opinion real ale

‘It’s Meant to be Like That’: 2015 Edition

Tandleman has long been an outspoken critic of unfined beer, primarily on the grounds that hazy beer looks bad and, in his experience, usually tastes bad.

We haven’t always been receptive to that — the idea that clear = tasty, cloudy = rough is, we’re certain, a learned cultural prejudice — but in recent months, Mr T has made an ever-more persuasive case for why everyone should share his concern: it is confusing people, dragging down the quality of cask ale overall, or at least threatens to, and is damaging public confidence.

We’re not completely convinced there’s a trubocalypse underway, not least because most ‘normal’ pubs and the people who drink in them aren’t remotely interested in the politics of unfined beer. The following recent Twitter exchange, however, suggests there might well be an issue at the specialist end of the market (click the date below to read the whole thread):

Now, half-arsed bar staff have been using ‘It’s meant to be like that’ as a deflection probably for as long as beer has been sold — we remember being given a pint of vinegar in a pub in Salisbury and the chap behind the counter insisting ‘real ale is meant to have a tang to it’ — but this new angle on the same wheeze isn’t good news.

Perhaps hazy-beer-brewers labelling their products with a warning is no longer sufficient — maybe breweries who want their beer served bright should also state that clearly on the pump-clips and keg lenses, and shout about it on social media? It would be difficult for bar staff to say ‘Oh, it comes hazy’ if the point-of-sale material states boldly otherwise. And there’s plenty of historical precedent:

Brickwoods advertisement, 1912.
From 1912.

Cloudwater specifically has another problem: that name, which rather implies that all its beers might be ‘fantastically cloudy‘.

33 replies on “‘It’s Meant to be Like That’: 2015 Edition”

I thought it was ‘Cloudwater’ because they used rainwater, of which they have a regular supply – although I’m not sure where I got this from.

This hasn’t just started happening, and it’s not just Tandleman who’s raised the alarm. I wrote on my blog in January 2014:

As soon as you open the door to ‘the right kind’ of sourness – or ‘the right kind’ of haze – you make quality control much, much more difficult. Ten years ago, when the friendly and helpful barman told you that your sour and murky pint was meant to look and taste like that, you could laugh at him; these days it is actually possible that he’s right. It’s also possible that it was meant to look and taste like a pint of beer, and it’s off in one way or another; more importantly, it’s also possible that it was meant to be sour-ish and/or murky-ish, but that this particular pint/barrel is in fact off.

once you’ve told the world your beers are cloudy, you’ve made it next to impossible to catch the wrong kind of cloudiness.

I admit I didn’t foresee this latest twist (and it’s happened to Tand twice now, poor bloke): bar staff putting “the wrong kind of cloud” on sale, and keeping it on sale, because they know that some beers are meant to be cloudy! I’m just glad that sour & bretted beers are still a small niche, or we’d never get to take a beer back. (I took an off pint back at the weekend only to be told “I don’t know what it’s meant to taste like”. They changed it, though, & took the beer off after some deliberation.)

How do we tell the difference between a pint that is clear because it is intended to be that way and a pint that is clear because there is something wrong with it?

Clear beer needs to be labelled at the point of sale otherwise brewers may use it as an excuse to mask defects. Its a slippery slope.

Isn’t this apples and oranges though? The example above is a pint from a cask that hadn’t been allowed to settle properly rather than a pint of unfined beer. Fining happens at the brewery doesn’t it?

Therein lies the problem: the very existence of unfined beer, in which haziness is not a particular fault, gives an excuse to pubs serving unsettled beer to less geeky consumers.

Some might say that means unfined beer needs to be done away with; we would definitely not. But we’re now convinced that more and clearer advice to consumers might be needed, whereas a year or two ago we didn’t really think this was a serious issue.

If it tastes bad, take it back. If it doesn’t, what’s the problem? If it doesn’t look like what you were expecting (clear, cloudy, dark, light), ask the barman for a sample before he pours the whole pint. You never ordered a pint of what you thought was a pale bitter and it turned out to be dark brown? Same issue.

I fail to see the issue on this one. Hazy beer is generally understood to be a signal of quality and freshness nowadays, despite what some old-fashioned geezers try to tell us.

If you don’t like the modern style for hoppy, hazy beer, stick to old fashioned pubs, where you can have a lovely pint of John Smiths Extra Smooth with a big creamy head.

