To put this to the test, I recently bought three bottle-conditioned beers from local micro-breweries for sampling. I thought I should give the Lagonda IPA (5.0% ABV) another chance, and also went for Bollington Best and Wincle Sir Philip (both 4.2%).
Now, it must be said that none of these proved to be a disaster – they didn’t fob uncontrollably, and I was able to pour all three and get the beer in the glass either crystal clear or with only a slight haze. However, none exhibited the lively natural carbonation that I would expect if a beer had actually conditioned in the bottle, and all had a somewhat yeasty flavour that I find offputting in a beer. Although the haziest of the three, the Lagonda IPA was the best, with a strong hop flavour trying to get out as well, whereas the Sir Philip was very lacklustre and forgettable.
So personally, the idea of getting a bottle of flattish, slightly murky beer with a yeasty flavour that I have to be very careful pouring doesn’t really appeal, and so to me such beers are actually inferior to the better brewery-conditioned ones. This reinforces my view that, in seeking to promote bottle-conditioning as a superior option for everyday drinking beers, CAMRA is very much barking up the wrong tree. Even to the discerning customer, it’s just not worthwhile. It’s a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. It does, though, work better for stronger special beers over 5%.
In comparison, I recently had a bottle of Worthington White Shield which, while still a bit sweeter than I would like, had the yeast stay stuck to the bottom of the bottle and demonstrated good carbonation and a dense, rocky head. The same was true of the two from Wells & Youngs that I tried last year, although regrettably I’ve not seen the Special London Ale in local outlets recently.