Sunday, 3 September 2017

Where there's Murk, there's Brass

The controversy over hazy/cloudy/murky beer continues apace.  Twitter is full of photographic examples of beer which is so densely cloudy it looks like chicken soup, while all the while those posting said photos proclaim what a lovely drop it is.  There isn't much light I can shed on this phenomenon other than to suggest, mildly, that this has become a fashion that at its best can be described as bringing a new, open minded interpretation of beer presentation to the drinking public,  or at worst a con on the gullible with experimental beer, or a batch gone wrong, or even a brewer who doesn't know what the heck he is doing, pushing out bad beer at top dollar prices.  It's a thing though, so how should we react?

The simplest way is not to buy the stuff if it offends you, but of course it isn't that straightforward.  In the days before murk, it was easy. You got a cloudy or even hazy pint and you took it back. You knew that beer was meant to be bright and if it wasn't you returned it and asked for an exchange. In those days that was the norm. Customers knew it and bar staff knew it. It wasn't an arguable point. There was a rule - a clear rule if you like.  Nowadays there are those, rightly or wrongly that don't fine their beer in the belief, again rightly or wrongly, that by not fining the beer, the customer gets a "better" pint.  Now of course the flaw in this argument is that it is very subjective. Some like the added taste that not removing solids from beer gives - and that taste isn't all or always good - and some consider, me among them - that the flavours become imprecise, muddied if you like. Overcoming inbuilt norms, is not an easy thing either way.

There are brewers, good ones who take beer seriously that fret over this, but usually they have a tendency to go one way or another. You know the beers and you can choose accordingly. Ah, Yes. If you know the beers you can, but what about when you don't and most customers don't? Well, you rely on the brewer putting an explanation on the pumpclip, or the barstaff telling you (assuming in these days where quality control at the point of dispense has seemingly become the job of the purchaser) that the barstaff either know or care.  Never has it been easier for those selling a product that isn't quite right to say "It's meant to taste/look like that", especially as it sometimes is.

This, like it or not, is a particular problem for cask conditioned beer. I know some brewers haven't fined their beers for years, but they use an appropriate yeast and they allow the beer time. They may even re-rack almost bright into conditioning tanks and, providing the beer has enough viable yeast for a secondary fermentation in the cask, why not? Who cares? Certainly not me. The issue though is that with so many brewers of cask beer around now, some beers are frankly not worth drinking on taste alone, but if in addition they are cloudy, the customer is put in a position where he or she has to argue the case at the bar. Not good. Years of certainty over beers look and appearance count for nothing now.

What about craft beers? Well, here there may well be a different case to argue. Beers in this genre tend to be a lot more edgy, a bit more experimental. I read recently of a huge number of kilos of fruit pulp being added to beer. The brewer advised Twitter of the fact with pride. And why not?  I am not against such things - the Belgians have been doing it for years after all. Mind you they produce in the main very pin bright fruit beers - but we aren't Belgian here and in these cases, the resultant beer, cloudy as a fruit juice is what is intended and of course, here there is little argument. It is likely sold as what it is to those who have a fair idea of what they are getting and they pay and enjoy accordingly. That's fine by me.

So is this an issue and why is it happening? Most likely because it can happen and we have a new wave of brewers and drinkers who don't feel bound by a previous norm. They like it that way. That's fine, but brewers and publicans, please tell us in advance at the point of sale, in the case of cask conditioned beer at least.

London Murky is possibly the founding source  of this, but is separate and possibly more dodgy manifestation of this trend. It inspired the title of this piece in a way.

This blog piece which lends itself all too easily to dodgy puns, was at the back of my mind for a while. It was brought to life by an inability to sleep this morning and this piece here, where this issue seemingly precipitated a very unsavoury incident.


retiredmartin said...

I keep looking out for this exciting murky beer but I never find it. 550 different Beer Guide pubs in the last year and I don't recall any murky, outside the odd unfined Gyle 59 (which is different).

Tired, poorly conditioned beer. That's another matter.

Do I need to spend more time in East London ?

Cooking Lager said...

Been a point of beer blogger debate for yokes this. Easily solved with clear information as the point of sale for people to base their choices on.

But that would stop the arguments stone dead, and people do love arguing the toss and judging other drinkers so it would be less fun.

I like going in CAMRA pubs and asking "any of this hand pulled pish clear or is it all murky filth" I always get a polite and professional answer to my query.

DaveS said...

