Hazy Beer Due Diligence

A pint of hazy beer.

When you’re order­ing a beer, what more can you ask for than this?

Now, before I pull a full pint, I’m going to put a bit in a glass so you can see how it looks. It’s just gone on, and it’s hazier than we were expect­ing. But we got some pho­tos up from the brew­ery’s tap­room, and this is how it looks there. It tastes great to me, but do you want to try it before you com­mit?”

As we did­n’t know the beer (North­ern Monk Eter­nal) and are used to being served pints of hazy pale ale these days, we would­n’t have bat­ted an eye­lid. But it was nice to have a dia­logue.

It’s a weird facet of beer cul­ture in 2019 that this new bit of eti­quette is nec­es­sary, but here we are.

At any rate, we did­n’t both­er try­ing the beer, we just went for it, and it did taste great.

It’s Been Like That All Day”

Cartoon: a man peers at a beer with a beady eye.

We were recently in a pub serving a range of beers we know well enough to realise that they’re never supposed to be hazy.

But, of course, the beer we ordered was served with a light haze, Moor-style, which we gen­tly ques­tioned.

Oh, it’s been like that all day. It prob­a­bly did­n’t quite set­tle out right before we tapped the cask.”

It was said pleas­ant­ly enough, but dis­mis­sive­ly – a vari­a­tion on “Nobody else has com­plained” crossed with a watered down “It’s meant to be like that”.

Because we did know the beer, and want­ed some­thing par­tic­u­lar from it – crisp­ness, hop per­fume – we pushed back: would it be OK, we won­dered, to taste the beer, and if it had a notice­ably dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter than usu­al, or was­n’t at least as good despite the dif­fer­ence, have it replaced?

The man­ag­er was con­sult­ed and every­one agreed (after a bit more time and effort than one drink deserved) that this was a good idea.

Sure enough, it tast­ed fine – not sour or nasty – but notice­ably mut­ed, and rather dull, so we reject­ed it.

We – knowl­edge­able con­sumers, rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing, and con­fi­dent about speak­ing up – were able to nav­i­gate this sit­u­a­tion to reach a sat­is­fac­to­ry con­clu­sion, but we can imag­ine oth­ers com­ing away think­ing ill of that beer and brew­ery, and prob­a­bly unim­pressed with the pub.

But why would the man­ag­er make the choice to keep serv­ing a beer they know isn’t right? Incom­pe­tence? Indif­fer­ence? Our sus­pi­cion is that it was an unin­tend­ed con­se­quence of the cor­po­rate set­up with­in which the pub oper­ates pri­ori­tis­ing the need to min­imise wastage over qual­i­ty.

Oth­ers, though, might argue that this is fur­ther evi­dence that increased accep­tance of haze in cer­tain beers is caus­ing con­fu­sion and jus­ti­fy­ing shod­di­ness more gen­er­al­ly. If that’s the case then com­plain­ing when pos­si­ble (qui­et­ly, polite­ly), mak­ing it more trou­ble than it is worth, might be part of the solu­tion.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 2 September 2017: Coopers, Commons, CAMRA Cash

Here’s all the beer- and pub-writing that grabbed our attention in the past week, from yeasty Aussie beer to beer-and-life-event pairing.

Phil Cook at the Beer Diary brings an inter­est­ing bit of evi­dence to the table on the hazy beer debate, pro­vid­ing an over­looked (by us) Aus­tralian per­spec­tive:

Not long ago, when Coop­ers Sparkling was the local paragon of ‘good beer’, Aus­tralian brew­ers got into the habit of fog­ging up their beers seem­ing­ly just to emu­late it and bor­row some of its pres­tige. Like­wise, some brew­ers of juice-bomb East Coast IPAs exag­ger­ate their haze with addi­tives select­ed sole­ly for that pur­pose, and not in pur­suit of tasti­er beer as such. Such trick­ery is indeed obnox­ious, but it’s the cheat­ing, not the cloudi­ness, that offends me.

The Commons brewery building.

Jeff Alworth at Beer­vana pro­vides a heart­felt reac­tion to news of the clo­sure of a brew­ery he loved, The Com­mons, which oper­ates in his home base of Port­land, Ore­gon:

But the very thing that made The Com­mons beloved by some–and they prob­a­bly have more super­fans than Deschutes–made it mys­te­ri­ous to most. It was the Vel­vet Under­ground of brew­eries, mak­ing excep­tion­al beer most peo­ple did­n’t under­stand. Any brew­ery that rou­tine­ly offers mild ales and micro­biere (a tiny sai­son) but not IPA is defin­ing them­selves far out­side the main­stream. The Com­mons spent years field­ing the same ques­tion from con­fused patrons: ‘which one’s the IPA?’For a time, they were absurd­ly guid­ing peo­ple to Myr­tle, a sai­son in which astute drinkers might detect the pres­ence of hop aro­ma. That was their sop to the mass­es.

