Friday, 28 October 2016

Moor to taste

I recently posted about CAMRA giving accreditation as “real ale” to can-conditioned beers produced by Moor Brewery. Now, the point of this post was to express a degree of scepticism about the concept, and the message that this put across, rather than making a judgment on the beers themselves. However, inevitably someone said “how can you criticise something you haven’t tried?”, to which I rather cheekily replied that if Moor would send me some samples for me taste I would give a considered verdict. To their credit, Darran McLaughlin from Moor took me up on this and duly despatched a selection of six cans – of course child-sized 330ml “craft cans”.

His tasting and storage recommendations were: “Just let them sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. I drink them straight from the can because you don't get much sediment, but if you like you could pour carefully. I would pour a light one out fully so you can see that sediment isn't a problem.” However, I wanted to see what the initial level of clarity would be, and how it would be affected by storage.

The first I tried was the 4.1% Nor’Hop, which I drank only a couple of days after receiving the package, and poured the whole contents into the glass. This is a very pale beer with an assertive “New World” hoppiness. Having had little chance to settle, it was distinctly cloudy and, to be honest, very yeasty in flavour.

The 4.6% Confidence I donated to the raffle at the local CAMRA branch meeting, so can’t comment on flavour or clarity. Despite being accredited as “real ale in a can”, it met with a somewhat derisory reception.

The remaining four I allowed to settle for at least ten days, and poured very carefully to ensure I did my best to leave any remaining yeast in the can. I was able to pour them all with no more than a slight haze (although none were crystal clear) and all had sufficient carbonation to suggest that a secondary fermentation may well have taken place in the can.

These were:

  • Return of the Empire (5.7%) – a strong IPA with an aggressive, hoppy character.

  • Smokey Horyzon (5.0%) – a rye beer with a smooth palate and an intriguing flavour deriving from the use of smoked malts.

  • Revival (3.8%) – a lighter pale ale, still fairly bitter and hoppy, although less assertively so than the Nor’Hop and Return of the Empire.

  • Raw (4.3%) – a darker beer, more like a traditional bitter, although still with a hoppy edge, and rather more carbonation than the Revival.
Of these, the Smokey Horyzon was definitely my favourite, and probably the only one for which I would fork out my own money in the off-licence. The Raw wasn’t bad either, but the other three I tasted weren’t really my sort of thing.

The exercise demonstrated that, if given a decent time to settle and poured with care, these beers could be served with no more than a slight haze, and underlined (which I had never questioned) that Moor were accomplished brewers capable of turning out a quality product.

However, the whole issue of clarity cannot just be ignored. In the context of draught beer, Ed Wray gives a fairly thorough overview of the issues here, and the point is made that, once you accept *some* degree of haziness, where do you then draw the line as to when it becomes too much?

When it comes to bottled and canned beer, some people seem to dismiss out of hand any concerns that yeasty beer may have an adverse effect on the digestive tract. But these are far too common for them simply to be waved away, and I have to say on several occasions throughout my drinking career I have experienced unfortunate consequences from ropey beer. OK, you may have cast-iron guts, but many others don’t. I have nothing against bottle-conditioned beers, and recognise that at their best, especially at higher strengths, they can be superior to brewery-conditioned ones. But, at their worst, they can be far inferior, and I’d say the ability to pour them clear with confidence is essential.

For this reason, I’d say the whole idea of can-conditioned beer is a flawed concept, nay even a daft gimmick. They fail to meet the reasonable expectation of most canned beer drinkers that they’ll be able to get a clear glass of beer without any waiting period, and they make it far more difficult for the connoisseur of container-conditioned beers to be able to pour them clear and leave the yeast in the bottom.

They’re not intrinsically poor beers, but they’d be far better presented in bottle, and to my mind CAMRA undermines its reputation by giving its seal of approval to them.


  1. I think I might just have to get myself some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in cans this weekend and have a good investigate, in my experience clarity has never been an issue and the flavour is the same as with the bottle conditioned version. Maybe the Americans are just better at can conditioning than the folks back home. Will report in due course.

    1. Unless I'm mistaken, SN have been bottle-conditioning filtered beer with a lager yeast for decades now, and their bottle sediment has always been very minimal IME. I would assume this is the same for their cans. IOW, they might be a tough standard to hold others up to.

      All I can say about canned beer I've tried recently is the retro Pilsner Urquell cans aren't as good as the green bottles. They lack a bit of "softness" in the mouth. But that has nowt to do with sediment and clarity, of course.

