Sunday, 1 May 2011

Looking for Clarity...

In the UK we still have an annoying hang up when it comes to beer, something that goes no further than our shores & something never crosses the mind of the continental beer drinker. This is the search for perfect crystal clarity in beers. In the UK outside of the esoteric beer scene there are lots of regular drinkers who still associate haze in beer with the beer being bad, off or not well made I have to say folks, it's absolute bollocks, infact entirely the opposite is usually* true.

This pic was taken by @alcofrolichap on Twitter, the beer on the right is our Diablo IPA & it is dry-hopped quite aptly to hell!

I have been in pubs in close proximity to drinkers who have ordered a beer, the beer hits the bar top the bar staff turn to the till & the beer begins to settle from the bottom up, the punter glances down & waits for their change to be returned. As half of the beer loses it milky appearance they hold the beer aloft & peer through the beer in the glass, & without a moments thought the immortal words trip off the tongue 'this beer is'nt right' 'it MUST be off, its cloudy'.

STOP! Stop right there!

How about taking a sip & taking in the aroma first? You fell into the awful trap of drinking with your eyes! Why? Because you are vain, your car shines, you have 20-20 vision, your windows have just been cleaned & you have HD TV! Bad practice sunshine, stop, stop right there & have a word with yourself!

People in the UK have been conditioned on macro uber filtered, lifeless, hop-less crap for 30 years, beers with incredible gleaming polish & in their mind anything from there on in with a haze is automatically associated with having something wrong with it this is not usually correct.  I'm not for one minute saying pin bright beer is a bad thing on the contrary, beer produced to specification with good brewing processes should drop bright. Clarity starts to change when brewers use differing techniques to achieve certain flavours & aromas either through adjuncts like wheat, different yeasts, dry-hopping & non use of finings.

The new wave of intensely dry hopped beers sweeping the UK for example can have a 'hop-haze' when serving in this case this is usually a sign of quality & that the brewer has used an extreme amount of hops for dry hopping in trying to wow you. Smell the beer & you will know instantly if that's the case & appreciate the fact that the brewer is trying to give you an experience with flavour and aroma. Take a sip & forget you can't see your hand on the other side of the glass, the beer is great, enjoy it.

BrewDog pack in the dry hops, it's all about the flavour baby.
In europe there are thousands of bars where a customer would be more alarmed if served a crystal clear beer rather than a hazy one, for this kind of drinker it is about FLAVOUR, they have never yearned for the vanity of their beer & they love it all the more as quality, flavour & aroma trump clarity every, single, time!

So as the wheels start to turn ever faster in the hugely exciting UK beer scene & as we as brewers strive to amaze your senses, take the vanity of your beer & put it at the bottom of your list right now! Open your mind,  take the mantras of  flavour, aroma & quality with you wherever you go & you will be amazed by what you find!

You can read what Justin, the head brewer at Moor Beer Company thinks about clarity in beer here.

This blog post barely scratches the surface about the science of beer clarity, but I wouldn't want to bore you with pages & pages, the post is intended to create debate & provoke thoughts.

*Occasionally you may find a beer that is hazy & off, or poorly made, taste it, smell it & you will know.


Baron Orm said...

I completely agree with this post, it's been something that I've waffled on about personally (and not on my blog) for a while.

After all when I judged at the northern SIBA beer competition last year we were informed that clarity is a vital part of the score!

Is this a hangover from 'the bad ole days of brewing' where clarity showed a sign of care and cloudy meant infected?

Mark said...

Nice post, and I agree. I also think it goes further - I love properly unfiltered and unpasteurised beers, ones which would be cloudy (not just a slight haze), but they just won't sell in anywhere other than fancy beer bars.

I remember I was in the Toronado in San Francisco last year and I ordered a Pliny and it came out like orange juice that I could've used a spoon to drink. The barman said it's better that way and it was damn good!

It is an interesting issue though and not one that we'll get over quickly. You are right as well that it's a UK thing. In Italy most of the beers are unfiltered and unpasteurised and have a slight haze, US beers often have it. Maybe we should just campaign for silver tankards to be more widespread then it doesn't matter what the beer looks like!

John Clarke said...

Drinking with your eyes is never a good idea in my view.

Donning my "old CAMRA" hat for a moment - drinkers in Salford and Manchester always used to say that Holts Bitter was better if it had a slight "cast" on it, so this is nothing new, really (very little in the world of beer is actually). I have been told that one licensee in Eccles used to give his casks of Holts Bitter the occasional kick to make sure his beer was never crystal clear.

By the way a wave of intensely dry hopped beers "sweeping the UK"? That I think is over stating the position a bit don't you think? I mean, they're not exactly commonplace are they?

Tandleman said...

Damn - my original response to this has vanished. I think, so here goes again:

I think like most things in life, it all depends. If the beer is hazy/cloudy by intent because of dry hopping, intense hopping, wheat etc. then fine, or whether it is clumsily made or just unfinished as in most German Brewpubs then not fine. In other words sometimes acceptable, sometimes not.

