Is Britain ready for cloudy beer?

How many times have you been in a cask ale pub and seen a punter hold a glass up to his eye, see it’s a touchy cloudy, and return in to the barman with a mutter of “that beers off mate”, before even tasting it?

I’ve seen it happen, and even more worryingly I’ve seen barmen accept this as correct and offer the punter an alternative. Now I’m not saying that if a beer genuinely is “off” or doesn’t taste quite right then a punter shouldn’t be given the opportunity to have it replaced, they absolutely should. What I take offence to is accepting a beer being cloudy as evidence that a beer is off, because it isn’t. A beer that is designed to be clear should be served clear, and if it’s cloudy then by all means have a taste, and if it isn’t right then return it. But for gods sake, taste it first, and if you aren’t convinced make your first question to the barman “is this beer meant to be cloudy?”.

If it is meant to be cloudy and tastes good, then who cares what it looks like?

However, the fact remains we aren't used to cloudy beer in this country and a lot of people expect beer to be 100% clear and bright. The problem is that whilst this is easy enough with keg beer, where the liquid can* be filtered before going into the keg, Cask ale is trickier.

The live yeast in a barrel of cask beer (real ale) helps to create a secondary fermentation that gives the beer its light carbonation and also adds to certain aspects of the beers flavour and texture. However that live yeast floating around in the beer also creates a problem for pubs because they have to give the beer time to “drop bright”, meaning all the yeast and sediment drops to the bottom of the barrel leaving clear beer at the top ready to be pulled in to your pint. To speed up this process some brewers use isinglass finings, which to use a technical description are “An acidified aqueous suspension of collagen derived from the swim bladder of certain fish, along with sodium metabisulphite.” But essentially finings are there to make the yeast and other bits floating in the beer clump together quicker and sink to the bottom.

However, some brewers would argue that along with the yeast the finings strip out some of the stuff floating in the beer which actually makes it taste and smell good. One of these brewers is
Moor.

Moor make some fantastic beers and are massive believers in unfined beer. The problem is that the exchange mentioned at the top of this post is typical of pubs up and down the country – pubs find it hard to sell cloudy pale ales as customers want pin-bright, perfectly clear beer. This is not the case elsewhere though, how many cloudy German Weisse beers have you seen taken back with the explanation “this is off, it’s cloudy”? I bet not many. Cloudy does not mean bad!

Interestingly Moor send out all of their dark beers unfined, so all that tasty unfiltered character is present in the beer – it’s only their pale beers that have to be fined as it’s in these beers the cloudiness is more obvious. So to those people who think they don’t like cloudy beer, why not try one of the dark beers and tell me it tastes bad. Still think you don’t like cloudy beer? Sure it’s not just a visual thing?

Moor have however struck a deal with the large pub chain
Mitchell & Butlers to serve unfined beers in their Nicholsons branded pubs after persuading them it was the way to go when it comes to flavor, and no doubt that punters will come round to the idea of a cloudy pale once they taste how good the beer is. And trust me, it is good beer, in fact, it’s bloody brilliant beer.

I was lucky enough to enjoy a pint of
Unfined Revival in the Scarbrough Tap in Leeds recently (a Nicholsons pub) and can certainly attest for it having a little touch of cloudiness, but the main thing that hit me was the taste – it was absolutely excellent.

Unfined Revival is the unfined version of their excellent
Revival pale ale. It’s a fantastic citrus hopped session beer which has hints of grapefruit, spiced lemon and orange zest alongside bags of bitterness and a really refreshing, dry finish. It’s a perfect session beer, and at just 3.8% ABV punches well above its weight. This unfined version has everything the original offers, but for me had an even better aroma, fuller mouthfeel and a really fresh, vibrant flavour.

Naming it unfined revival is a good move as well, and they even go as far as to explain on the pump clip that the beer is meant to be cloudy because it tastes better that way. Moor want to serve all their beers unfined and I think adding it as a prefix before the name of the beer is a simple yet elegant way to inform regular drinkers of the beer that this a slightly different beast. Sometimes the simple ideas are the best ones, and I think this is a cracker.