I can't remember - did anyone punt the idea of sticking an icon in the beer / brewery listings at the back of the GBG to say whether beers (or most beers from a given brewery if individual beers aren't listed) are meant to be pin bright, hazy, or fully murky?

FWIW I don't mind people who think it's a silly, counterproductive or downright unpleasant trend, but I am getting a bit bored with people who continually insinuate that a cloudy NEIPAs must be the result of incompetent brewing or incomplete fermentation or insufficient conditioning rather than, say, a brewer who knows exactly what they're doing putting 20% oats in the grist for a specific effect. I tend to put people who go on this way in about the same category as people who complain that Harveys or JW Lees "don't know how to use hops" because their beers don't all taste of Um Bongo.

Curmudgeon said...

Ah yes, but all too often cloudy beer is a sign of one or both of poor brewing and poor cellarmanship.

And I get a bit bored with people who insinuate that clarity is an overrated quality in beers that are *meant* to be crystal.

There's a letter on this subject in September's "What's Brewing" that I thought was a load of nonsense.

If it's meant to be cloudy, just put it on the pumpclip, and I'll make my own judgment as to whether or not to try it.

Elm Tree Rob said...

My staff actively encourage people to try the beers before buying - it solves a lot of problems....

Alan Winfield said...

We found it Martin,

In The Hand in Falmouth,Verdant Some Fifty Summers,more cloudy and thick than mud and tasted horrible,it took both me and the wife two drinks of proper beer to get the taste of that shit out of our mouths,my wife said it looked worse than the dregs at the bottom of my home brewed Mild and that it would taste better than the crap we had for about £5 for two halfs.
It is a shame i can not add the photo of the two halfs so all could see how bad it looked.

Paul Bailey said...

There’s a whole world of difference between a beer which is slightly hazy and one which looks like a glass of orange juice. More and more this seems like a prime example of the “Emperor’s new clothes!”

DaveS said...

@mudige - if someone puts up a picture of a soupy pint of London Pride or a sour, murky best bitter then I'll join in the chorus of disapproval. But a lot of the time when you see a "look at this half-finished muck - if I drank that I'd be on the toilet all night" sort of comment, the beer is a NEIPA brewed with a load of oats, and if the commentators are people who you'd expect to be well aware of this then you have to suspect that they're basically trying to pull a fast one themselves.

Stono said...

but this perfectly illustrates the problem when ever hazy beers are discussed and was the sidetrack that we got onto when it was brought up at the AGM as a motion, this issue is fundamentally about giving customers the information so they are informed of the choice of beer they are making, its not about what hazy beers are as such.

I dont believe you should be expected to have knowledge of beer styles or be a beer/brewing expert of any standing, to know whether your beer is supposed to be hazy, or whether its an example of bad practice, we arent even discussing what happens if the beer is supposed to be hazy and yet its still off via diacetyl or something

its the beery equivalent of the Gazpacho soup question IMO, is it meant to be cold ?

Anonymous said...

I had a pint of Castle Rock -session ipa last night that came out looking like Hoegaarden but it did say on the pumpclip hazy beer.When brewers like Castle Rock who are known for bright beer start brewing hazy beer I doubt if its a fad.Verdant do really murky beer and its lovely. cheers john

Tabitha said...

This is such a current debate at the moment, especially as craft brewers are looking to experiment outside of simple flavour combinations and approach developments in brewing procedure with more experimentation. Britain is actually fast accepting murky pints, as long as it's intended from the start that is.

John West said...


This is the thing. NEIPAs aren't really my thing, but you are spot on - they are meant to be cloudy and that cloudiness is not a fault.

As people have mentioned, where it gets tricky is where an unfined beer comes on green. Is this the correct amount of murk, or is it pea soup? And how does the customer query it? ("Unfined - meant to be like that.")

The problem also is that for every pint of NEIPA, there's some rushed-on trub being tapped and served (particularly in London with pales and IPAs).

Personally, I find cloudy beers (intended or otherwise) lack the layering of flavours I associate with pin bright beer. Whether protein or yeast, I find it dominates and only the top note of the hop comes through.

But this is personal preference. What bothers me as a customer is not knowing - nor being able to reliably discern or deal with - whether a given pint is: to style (fine, not for me, but lots like it and good on 'em), unfined and with a slight haze (ok by me), unfined and pea soup (green beer rushed on?), poorly brewed (cf. lots of the crappier London brewers), etc.