Monday, 21 October 2013

Naturally-conditioned bottled beer

This time I'm not letting you wait as long before I live up to my promise. I'm already diving into naturally-conditioned bottled beer. I don't know what's come over me.

This is again from an article by H. Lloyd Hind in 1923. It's made me realise that the victory of chilled and carbonated beer may not have been as swift as I had believed. Simply because there are so many mentions of naturally-conditioned beer.

Here's the first, discussing the shelf-life and susceptibility to infection of both types of bottled beer.

"Experiments with forced beers give the necessary evidence that the increased infection does lead to decreased stability, and that the in creased cleanliness brought about by rinsing does increase the stability. These experiments were no doubt made on lager beer which is more delicate than naturally conditioned beer with its own sediment in the bottle. But the effect of dirty bottles on the latter is too well known to need much insistence on the statement that what is bad for one is bad for the other, perhaps in a less degree, but the naturally conditioned beer has to stand up generally against the infection for a longer period than the lager, and in this way the danger is levelled up."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 29, Issue 3, March 1923, page 117.

It makes sense that naturally-conditioned beer with yeast still active would be less susceptible to infection. Yeast is very well adapted to living in and feeding off beer. It will out-compete most other organisms.

This is an interesting point:

"The brilliance of the beer is of the first importance and here the bottler, as apart from the brewer, must see that naturally conditioned beers are brilliant when he bottles them, and that for chilled and filtered beers his filters are working efficiently. This brings the pulp into consideration, and the treatment of the beer before it goes to the filter."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 29, Issue 3, March 1923, page 120.

If you remember the older bottling texts I published a few years back, they stressed that beer for this type of bottling should spontaneously drop bright during its maturation in cask. Though, of course, it would still contain some yeast in suspension. It wouldn't have carbonated otherwise, as back then they didn't reseed with yeast at bottling time like they do today.

Here's another advantage of naturally-conditioned beer: you could analyse the sediment.

"It is very difficult to judge by appearance whether the greyness of a beer is due to the deposition of a protein haze or to the development of bacteria or other organisms in the bottle. By means of a microscope and certain chemical tests these questions can be readily decided and the cause of the trouble be traced to the beer or the pulp, the brewer or the bottler, defective beer or bad filtration. By means of a microscopical examination of the sediment of a naturally conditioned beer it is often possible to trace the cause of any defect and to apportion the blame as between brewer and bottler."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 29, Issue 3, March 1923, page 121.

It was more important in the 1920's to pin down the problem to either the brewing or the bottling operation as they were not necessarily performed by the same company.

This confirms my suspicion that natural conditioning was nothing like all but dead:

"The great extension of the sales of beer in bottle has been universal during recent years. We know it in England; in America before prohibition it was enormous, and on the Continent the same thing is found. The greater proportion of the output of the great Copenhagen breweries is now in bottle and it is even notable in Northern France where brewing is still in many places rather primitive. In England we still adhere to the naturally conditioned beer and are content to put up with the sediment and very often defective head and brilliance on account of what is generally recognised as superiority in flavour and body. Abroad, on the other hand, the public demand is muoh more exigent, defects in appearance are not tolerated and various methods are adopted to ensure deglutination, so that haze shall not develop in the bottle within a reasonable time. The whole process of lager beer manufacture tends in this direction. Some of these methods are not adapted to chilled and filtered beers, but there is room for very considerable extension in that direction to render such beers fit for long storage and export.

A naturally conditioned beer can indeed be made without any preliminary or after treatment to satisfy the keenest demand, and such are the vintage beers. Special selection of materials, skilful brewing, very lengthy storage and careful bottling are essential. Given these any Englishman will say the beers are unsurpassed, but English taste is, however, not universal. Something less hoppy is required by what is after all the majority of beer drinkers, and it is necessary to brew a beer which will keep well without the preservative action of the hops. New methods have in consequence to be found to produce such a beer and keep it brilliant in bottle."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 29, Issue 3, March 1923, pages 123 - 124.

Once again the brewer's preference for bottle conditioning is clear. Just a pity those foreigners didn't care for our bitter beer.

