Four Beers, Three Write-offs

Plughole

A while ago, some friends vis­it­ed, bring­ing with them some bot­tle-con­di­tioned beers they’d picked up on hol­i­day in Nor­folk. A cou­ple of weeks ago, we final­ly got round to drink­ing them. Well, we say drink­ing… pour­ing them down the sink is unfor­tu­nate­ly clos­er to the mark for three of the four.

These were exploita­tive, gift-shop, tourist-trap beers. The brew­ers are either over­reach­ing and delu­sion­al or, worse, cyn­ics who know the beer they’re mak­ing is bad but sell it any­way.

One was just about drink­able – an unassertive yeast and some pithy hops made it bland but faint­ly aro­mat­ic – but more by luck than intent, we sus­pect. Anoth­er was an acci­den­tal, gush­ing lam­bic; yet anoth­er smelled like pick­led lemons rot­ting in a drainage ditch and tast­ed like unfer­ment­ed wort; the fourth had the aro­ma of blue cheese and tast­ed like alco­hol-free wheat beer – chewy, grainy water.

So, one bland beer and three that were absolute­ly foul.

We’re annoyed that our friends got ripped off and we’re also annoyed that small, local brew­eries doing it prop­er­ly are going to suf­fer by asso­ci­a­tion with this kind of rub­bish.

Kitchen sink pictured not actual sink down which beers were poured. Not actual size. Cheques will not be honoured. (From Flickr Creative Commons.)

40 thoughts on “Four Beers, Three Write-offs”

    1. It’s a prob­lem that seems to afflict any rur­al area with a sub­stan­tial tourist indus­try – hob­by brew­ers (or even com­plete chancers) can find a mar­ket they would­n’t have in any oth­er con­text.

  1. Sad­ly, this bears out what I have long been say­ing, that most bot­tle-con­di­tioned beers pro­duced by micro-brew­eries are muck, and give the whole cat­e­go­ry a bad name. If you can’t do it prop­er­ly, then don’t do it at all.

    I sus­pect many just bot­tle their beers direct­ly out of the fer­ment­ing ves­sel with­out any kind of con­di­tion­ing, which is inevitably going to lead to wild incon­sis­ten­cy and may well not be all that hygien­ic.

    Local” beers aimed at the tourist trade would be far bet­ter fil­tered and pas­teurised.

    1. So help a poor for­eign­er out: Bot­tle con­di­tioned beers from larg­er brew­eries tend to not suf­fer as much?

      FWIW, I bot­tle my home­brew direct­ly from the pri­ma­ry fer­menter, even before pri­ma­ry fer­men­ta­tion is com­plete, elim­i­nat­ing the need for prim­ing sug­ar, malt or gyle. I am thus able to short-cut around the 10+ days it would nor­mal­ly take for prim­ing to take effect, mean­ing I have quite drink­able low-grav­i­ty ale in a mat­ter of days instead of weeks. But then I’m des­per­ate.

      I’ve nev­er had any prob­lems with hygiene this way though, not sure what you think might lead to such prob­lems.

      1. Nick – big­ger brew­ers tend to have their own auto­mat­ed bot­tling lines (more con­trol); they also tend to remove the brew­ing yeast and reseed with fresh yeast, often of a dif­fer­ent strain – one which cre­ates a fine lay­er that stays put when pour­ing, rather than an inch of grey murk.

        Real­ly small brew­eries are either con­tract­ing out bot­tling or doing it by hand. Sus­pect hygiene is not always 100 per cent; and that there is not much sci­ence being applied to the amount of yeast or sug­ar remain­ing in the bot­tles.

  2. I’m with Cur­mud­geon here, and I’d go so far as to say I tend to avoid pret­ty much all bot­tle-con­di­tioned British ales, as I’ve had too many bad expe­ri­ences. Too many have been either foul, over car­bon­at­ed (Wor­thing­ton White Shield I’m look­ing at you!), gush­ers, or some com­bi­na­tion of the three. Yuck.

  3. I would say the car­bon­a­tion in beers like White Shield is a nat­ur­al result of sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion hav­ing tak­en place in the bot­tle. Although they both have a sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion, BCAs are a dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent prod­uct from cask beer and IMV it is mis­lead­ing for CAMRA to imply they are “equiv­a­lent”. Bel­gian beers such as Duv­el are sim­i­lar­ly fizzy.

    In my recent expe­ri­ence, Fullers 1845 and Ben­gal Lan­car, Young’s Spe­cial Lon­don Ale and Lon­don Gold, Shep­herd Neame 1698, White Shield and Hop Back Sum­mer Light­ning have all been fine in terms of con­di­tion, although I have a bit of a blind spot with Fullers beers in gen­er­al and Lon­don Gold is just bland flavour­wise.

