Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Muddying the Waters

I was struck recently by the tweet below from blogger @Super Crushy about that vexed old subject, beer clarity.
Never being one to pass up an opportunity to respond, I, err, responded with a tweet and then the following conversation took place:
I think people should focus their efforts on highlighting badly made beer, rather than just complaining about beer styles they don't enjoy.

No argument there but I quite like responding in kind to your proselytizing.


  1. I think clarity is a total red herring and has absolutely no bearing on quality. There are plenty of truly first-rate, bright and clean-tasting beers that look like custard; and likewise plenty that are just dreggy messes. By the same token, clear beer can be an indication of one perfectly brewed, matured, kept and served, or that it's had any character it once had filtered out of it. I've had several clear beers that still tasted of dregs.

    Clarity, or lack thereof, tells the drinker nothing further about the beer. It doesn't deserve to be part of the debate among educated consumers.

  2. But there's the rub - if cask beer is going to survive and flourish, it needs to have (and keep) a commercial and cultural reach far beyond "educated consumers" (and educated bar staff for that matter). If someone who knows what they're drinking gets a hazy beer from a bar where they know what they're doing, produced by a brewer who knows what they're doing, then everything lines up and everyone's happy. But a lot of the time you can't rely on even one of those conditions being there, let alone all three - and that creates a lot of scope for people to be turned off by badly-conditioned and/or badly-made beer, served under the age-old banner of "supposed to be like that". Real scope for miseducation, too; was it this blog where a regular commenter used to sing the praises of the taste of yeast in murky beer, in a get-with-the-times-granddad sort of way (of course you're meant to taste it!)?

  3. It's only the rub if the prime objective is promoting cask beer, and that's not mine.

    I thought the UK cask beer trade had this one pretty much nailed: expect clarity by default and there'll be a note from the brewer if it's meant to be hazy.

  4. That's how it should be, but I'm sure Tandleman will agree that, particularly in "craft" circles, there's a growing tendency to present hazy/murky cask beer as normal.

    And, in the great majority of cask beers, cloudiness is an almost guaranteed sign that there's something wrong with it.

  5. There's a certain amount of conceit here: "We discerning beer drinkers know clarity isn't essential, so let's just ignore the ignorant moaners."

    Most cask beer is not drunk by self-styled educated drinkers but by the general public. If they want clear beer, so be it. It makes no sense to expect people to spend their own money on something they don't want. As an experienced real ale drinker, I don't mind a bit of a haze, even if it's not supposed to be there, but I draw the line at something that looks like mushroom soup.

    "I don't drink with my eyes" actually isn't true. It has been determined that the appearance of what we consume can actually affect the way we taste it. In terms of beer, all it means you don't mind the cloudy appearance, not that appearance is unimportant to you. Other people will look at a cloudy pint and think, "I wouldn't like that", and, because appearance and taste are interlinked, they probably won't.

    I'm certain Tandleman's point about unintended consequences is correct. Cask ale can only survive if it's in a mass market, not if it's only consumed by discerning drinkers, and most of the existing market expects clear beer for their £3+ per pint. It's, frankly, silly to suggest they're wrong.

  6. OK, so say the agreed message goes out that all beer should be clear. Is it worth compromising the quality of currently excellent cloudy beer to make life simpler for the cask drinker?

  7. No, that's a straw man. "The cask ale drinker has a reasonable expectation that all beer will be clear unless it is plainly stated otherwise."

  8. Well that's OK then, 'cos it looked like what Tandleman is implying above; that the time when the cask ale drinker could have such an expectation would be good to go back to.

  9. Well John. Just a quick reply. Cask ale is one of my things and the post referred only to cask ale.

    I wondered about the possible link between poor cask ale and declining sales.

    The rest you sort of made up, implying a point of view I didnt state and answering questions I didn't ask.

    Thought you were a librarian not a politician. 🤔

  10. Oh. And would it be good to have such times back? Quite possibly. 👍

  11. I don't get where the argument with Emma comes in, then. I'm reasonably sure her comments weren't cask related.

    As for being a politician, let me be very clear...

  12. No argument with Emma. She's just keener on murk than me. Her prerogative.

  13. *Conversation* with Emma, then; the tweets quoted above.

  14. I reckon Emma can look after herself.

  15. Interesting discussion, with valid points on all sides.

    Personally, I don't mind haze - when it belongs in the beer - and I enjoy some beers where I expect it. For example, I enjoy a hefeweiss and I would prefer a hazy one to a krystal.

    However, I think that it is quite likely that Tandleman is right. I am sure that I have read of a barman claiming that a beer was supposed to be murky when it clearly wasn't - maybe it was retiredmartin telling that story, but I might well be wrong. That kind of incident might well deter drinkers from trying cask.

    I am also sure that I read something from Moor beer about how there is no reason that unfined and unpasteurised beers shouldn't drop bright, if well kept.

    1. Oh, i was just going to suggest Moor as a quality cask brewer where I'd *expect* something slightly beyond haze because I know they don't fine or filter... different to yr NEIPA murk admittedly.

  16. That is a great point. No reason at all why unfined beers can't be clear. Deliberate murk is a different (odd) "thing".