His sug­ges­tion that the depar­ture of the head brew­er was an ear­ly dan­ger sign is an inter­est­ing one, too – some­thing to watch out for in what may or may not be a peri­od of strife?

Bass on Draught plaque outside an English pub.

Mar­tin Tay­lor AKA retired­martin has been reflect­ing on Bass, a beer with which we are also slight­ly obsessed, as a man­i­festo con­tin­ues to emerge from his reports of vis­it­ing every Good Beer Guide pub in Britain:

Some of you may have noticed my predilec­tion for Draught Bass, but it’s a com­plex rela­tion­ship… If hon­est, I’d pre­fer it if only a land­lord who cared about Bass served it, like the Black Lion in Leighton Buz­zard so clear­ly does… Top beers like Young’s, Adnams and Land­lord saw their rep­u­ta­tion decline as their beers went into chain pubs with more hand-pumps than cus­tomers, and I fear Bass has suf­fered by being served too ear­ly, or too long, in many pubs.

We’ve noticed an improve­ment in Bass, and in Young’s Ordi­nary, in recent years and think he might be on to some­thing here. And might not a Good Bass Guide – a slim vol­ume – be a use­ful pub­li­ca­tion?

Mariage Parfait.

We don’t often include trip reports here for one rea­son and anoth­er but this account of a vis­it to Edin­burgh from Katie at The Snap & The Hiss has at its cen­tre a love­ly moment of per­son­al impor­tance, paired, of course, with a suit­able beer.

This osten­si­bly rather bor­ing bit of behind-the-scenes CAMRA busi­ness might be one of the most impor­tant sto­ries of the week: the Cam­paign is expe­ri­enc­ing some finan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties because ‘rev­enue was like­ly to be less than the amount fore­cast at the start of the finan­cial year, and upon which the organisation’s spend­ing plans were based’. In oth­er words, peo­ple are lit­er­al­ly not buy­ing what CAMRA is sell­ing. We will watch how this devel­ops with inter­est. (Morn­ing Adver­tis­er)

Mean­while, Brew­Dog has done some­thing gen­uine­ly inter­est­ing and refresh­ing­ly straight­for­ward: its own­ers have pledged to give 10 per cent of prof­its to char­i­ty, and 10 per cent to employ­ees on an ongo­ing basis. Brew­Dog haters will no doubt roll their eyes at this but it’s much bold­er and clear­er than most cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty pro­grammes. And when a firm can start giv­ing mon­ey away, you have to sus­pect it’s doing alright, don’t you?

And, final­ly, as signs of the times go, this is hard to beat:

100 Words: Beer Strictly for the Geophages

Illustration: mud texture.

We’ll take murky beer but not muddy.

Murk is usu­al­ly super­fi­cial, but some­times soft­en­ing, some­times silky. It leaves room for oth­er flavours. Light likes it.

Mud is taste and tex­ture. It is dirt, the riverbed stirred up – chew­able, unclean, silt between the teeth.

Mud is why you leave carp to swim in a clean bath before eat­ing it – one degree away from… Well, you know.

Beers that look murky are more like­ly to taste mud­dy, but don’t have to. Clear beers can be mud­dy, we think, but it’s a clever trick.

Murky was­n’t meant as an insult. Mud­dy always is.

Vermont IPAs: a Tentative Conclusion

Two cloudy beers in fancy glasses.
Cloud­wa­ter NE DIPA (left) and Brew­Dog Ver­mont IPA V4.

The problem with Vermont IPAs, AKA New England IPAs, isn’t that they’re cloudy – it’s that they’re not bitter enough. Perhaps because they’re cloudy.

