Tuesday, 6 October 2015

I went in seeking clarity

The debate about clarity and murkiness in beer has recently burst into flames again in the response to a post by Quinno on Stonch’s blog entitled #Murkshaming. While I firmly come down on one side of the debate, I can’t thinking that to a large extent it’s arguing at cross purposes. One point that has been made more than once is that defence of clear beer is very much a CAMRA position, and that craft brewers producing murky beer is at least partly an exercise in cocking a snook at the CAMRA orthodoxy.

In the early days, CAMRA members were often characterised as humourless types who went into pubs, ordered halves and then held them up to the light. I’m sure there was a bit of truth in that, but in reality I think CAMRA tried to take a less absolutist approach to beer clarity. It has to be remembered that, in the Fifties and early Sixties, there were still plenty of small, rather moribund family breweries with poor quality control procedures who seemed to find it difficult to produce consistently (or indeed ever) clear beer. The rise of keg beer was to some extent a reaction to this.

My recollection is that CAMRA tried to promote a more nuanced view of beer clarity, pointing out that just because a beer was crystal clear, it didn’t mean it was any good, and that there were circumstances such as thunderstorms and “layering” which could turn clear beer cloudy. These last two always seemed to me rather like old wives’ tales, but they underline the point that CAMRA didn’t dismiss any kind of hazy beer out of hand, and I’ve heard members say that a bit of haze might add more character.

However, as the “real ale revolution” started taking it into pubs where it hadn’t been served for fifteen years, we increasingly saw incompetent licensees trying to hide behind real ale’s rustic image. The cry of “it’s real ale, it’s meant to be like that” was heard up and down the land, and its image was tarnished. Many drinkers reached the conclusion of once bitten, twice shy, and understandably started to view anything short of crystal with suspicion.

I would say, though, that, both officially and individually, CAMRA has never taken a dogmatic stance that all cloudy beer is inherently bad, and has been sympathetic to the idea that unfined beer might result in more depth of flavour, so long as drinkers are informed what to expect. Some other members seem to be more tolerant than I am of moderate cloudiness. But it is not unrealistic to point out that the vast majority of cask beer brewed and sold in the UK is intended to be served clear, that drinkers have a reasonable expectation that it will be clear, and if it isn’t, it’s almost always an indication of a flaw in brewing or cellaring.

(acknowledgements to Tandleman for the photo)

14 comments:

  1. I can tolerate a bit of a haze in beer, much of it is down to temperature. Tetleys used to be terrible at one time, it used to settle in layers.

    Grey cloudy shite is another matter..

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  2. I'm all up for a bit of nuance and informed decision making. As Yvan pointed out on the Stonch comment thread, a bonus of social media is that these days you can often get the brewer to confirm whether or not it's "meant to be like that" pretty much on the spot.

    You're probably right that there's probably a bit of a cross-generational trolling from the newer-wave brewers making unfined and/or murky beer, on the other hand the same is probably true of a lot of response to it - the endless stream of tedious blog posts about how murky beer will be the end of civilization as we know it and is made exclusively by incompetent shysters and drunk exclusively by ignorant fools seem to be driven by intergenerational willy-waving at least as much as the murkyphiles.

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  3. Yep, we have our customer support advisers on hand night and day to deal with twitter queries by the ignorant w.r.t. the incompetent.

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  4. The most desperate nonsense I've read about the cloudy beer thing is (or was, I haven't looked for a while) on the otherwise same and sensible Moor Beer website. All goes well until parallels are drawn between the apparent 'premium' nature of cloudy cider and the new-fangled expenso-beers. Cider isn't supposed to be cloudy, it gets that way through not being matured properly, poorly handled/made, or in the case of several macro-producers, deliberately made cloudy, sometimes with a clouding agent.... Nothing to start emulating craft boys.

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  5. @DaveS - That's a pretty crude caricature of the views expressed by me, Tandleman, Stonch and others.

    If anyone wants to brew hazy/cloudy beer, fine. I might even try it. Just let the customer know at the point of sale, as 99.9% of beer they would expect to be clear.

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  6. Tbh, I can't really be bothered going back and reading every blog post ever to see exactly who's said what. If everything you've said has even-handedly accepted that tastes differ and what constitutes "good beer" is a matter of taste and all you're after is advance warning that something might not be to everyone's taste and that stuff that is meant to be clear should be served that way then fair play to you.

