To my mind, the whole point of a bottle-conditioned beer is that it will actually undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle, in a similar way to Champagne. Thus, when you pour it, there will be a dense, rocky read and vigorous spires of natural carbonation rising through the beer. However, despite extensive experimentation, that state is rarely achieved. I’ve had it in about one in five White Shields but, apart from that, hardly ever in British beers.
For example, I recently bought a bottle of Wye Valley Butty Bach from Tesco as part of a multibuy offer. I hadn’t realised that it was bottle-conditioned, but it turned out that it was. I succeeded in pouring it clear, but it produced a very lacklustre, flat glass of beer. I’m not singling Wye Valley out for criticism (and indeed they brew some excellent cask beers) but it just happens it’s their beer I had.
They don’t, to be honest, make many inroads into the major supermarkets, but the shelves of specialist off-licences are now groaning with bottle-conditioned beers from British micro-breweries, so plenty of people must be buying them.
If that’s you, what do you expect? Is it enough for you that you get a rather flat, yeasty-tasting, possibly slightly hazy, glass of beer, with some gunge in the bottom of the bottle, that you know hasn’t been filtered or pasteurised, and that has a little logo on the label saying “CAMRA says this is real ale”? Or do you actually experience that elusive vigorous secondary fermentation? And, if you do, why does it virtually never happen to me?