    1. I agree: why not name them? Help oth­ers avoid the trap your friends fell vic­tim to!

      1. It’s some­thing we ago­nise over but, for now, we’re just not com­fort­able nam­ing names when it comes to real­ly small busi­ness­es whose own­ers have a lot more at stake than we do.

        For more on our stance, see this post, and the dis­cus­sion in this post at Alan’s blog.

        And, any­way, no-one in a gift shop near their hol­i­day cot­tage is googling for reviews before buy­ing these beers!

        1. I dis­agree about not nam­ing names as if you don’t then I can’t see a rea­son why you have post­ed this in the first place?

          With­out fol­low­ing up the post with details of the beers this is the mes­sage that I get from the post:

          * A friend bought you beers whilst on hol­i­day in Nor­folk
          * You opened them and they were all rubbish/awful
          * You would­n’t want any­one to buy this muck
          * You don’t want oth­er brew­eries tarred with the same brush

          As I have no list of brew­eries to avoid all I know at the moment is not to buy ANY Nor­folk BCed beers…

          1. The Baron has a point, here and below. We need to know who is brew­ing bad beer, with the caveat that it’s only your opin­ion. I’d haz­ard a guess, though, that if it is bad to the point of being poured down the sink, your opin­ion is prob­a­bly wide­ly shared.

            The prob­lem with BC beer is that the prod­uct is almost by def­i­n­i­tion not con­sis­tent. It isn’t like wid­gets made on a pro­duc­tion line, where every batch is pret­ty much iden­ti­cal. It can be done very well of course, and maybe they had a bad day when they brewed these four bot­tles, but even so, if spoiled beer makes it onto the shelves, they have a prob­lem, and we need to know about it.

  4. I sup­port the not nam­ing and sham­ing pol­i­cy, but I think it would be a shame if any­one read­ing is put off all small Nor­folk brew­eries’ bot­tled out­put. Lest any of you are vis­it­ing love­ly Nor­folk this sum­mer, on the pos­i­tive side I can say that I’ve nev­er had a bad bot­tle from Hump­ty Dump­ty, Wolf or Grain (although a few from oth­ers that I now stu­dious­ly avoid).

    I agree most prob­lems with bot­tled beer start at the brew­ery, but what part do over­heat­ed shops and long hot car jour­neys home from hols play?

    1. Lor­raine – that’s real­ly help­ful: if any of this lot had been real­ly good, we’d be accen­tu­at­ing the pos­i­tive too, as is our usu­al approach.

      I should under­line, too, that this isn’t a prob­lem with beer from Nor­folk in par­tic­u­lar. It just hap­pens to be that that’s where this par­tic­u­lar batch came from.

      You might be right about stor­age and trans­port, although we’ve trans­port­ed beers all over the place in ruck­sacks, on hot trains, and they’ve still been OK at the oth­er end.

    2. I dis­agree, if a brew­ery pro­duces crap beer then why should they be allowed to con­tin­ue to sell it to peo­ple who can’t find out that it’s crap?

      You are in the for­tu­nate posi­tion to know a few to “stu­dious­ly avoid” but how do the rest of us non-Nor­folkians find out that infor­ma­tion?

      Not nam­ing names is only going to put peo­ple off buy­ing ales rather than help­ing steer them away from bad ones and towards good ones?

      1. Sor­ry if you don’t think our approach is the right one. All I can say is that we real­ly have thought long and hard about it and, for now, it’s what we’re com­fort­able with.

        Even if we did name names, it would only be the opin­ion of two peo­ple – two peo­ple who write a blog hard­ly any­one reads at that! – with no spe­cial insight and cer­tain­ly with­out super sen­si­tive palates. This would­n’t be red-hot dyna­mite intel­li­gence…

        There are tons of peo­ple review­ing beer and nam­ing names, so it’s not like we’re the only source of info.

        With hind­sight, we might not have both­ered post­ing this at all, or per­haps at least not spec­i­fied Nor­folk.

        If the take home point from this is that bot­tle-con­di­tioned beers from small rur­al farm­house brew­ers are often dis­ap­point­ing then… well, that’s actu­al­ly a fair reflec­tion of our expe­ri­ence.

        1. Fair enough and I did­n’t mean to come down too hard on you for this, I just feel that if some­thing is not good we should say rather than stay qui­et and only talk when it’s good.

          I see your point about the rual farm­house BCed beers though… 😉

          1. No, your chal­lenge was very tem­per­ate and appro­pri­ate! We don’t mind being dis­agreed with.

  5. One brew­ery in Shrop­shire has been bot­tling filth for a decade now, and yet still it appears in shops (last time far from its home!) and like some sort of self pun­ish­ment I occa­sion­al­ly cave in and buy one, just to check its still crap.… (it is)

    I am sur­prised that, if BCA is so good (which odd­ly, in my expe­ri­ence it some­times real­ly can be) apart from bang­ing on about finest hops yadah on the label, more brew­ers don’t also pub­licly stand up and fight the cor­ner for their BCA prod­ucts. When have you ever heard a hand bot­tler brew­er organ­ise a tast­ing or pub­lic­i­ty event for exam­ple?