I wish more brewers were doing this; serving unfined beer with a note to customers saying it is meant to be that way because it tastes better, it’s a simple but effective explanation that cuts out so much agro - Pubs will get fewer returned pints, and customers get tastier, more natural beer. It’s a win, win.

Good on Moor, and good on Mitchell & Butler for their bravery.



*Not all keg beer is filtered or pasteurised, and this is not a cask vs keg post. Lots of craft beer brewers in the UK and abroad sell keg beer which is neither heavily filtered or pasteurised. The beer served on keg from BrewDog, HardKnott and Summer Wine, to name but a few, is neither heavily filtered or pasteurised and has started to be referred to as "craft keg" in an effort to seperate it from the dull, filtered, pasteurised beer sold on keg throughout the UK. The only real difference between craft keg and cask ale is that it is served with added carbonation, is a touch colder, and doesn't undergo a secondary fermentation in the vessell from which it is served. i.e. it's not "real ale" as defined by CAMRA. Even more importantly, only certain beers suit this "craft keg" dispense method - Big, strong, hoppy IPA's, being a good example, where the keg dispense helps to lift the flavours, and show the beer at it's best.



28 comments:

  1. This got me thinking about Farmers Blonde, from Bradfield brewery near Sheffield. It's really cloudy, but nevertheless, seems to be very popular here. Never seem to see it outside of Sheffield though.

    Great blog by the way!

    Matt.

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  2. I've not tried that beer but I wonder whether the use of the word "Farmer's" is a hint towards the fact it is a touch cloudy?

    There's deinfately conotations of natural, unfussy, wholesome beer when you think of "Farmer's Blonde". If I see it, I will give it a try though.

    thanks for the comment

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  3. As you say in your article, it's the stuff floating in the beer that makes it cloudy and affects the taste. Some stuff affects the taste in a good way, some in a bad.

    Personally, I've always gone by smell, taste, sight when judging if a beer's off. And to be honest I rarely bother with the sight part of it.

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  4. Chill and hop hazes don't help the situation either. You say we aren't used to cloudy beer in this country yet, this point needs a bit more clarification on which cloudy beer. I see many people drinking wheat beer all the time. Saying that though, I have seen on one occasion someone taking back a pint of Paulaner and asking if it was off! Edjucation is what's always needed, and it sounds like Moor have got it spot on.

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  5. Revival's a great beer; and i'm sure this new unfined version tastes just as good. As you say, bravo to Nicholsons. I personally feel that at home, I can be more than happy drinking hazy - for whatever reason - beer, but I suspect the 'average pubgoer' might not be as forgiving, which I a shame. I know you say you don't go by sight, but many do. I our job is to try and educate as best we can.

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  6. Your opening paragraph gives a somewhat misleading impression, as 999 times out of 1000 people returning cloudy beer will be returning pints that they know are intended to be clear. If it looks like soup, I don't need to taste it before taking it back. Only later do you introduce the distinction of beers that are meant to be cloudy. As you say, if it is made clear that this is the case, people don't mind.

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  7. Ghostie - I purposfully left hop and chill haze out of this as I wanted to talk specifically about the effect of finings on beer. I was talking about this on twitter with someone earlier. Icould write a whole other post on hop haze but wanted to keep things simple!

    Leigh - it's a great beer either way, but I'd prefer to drink the unfined version as I think it's slightly better. Credit where credits due, nicholson have made a good move here and I think moor are to be commended for trying to educate drinkers both with the name of the beer and the info on the pumpclip. Both very simple but clever moves

    Mudgie - I'd personally still give it a taste! But yes of course I am talking about beers that are meant to be cloudy.

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  8. Excellent post Neil, and by the replies you’ve had, I guess the calibre of drinker reading your blog are fully aware that cloudy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As a home brewer, I come in for stick at friends BBQ’s if I’ve taken beer that isn’t star bright. I then have to spend the evening explaining why that might be.

    It sometimes works in reverse too.

