Generalisations about beer culture opinion

Cloudy beer, flat beer

The head on a particularly lively Belgian beer.


We continue to watch with interest, if not burning enthusiasm, the emergence of unfined beer in the UK, accompanied by a discussion about British drinkers’ willingness to accept haziness.

We were reminded by a distinctly soupy pint of St Austell Tribute in a pub the other day that there is a distinction between ‘wholesome’ haze intended by the brewer and the kind of cloudiness, presented without apology, that ought to ring alarm bells — a sure sign of a careless publican.

People might come to accept hazy beer but how can they tell good haze from bad cloudiness? That’s a whole other level of consumer education.


At a pub beer festival recently we were served a pint that, by the time we’d sat down, was completely flat. We drank it anyway and, you know what? It tasted fine. We’re big fans of a head on our beer but this did set us wondering: why?

We don’t expect a head on other beverages like wine or scrumpy cider, and a mirror-like surface is almost a mark of quality in a well-aged barley wine or Belgian lambic beer.

After the recent mania for unfined beer, how long before someone markets a deliberately flat one? The accidentally flat beer we drank tasted sweeter and more cloying than it would have done with some condition but that’s nothing for which a brewer couldn’t compensate in formulating the recipe.

13 replies on “Cloudy beer, flat beer”

Cloudiness is a funny thing, seems to mean different things in different drinks & in different parts of the world.

I was served a pint of yeast from a Philadelphian brewery once (real ale from keg, and I got all of the bottom of the keg!) The barmaid was a little shocked when I asked for a replacement!

At the time in US (c2000) the tiny amount of cask beer available seemed to come quite cloudy (yeast) as if to prove that it was “real”

In Bavaria I’ve had occasional brewpub lagers that have been pretty hazy, but good flavoured.

In UK, I’ve not had many of the new unfined cask beers, and there’s a long-standing perception that “cloudy = bad” to contend with.

Having brewed unfined keg & cask, I prefer it to fined, there is to me a slight difference, where finings take out some good flavours, esp hops.

But what I dislike is if a beer tastes of yeast – to me “yeast bite” (a harshly bitter taste when more than a tiny amount of yeast is present) obliterates much of the interesting, complex & subtle flavours in a beer.

Protein & hop hazes seem not to have the same detrimental effects on flavour.

. . . oh and personally I’m not very bothered about head, ideally I’d like a bit – it looks nice and I like dark beers to have some, but I’m a real stickler for carbonation – even in stronger beers, I want a bit of fizz to lift the possible sweetness or heft of alcohol.

It’s a shame that these 2 issues are often confused – e.g. people complaining about a flat beer, when they actually mean that it’s lacking head, or pubs serving flat beer, but making it look lively by serving it through a tight sparkler, even though it’s Dodo-dead underneath!

A good head on a beer certainly gets you going but I’ve recently been thinking exactly the same thing. I’ve had flat dishwater served to me before that clearly was horrible but I’ve also had a couple of Bottle Conditioned beers recently that have had no head and I enjoyed them immensely, it left me thinking whether the head would have distracted me from the pleasure of drinking the beer.

who would be the exponents of flat beer…surely that’s just uncarbonated keg?

At least with unfined beer you can appreciate the argument that there may be additional protein flavour in the beer

Being a traditionalist, I am in favour of my ales being crystal clear with a good degree of head retention. This demonstrates, good quality beer, good housekeeping, and that the beer is not being drawn from the “end” of the cask. I’m not a great fan of finings (fish-meal) either, as I believe the beer should be produced with the above atributes naturally. Head retention opens the old norf/sarf argument where some prefer a fuller pint. Although I believe the, “diffuserless” pumps south of Birmingham have more to do with profit retention than the customer having a “full” pint. Some beers such a Dorset Piddle lend themselves to this style as they are fruity and naturally sweet. The head retention is therefore not an issue. The overiding consideration is the beer quality.

Just served an Old Peculier in wood, tasted gorgeous but under the head, flat as a pancake (no carbonation). Brewer said, “we don’t do fizzy beer.
Being a southerner I don’t mind a lack of a head but I do mind beer with no carbonation.
I wonder what the history buffs know about carbonation, was beer always like the OP I just served? We’re bunging some of our Dark Blue porter in the wood to prove it has nothing to do with the barrel ‘breathing.’

No I didn’t think so either Tandleman.
We’ve served up over 800 different beers here at the Blue Bell Inn and I have to say I was quite surprised with OP and the response from Simon Theakston and his brewer about the condition of the beer.

Barm talks about how he was once served a pint of *completely* flat Brodie’s Citra at the Bree Louise. When challenged, the barman insisted it was supposed to be like that.

Steve — carbonation has a massive effect upon our perception of flavour; we can well imagine someone arguing that it is a distraction that prevents us appreciating the underlying quality of the beer.

Tandleman — no, we’re not trying to start a craze, just guessing at a possible future trend. If someone brewed a flat beer with care and intelligence, though, we’d certainly try it with interest.

Mike — yes, we’ve had beer with a head but no life; and beer with no head that certainly had condition ‘locked in’; but possibly hadn’t made the mental leap that head and condition are not the same thing.

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