In this specific case, though, it is a sign that the beer has not been handled as the brewery wanted and, in their view, wasn’t suitable for sale. It might have tasted OK to you or to us, and we might have drunk it anyway, but this isn’t a matter of freshness/codgers/etc. — it’s about pubs exploiting customers and misrepresenting breweries’ products, which we think is problematic.

py, at Tandleman’s blog you were defending cloudy Magic Rock up to the point where somebody from the brewery said it wasn’t meant to be cloudy. Now you’re defending cloudy Cloudwater after somebody from the brewery has said it wasn’t meant to be cloudy. It’s almost as if you were just trying to wind us up. (Hang on, it hasn’t been Cookie in there all along, has it?)

An open question, aimed more at breweries than punters. Sometimes beers that are usually quite clear remain murky after several days of being stillaged and tapped. There is nothing else the cellarman can do to alter the appearance of the beer, and it tastes ok. The only option is to serve it or ullage it. If it tastes fine I have served the cask and I have told customers a couple of times that a beer is unfined when they have questioned the appearance, but agreed to exchange the beer for another if they are insistent about it, which obviously means the pub has to write off stock. The question is do you want us to serve this beer if, in our professional opinion, it makes the grade, or do you want us to demand credit for all of these casks, knowing how variable a product cask ale can be?

If the brewer said it should, but it doesn’t, drop bright – you should ask for a replacement. The brewer needs feedback on quality issues like this. Course, if you keep doing that when no-one else is having trouble – they’ll stop selling you beer. Alternatively, assuming the beer should be fined but has somehow managed to miss out (or has been mistreated), then you could beg some finings and do it yourself.

I’m just leaving the gbbf trade session because I have to go to work. I’m talking about breweries I have dealt with many, many times. If I did decide to reject all the casks that didn’t drop as I know they can I would be rejecting a lot more than I do. I work in an a multi award winning pub that is famous for cask beer. If a brewery decided that they wouldn’t sell us beer any more I wouldn’t be happy about it but it wouldn’t affect us too much. A brewer came to a pub I worked in once to add finings to some dodgy casks and the end result was not good. Perhaps that isn’t always the case but I don’t think it’s a good solution

No indeed, The best solution is to send it back – not sell faulty goods and mislead your customers.

A second thought that comes to mind. I think this question pertains mainly to cask ale, but a lot of new craft beer pubs don’t cellar train their staff properly and aren’t aware that kegs from the likes of Kernel or Wild Beer Co should be handled almost like a cask beer i.e. they be left to settle and not shifted for a day or two before serving. The haze will drop out of the beer if it is handled correctly. I had a bottle of Kernel Pale at a bar in Peckham whilst my friend ordered a bottled lager and the Hipster barman turned both bottles horizontal to open them and served them without a glass. I took it without comment because I didn’t want to be a dick about it.

I think this is absolutely key. Barfolk – particularly younger & less beer-savvy barfolk – get the message that ‘a bit of cloud’ or ‘a bit of haze’ is OK & don’t realise when they’re looking at the wrong kind of cloud. Education needed – not sure how it’s going to happen, though.

The obverse situation also occurs; in a number of trad St Austell pubs in Cornwall this summer I became used to barstaff bemoaning the liveliness of the Proper Job. Hazy pints were held up to the light and heads shaken; “Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer Tribute?” I was repeatedly asked. They all tasted spot-on, once I’d persuaded them not to pour them down the sink.

I’ve actually been thinking something similar for a while – since a micropub served me a pint that didn’t look right.

“It’s unfined” was the explanation when I shot it a funny look.

It might have also been unfined, but it wasn’t hazy looking as I’d expect from an unfined beer – it was opaque. A brown milky colour thanks to a large amount of trub and yeast being dumped into the glass.

I would interpret Tandleman’s position as not being against unfined beer as such, but being against the growing attitude of pubs being relaxed about serving hazy/cloudy beer whether or not it’s meant to be.

And if unfined beer is treated properly and given time to settle, it should come out with no more than a slight haze, not look like beef soup.

On the last two comments: why should pubs take any especial care if the brewers don’t? It’s up to the brewers to impose and monitor any stern conditions they want. I think we can infer that most are happy to see the beer – especially keg murky – served that way. I’ve asked a number of brewers about this and usually the answer I get is, well if it hasn’t sat a while and was served undisturbed it will cloud up somewhat, yes.

I agree a conscientious pub will always inquire on this issue and be rigorous to serve the beer as the brewers want but the rigour has to start with the brewers eh?


I think that’s the point, though – there’s never been any need for rigour from the brewers, because it’s been generally known and understood that
a) beer needs to stand before it’s ready
b) if you put it on when it’s not ready it will be cloudy
c) if it is ready it shouldn’t be cloudy
We’re in danger of tearing up c) and forgetting about a) and b), where by ‘we’ I particularly mean “craft beer bars that employ kids who are self-assured and enthusiastic but lacking in experience and knowledge”.

