Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Can this be for real?

Eyebrows were raised last week at the news that CAMRA had given accreditation as “real ale” to can-conditioned beers from Moor Brewery in Bristol. While this may on the face of it sound surprising, given that CAMRA is happy to recognise bottle-conditioned beers as “real ale”, it is entirely consistent to do the same to beer that still contains live yeast, but just happens to be in a different kind of container.

However, the fact that cans, unlike bottles, are opaque is a significant drawback. With a bottle, you can check that the yeast has settled to the bottom, and then pour it carefully to ensure it doesn’t get in the glass and you end up with a clear drink. However, with a can, you simply can’t do that, so you have to trust to time and as to whether the yeast has settled, and depend on very precise timing to minimise the amount that ends up in the glass. For this reason, regardless of the inherent merits of the container, I’d say cans are not an appropriate medium for container-conditioned packaged beers.

Of course, you may not be much concerned with clarity in the first place, and Justin Hawke of Moor is well known as holding the view that too much importance is given to clarity in beer in the first place. Some, of course, might argue that’s just a case of claiming a defect as a feature, and, overall, cloudy or hazy beer is something the vast majority of beer drinkers actively avoid. Especially with a can, there’s a reasonable expectation that the contents will be crystal clear. Maybe a big warning notice is needed.

There’s also a possible question mark as to whether there actually is a genuine secondary fermentation in the can. Just having a bit of yeast in suspension doesn’t ensure that. Some US imported cans, such as the Sixpoint Bengali sold in Wetherspoons, are cloudy, but they don’t claim to be can-conditioned. And, realistically, is the CAMRA imprimatur going to make any difference to whether or not people drink it?

I’ve always maintained that it was an error of judgment for CAMRA to take the view that the relationship between bottle- and brewery-conditioned packaged beers was the equivalent of that between cask- and brewery-conditioned draught. For very good reasons, bottle-conditioning in the UK had largely died out decades earlier, and wasn’t in any sense a live tradition worthy of preservation, as cask was. In the 1970s, with the off-trade only accounting for a small proportion of overall beer sales, it didn’t matter all that much, but the effect today is to dismiss as unworthy of consideration many beers of high quality, while encouraging small brewers to produce inconsistent and hard-to-handle bottle-conditioned beers that are guaranteed to deter the ordinary drinker.

Yes, in these terms, can-conditioned beers do quality as “real”, but it’s very hard to see the early members of CAMRA from the 1970s being remotely comfortable that the organisation has ended up giving the seal of approval to kegs and cans. To quote George Orwell from Animal Farm, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

37 comments:

  1. Coincidentally, we both post about the same thing on the same day! Both sides of the coin! Different isn't wrong! I haven't tried any yet, but Moor Beers claim (on web site) is that you shouldn't notice any sediment. You may of course notice a slight haze or even cloudiness with all unfined beers. I understand, from the CAMRA press release, that the carbonation in Moor Beer cans has been proved to be present due to secondary fermentation. Will people drink it because CAMRA says it is real ale? Or will people drink it because it is a really good beer from a really good progressive brewer?

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    1. If there's only enough sediment to throw a "slight haze", how can there be enough to produce a proper secondary fermentation?

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    2. As an old brewer colleague once said - you only need one healthy yeast cell & enough time to condition a beer. Relatively clear unfixed, naturally carb'd small-pack beer is a little tricky, but perfectly possible. I've done it.

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    3. 100 thousand cells/ml (or so) looks noticeably hazy. But that's all some folks condition with. Bright beer might have 10 thou. (They're only little, you know). There's nothing to stop anyone carbonating to (say) 2.3 vols before packaging and making sure that there's some yeast & fermentables to allow carbonation to develop a little more in the package. I believe that's what Fullers do. I don't know if CAMRA tech have a magic number of cells they need to count, or whether the sight of one is enough.

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    4. Yes they do have a magic number

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  2. Totally wrong. Another craft hipster fad. Just drink properly brewed real ale from one of our great brewers like Taylors, Theakston, Sam Smith, Harveys, Fullers, Wadworth etc

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    1. I'd rather have a cloudy beer from Moor (so long as it's not OFW) than 99% of the beers brewed by those brewers...

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    2. That's because you like to imagine the cloudiness is due to the head brewer having jizzed in it.

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    3. @Ben - not that you're a massive beer snob, or anything...

