Saturday, 10 December 2011


Redwillow Brewery from Macclesfield have been gaining a lot of plaudits for the quality of their cask beers. So I was interested to see a selection of their beers on sale in bottle-conditioned form. Now, I know I’ve had some bad experiences in the past with BCAs from micro-breweries, but these had to be worth a try, so I ended up with a bottle of their 4.1% “classic bitter – but a bit more so” Feckless. The bottles have attractive, stylish labels with the brewery’s distinctive branding theme.

It was crystal clear in the bottle, with the yeast firmly sticking to the bottom, and I was able to pour it clear without any difficulty. However, it was almost totally devoid of any condition, so I ended up with a glassful of flat brown liquid. Even though it was clear, there was a distinct yeastiness in the taste akin to poor-quality homebrew. Sorry, guys, you’ll have to do far better than that.

I’ve described drinking BCAs from micros as a bit of a lottery, but it seems that this is a lottery you are bound to lose. Wouldn’t it make more sense for breweries like Redwillow to just bottle one flagship beer and make sure they get the quality control right?

It’s worth noting that the label didn’t have the questionable “CAMRA says this is real ale” logo.

If anyone out there runs a micro-brewery and thinks I’ve just been unlucky, feel free to send me a sample of your beer. I’ll store it upright in a cold dark place for a week or so and then give it an honest tasting without prejudice. But if I can’t (with a bit of care) pour it clear, or it shows zero or minimal condition, then it won’t even get out of the starting blocks.


  1. I like BCAs. I've been drinking then for years, mainly from Belgium. I'm pleased to say that British breweries have stepped up to the plate and come up with some superb examples. Fuller's, Meantime, Kernel, Moor, Thwaites, Adnams are just a few. One thing they have in common is strength. With the honourable exception of Coniston Bluebird BCAs of standard bitter strength don't do a lot for me. They seem to lack the mouth feel of the draught versions. The message is make your BCA memorable.

  2. Yes, maybe breweries need to design beers specifically to be BCAs, not just bottle their entire draught range and hope it turns out OK.

    And the strength point is spot-on - nothing below about 5% really works as a BCA.

  3. I have the same trepidation approaching a bottle conditioned british brew, but my experience of feckless was 100% different from yours. After cycling it home from cheadle, I opened a clear, amber biscuit flavoured bitter that was in great condition.

  4. And the strength point is spot-on - nothing below about 5% really works as a BCA.

    Strength really isn't an issue. Or shouldn't be. If anything, I'm the opposite of Birkonian, as stronger BCAs are almost the easy option. A skilled brewer can really demonstrate their art with a session strength BCA.

    Of course, not everyone gets it right, but my recent experience with Meantime's 4% Yakima Red proves that excellent sub 5% BCAs are possible.

  5. It really is a lottery, and one I'm getting rather bored of... The only consistently good BCAs I've had are from Durham Brewery, Fullers and Dunham Massey (the latter of which surprises me somewhat!)

  6. How on earth do you do this? I have had several RedWillow BCAs and they habe all been superb.

    You really are doomed when it comes to micro-brewedd BCAs aren't you?

  7. John, I really wanted this to be good. I'm not going to spend my own money on an "experiment designed to fail". But, sadly, it wasn't.

    Obviously breweries sell quite a lot of these beers, but I do wonder about the experience of those who buy them. Is it really that I am experiencing a 1 in 100 amount of ill-luck, or are they people who think getting a glass of flat and very possibly cloudy beer is acceptable because it is like "real ale"?

    FWIW BCAs from established breweries such as Fullers 1845 and Bengal Lancer, Youngs Special London Ale, Worthington White Shield, Shephered Neame 1698 and Hop Back Summer Lightning do not, in my experience, suffer these problems, and most seem to have mastered the concept of sticky yeast.

  8. I don't know whether you are singularly unfortunate or whether I have been remarkably lucky. All I do know is that my experience is the precise opposite of yours.

  9. The process of getting acredditted to use the "CAMRA Says This Is Real Ale" logo is quite protracted.
    The beers have to be sent for quality testing by CAMRA before permission is given.

  10. Here's the process which a brewery must go through before being able to use the CAMRA logo on a bottle.

  11. Well, IME they still give their stamp of approval to some utter dreck.

  12. We had a bottle of this on Thurday and it had lovely carbonation and was a cracking best bitter.

    It's such a shame that's there so much 'pot luck' involved with BCed beers.

  13. Only just spotted this, terribly sorry that you had a poorly conditioned bottle. If your ever in or around Macclesfield pop into the brewery and I'll sort out some replacements.



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