Phil, I understand but the problem is the “we” includes the new generation of brewers (often)… You and I can say they’re wrong but it ends by being what it is. It’s the same thing with using piney or blackcurrant-tasting American hops or American barrels that impart vanillin and coconut tastes to beer. It was an article of faith in the heyday of British brewing that this was bad practice, yet today it’s all the rage. It’s the same with cloudy ale, IMO.


To be clear(!), I’m not talking about unfined beer, or about beer that has a tendency to pour with a hop haze, or whatever – I’m not really talking about clarity as such at all. What I’m talking about is yeast. I’m just saying that, if you put a beer on sale when it’s not dropping bright, or if you drag the last couple of pints out of the bottom of a cask, it is liable to be full of yeast – and this is a bad thing. If you put that same beer on sale two days later and/or don’t dredge out the last couple of pints, it won’t be full of yeast – and it will be more like what the brewer intended. See the Cloudwater example in the OP – and Tandleman’s recent encounter with a cloudy pint of Magic Rock, documented on his blog. The problem is that this basic bit of cellarman’s common sense is getting lost, thanks to the vague impression getting round that if a beer comes out cloudy it’s meant to be that way.

I’ve had lots of brewers tell me they have no issue with yeast haze. (Protein and hop haze play their role but when I’ve had cloudy pints they always taste yeasty to me). I’m actually agreeing with you – I prefer the pints cleared of yeast – but am saying many new generation either don’t care or like it all turbid, I’ve had many tell me this.


What we need is some bars catering for the people who like it cloudy, and some bars catering for the people who don’t. Then everyone is happy.

Just like the “smoking pub vs non-smoking pub” idea, the result would be entirely predictable.

And would the cloudy beer pub restrict itself to naturally cloudy Kellerbiers as its lager offering?

I have never come across a pub where it’s considered the norm to serve cask beers cloudy. I doubt whether you have either.

There are a couple of craft-focused pubs in London (unsurprisingly) I have been to where I have only ever had cloudy pints – and very good they were too.

Peter and Phil wouldn’t like them, but then, I suppose they’re not the target market, so who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong. The pubs are also bustling with youngsters whenever I have been in – the cloudy beer doesn’t seem to be putting anyone off.

If I went into a country pub, ordered a pint of Tribute or Double Dragon or whatever, and got a pint that was full of yeast because it had been put on too soon, I wouldn’t be mollified by the barman telling me that was how his customers liked it. If it’s not dropping bright, it’s not right; it’s not how the brewer intends it to be sold. I see no difference between that hypothetical and getting a mouthful of yeast in your Magic Rock, Cloudwater or Moor beer – it’s not a preference, it’s a fault (and at least two out of those three brewers would agree with me).

Well, I don’t know what a similar poll would show here (North America), where the cloudy style, if it is that, started, most brewers I’ve talked to don’t seem concerned by it.

But once again, you (Phil) and I agree on the merits of clearing beer of visible yeast.

I’ve read quite a bit about it in the last few years and it’s interesting how few people actually talk of palate beyond the general impression turbid beer has more taste and better body. It seems assumed that the “extra” taste improves the beer. My own experience suggests otherwise, but one can’t gainsay taste, it is what it is.

The problem is complicated by the fact that a lot of keg beer is served cold and induces chill haze which is not the same as yeast suspension. Some beer is coming chill-hazed that is deemed murky, in other words, but I feel I can generally tell the difference and chill haze is certainly not a factor with cask beer due to the warmer temps it is usually served at.

I come back to blind tasting, it is the only way to know. I would start with bottle conditioned beer and have a group tasting and see what happens. Sometimes there is very little difference and this is so when only a little yeast is allowed to remain in the tin or bottle. But sometimes the effect is quite marked. Belgian beers are useful to try this with as well: perhaps ironically in their case, often no difference is noticeable but this is because (IMO) the Belgian spicy/raisiny yeast signature is so powerful – even when filtered or centrifuged the taste comes through and tends to dominate the taste – think e.g. of Leffe, it always comes very clear but I find the yeast taste strong.

Of course, much craft beer has both a chill haze and a hop haze and can look pretty opaque as a result, and sadly some hopelessly misinformed and out-of-place people go “oh its yeasty, its yeasty, take it back, take it back” without even tasting it.

There’s no pleasing some people. I swear they go to pubs specifically to try and find something to complain about.

It’s not a poll – it’s three separate stories of beer being served cloudy & the barstaff either ignoring it or positively defending it. In two of those three cases the brewer pointed out that it should have been clear. None-more-hip brewers, too.

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