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.
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In view it just doesn't work with beers under 5%. I've had so many disappointing BCAs from micro-breweries that I now avoid them like the plague - either as flat as a fluke or spurting everywhere, and some won't drop bright despite weeks in a cupboard. There's a bit of Emperor's New Clothes about it, to be honest.ReplyDelete
Is the problem because we have people BCing their ales as it's a sign of 'craft beer'?ReplyDelete
Does it have to be BC for CAMRA to call it real ale?
I agree about the Young's & Thornbridge stuff those, never had a bad bottle of their excellent beers.
I think that is a wide sweeping statement. There are plenty of poor BCAs (RAIB whatever you call them) but I don't think you can simply judge them by strength. I've had plenty of bad 5% and over bottle conditioned beers and some excellent sub-5% beers.ReplyDelete
If you want to try a brilliant sub 5% BCA, try Marble Manchester Bitter. It's 4.2% and gets rave reviews.
I've had an awful lot of crap bottle conditioned beers from micros too. Even if they're not infected they tend to be over carbonated, which really doesn't do anything for the flavour of weak beers.ReplyDelete
Still, there are some good ones out there, but the difference in taste between a decent bottle conditioned beer and a decent artificially carbonated bottled beer isn't as big as the difference between cask and keg draught beer.
I'll do you liver and onions one day, Adrian - dredge fresh liver in flour, ground black and ground cumin, fry in a hot pan briefly until cooked through but still slightly pink, serve with fried onions, new potatoes and peas from the pod, serve with Theakston's Old Peculier. (Leave out the last bit if under 12.)ReplyDelete
I am trying to think the last sub 5% bottle conditioned beer I have had but just can't come up with anything. So I cannot disagree with you... Bell's pretty much bottle conditions all of their ales and Two Hearted is probably the best bottle conditioned beer you can have.ReplyDelete
I half-agree with you Mr Tierney, but I'm not sure it's to do with strength. Mind you, I'm not sure exactly what it's about - some sort of voodoo perhaps?ReplyDelete
I've just found this excellent post about BCAs from Paul Bailey, contains a lot of food for thought including the CAMRA/real ale issue:ReplyDelete
I'm wondering how many home brewers there are among the commentators here. I've had plenty of excellent bottle-conditioned beers of all strengths, but most have come from batches of around 20L. It could be it's much harder to do well on a commercial scale.ReplyDelete
Ah the agonies of excess eh? I would love more bottle conditioned beers over here in the States!ReplyDelete
Curmudegon —that’s my experince of below 5%-ers but I am willing to try Tyson’s suggestionReplyDelete
Orm — I think it’s the case that you have to be b/c to get the RAIB desingation.
Ed — good point
Martyn — I’m sure it’s lovely but I’m culturally and genetically engineering not to like liver, along with semalina, tripe, brawn and John Smith.
alesto lagers — have Two-Hearted in 1001 Beers, Randy M wrote the review
The BN — another good point
Veljy — yeah but not if you had the hit and missness of over here.
Perhaps the States and its love affair with high-octane beers is the perfect place for bottle conditioning?ReplyDelete
I have a few bottles of Bell's Third Coast Old Ale which are BC and have been sitting the cellar for nearly a year already.
Velky, you could be right, I have a bottle of Otter Creek’s Quercus Vitus Humulus slumbering away in my cellar, a veritable Sleeping Beauty that will not see the bright sunlight of Exmoor for at least a year — already I hear it chattering away with the Thomas Hardys and other assorted creatures of the dark.ReplyDelete
I am not sure my Third Coast Old Ale really understands the Fuller's Vintages, and the look of bafflement when Thomas Hardy gets going is remarkable! J.W. Lees just kind of sits there dreaming of cloth caps and whippets....ReplyDelete
And what about the hi-faulting babble emanating from the five year old Deus stuck on its lonesome between a brace of Thornbridge Alliances and a 2005 Trafalger Ale from Gale’s — this is getting like Toy Story, Beer Story, in which the bottles have a rip when Andy goes out of the room, i think it’s got legs, I’m off to Hollywood with a pitch…I’m be like one of those blokes in the Player.ReplyDelete
God alone knows what is going through the mind of the Eggenburg 23 as the Consecrator rants on about all grain purity. I am thinking more Aardman than Pixar mind.ReplyDelete
Aardman: little plasticine men in 1950s working class clobber talking about the days when mild was tuppence a pint and was served with all the cheese you could eat — that would be the ancient bottle of Abbot Ale I bought just to display — it was 5p and reminded me of my first beers when living in Cambridge in the late 70s.ReplyDelete
Fullers Vintage - David Jason
Thomas Hardy - Bill Nighy
J.W. Lees - William Tarmey
Third Coast Old Ale - Aretha Franklin
Eggenberg - Franziska Weisz
Ok you’ve set a challengeReplyDelete
Alliance — David Baddiel
Deus — Roger Moore
Fuller’s — Brian Blessed
Orval — Alan Clark MP
Mikeller It’s Alive — Kenneth Branagh in those Swedish dramas
Thomas Hardy — Thomas Hardy on His Master’s Voice, probably reading one of his poems (did you known that there was a persistent rumour that the cat ate his heart after the doc had taken it out to be buried apart from the body)
I’m off for a drink
We need a bottle of Ratcliff mouldering away in the background somewhere - potentially voiced by James Alexander Gordon.ReplyDelete
Brakespeare's Organic used to be an excellent sub-5% BCA - it tasted like a good fresh pint of cask bitter. It's pasteurised and characterless these days.ReplyDelete
Hen's Tooth is one of the best - one of Greene King's few decent products.
Ben you’re right about Brakespear, I do remember it being pretty good, but I once did a tasting of Hen’s Tooth for Caterer & Hotelkeeper with Mark Dorber at the White Horse and it was blooming awful.ReplyDelete