Monday, 26 July 2010
Ambiguity about bottle-conditioned beer
What are the best summer beers I tweet (still hate the damned word with its echoes of silly budgies and yellow canaries)? The Marilyn Monroe of the Mash Tun comes back with several suggestions. Thanks very much. Then a further thought, which ones are bottle conditioned? Why? So that I can avoid them. Apologies to all those hard-working brewers but I’m not the greatest fan of bottle-conditioned beers. With the sonority of Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty declaiming what he has seen as his programme runs out at the end of Blade Runner, I’ve witnessed things that are best left forgotten: a jet of yeasty foam, fiery in its anger, bursting out of its brown glass prison; the taste of TCP (or was it chlorine?) glistening and gliding like a virus across the mouth as supernovas of yeast hang in the glass; the still silent pool of nothingness as if a beer’s condition has vanished with the morning dew. Things are better, much better then they once were I will admit. Years ago I picked up an IPA from Safeway’s (that gives a time frame) and fell in love with the beer, fell so in love that I could still taste it next morning (and I’d only had one). Back in Safeway’s once more, there it was, I bought two, or was it three and hastened home to spread the good news on my palate. Still the beer sat on the tongue, not a sprite or sprightliness to hand, as dead as the proverbial dodo. I never bought the beer again (coda to the tale: I was talking to the brewer a year or so later and mentioned this problem, he said that Safeway’s were letting the beer out too soon. Too late for me. Safeway’s weren’t stocking it anymore and soon Safeway’s would be no longer). There are exceptions to the rule — old hands like O’Hanlon’s, Hop Back, Fuller’s, St Austell, and Young’s, while further down the food chain I have found heavenly fun with Kernel’s IPA Simcoe, Thornbridge’s St Petersburg and plenty of stronger beers, but if you show me a 4% bottle-conditioned beer I’m like a small child presented with liver and onions or some such other repulsive dish — suspicion and concern that I might have to drink it writ large on my face. I don’t seem to get so much of a problem with bottle-conditioned beers from other countries (though I have had the odd Italian stinker — Amarcord step forward and take a bow, though this was 2004 and maybe things have improved), so what is it that makes me so suspicious of ‘real ale in a bottle’? I’m not against it, I like the idea of the secondary fermentation in a bottle (hello Orval!), and when it works it works and I skip across the room with an unbearable lightness of being, I don’t like pasteurised or heavily carbonated beers either, but suspicion still reigns within when presented with a bottle-conditioned beer.