Tuesday, 18 October 2016

An acceptable method?

While CAMRA formally champions bottle-conditioned beer, I’ve long gained the impression that a lot of people who promote it don’t properly appreciate what it entails. They seem to think that it involves an unfiltered, unpasteurised bottled beer, probably a bit hazy, with a low level of carbonation and a layer of sludge in the bottom. But nothing could be further from the truth. As the name implies, it’s a beer that actually enjoys a secondary fermentation in the bottle and, I’d say, many British so-called bottle-conditioned beers don’t experience this.

Earlier this year, I discussed how most Belgian bottle-conditioned beers managed to achieve this quality. A beer that actually has conditioned in the bottle will be distinctly fizzy, typically with a dense, rocky head and visible spires of carbonation rising in the glass, albeit with a finer grade of bubbles than those produced by artificial carbonation.

Someone was recently comparing bottle-conditioned beers with sparkling wines made by the méthode champenoise, which involves conditioning in the bottle. Now, I have to say I didn’t really understand what this involves, so I looked it up. Do you know? I bet you don’t.

Apparently it’s no longer permitted to describe it as the méthode champenoise, as it involves the addition of a small amount of “outside” wine, so it’s now called the méthode traditionelle. But the essence is still the same. The bottles are stored on their side, with the top at a slightly lower level, so that the lees accumulate at the end where the cap is. Eventually, the cap is removed, the lees extracted, and the bottle recorked, resulting in a bottle of fizzy, but crystal clear, wine.

Would that be acceptable as a method of production for bottle-conditioned beer? And, if you don’t think it would be, aren’t you rather missing the point?

It seems that some people have experimented with beers given an in-bottle fermentation using the méthode champenoise style, but so far they don’t really seem to have caught on. Possibly the cost is a deterrent, because it's a rather labour-intensive process.

10 comments:

  1. You are quite right. Many bottle and cask conditioned beers these days in fact get most of their conditioning in a tank at the brewery. It was all rather different when the CAMRA definitions were formulated but that was then and this is now. In fact properly keg-conditioned beers (such as those from Manchester's Runaway Brewery) which really do condition in the keg are paradoxically more "real" than most of the cask stuff around.

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  2. It sounds as though you're saying that a lot of the CAMRA 'real' argument is based on tribalism, in that you're/John Clarke is saying that a lot of the cask ale isn't really all that 'real'.

    Shouldn't CAMRA be renamed CAMCA instead?

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  3. Well the all cask beer does have live yeast and can undergo secondary fermentation if left long enough (I believe Landlord has a recommended cellaring time of two weeks). I think it's the case that though that in many pubs and at many beer festivals it doesn't do much of that (especially if it's delivered direct rather than via a wholesaler). So no I'm not saying the argument is based on tribalism because the beer is still naturally conditioned - it's just that not so much is done in the cask these days as it was 45 years ago.

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  4. I think it's misguided to seek to precisely read across standards for draught beer to bottled, and vice versa. They're very different products.

    And, according to Martyn Cornell in "Amber, Gold and Black", mild was always intended as a "running beer" and never experienced much, if any, secondary fermentation.

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  5. "Methode champenoise" is a protected term of appellation for sparkling wines produced in the "méthode traditionnelle" but only in Champagne, France. Thus, outside of France, "champenoise" cannot be on the bottle label. (Many American producers ignore this protection.)

    The wine added to Champagne (and other traditionally-bottle-fermented sparkling wines) after the yeast plug is disgogrged is either from the same source as the wine in the bottle, or, as in the case of Champagne from wine set aside for reserve (20% each vintage, by French law).

    There is no "outside wine." Confusion may have arisen from the awkwardly-written Wikipedia article to which you linked.

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  6. "CAMRA Says" on bottles means "Give a swerve"

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  7. As we have equipment for making champagne style drinks at work, and I've done it myself to a small extent, you've definitely lost your bet.

    Champagne style beers have been around for a while, and certainly Deus seems a success, but it ain't cheap.

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  8. They have machines for riddling (remuage) nowadays. So it's not as labour intensive as it was. A chap I know used to be a winemaker has many tedious/hilarious anecdotes about novices and manual disgorgement. Of course, they have machines for that nowadays as well. Vigo (down in Devon) will sell you the kit if you want to give it a go.

    Try doing that in a can.

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  9. It's not really necessary. Bottle-conditioning yields excellent, bright beer. IF you use a yeast that's good for the job (a good floccer) and just do it properly.

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  10. They seem to think that it involves an unfiltered, unpasteurised bottled beer, probably a bit hazy, with a low level of carbonation and a layer of sludge in the bottom. But nothing could be further from the truth. As the name implies, it’s a beer that actually enjoys a secondary fermentation in the bottle and, I’d say, many British so-called bottle-conditioned beers don’t experience this.

    Now that's interesting. I don't come to leave any wisdom but to learn things.

    ReplyDelete

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