Nor do I really agree with Mark, as he implies that unfiltered beer is likely to always be better than filtered beer, or beer that has naturally dropped bright. That is doubtful. As the author himself remarks, there is nothing at all wrong with pin bright beer. I'd add that not everything that remains in unfiltered beer is good, has desirable flavours, is improving and is wholesome.

As for the willingness of some to drink hazy beer in specialist outlets, well maybe so, but the fact remains that for good reason, most people like their beer to be clear. If the beer is intended to be otherwise, a bit of point of sale info might be helpful.

Good subject though.

Alcofrolic Chap said...

Nice, interesting post. I can confirm the Diablo in the photo above was delicious.

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

Baron - Having clarity on a judging sheet is something I think is completely inappropriate. Particularly if the brewer has heavily dry hopped a beer to add to it's quality they would be actively penalised if the beer was hazy, crazy!

Mark - Absolutely agree, it is purely a UK thing & I think we have a duty to educate drinkers here to open their minds when it comes to beer.

John - I really don't think i'm overstating what is happening amongst quality brewers dry hopping beers, here are few examples of popular brewers I know who are embracing the technique: -

Us, BrewDog, Thornbridge, Dark Star, Marble, Otley, Hawkshead, Moor, Kernel, Camden Town, Red Willow, Redemption, Outstanding, Mallinsons, Hardknott, Brew Company, Steel City, Westerham, Crouch Vale, Buxton, Gadds, Pictish, I could go on & on John.

Tandleman - Exactly what do you mean when you say 'the fact remains that for good reason, most people like their beer to be clear' what exactly is that reason, one of vanity?

I do agree with Mark, unfiltered fresh beer is more likely to contain vital hop oils, yeast cells & complex protein chains aiding head retention, providing it is well brewed & consumed fresh.

Beer that is poorly made, ie. poor hot & cold break, over sparging, over fining etc. is an entirely different matter. Speak to Dave Porter he is adamant over fined beer is more of a crime than under fined beer.

It is purely a British hang up, one that we will seek to educate our customers on. Also the knowledge of bar staff in conveying the message the reason why there may be a haze is also crucial, I was in the Harlequin in Sheffield on Sunday & I asked for a beer, the barman who certainly knew his stuff informed me there may be a slight haze due to dry hopping, now there's an outlet on their game, but I wouldn't expect anything less from Pete & Liz's pub, good people, top beer, top pub, top staff.

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

Alcofrolic Chap - Thank you for your kind words re Diablo, I owe you a beer for the use of the pic next time we meet. :)

John Clarke said...

James - well, a lot of brewers dry hop (even Robinsons) and have done for many years. That wasn't what I was getting at. You refer to "intensely dry hopped beers" which are "sweeping the UK". So intense is the dry hopping you say that it can cause a hop haze (and I am in no position to argue that one). I think that very few brewers dry hop to that level and most of those you cite sell crystal clear beer, dry hopping notwithstanding. So while dry hopped beers are commonplace (and I never meant to suggest otherwise) I still doubt that we have a wave of "intensely" dry hopped beers sweeping the UK - what's "intense" anyway?

From this post and others, I do think you have a bit of a tendency to hyperbole. Nothing wrong with that of course - it can often spark a good debate.

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

John - You have a tendency to be pedantic, I truly have never met anyone who splits hairs quite like you.

In fact, you are are the human embodiment of pedantry.

Tandleman said...

James -I should have elaborated. Most beer is clear - by that I suppose over 95% probably. The "good reason" is that it is the norm and therefore, even if they shouldn't, most people suspect cloudy beer to be faulty. Can you expect people to readily buck that ingrained trend without education?

I did suggest that point of sale would help. Your example of a knowledgeable barman is effectively good "point of sale".

We basically and generally agree I think and while Dave Porter doesn't use finings, he does tend to allow his beer to drop bright. Also while many good things may remain in unfiltered beer, it may also include tannins and polyphenols (sometimes good, sometimes bad) to name but two.

It isn't straightforward "always good" versus "always bad" I'd venture.

John Clarke said...

James - it's a gift. But seriously, you are the one who made the initial comment about a wave of intensely dry hopped beers sweeping the UK. If you wish to engage in debate then you must be prepared to have your arguments dissected and challenged. I have observed before that while you are happy to make at times various assertions, you are unwilling to engage in debate when we get down to the detail.

While I may perhaps be the embodiment of pedantry (although I think people who know me would debate that - I hope!) you seem to be the master of hyperbole and generalisation.

Having said all of that, like Tandleman I agree with your basic premise. It's just some of the other stuff you came out with that strikes me as being a bit doubtful.

HardKnott Dave said...

"a wave of intensely dry hopped beers sweeping the UK" ..... well, it's perhaps a ripple, but is is covering a large amount of the nation. Anyway, pedantry aside, I think the point that James makes about the slightly more esoteric beers being cast away by some due to preconceived ideas is a shame.

A good barman is indeed the only point of sale that any good beer needs, only sometimes even a good barman can't get through the entrenched nonsense that makes people think that beer that is cloudy is "off"

StringersBeer said...

Q. Haze?
A. Tankards

And you can even carry them on your belt. Boss!