Generalisations about beer culture opinion

Dairylea Wonderloaf Beer

Isinglass Collagen beer treatment advertisement.

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.

16 replies on “Dairylea Wonderloaf Beer”

I guess I draw the line at pasterisation. Yes, things like filtration and reseeding are additional processes but lines are being blurred. Keg no longer means processed necessarily. For example, I’d argue unfined, unflitered, naturally carbonated keg beer is probably the least processed of all. Most cask beers will have at least two kinds of finings, additional processing.

I think processing in beer is all about the tradeoff between stability, shelf-life, ease of consumer use and flavour. Like many things, it is a balancing act to tick as many of those boxes as possible.

Which is more processed, rough filtration, centrifuging or fining with isinglass? And what difference does it make to the flavour?

On the same note, does it matter if the CO2 in a beer was inserted directly or via secondary fermentation? All else being equal, its not like it tastes any different.

I’ve been around long enough to have tasted Red Barrel, and it was bloody awful. I’ve probably said this on here before, but it tasted for all the world as if somebody had developed a Sodastream ‘beer’ flavour. There was no richness to it, no depth, no development, no sense of multiple flavours blending and then separating out (or vice versa) within the same mouthful, no sense of flavours intensifying as you get down the glass, no sense that you’re just getting to know the beer as you finish it & would quite like another…

I don’t know how cask ales do all that, but the good ones do – and, luckily for me, the first one I ever had was a good one – and WRB very definitely didn’t. You like something tasting of beer? Here’s something tasting of beer. It’ll give you wind and a headache, but hey, it’s cold and refreshing and it tastes a bit like the real thing, so shut up and drink up.

Obviously (almost) all beer is ‘processed’, just as (almost) all brewing is ‘industrial’. We could play the same game the other way round – all brewing involves ‘craft’, and pretty much all brewers are ‘passionate’ about their beer. And all ale is ‘real’, apart from the pretend beer they serve at the Rover’s Return.

Pedantry gets you nowhere. When CAMRA first started talking about real ale it was an ostensive definition – “that stuff those people are (still) brewing and serving” – and arguably ”processed” is ostensive too: “that stuff those people sell, which they process, for reasons not connected with flavour and condition, to the point where flavour and condition have suffered”. (Which I think lets Dave out.) On this basis, beer which had been processed a lot but without messing with flavour and condition would get a free pass – and beer which had been processed in the hope of improving the flavour to the point where the flavour had suffered wouldn’t be “processed beer”, just “buggered-up beer”.

“Processed”, as with “keg”, is the wrong term if we’re looking for a word for “bad”.

@py0, the manner that CO2 is added can indeed change the flavour and mouth-feel of beer, notwithstanding that the process that adds the CO2 in cask also produces a myriad other organic compounds that contribute to flavour.

Can you explain how or post a link that explains the science behind it?

and how does the fermentation in the cask add any different compounds to those produced during the initial fermentation? Why not just ferment it a bit longer in the first place to get those extra flavours?

It’s because the little CO2 dodads can remember how they got in there, so when it’s time for them to come out of solution they can behave appropriately.

This is a bit like the argument we periodically have with my son about in vitro meat, which he believes will be the solution to world hunger. We say it won’t be the same as natural meat; he says it could be the same. We say that natural meat is like it is because of the life the animal has lived – the muscles have supported its weight, and so on. He says that in vitro meat could be engineered to be exactly the same.

And it’s true, I suppose, in theory – if you could engineer every molecule of a joint of in vitro meat to be identical to the molecules of a joint of natural meat, then it would be exactly the same. And if you could engineer bright beer to have exactly the same chemical composition as cask beer, then it would be exactly the same. Actually doing it is the trick.

Ooh, an analogy! Love analogies.

Isn’t it more like arguing about whether a piece of meat wrapped in waxed paper and left out on the side is as good as an identical piece that’s shrink-wrapped and kept in the fridge?

Cheese might work better for that one, if you’re thinking about keg vs cask more generally. If you see a shrink-wrapped block of cheese in the fridge, it may have been processed to hell and back, or it may just have cut out of a muslin-wrapped hand-produced artisanal truckle… and shrink-wrapped and put in the fridge. The one that’s been kept at room temperature and allowed to sweat a bit may still be nicer, although of course it’ll go off quicker. (I rather like this analogy.)

I was thinking more of the “good CO2/bad CO2” argument. Brewing isn’t molecular engineering (well, it is, but not molecule by molecule), and it seems plausible to me that the process that puts CO2 in cask beer will also have had other effects on the flavour/condition/mouthfeel/etc along the way.

Boak and I have often wondered if the reason cask often has the edge (yes, that’s about where we stand) is because there is a sweet spot where there is just the first evidence of staling/offness, adding another layer of complexity. We’ve had lovely pints which we’ve suspected, five hours later, would have ‘gone over’.

Maybe it’s that?

If so, cheese and meat are both useful subjects for comparison — the ripened brie, the 21-day-hung (that is, almost rotten…) beef…

Of course, much of what we drink from cask is largely tank conditioned. And given that few people seem to complain, I’d say it’s a trick that’s done pretty well.

I agree. It is just degrees of processing really. If we saw how most of our foodstuffs are prepared we’d probably shudder. The beer equivalent of the taupe cardigan brigade shun anything with a hint of modernity. I’d hope I’m slightly more discerning. Some of us old geezers are old enough to remember when keg was the only option in many pubs. Admittedly I was under age but even in my spotty youth I knew how dire much keg beer was. I’m not sure we ever want to return to those days. So I think it pays to be wary that ‘craft’ isn’t just ‘keg’ by another name. Having said that, all good beer, however much it is ‘processed’, should be celebrated. Oh and I once saw Dairylea being made; can’t quite bring myself to eat it now!

Was I snarky? I wrote it as a light-hearted playing down of my rampant boozing accompanied by some of the numbers that clog my cupboards.

Everyone’s so serious nowadays.

Snarky isn’t serious! It implies, to my mind, mischievousness. Your post was funny.

Isn’t cask conditioning itself a process? As I understand it (and the historians among you may correct me), the technique developed its present form in the 19th century as breweries expanded and transport improved, as a way of extending the shelf life of bulk supplies of “running” beer so it could travel further but still preserve a fresh sparkle. A clear case of efficient production, easy distribution and stability as the primary considerations.

It works, though. If we discovered that the original brewers of lambic were just trying to save money on yeast, would that make any difference?

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