So much for Lloyd Hind. Let's see what the audience had to say. This is the chairman, Mr. R. Whitaker:

"The points that had been raised about cleanliness were highly important, and the different courses that the beer went through before it was finally bottled were very interesting, especially at the present time when, in Manchester, chilled and filtered beer commanded such attention. Personally, he thought this was a mistake, and they brought some trouble on their heads when they adopted these chilled and filtered beers. The process took the character out of the beer, and they got an article quite different to the naturally-conditioned."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 29, Issue 3, March 1923, page 127.

This highlights a point that I've already made: brewers thought naturally-conditioned beer superior in flavour, the public just wanted something brilliant.

The next speaker says just about exactly that:

"Mr. H. Hobson said, although not a strong supporter of chilling, he understood that by this process they eliminated constituents which, if allowed to remain in solution, subsequently went to form body or to assist in head retention. It was surprising how the chilling process had appealed to a large number of brewers. A chilled beer certainly looked nice and brilliant, but he considered it was robbed of a large amount of character. He supposed the public demand for as bright a beer as could be produced was the reason for so much chilling. He would ask Mr. Hind if there was any fresh evidence of other constituents which might be precipitated by the chilling process other than the theory that precipitation was chiefly due to the albumoses ?
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 29, Issue 3, March 1923, page 129.

And Lloyd Hind concurred:

"In reply to Mr. H. Hobson, chilling and filtering no doubt took away some of the character and head-retaining properties and he was not one of those who considered that chilling produced the best beer. On the other hand it was the easiest way to get the best appearance and nothing was more unattractive then turbid beer. In regard to precipitation during chilling he was not sure that it was albumoses which came down, it might be a combination of proteins with some bodies from the hops."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 29, Issue 3, March 1923, page 130.

Nothing more unattractive than turbid beer? I think drinkers of Hefeweizen might disagree. Just shows you that it's all about expectations. I remember reading the label stuck on a keg of Hoegaarden advising the publican to turn it upside down before tapping to make sure it was nice and cloudy.

Pasteurising next time.


608 rmanyRe said...

It's interesting to look at how Americans started the craft brewing movement. Bottling was always important although rarely the exclusive method to sell the beer. Some brewers, e.g., Sierra Nevada, were committed to bottle-conditioning from Day 1. Indeed its draught beer initially was a smaller part of the sales and always I believe a filtered product. Boulder Brewing in Colorado, same thing (i.e., early bottle-conditioning). New Albion, same thing. They all mostly started that way on the bottling side but some opted to filter without pasteurizing and this was usual for lager styles.

Many ale brewers still practice it but Sierra Nevada today pours fairly clear. The amount of yeast and protein in the bottle is not huge and it seems to adhere to the bottom well when standing for a while (same thing for the can). And once again many craft distillers always filtered for the bottle or can and still do.

For the draft, the direction generally (setting apart cask beer) has been from a filtered, unpasteurized product to a mix of these and a hazy one. Today, a significant part of it is served cloudy in other words, i.e., chilled and with forced carbonation but allowed to retain a haze.

So there have been different ways to achieve a "natural" palate and probably no rules can be drawn. Some brewers get a very full taste with a filtered product. Some stick to bottling unfiltered which of course usually is a plus except for those who don't like the aesthetics of a cloudy beer. (Generally I prefer a clear pint myself).

I would think no hard and fast rules can be drawn and it is down to each producer and his methods as to what will result in the best taste.


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, glad you will deal soon with pasteurization.

This is a huge issue. Not everyone may realize that the bright line between the best old-style commercial beers and the new wave was pasteurization. Not filtering except if very "tightly" done. Not bottling. Not canning, even. Pasteurization.

As good as Ballantine IPA was, say, or the export MacEwan's Scotch Ale is again (I hear), there is no way they can be as good as similar beers brewed unpasteurized. I have never believed brewers who claim there is no difference. I often can taste it, a slight cooked quality. I don't say excellent beer cannot be pasteurized (e.g. any of the Anchor beers), but they are always better unpasteurized including by the flash method.

The Achilles heel of CAMRA is that rich fine-flavoured beers can be mechanically filtered and taste almost as good as cask, provided not pasteurized. Real ale is still better, but you are past the bright line...