Sunday, 26 January 2014

Obscured by clouds

The increased promotion of intentionally cloudy/hazy* beer (*from here on I use the term “cloudy”) in the craft ale sector has been much discussed recently and has been the subject of blogposts by Tandleman, Paul Bailey and Phil on Oh Good Ale. There are various issues involved here, but I thought I would create a poll on one specific point. The results are shown on the right. While this is a clear vote in favour of declaring intentional cloudiness at the point of sale, it isn’t by any means an overwhelming one. The poll results and associated comments are here.

Let me make it quite clear that I don’t believe that cloudy beer is intrinsically bad. There are various styles of beer around the world such as Belgian Witbier and Bavarian Hefeweizen that are cloudy by definition, and if British or American brewers want to try to develop new beers in these styles, or to produce brand-new cloudy beers, then good luck to them.

However, it has to be recognised that, for several generations, it has been taken as given that British draught beer, whether cask or keg, should be crystal clear. Any deviation from that, except in extremely rare and unlikely circumstances, indicates a fault either in brewing or cellaring. It means that nasty stuff you don’t want to drink is suspended in the beer. The guff you occasionally hear about “layering” and thunderstorms turning casks cloudy is, in the vast majority of situations, complete bullshit.

It seems that some brewers now want to tear up this received wisdom and brew beers in the British style that they expect to be cloudy. Fair enough, but the customer has a right to be informed what he or she is getting. Let us say we follow the views of those who say “it’s not a concern to me”. I go into a pub and order a beer that I’ve never heard of before. It comes out looking like a pint of soup. I take it back to the bar and complain, but am told “oh, it’s meant to look like that”. So I respond “why didn’t you tell me before I ordered it, then?” If they won’t change it for a clear one, then I’ll think twice about going back to that pub again and warn others against it.

In the bad old days I have taken several pints back to the bar only to be told “it’s real ale, it’s meant to look like that.” It wasn’t then, and neither is it now. In general I stood my ground and got an exchange or a refund. I thought those days were behind us, but some people seem to want to bring them back. And how am I to know it’s an intentionally cloudy beer, or one that is supposed to be clear but just happens to have turned out looking like Amazon river water?

If you serve up cloudy beer to your customers without telling them, you are harming the reputation both of your particular venue and of cask beer in general. If brewers want to promote the idea that British-style beers can be produced in an unfined form and be cloudy at the point of sale, then surely it is in their interest to make it clear to customers that is what they’re going to get. Some will try it, some might even like it, others will choose to avoid it. Maybe specialist alehouses need to start showing on their blackboards, as well as the % ABV and the colour, whether a beer is cloudy or crystal.

As Cooking Lager says here, it is all too easy for a defect to masquerade as a feature. And it’s hard to avoid the thought that promoting the virtues of cloudy beer is another way to create a divide between the crafterati and the general public. It’s said that Picasso mastered the art of producing conventional paintings before venturing on to distorted avant-garde ones. Perhaps that is a lesson that needs to be learned by the modern crop of railway arch brewers. Brew a classic clear amber bitter first, and then go on to the weird stuff.

15 comments:

  1. Much of this comes down to what people mean and understand regarding the adjective "craft".

    In any other walk of life you would expect craftsmanship to involve the end product coming out as intended. That isn't the be and end all of it, but you expect that to be an attribute.

    Therefore a craftsman ought to be able to inform his customers of the relevant attributes and qualities of the product. If it is cloudy or hazy it is intentionally so.

    Cloudy beer is unusual in the UK market and often considered a fault. It isn't in regard to many foreign styles.

    I have seen barmen check with punters in the UK when they order a Hefeweizen. "The Paulaner is a cloudy wheat beer, mate, not the lager, we have Bitburger as a lager" No punter was patronised by this and some punters answered "yeh I know" or "oh is it? in that case I'll have the lager"

    A pumpclip description "naturally hazy/cloudy" will do or even use of the term "Unfined beer" could become shorthand in the market for "might be hazy"

    More punters will have confidence in a product if they do not see it as a gamble.

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  2. I like a nice cloudy pint, I don't understand why pump clips are not forced to advertise that the beer might be clear, because I would go for something else instead. How do I know the clarity is not a defect masquerading as a feature?

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  3. That's the kind of attitude towards punters that results in pubs shutting down. If the customers prefer their pints cloudy, then who has the right to tell them their "misinformed"? Maybe their experience of clear beer has been GKIPA and Doombar and they not associate the clarity with an unpleasant taste?

