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.