    I remember taking some bottled conditioned beer that I’d taken great care to ensure was bright, for one recipient to shake the last dregs to make his pint purposely cloudy, saying ‘I prefer my beer with the yeast’.

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  9. As for the first comment about farmers bland the pub i work in has it on as a regular, and I have never found it cloudy other than when it is atually going off.

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  10. I did a 150 barrel batch of a wheat beer. It was launched the beer as "authentic hazy wheat beer" and it didn't sell. We then relaunched the same beer fined and it sold out in 3 days. The customers in these pubs clearly preferred clear beer. Personally I can't see what the problem is with clear beer? Fining beer has an incredibly small impact on flavour. I can understand veggies having an issue but I think anyone who objects to it on emotional grounds has to be a bit special. I've never brewed a beer using Saccharomyces that I haven't been able to make clear using finings. If brewers want to make hazy beer they should but they shouldn't feel insulted if people don't want to spend their money on them. It's up to brewers to make appealing beers not to tell people what to enjoy.

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  11. I can't recall a Weissbier that has "meant to be cloudy" on the label.

    Nor can I recall a BCA that states "Got muck in the bottle"

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  12. When they say "This beer is cloudy" my retort is: What do you expect for £3.50....thunder n' lightening.

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  13. I have a keg of homebrewed Weissbier on at the moment and it is clearer every time I drink some. Very disappointing to have a perfectly nice hazy beer go all clear on me.

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  14. Thanks for everyones comments.

    Stuart - Appreciate your input on this, and I'm not going to pretend to know as much about you on brewing, but my counter argument to what you say regarding the hazy wheat beer would be that personally i'd rather drink a cloudy beer if thats how it is meant to be served, and if it improves the flavour then the appearance is second fiddle. I appreciate this isnt the case with the majority of drinkers though, but think that it's about educating drinkers to the fact some beers might be better a bit hazy, rather than changing a good beer to suit current prejudices.

    Of course, I'm looking at this from a drinkers viewpoint, and I understand that as a brewer your priorities are slightly different. Thanks again for your response

    Cookie - Or a cooking lager that says "Now with extra deliciois maize!" ;-)

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  15. Honoured to contribute, it was a very well written post. I'm with you on some Beers Neil, I prefer my Wits, Weisse or Lambics to have a haze.

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  16. I wonder about this small trend. This is why: "Fining beer has an incredibly small impact on flavour." as Stuart says and to most eyes, clear beer is more appealing.

    Though at times I understand that it may not be so due to hop rates, etc etc and if so and the beer tastes good, then no problem. Other circumstances have been described by Stuart and that's good enough for me.

    I think this is becoming some kind of artisanal snobbery whereby beer is sent out cloudy as some silly dick waving exercise. Cloudy isn't necessarily a bad thing, but to elevate it into a virtue is stretching it a bit. This is another Yankee "innovation" we seem to wish to follow blindly. Even if you keep some of the so called good things, you'll also keep some of the bad things.

    Finally your words "I wish more brewers were doing this; serving unfined beer with a note to customers saying it is meant to be that way because it tastes better" would seen to be just an opinion stated as fact.

    PS. You can hide a multitude of sins in a dark beer.

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  17. Tand - I take most of your points, but the last bit about me stating opinion as fact is a bit of a stretch, as firstly, i'm not pretending this is anything other than opinion. The words "I wish" are the giveaway...

    That said, in the sentance "I wish more brewers were doing this; serving unfined beer with a note to customers saying it is meant to be that way because it tastes better" perhaps I should have replaced the first 'it' with 'this particular beer'. Although I thought it was pretty obvious thats what I was getting at anyway!

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  18. "I think this is becoming some kind of artisanal snobbery whereby beer is sent out cloudy as some silly dick waving exercise."

    I have to say I was thinking along these lines myself. It's a case of "look at me, I'm a really serious, sophisticated beer enthusiast, I don't need to conform to tedious mass-market norms as clarity." It's a bit like a car enthusiast saying that reliability is so bourgeois.