    It seems to me that the cloudy/clear argument is no different to the sparkler/no sparkler debate. I'd much rather a cloudy beer than one with a thick creamy head (yuk).

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  4. Your argument carries as much weight as that offered by a hypothetical customer of a butcher that prefers meat that is going off.

    Most cloudy beer in the is faulty, unless, as Mudge makes very clear, it's brewed and conditioned to be cloudy.

    The head on a beer or lack thereof is a serving preference, although many beers are brewed to have a head, and many are not.

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  5. What absolute rubbish. Cloudy beer is cloudy because it is unfined or because it is highly hopped. Its generally a sign of a high quality product made with topnotch ingredients. Comparing it to off meat is just ridiculous.

    You can mention that it is "cloudy" on the tasting notes just like you might mention that it is "hoppy" or "beery", but really in a high quality beer house it should be taken as read that the beer will be served cloudy to a high quality.

    Clear beer has a noticeable off taste in my experience. I wouldn't take it back because I know some hard line traditionalists like it like that, but I certainly wouldn't buy it again.

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  6. Haven't I just stated that beer that is supposed to be cloudy isn't faulty?

    I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with cloudy beer that was intended by its creator to be served clear, otherwise the analogy stands.

    Clear beer has an off taste? I suspect our experience is somewhat unique.

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  7. The vast majority of beer in this country - whether cask or keg - is brewed with the intention of being served crystal clear, and cloudiness is indicative of a fault.

    Therefore, if you want to sell beer that deviates from that norm, it is incumbent on you to inform the consumers. It's not two things of equal standing in the marketplace.

    And are you pleased if you get served a cloudy pint if GK IPA?

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  8. Could it possibly taste any worse than clear GKIPA?

    If a beer is deliberately brewed to be clear that is fine, but how do I know it wasn't brewed to be cloudy and the clarity is not a defect?

    The norm in some pubs is not the norm in others. I have been in many, many pubs where the majority of beer is served cloudy, and I imagine there are a growing number of people who see cloudy beer as the norm and clear beer as old-fashioned.

    The majority of beer in this country tastes like drainwater - should any non-drainwatery beer be labeled as such lest it be seen as a defect?


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  9. "I have been in many, many pubs where the majority of beer is served cloudy"

    In Britain?

    Can't say I've ever been in a single one apart perhaps from the Blue Anchor in Helston and even there it's only a slight haze.

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  10. Yeah, if you ever go to London you will find the majority of craft bars proudly sell their beer hazy.

    Had some nice cloudy beer in Lincoln this weekend, didn't consider taking it back for a second, everyone else was happily necking it.

    Of course, this same debate has been had about cider for decades.

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  11. So if these craft bars get a cask of an intentionally clear beer like, say, Dark Star Hophead, the licensee goes down in the cellar and gives it a good kick to make sure it comes out cloudy?

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  12. As someone who has already written my own post on this subject, I thought it incumbent on me to either contribute further, or stay silent.

    Unfortunately there has been little intelligent debate amongst the comments so far; and some very facetious and juvenile remarks about customers preferring cloudy beer. Apart from a few hard-core beer geeks, I've never yet met anyone who prefers their beer served this way!

    Curmudgeon sums the whole debate up nicely by saying, "It has to be recognised that, for several generations, it has been taken as given that British draught beer, whether cask or keg, should be crystal clear. Any deviation from that, except in extremely rare and unlikely circumstances, indicates a fault either in brewing or cellaring. It means that nasty stuff you don’t want to drink is suspended in the beer."

    I don't need to go over anything else, apart from saying that I agree wholeheartedly with the rest of what he has said. The same goes for what both Tandleman and Phil said. End of story!

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  13. Indeed, Paul, I think you, me, Phil and Tandleman are entirely in agreement on this point.

    It's hard to avoid the conclusion that py(0) is stirring ;-)

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  14. Many people here come across as having their head in the sand. They've grown up in a simple world of hard-and-fast rules, laid down presumably by CAMRA, and they're puzzled, confused and terrified of change.

    But beer is changing. "py" isn't stirring, he or she is simply brining you the news. If you don't want to hear it, don't shoot the messenger, and don't claim that you know better.

    Get out there and educate yourself. You won't regret it, though your bank account might.

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