole competition, regardless of how good they tasted, because they were hazy and therefore deemed not ready to serve. FFS!

Tandleman said...

Well Dave. Inadvertently I think, you concede that hazy/murky beer causes confusion. There are a couple of schools of thought on what is and should be stripped out of beer and you sit on the side of more good stuff is than bad. That's fine, but it isn't a definitive position either empirically or taste wise. Nor is mine, but it is, pun intended, clearer.

As for Italy, the historical context means I'd say, that the difference has to be emphasised in such a way, though of course as that market matures, who knows? And I've had some yeasty horrors from Italy.

I'm not sure that your defending of a lot of bad beer - not always bad but all too often - is good enough, nor is the confusion element which is likely to lead to (if it hasn't already) bad practice and duplicity.

I don't say exactly that real ale should always be clear, but I do say that it should say it isn't on the point of sale. In most cases on the pumpclip.

Gazza Prescott said...

I'd write a whole load of ranting but I really can't be arsed... what I will say is that the clearer the beer (i.e. the more finings used, both primary and secondary) the less body, mouthfeel and flavour the beer will have. Granted, some of these flavours you're better off without (tannins especially) but the protein which is blitzed out by fining takes with it a lot of a beer's character.

And you can have hop haze, it's caused by oils which don;t disperse into the beer. It's generally a symptom of the right amount of dry-hops.

Tandleman said...

Don't think the odd bit of hop haze is the problem Gazza.

And the rest is just opinion.

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