    The overwhelming majority of beer - including cask beer - is meant to be clear. If it's not clear, there's something wrong either with the beer itself or the cellarmanship. It has a fault, it's not fit to be served. And fortunately it is one fault that bar staff will almost always accept and deal with - you don't need to argue the toss with them.

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  19. 'The overwhelming majority of beer' sold in this country is mass produced yellow lager, all of which is perfectly crystal clear - it doesnt mean it's the best beer available. If a beer tastes better unfined and possibly slightly cloudy then why not serve it that way rather than trying to ensure it is perfectly clear at the cost of flavour?

    Flavour first. Appearance second.

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  20. The case for additional flavour, as Stuart Howe said, is entirely unproven.

    You keep saying it as if it is fact.

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  21. Unfined beer is nothing new. Dave Porter (who I guess you will have heard of given your interest in beers and brewing) has never fined his beer - neither when he traded as Porter Brewing and now as Outstanding Brewery. His beers sometimes had a slight cast but were, and indeed are, usually crystal clear (apart from Outstanding White of course).

    The Moor beer I had at the Marble Arch last Thursday was also clear as a bell.

    I really do think this thing about cloudy beer is a bit of a pretentious affectation to be honest or, as another beer blogger said to me last night, the province of "beer ponces".

    John Clarke

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  22. Moor beer is fantastic in general these days and it is good to see them getting a foothold in national chains.

    I worked for Bath Ales for four years as a cellarman and assistant manager, and thus tried every single batch of beer that they sold during that period. The very best batch of Spa that they produced during that time had a distinct haze in it. A lot of regulars refused to try it even, and went elsewhere, despite us offering to refund them if they didn't like it.

    A huge amount of people in this county taste with their eyes, and none more so than certain Camra activists. I have seen countless occasions when a beer which never drops fully but tastes excellent is passed over in favour for something that is crystal clear but tastes mediocre. I have found in ten years of working in Real Ale pubs that 3/4 of the people who are most vocal in their own confidence to pick out a prime beer actually have little ability to separate excellent beer from average beer. Of course everybody has the right to drink what they want, but after a time you do tire of those with challenged taste buds passing off their opinions as gospel.

    The lesson here is trust the barman. The people who get the best beer in the pub are the ones who asks the barman what he recommends that day.

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  23. Tandleman, we all know there are no absolutes and limited provability when it comes to flavour. It's all personal opinions, and all of our opinions have equal weight as everyone else's.

    But saying this, it is true that if you mix the yeast product in with a beer, such as in bottle conditioned beer, the taste certainly changes. Whether this change is positive or negative is entirely peoples personal opinion. White shield is a great example. some people preferred the taste of the mixed drink and others not. Neither of these folks were wrong.

    If people want to chose to make unfined beer and customers want to drink it then I don't understand what the problem is. For a Camra activist to complain about artisanal snobbery within Real Ale is amusing to say the least, considering the general contempt that many Camra activists show towards entire genres of alcoholic drink. I have no idea whether you are personally guilty of this such snobbery yourself of course.

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  24. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a glass of beer to appeal to the eyes as well as the palate. Next thing, somebody will be saying "why care about the taste so long as it gets you pissed?"

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  25. Of course I think that it's reasonable to beer to appeal to the eye. It's the dogma that has grown over many generations that dictates clarity to be synonymous to quality that I think should be challenged. Nobody thinks that Farmhouse Ciders needs to be filtered to compare with Magners, so why in terms of Real ale is a haze considered to be a bad thing ? It is social conditioning, pure and simple, and over time attitudes shall change.

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  27. Excellent article. Sadly I come across far too many 'know it alls' - they look at the beer before even tasting it and assert that it must be off. However give them 'the next pint in the line' and suddenly they think the same beer is OK. Some beers are highly sensitive to slight temperature variations. I was recently presented with 9 pin-bright beers at a beer judging event - none of them tasted great. At the same event I sampled a stunning beer (far better than any of the 'final' 9), however it was slightly hazy and thus never got a look in in the earlier elimination rounds. People need to learn to taste with their mouths, not their eyes.

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