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    4. Maybe he just has different tastes to you? Moor make quite distinctive beer, very different to that brewed by any of the others listed (with the exception of Fullers).

      How come Kevin Webster isn't banned? Childish and unnecessary comments like that give this website a bad reputation.

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    5. Be quiet, Py.

      You bandy-legged whore.

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  3. Surely it's the mark of a progressive brewer not to give two hoots what CAMRA say?

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  4. Following my return from holiday, I am planning my own post on this matter; but for now, I see trouble ahead, and fully endorse everything you say.

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  5. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is "can conditioned" over here and generally holds up better than bottle conditioned.

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  6. Even if the brewery is going for petulant carbonation I can't see how full secondary can happen in a tin without it warping or a breach happening.

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    1. I think you've fallen victim to autocorrect there - I assume you meant "petillant". But "petulant carbonation" is a nice idea ;-)

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  7. Needs a warning on the can:
    LOOKS LIKE SHIT - GIVES YOU THE SHITS

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  8. There is a different customer profile with trendy craft cans to trad bitter. A fair number of trad bitter drinkers may usually drink clear canned an bottled beer and try a bottled ale with “camra says” and be disappointed with cloudy contents. The people paying £3 for a 330ml can are expecting something different. Most likely a high alcohol, high hopped beer concentrate. Murk is not a fault to this punter so complaints are less likely.

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  9. Here's an idea. I see 16 comments without a single person saying that they have tried the cans. Why not give them a go and see what you think? Cooking Lager, why don't you try Revival, a 3.8% pale bitter, or Raw, a 4.3% best bitter? The fact that so many real ale traditionalists will happily drink filtered, brewery conditioned bottles and 'brite' beer on handpull, and will argue that key-keg or canned beer, which actually fits the definition of real ale doesn't count. It's obvious that this is for cultural and aesthetic reasons rather than anything to do with the beer itself.

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    1. Fair point, more than happy to oblige.

      If Moor want to send me some cans for review, please get in touch using the e-mail address in the sidebar.

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    2. As the sheer brass neck of this request made me chuckle I will oblige. As a reward for your blog saying you don't like a thing you haven't tried, and doubting the veracity of the thing you haven't tried, I will send you free samples of that thing so you can try it despite the fact that we will accrue no obvious benefit from it. If you email me at darran@moorbeer.co.uk and tell me what styles of beer you enjoy, I will send you a few cans.

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    3. Thanks, fair dos. I'll take it as I find it.

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  10. The trouble is, CAMRA have historically been pretty happy to let people run with the idea that extraneous CO2 (even from cask breathers) is inherently evil and natural conditioning is inherently good when it suits them, so it'd be difficult now for them to turn around and say that actually on this occasion live yeast and natural conditioning are a bad thing. I guess I am impressed that they're sticking by their definition at the cost of prejudices of the traditionalists, though.

    As far as can-conditioning goes, it doesn't bother me either way. I don't really care where the CO2 in a canned beer came from, but nor am I particularly bothered by beers like Revival coming out murky. I quite like pale, dry beers with lots of resinous hop flavour, and the best tasting examples of that style that I've tried over the last few years have generally had some level of haze, so like a lot of drinkers I'd treat it as a normal feature of the style. So far none of these beers, including the can conditioned ones, have given me the shits, fwiw.

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  11. Its not like anyone can actually taste the difference between CO2 from fermentation and CO2 added artificially, so what does it really matter?

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    1. That's not at all true. Artificial carbonation is a forced process and the levels of carbon dioxide in solution are usually much higher than with a natural carbonation and give rise to an entirely different mouthfeel in most cases when the CO2 comes out of solution simply because the bubbles are bigger. For example, the difference between Champagne and artificially carbonated fizz is pronounced. The same is true for genuine bottle conditioned beers and I don't mean those that describe them selves so and actually just contain a bit of yeast to top up the brewery tank conditioning.

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    2. You should try some of my homebrews if you think you can generalize about the carbonation levels in bottle conditioned beer! I've had a few batches where they ran the gamut from flat to all over the ceiling.

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    3. I'd agree that the carbonation from a beer that has undergone a proper secondary fermentation is distinctly different from that in a force-carbonated beer.