    Is their silence per­haps tac­it accep­tance that the bot­tled stiuff they pro­duce is garbage?

    1. When have you ever heard a hand bot­tler brew­er organ­ise a tast­ing or pub­lic­i­ty event for exam­ple?
      Hap­pens reg­u­lar­ly here. Dun­gar­van Brew­ery hand-bot­tles and makes a con­sis­tent­ly good prod­uct and often holds tast­ing events and pro­mo­tions, in every­thing from cor­ner offies to Miche­lin-starred restau­rants.

      1. That’s a gen­uine sur­prise – maybe reflec­tive of a smaller/newer mar­ket? Still good news though. Per­haps the UK pro­duc­ers could take the lead.

  6. I agree with Cur­mud­geon’s point about BCAs being a very dif­fer­ent beast to cask ale – and I find myself going back to the same few, reli­able, bot­tled beers.

    Some beers seem to work bet­ter in bot­tles. Par­tic­u­lar­ly Bel­gian ones.

  7. We bot­tle con­di­tion all of our beers, yes it is a tricky process when you’re doing it by hand with­out automa­tion but it can be con­trolled with a few sim­ple checks and mea­sures.

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly not enough micro­brew­ers under­stand the sci­ence behind what they’re doing so they make mis­takes, as they can’t afford to dump a batch of bot­tles they just sell it and hope no-one com­plains.

    I’ve had to dump two batch­es down to sim­ple over-con­di­tion­ing, it was entire­ly my fault and I paid for it but it was bet­ter than let­ting poor qual­i­ty beer go out to trade.

  8. I have been told which beers these are, none of which I’ve had in a bot­tle but I have had two of them on cask and they’re lit­er­al­ly noth­ing like has been described.

    Liv­ing in Nor­folk, I gen­er­al­ly don’t drink bot­tle con­di­tioned ales from Nor­folk because the vast major­i­ty of these beers are freely avail­able on cask.

    There was a par­tic­u­lar Nor­folk beer that I’ve seen a lot of very bad reviews from which I com­plete­ly agree with as I’ve had it and I man­aged to try it on cask last week­end… it was noth­ing like the bot­tled ver­sion. It was in fact quite won­der­ful.

  9. If you have a bad beer (whether BCA, non-BCA, cask, keg etc) you should inform the retail­er (if pos­si­ble) and brew­ery. You should also tell us. You’re not say­ing “avoid brew­ery X at all cost”.

    On a sep­a­rate note I think BCAs are a tricky thing to get right 100% of the time. And, assum­ing a brew­er has a good prod­uct to start with, its the con­sis­tent stan­dard over time which can make or break the rep­u­ta­tion of a brew­er.

  10. If you feel so strong­ly about what you con­sid­er to be OFFENSIVE ale, why don’t you name the beers you were so dis­gust­ed by? Nor­folk has, I think, more brew­eries than any oth­er coun­ty except one, and there are some tru­ly won­der­ful brews avail­able. With­out going into detail about WHAT you drunk – and instead spend­ing your time search­ing for vis­cer­al phras­ing – gives a too gen­er­alised and mis­lead­ing con­dem­na­tion of a var­ied and excit­ing area of brew­ers. Be fair.…!

    1. Gyro – I think we’ve explained our rea­son­ing above.

      As we’ve also said already, with hind­sight, we might not have post­ed this at all, or at least not spec­i­fied Nor­folk. This isn’t about Nor­folk. We don’t have a prob­lem with Nor­folk. Nor­folk is great. Hooray for Nor­folk! There’s some great beer in Nor­folk: http://northcotebeers.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/four-beers-a-response/

      Any­one who reads our post in iso­la­tion and decides, just to be on the safe side, to avoid all beer from Nor­folk is an utter bone­head.

  11. Inter­st­ing post. I’m also uncom­fort­able nam­ing bad beers, as you say it’s only one opin­ion, one mans drain pour is anoth­er mans Roden­bach Grand Cru Reserve ;o)

    That said, when you men­tioned “exploita­tive, gift-shop, tourist-trap beers… either over­reach­ing and delu­sion­al or, worse, cyn­ics who know the beer they’re mak­ing is bad but sell it any­way”, I thought imme­di­ate­ly of directbeers.com.

    To restore your faith in beers from Nor­folk, I’m will­ing to send you a Hump­ty Dump­ty ‘Dou­ble W IPA’ in return for a Tin­tagel ‘Har­bour Spe­cial’. Deal?!

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