Ron Pattinson’s enjoyably snarky post about keg bitter and craft beer used an interesting turn of phrase: ‘Over-priced, trendy, processed beer’.
Arguably, all beer is processed, unless you are drinking the spontaneously fermented liquid which gathers at the bottom of your grain bucket after heavy rain. But people use the phrase ‘processed food’ to mean something quite particular — that which has been treated, often using patented methods, to make it more ‘stable’ and increase its shelf-life. In other words, where the taste of the product is a secondary consideration after efficient production, easy distribution and stability in storage. (Is that what’s being described here?)
Does processing necessarily result in bad-tasting food and drink? Freeze-dried strawberries covered in chocolate are one of the most delicious foodstuffs known to man, and there are certain purposes for which only a fluffy, sweetened, processed bread will serve. On the whole, though, few people would choose a triangle of Dairylea cheese over a nice piece of ripe cheddar.
Is it easy to decide if a beer has been ‘processed’? Bottle-conditioned beer which has been pasteurised and re-seeded with a clean yeast might resemble unprocessed beer, but it’s actually been subjected to additional processing. Meanwhile, there are an increasing number of kegged beers which are barely processed at all, though they might be in sealed containers.
Reading descriptions of the taste of the much-derided Watney’s keg bitters, one of the most offensive aspects seem to be their sweetness. Is arresting fermentation while sugars remain in the beer, or adding sugar after fermentation, processing? As far as we know, they weren’t bunging in saccharine. (Which, by the way, some rustic, ‘real’ farmyard Somerset cider producers do.)
If a beer is inefficiently manufactured, difficult to distribute, with a short shelf-life, will it taste better? Will it burn twice as bright for half as long? And is ‘processed’ actually the antithesis of ‘craft’?
Sorry for the barrage of questions. This is your classic ‘thinking aloud’ blog post. Answers welcome but not expected.