We’ve kept our minds open until now push­ing back against the kind of knee-jerk con­ser­vatism that rejects hazy beer almost as a point of prin­ci­ple. We wrote about Moor, the brew­ery that pio­neered unfined beer in the UK, in Brew Bri­tan­nia, high­light­ing that, what­ev­er you think of the trend, it was­n’t some­thing Justin Hawke embarked on care­less­ly – it came out of per­son­al pref­er­ence and exper­i­men­ta­tion. Then for CAM­RA’s quar­ter­ly BEER mag­a­zine last year we pulled togeth­er var­i­ous bits of evi­dence under­lin­ing that haziness/cloudiness in beer has not always been taboo among con­nois­seurs and, indeed, has some­times been seen as a mark of qual­i­ty.

But at the same time – on the fence as ever – we’ve main­tained a cer­tain scep­ti­cism about the hazy, hop­py beers we’ve actu­al­ly encoun­tered in real life. We’ve con­tin­ued look­ing for chances to drink IPAs with cloudi­ness as a flag­ship fea­ture, espe­cial­ly any­thing labelled Ver­mont or NE IPA, try­ing to under­stand.

At Brew­Dog Bris­tol on Fri­day we were able to drink two dif­fer­ent takes side by side – the first time this oppor­tu­ni­ty has ever pre­sent­ed itself – and in so doing, some­thing clicked.

BrewDog draught beer menu.

Brew­Dog Ver­mont IPA (7.5% ABV, £4.90 ⅔ pint) is on its fourth exper­i­men­tal iter­a­tion and struck us instant­ly as over­whelm­ing­ly sweet – like a cor­ner­shop canned man­go drink. But it did­n’t taste yeasty, grit­ty or musty. It was clean, with­in its own para­me­ters. Cloud­wa­ter NE Dou­ble IPA with Mosa­ic hops (9%, £4.95 per half pint) was incred­i­bly sim­i­lar clear­ly draw­ing on the same source of inspi­ra­tion but bet­ter and more com­plex: pineap­ple, green onion and ripe banana. But it too verged on sick­ly and both beers we thought would have been far more enjoy­able with the bit­ter­ness dialled right up to com­pen­sate for the muf­fling effect of the yeast haze, and to bal­ance the fruiti­ness. Or, we sup­pose, with the haze dialled down to let the bit­ter­ness through.

For­tu­nate­ly, the same bar also had on draught Cloud­wa­ter’s 9% ‘non-Ver­mont’ DIPA, which seemed only a touch less cloudy than the full-on milk­i­ness of the pre­vi­ous two beers. The bar­man told us it was the first batch of the suc­ces­sor to the num­bered V series. There was a snatch of gar­licky armpit aro­ma we could have done with­out but, over­all, it was just the mix of soft trop­i­cal lush­ness and dia­mond-hard bit­ter­ness that we were after. It was very good and proof, per­haps, that sys­tem­at­ic batch-by-batch exper­i­men­ta­tion with cus­tomer feed­back can pay off.

Back to the New Eng­land style, then: is pur­pose of the sus­pend­ed yeast stuff (pro­tein more than yeast – thanks, Emma) to soft­en and dull the bit­ter­ness? If so, and assum­ing that both Brew­Dog and Cloud­wa­ter know what they’re doing when they attempt to clone Amer­i­can orig­i­nals, we can cer­tain­ly see the appeal. Bit­ter­ness can be chal­leng­ing, spiky, hard to love; where­as sweet­ness and fruiti­ness are acces­si­ble, easy­go­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. Good fun. Soft sells.

So, we’re now con­vinced Vermont/NE IPA is a Thing – a per­fect­ly legit­i­mate, inter­est­ing, coher­ent Thing that you have to take on its own terms rather than think­ing of it as a flawed take on a style you think you already know. We’re nev­er going to be fans – not with our fraz­zled mid­dle-aged palates – but, as with some oth­er mar­gin­al beer styles, will cer­tain­ly take the odd glass now and then for the sake of vari­ety.

Side notes

We also got to try Ver­dant Head­band (£4.50 ⅔ pint) on draught at Brew­Dog and found it much bet­ter than the cans, although still rather one-dimen­sion­al. Again, more bit­ter­ness might have filled a hole here.

And the beer of the ses­sion – the only one that real­ly knocked our socks off – was Cloud­wa­ter’s Dou­ble India Pale Lager (£4.95 ½). It might sound like the kind of thing tra­di­tion­al­ists invent when satiris­ing craft beer but, in fact, was an extreme­ly hap­py mar­riage of tra­di­tions. Depend­ing on your angle of view it is either (a) a char­ac­ter­ful bock with a liven­ing twist of cit­rus or (b) a pleas­ing­ly clean, crys­talline, well-man­nered IPA.

It was, suf­fice to say, per­fect­ly clear.