      I'm with Mudge, canning is just stupid for beer with sediment, unless the sediment is supposed to be drunk along with the beer, like with Wit or Weizen/Weißbier. In addition to not being able to know whether the beer's settled before opening it, I think opening a can stirs up more carbonation and therefore sediment because it's a more violent opening.

  2. Most bottle-conditioned beers from larger brewers such as Fullers 1863, Worthington White Shield and Shepherd Neame 1698 now use "sticky" yeast so clarity isn't a problem. Perhaps this could also be used in cans - but if so, how would you know there was any yeast in there at all?

  3. I have nothing against hazy beer per se, but I do tend to agree with Ed Wray’s comment about where do you draw the line? However, I really fail to see the point behind can-conditioned beer, as if you want a more or less clear glass of beer, how do you know when to stop pouring?

    By endorsing the concept of “can-conditioning”, CAMRA really is muddying the waters; if you’ll pardon the pun. Is the Campaign attempting to project itself as forward looking and trendy? If so, it has failed. CAMRA should have steered well clear of this one, along with the rather hit and miss process of bottle-conditioning, which it mistakenly endorsed back in the early days, when it didn’t really know any better.

    Your article Mudge, has covered most of what needs to be said here, although I would add the word “expensive” to your summary that can-conditioned beer is a flawed concept and even a daft gimmick.

    1. We used to do our bottle-conditioned stuff in-house with a little 4-head filler. It's a slow job and frankly a bit of a pain, and we've had few "issues", but enormously more hits than misses. Nowadays our pals at Hardknott bang it into bottles for us - this is quicker and even better. But you know, that so-called "real ale" can be a bit hit and miss. I reckon CAMRA went down a bit of a blind alley there, should have gone with keg - so consistent - easy to pour out - the way of the future and all that.

    2. Every comment you make seems to be full of snark and bile. Have you never considered, say, having a few pints and chilling out a bit?

    3. I'm chill. I'm just saying that BC beers don't have to be "hit and miss", but if that was sufficient reason for CAMRA not endorsing them, then by the same token, it ought to reject cask beer. But that would be absurd. It's what you call a proof. Now, you may argue with that, but you don't get to win just by calling me snarky and bilious. Cheers.

    4. But putting container-conditioned beers into opaque cans rather than bottles you can see through, you are deliberately making them a lot more hit-and-miss.

    5. Perhaps so, but that's not what Mr Bailey (up there) said. I'd be surprised if CAMRA (or whoever) went looking for a Can Conditioned beer to give the once over (unless you know better), normally the brewer (in this case Moor) submits their product for testing and if it passes it passes. If you think the criteria should be changed - you (or any CAMRA member) can push for that through the usual channels. Go for it.

    6. In an article which occupies over half the back page of November’s “What’s Brewing”, Moor Brewery owner, Justin Hawke writes, “After more than a year of extensive analysis, CAMRA concluded it (Moor Brewery beer in cans), is indeed real ale.” I wouldn’t disagree with this, although it doesn’t fit in with the article which appeared last month in the MA, which reported that tests had been conducted (by CAMRA?) in the “quality control lab” at GBBF.

      None of this takes us away from the basic argument of Curmudgeon’s post, that storing “real ale” in an opaque container, makes it nigh impossible for the drinker to pour a clear glass of beer! Clarity is important, as I and several other bloggers have written about before. It is important to brewers, because it is important to consumers.

      It is one thing to say Mr Hawke’s canned beer meets CAMRA’s definition of “real ale”, but another to try selling it to a largely sceptical drinking public. It also opens the doors for far less scrupulous brewers than Moor Brewery, to jump on the bandwagon and start proclaiming their canned beer is “real”, just because it contains yeast. Is the yeast still viable? Will it create some secondary fermentation? To what level of yeast is present, in terms of cells per millilitre? If the level is too high, is the brewery concerned that drinkers will reject a beer which looks more like soup (“London Murky”), than a bright, appealing and refreshing-looking glass of beer?

      These are important questions to which there are no easy answers, and plenty of opportunities for subterfuge. I therefore repeat my earlier claim that this really is “muddying the waters.”

    7. I don't know if you noticed it, Paul, but there's a massive typo in the heading of that article - it refers to "PREDJUDICES" ;-)

    8. I hadn’t, but I’ve certainly noticed it now. I’m surprised the spell-checker didn’t pick that one up!

  4. Some other canned beers, such as the Sixpoint Bengali sold in Spoons, are hazy/cloudy, but I don't think any claims are made for them being can-conditioned.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval. See here for details of my comment policy.