    But the general tone of blog posts and comments that I've read hasn't stopped at "information at point of sale" or whatever but gone on to get a few kicks in about vanity breweries in railway arches and the deluded cretins who drink their beer. Which to me looks a lot like generational dick-swinging.

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  7. Tbh, I can't be bothered either, so I'll just content myself with saying you're all ald feckers with brains raddled by the arteriosclerosis and I am so down with the kidz.

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  8. DaveS. Howay man. I'm only thirty fucking six, you know. I'm only a little older (and in some casesp maybe even younger) than a lot of these beer geeks.

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  9. "Vanity breweries in railway arches and the deluded cretins who drink their beer. Which to me looks a lot like generational dick-swinging."

    Huh. That's Stonch and who is to say he isn't right? Some of that stuff would give you the shits for a week and calling out those who do so, either as drinkers or as brewers is part of blogging, as is the knock on effects on beer perception and how it is sold and portrayed.

    Most of us that write about beer have been exposed to all sorts of things beer wise. Inter generational dick waving? My arse - most of us have good reason and good arguments to write the way we do.

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  10. It amazes me the so-called "libertarians" who foam at the mouth at the thought of smoking being demonised and denormalised by the self-appointed health police, yet are perfectly happy to denigrate and denormalise hazy beer producers and drinkers. Talk about hypocrisy.

    If brewers want to sell hazy beer, pubs wants to sell it and punters want to buy it, then who in the hell gave a few old fat camra members the right to disparage their personal and professional choices? What happened to "letting the market decide"? If you don't like it, don't drink it. Go to a different pub. Drink beer from a different brewery. Avoid Bermondsey (the one in South London)...


    *not aimed at you, mudgie.

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  11. You're missing the point again there, py. I have no problem with people brewing, selling and drinking hazy beer. I may disagree with what you drink, but I will defend your right to drink it.

    But, given that it is the norm for cask beer to be sold clear, it is reasonable to expect an indication at the point of sale if a beer isn't clear. That avoids all this tedious business of:

    "Sorry mate, I've got a cloudy pint here."

    "Nah, that beer's meant to be cloudy."

    "But it didn't say on the pumpclip."

    "Not my problem, mate. You pays your money and you takes your chance."

    "Can I have a refund then?"

    "Nope, nothing wrong with that."

    Customers storms out and vents his spleen on Twitter...

    If it's declared at the point of sale then, fine, let the market decide.

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  12. It might be the norm where you live, but its not the norm in Bermondsey.

    If you don't like the beer, don't drink it again. If you don't like the service, don't go back to that pub. If you're not sure what type of beer it is (light or dark?, clear or hazy? british or American hops?) then ask for a taster or a description before ordering.

    But this "murkshaming" bullshit is just the kind of holier-than-thou "I'm right you're wrong" denormalisation that the anti-smoking and anti-drinking lobby have been doing for decades.

    Now its ok because its a style of beer you don't like?

    First they came for the hazy beer drinkers etc etc...


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  13. @py - it's not just my local area, it's pretty much every pub in the entire country. Go in any pub, order a cask beer at random and - assuming it's not a coal-black one - you have a legitimate expectation that it will be crystal clear or have no more than a very slight haze.

    Even if you went in Simon the Tanner in Bermondsey (p 296 of current GBG) and ordered a pint of Adnams Lighthouse, I think you'd expect it to be clear.

    It's not a very difficult concept to grasp that, if a product deviates from the accepted norm, it makes sense to advise the customer before ordering.

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  14. I wa in one of my regular Sunday haunts in Newcastle last week and was about to go for one of the generally worth trying guest beers, until the bloke next to me pointed out to the staff that his pint of what I was about to buy looked like a snowstorm. 'It's unfined' claimed the staff member, despite no indication on the pumpclip. 'Oh, ok', says the bloke. Bollocks to that, I say to my mate who's just about to shout them in. Point being I've seen plenty of unfined beer, and it doesn't mean full of lumps. Gravity will still do its work on the larger bits, leaving a haze, not a blizzard. I Googled said beer at the time (can't remember what it was now) and sure enough, no mention of being unfined so this was a rare occasion (for this pub anyway) of the old 'It's supposed to be like that, guv'.

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