Craft Fish Guts

Sturgeon by David Torcivia, from Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
There was a bit of a to-do the oth­er week when a UK TV show about food pro­duc­tion sug­gest­ed that isin­glass fin­ings rep­re­sent­ed some kind of ‘dark side’ of the brew­ing indus­try. (We did­n’t see it – we gath­ered this from the minia­ture Twit­ter storm that ensued.) Isin­glass is made from the swim blad­ders of fish, so we’ll acknowl­edge that there is a cer­tain ‘ick’ fac­tor, but it’s been used in British brew­ing for a long time and isn’t some­thing we have any prob­lem with at all.

This 1978 arti­cle from CAM­RA’s What’s Brew­ing, how­ev­er, sug­gests that not only is isin­glass harm­less, but that brew­ers could be going a lit­tle fur­ther and mak­ing it part of their ‘craft’ schtick:

On the first floor of God­son’s Brew­ery… head brew­er Rob Adams takes what looks like a large flat sea shell from a side­board draw­er… It is the dried blad­der of a stur­geon fish… Mr Adams makes his own fin­ings from stur­geon blad­ders, bought at £7 a pound and mixed with water in a large plas­tic dust­bin.

Do any brew­ers these days make their own isin­glass from scratch? And would a real­ly ‘crafty’ brew­ery per­haps go a step fur­ther and have a salt­wa­ter pond full of fish in the back yard…?

Ian Mack­ey, author of this very use­ful book, has very kind­ly pro­vid­ed us with a trea­sure trove of use­ful clip­pings from this peri­od, so expect a few more nuggets in weeks to come.

Pic­ture by David Tor­civia, from Flickr, under a Cre­ative Com­mons License.

9 thoughts on “Craft Fish Guts”

  1. It is a very tra­di­tion­al prac­tise in Britain of course, but pure isin­glass is rarely used these days. The fin­ings which are often used by, main­ly, cask ale brew­ers, have oth­er sub­stances, such as preser­v­a­tives, added, so it is adding chem­i­cals to the beer. It there­fore would­n’t be seen as good prac­tise in Ger­many, for exam­ple.
    But a “dark side” – no, I don’t think so, but it should be made plain on the pack­ag­ing that a giv­en beer has been fined in this way, so that veg­gies can avoid it if they so wish.

    1. Well, Ger­man (indus­tri­al) brew­ers use PVPP (). This sup­pos­ed­ly does not vio­late the Rein­heits­ge­bot as it is fil­tered out com­plete­ly – but the prac­tice demon­strates how mean­ing­less said puri­ty law is as an indi­ca­tor of ‘craft’ or even qual­i­ty. I wish Ron Pat­tin­son were (much) more wide­ly read here in Ger­many!

    1. As Dom from Thorn­bridge remind­ed us recent­ly, isin­glass can also help with head reten­tion; also, quite a few ‘craft keg’ beers aren’t fil­tered.

      And, as you know, we tend to think of most cask beers as ‘craft’…

  2. Is this about killing fish? Haven’t we—and when I say we, I mean all of mankind—been doing that for 250,000 years?

  3. Mar­ble went veg­an years ago & tried to make a sell­ing-point of the beer being cloudy for a while. Then they found some ani­mal-friend­ly way to fine the beer (did­n’t brew­ers use to do it with eggshells?) and out went Cloudy Mar­ble and Chorl­ton-Cum-Hazy.

  4. Apolo­gies for com­ing late to this blog entry.

    Believe it or not, for a short peri­od there was a risk that any beer brewed using isin­glass would have to be labelled ‘con­tains fish’ as the EU was updat­ing leg­is­la­tion on aller­gens in food­stuffs. As some peo­ple have an aller­gy to fish it was con­sid­ered nec­es­sary, despite the fact that it would to all intents and pur­pos­es be absent from the final beer. For­tu­nate­ly they saw sense in the end, albeit not with­out con­sid­er­able harangu­ing.

    On anoth­er point, the EU also tried to ban Light Ale as they thought it referred to the calorif­ic con­tent rather than the colour and taste.

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