Friday, 27 January 2017

Best of breed?

Last Autumn, I questioned whether Marston’s relaunch of their flagship beer Pedigree as a bottle-conditioned product was a good idea. My concern was that it was likely to deter many more drinkers – those who didn’t want any bits in their beer – than it attracted. The actual demand for bottle-conditioned beers within the wider Premium Bottled Ales sector is pretty small, plus a large segment of those who actively seek out bottle-conditioned products probably wouldn’t be enthused by such a mainstream brew.

It’s now filtered down into my local Home Bargains at just £1.29 a bottle, so I thought I would give it a try. There is much to be said for bottle-conditioned beers if they actually do what it says on the label and undergo a secondary fermentation, but unfortunately in my experience many fail to do so and are also plagued by inconsistency.

The first one was encouraging, and had obviously “taken”, with decent carbonation and the characteristic BCA spires of bubbles rising in the glass. This was certainly better than the filtered version and, if they could keep this standard up, they might be on to a winner. It wasn’t difficult to pour clear, although the yeast is not entirely “sticky”, and so a little care is needed. But the second one was, well, just rather flat and not that far off a sink pour.

I’ll persevere with it, but unless the good ‘uns significantly outnumber the bad ‘uns, not for too long. The real issue with bottle-conditioning is not so much the likelihood of getting cloudy beer, but the sheer inconsistency. And I can’t help wondering how long it will be before Marston’s quietly drop it. If you want some “normal” packaged Pedigree, you can still get it in can, although for some reason it’s sold in the smaller 440ml cans rather than the bottle-equivalent 500ml ones.

It’s also disappointing that Marston’s have felt the need to pander to changing perceptions by reclassifying what is historically a classic Burton Pale Ale as an “amber ale”.

Edit: I see that Marston’s have now switched the new-look Pedigree cans to the 500ml size, and obviously not “can-conditioned”.

8 comments:

  1. Get down to Aldi. £1.25 in there. You can save thee sen 4p a bottle.

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  2. St Austell's Proper Job is the most consistent BCA in my experience; never had a bad one. A brilliant beer. And also £1.25 a bottle (from Asda).

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  3. I think that you like Duvel. Is that bottle conditioned in the UK? In France it is marked Refermentee en bouteille which sounds as if it is. I didn't realise until I just read the label but it has always poured clear even without special care. It's about €1.50 in supermarket.

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    1. My attitude towards bottle-conditioned beers tends to be one of "when they're good, they're very very good, but when they're bad they're horrid". Also see this blogpost about the Lidl Belgian ales special offer last year.

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  4. Apparently the rebrand is down to research they did that revealed that people would expect a 'pale ale' to be actually pale. On the other hand, drinkers I know actively avoid amber beers, so you pays your money etc.

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    1. Traditionally, beers of that shade have been referred to in the UK as "pale ales". OK, a new stratum of beers has now emerged that is significantly paler, so the change in nomenclature is understandable, even if historically ignorant. But Pedigree remains a "Burton Pale Ale", and Marston's should be proud to describe it as such.

      And I don't see "amber beers" like Doom Bar, London Pride and Bombardier struggling with sales or bar-top spots.

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  5. My local brewery, Brimstage, bottles its beers directly from the conditioning tanks so really does produce real ale in a bottle rather than bottled conditioned beers. They are all excellent.

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    1. Never tried any, but surely that is a recipe for extreme inconsistency and precisely the kind of thing that gives BCAs from micro-breweries a bad name.

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