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    4. There is no such thing as good CO2 or bad CO2. That's why the cask breather thing is simply incorrect. That being said cask conditioned beer does taste different from force carbed beer. Firstly there is a small flavour contribution from the yeast, particularly if the beer is re-seeded. Secondly force carbed beer generally has a much higher volume of CO2 than cask beer and that has a distinct impact on flavour (some people describe it as carbonic bight). Thirdly the time spent spent in the cask allows flavours to meld in a way that does not happen in force carbed beer. In addition some brewers use a different strain of yeast in cask than they do if they have a keg version of 'the same' beer and alter their mash profile to achieve a different extract level. Thornbridge are a prime example as mentioned here: https://thornbridge.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/the-beauty-of-cask-beer/

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  12. You're just talking about levels of carbonation. That's not the same thing at all. There is no reason why artificial carbonation has to produce a higher volume of CO2.

    There is no difference between the CO2 produced from artificial carbonation and from secondary fermentation. The bubbles are the same size, basic physics will tell you that.

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    1. You are correct that there is no difference between C02 from whatever source. C02 is C02. Its the process that gets you there that's different. A beer that's sat in a cask with live yeast for a fortnight is going to taste different. If you have a look at this:

      https://thornbridge.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/the-beauty-of-cask-beer/

      you'll also see that brewers alter their process and even ingredients as far back as the mash to optimise the beer for its intended format.

      Its seldom, if ever, the case that keg beer is carbonated equal or less than cask. Levels of carbonation effect ph, mouthfeel and perception of bitterness.

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    2. Different, maybe, but better? Not necessarily. And does it make any difference whether it has conditioned in the cask or at the brewery? Of course not.

      Unfortunately, anyone who understands anything about brewing knows that "real ale" is just a silly myth.

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  13. Oh dear i'm not sure this py character drinks real ale Before you know where we are these people will have us back drinking the likes of Tavern keg or Whitbread Tankard. Who on earth wants to drink gassed up beers craft or otherwise in silly littlevcans !!!

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  14. I prefer some canned beer - I was in Belgium recently and discovered Leffe Brun in cans, which was bloody wonderful. Over here, you can only find the bottled stuff, which is nothing special in my opinion.

    Many bottled beers are too fizzy and thin compared to their draught and canned equivalents. You might as well be drinking Coca Cola. Cans often get the smoothness right, with the fizz still being there but in a different, but much better way.

    If anyone knows where I can get Leffe Brun cans over here please tell!

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  15. I agree and disagree.

    Clearly I do think most can drinkers (CAMRA or otherwise) do expect a clear drink from a can. Thus CAMRAs push for hazy beers from can is somewhat counter to what the consumer is probably expecting.

    However just because you end up with a cloudy or hazy beer does not exclude it from real ale. Indeed the "strict (TIC)" definition that CAMRA uses would only put clarity on the served perfectly list. Indeed it does not appear on their "about real ale" page. There has been a definite move to ask beer festivals etc to advertise their beer when they are deliberately cloudy, as cloudy.
    Clearly bottle/cask conditioned Weiss beers are considered real ale. Thus from CAMRAs working definition while contrary to how many feel about what real ale should look like, clearly it is in line.

    What this all means however is somewhat different. I find that the sediment in Belgium and Dutch beers play a more nuance role if added to the beer. Sure you have an increase in yeastiness etc but that is often not very pronounced in my opinion . It is lost behind the strength (I am one of the iron tummy group and I tend to prefer the extra mouth feel but not always). British beers on the other had tend to have quite bitter tasting sediment. This put me off many British bottled beers when i moved here from Holland.

    Thus I think real ale in a can is certainly possible and is in line with CAMRA definitions. However I am not sure you would want to can every real ale as CAMRA seem to be alluding to.

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    1. I'm not saying it's not real ale according to the CAMRA definition. What I am saying is that it's a silly gimmick of limited appeal.

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    2. First

      I agree of course as you point out (and more importantly to all the other issues), that most CAMRA and non CAMRA would expect a clear beverage from a can. Thus you point out a consumer expectation that CAMRA is not necessarily supporting. I do believe that CAMRA have jumped into this too quickly as I do not think that most British beers should go anywhere near a can as they can be ruined by their sediment, whereas my opinion of continental beers is that is less of an issue.

      On the real stuff: apologies as I am probably reading to far but I did not mean to come across as I did.

      I read that cans were inappropriate due to the potential haze generated linked with the question the ability for secondary fermentation.

      What I was trying to say is that surely for those adhering to CAMRA defs, this is a mute point as it is not a core part of the definition and fermentation does occur?

      Time will tell on the gimmick.

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