  17. This is why I love beer bloggery. Brilliant stuff. The first comment is sanctimonious nonsense inferring that “educated” beer drinkers don’t care about clarity. If you do, you’re not educated. Suck it up, thickos! Love it. Like there is a university of piss artistry where you can do your honours in craft beer. Rather than beer education simply being a matter of accepting whatever the current orthodoxy and group think is, so you can be recognised by your peers. Ha Ha. How can anyone not love this? What next? Educated consumers of biscuits pontificating on the presence of raisins in a hob nob?

    In every other country where murky beer is sold, more often a product of tradition than modern market innovation, they let the punter know it’s cloudy.

    Why would you not want to do that? Unless you are requiring “education” prior to buying a beer in order to preserve some sort of snobbery you’ve attached to it? Akin to having rules about the knives and forks and noticing who knows those rules and who doesn’t. Subtle social clues to facilitate snobs. Could it be that it is all craft beer is? A way for snobs to divide from the herd of plebs?

    Have a look on twitter and you can see the nerds tweeting, OMG A man in the pub complained his beer was cloudy. Ignorant fool. I’m shaking with rage!

    There’s more to inclusivity than price. It also means accepting people that know nothing about beer are decent intelligent people too, just like you, and ensuring they are welcome in you craft beer bar should they choose to venture into it and that they can order a beer and have enough information to hand to get one they might like and not feel like a dick for not knowing what you know, which you know because you are a geeky nerd into such stuff.

  18. Like there is a university of piss artistry where you can do your honours in craft beer.
    Once you've left your first comment on a beer blog, you're enrolled. Should you decide to set up your own beer blog, you have tenure. Once you're discussing the details of beer instead of just necking it, you are part of beer academia, like it or not.

  19. yes I do think the confusion on both sides of the cask/keg debate on the murk, or need for murk, hinders the battle for quality. Its annoyingly common in places, like that there London, to be served a cask ale, thats murky, not because its meant to be, and maybe its harsh in most cases to say the pub/bar are trying to pass off poor quality as something else, but because they are just as confused as the rest of us what it should be like and havent the time to check, but youll be told invariably its meant to be like that, murkiness is ok dont you know, if you query it, but it probably wont taste that great and most people wont go back to try it again.

    but when you hear that some breweries are deliberately murkinising their beers, or leaving instructions to shake keg barrels daily, to ensure they get their craft beer murkiness tick in the box, you do wonder how on earth did we get to here.

  20. What about if the Moor beer goes on too soon, the bartender doesn't know this (and/or doesn't know what they're doing), and the punter is left with a glass full of trub and no way of complaining about it? What then, eh?

    (Which sounds like tedious hypothetical what-about-ery, but has actually happened to me.)

  21. Stono. We got to here by a gaderene rush to all things American.

    Phil. Now before Beer Nut eviscerates you, he does not approve of whataboutery. What about that?

  22. Oh, was Phil's reply addressed to me? Well, if I got a bad beer I'd likely return it to the bar and ask for something else. If I repeatedly got bad beers from the same brewery I'd probably stop buying their beers. If I repeatedly got bad beers in the same pub I'd probably stop drinking there. It's not too complicated an if/then matrix.

  23. What is beyond belief is that brewers are adding extraneuous ingredients such as flour with the specific intention of making their beer cloudy.

  24. Amateurs I'm afraid. There are perfectly decent clouding agents that will do a much better jobs.

  25. Syd Differential12 May 2018 at 07:47

    " Like there is a university of piss artistry where you can do your honours in craft beer.
    Once you've left your first comment on a beer blog, you're enrolled. Should you decide to set up your own beer blog, you have tenure. Once you're discussing the details of beer instead of just necking it, you are part of beer academia, like it or not."

    Cookie once had a beer blog until he got bored with it.
    Not before everyone else though.

  26. Of nine beers sampled at a pub beer festival today, the one enjoyed and rated second highest was a 'murky'. Make of it what you will :-).

  27. "Does the confusion sown by murky beer, often unlabelled as such, help or hinder the fight for quality cask beer and the need to find more people to drink it with confidence?"

    I'm sure it doesn't help but I doubt it's a big factor. I recently did a visit to the UK (Northern Wales, Black Country, Peak district, York, and Edinburgh). The purpose of the vacation was partly because I really like cask ales and wanted to visit the motherland of cask (so to speak). I found many pubs had jars in front of the cask so you could see the color and clarity of the beer and all of them allowed a sample when in doubt if asked. So really not much excuse for being surprised. The only negatives I found was where the beers were just in poor condition and most of those were clear ones. The handful of murky ones I had (at newer breweries like Brew York and Green Duck in Black Country) were all excellent. The handful of bad ones I had were clear ones at pubs that didn't seem to really give much care to it. For example the undrinkable pint of Holdens at a pub in Sedgely and one of the Bathams pubs was off.

    I think this has got to be a much larger factor in turning people off cask. Just plain bad beers that shouldn't be served (clear or not). The pubs where there were murky beers (for the most part from what I can recall) the beers were good and the staff helpful. Just my limited experience.

  28. Did I imagine a post "Drinking the old fashioned way"?

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