Monday, 9 December 2013

Slightly foxed

I’ve mentioned in the past how bottle-conditioned beers from micro-breweries are so inconsistent that drinking them is like a lottery – and one you’re more likely to lose than win. Brewery-conditioned bottles, while they might never quite scale the same peaks, are much more consistently reliable. However, even with these I have found a recurrent fault affecting a small proportion, although certainly no more than one in fifty.

While the beer does not lack carbonation and will generally form a healthy-looking head, it pours with a slight haze and has a kind of stale, musty taste, sometimes with a hint of sourness too. Not generally so bad as to go down the sink, but disappointing nonetheless.

It’s something I’ve encountered in beers from various breweries, so it seems to me that, rather than just bad luck, something specific is happening to cause it, but I’m not sure what. Could it be oxidation, maybe, or perhaps a slight but unwanted secondary fermentation taking place? I don’t think it’s just a case of beer being light-struck as more often than not it is found in brown bottles.

Broadly speaking, I’d say it’s more likely to be found in bottles from smaller breweries, and from independent shops where turnover may be less, although that isn’t always the case. This is what was the matter with the poor examples of Pendle Witches’ Brew I had a couple of months ago, and I recently also found it in a bottle of Lees MPA that I was quite keen to try.


  1. Perhaps this depends on where the beer is bottled. If it's done by one of the specialist contract bottlers or a brewery who does contract bottling it tends to be ok because it's filtered and pasteurised. When it's done locally using one of those small heath robinson affairs there's no real filtration and I've not seen one that can pasteurise so all you're getting is racked beer in a bottle - almost bottle conditioned, which, as you've said, is a gamble.

  2. No, this is proper breweries, not man-in-a-shed operations, as with the two examples given. I think I've had it with Wychwood too.

  3. Even in larger breweries beer tends to put into bottles bright and then reseeded with yeast to allow second fermentation and carbonation. You'll probably find the off flavours arise due to the yeast not having enough of either time or more usually, nitrogen, and therefore not being able to reprocess the chemicals responsible such as the vicinyl diketones, diacetyl and the like. Regarding the must flavour - it's indicative to me of TCA, although what it's doing in the bottling line I don't know. It's used to treat cardboard - maybe you're getting bottles stored in a cardboard box somewhere along the line.

  4. Sound's like it's getting old. Crown caps are not completely impermiable so there is some gas exchange and oxidation does take place. Even though the bottle will have a 12 month shelf life it will be slowly deteriorating throughout that time.

  5. One day you'll learn. You can get a slab of Carling with no such problems and with a day of sky sports for free for a fraction of the price.

  6. @Ed: this is brewery-conditioned beer which presumably should have been filtered and stabilised even if not pasteurised.

    I think all the examples I've had have been well in date - the Pendle Witches' Brew was BBE Jul 14.

    @Cookie: I've had the occasional dud can over the years, although generally German imports. Can't say I've in the habit of drinking cans of Carling so can't really comment.

  7. The Blocked Dwarf9 December 2013 at 13:32

    I always thought that the 'bottle conditioned' meant that the finished beer was bottled and then, as Ed said, given a little more What-ever-'ose and yeast to induce a 2ndary ferment? So the haze is almost certainly yeast and the off tastes almost certainly too.

    The haze can probably be avoided by storing the bottles upright on a coldish floor then pouring properly (ie with the glass and bottle horizontal to start). Althoguh I'm sure you know that better than I.For the off notes however there is no cure I know of.

  8. Someone else who hasn't read the post properly :-(

  9. The Blocked Dwarf9 December 2013 at 13:35

    Oops my bad, sorry Mudgeon. I have now read your comment that this is Brewery conditioned beer so please ignore my previous comment.

  10. The Blocked Dwarf9 December 2013 at 13:46

    Depending on how the brewery are actually filling the bottles it is possible that the beer is oxidizing a touch during the bottling process.

    Mustyness can also arise if the grain was overmilled, the grain was stored wrong or there was a stale hop in the batch -assuming the brewery used real hops and not extracts.

  11. Could you clarify what you mean by 'brewery conditioned' are you talking about artificial carbonation/yeast removal ?

    To get 'bright' beer in the bottles with no trace of yeast, beer will be sterile filtered at least, and force carbonated. It may also be fined or pasteurised.

    The equipment to do this is big, and tends to be reliable and precise.

    The smaller the micro, the more likely they will be bottle conditioning. Also the less processes involved. The work is slow, and manual, and there are ample opportunities for bottles to be contaminated or oxidised.

    The bigger the brewery, the more they can invest in their bottle conditioning process, which may include filtering followed by krausen conditioning. Which can carbonate the beer more reliably with less yeast.

    Witness the difference in sediment between say, a Fullers or Shepeard Neame bottle conditioned beer, and that from a London '2 guys in an arch' micro.

  12. "To get 'bright' beer in the bottles with no trace of yeast, beer will be sterile filtered at least, and force carbonated."

    Yes, that's what I mean, so you wouldn't expect to get duff ones, but occasionally you do.

  13. Filtered and pasteurised beers still deteriorate with age.

  14. I'm sure someone (a brewer) recently wrote about the pressure from supermarkets to put over-optimistically long best before dates on bottles. We've always put this stale flavour down to, er, staleness, and/or aggressive pasteurisation.

    Will be interested to see if you get a more definitive answer.

  15. I've got bottles of Lees Harvest Ale with huge clumps of yeast. In a rather doubting e-mail the brewery have confirmed that the beer is brewery conditioned. So I'm sure that other beers can have small amounts of rogue yeast.

  16. As far as I know Lees have their beers bottled at Robbies. I'd droo them an emaik with details.

  17. I'm not sure I'm too bothered about one isolated bottle - if it was a repeat performance, as with Pendle Witches' Brew, then I might.

    Having read the various replies I think the most likely answer is a slight secondary fermentation from unwanted yeast.

    As it's happened with beers well in date, I don't think staleness as such is the culprit, and if it was a poor seal it would tend to lead to flat beer, which this isn't.


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