Friday 21 October 2016

Glowing in the glass or is hazy lazy?

On Monday the IBD held a meeting on fined and unfined beer under the heading "Glowing in the glass or is hazy lazy?". It was held at the Moor brewery, proud proponents of unfined beer:

Though I'm not sure why they have to have a sign banning their customers from garnishing their drinks with fish.

Admittedly I did once leave half a whelk in an ash tray, but I've never even considered adding seafood to my pint. Perhaps it's a craft thing.

Head Brewer and owner Justin Hawke kicked off proceedings with a presentation on why they don't fine.

He's from the US but lived in German and is now in Bristol. In his brewing he tries to blend the balance of British beers, with American hops, and what he liked in unfiltered German 'naturtrub' beers. 

He sees his beers as modern, forward thinking, real ale and hates the rift in the UK between 'real ale' and 'craft beer'.

He doesn't use isinglass finings and with the help of Eddie Gadd (who does use isinglass) he was able to get SIBA to accept unfined beer, and now his beers have been recognised by CAMRA too. He's committed time and money to getting the flavour and balance right in his beers.

He pointed out that historically most beer will have been cloudy...

...but rather over egged the pudding when he said it's a niche fad as not much fined cask ale is sold globally.

As overwhelmingly most beer sold globally is industrial lager I think it's fair to say that globally most beer is bright.

He works hard to keep the yeast count consistent at 0.5-1 million cells per ml (3-4 million for wheat beers) as no one wants a pint of yeast slurry. Hops contribute little to the haziness in his beers, in fact the hoppy ones drop bright quicker.

He listed a number of benefits to not fining beer, and said he doesn't get complaints about haze as he has successfully educated the trade.

Best practice is needed to make good hazy beer and it is not an excuse for bad brewing.

The person that was meant to speak next couldn't make it due to a (fortunately minor) car crash so Adam Johnson from Murphy and Son steeped up to give the presentation. A lot of the talk was going through the ways hazes can be caused and how to prevent them, which I've recently written about myself so I'll be brief here.

 I liked the term for grades of haze though:

And the imhoff cone picture was interesting:

As was the point that the fish used to make isinglass are all eaten so it is very much as co-product.

I also liked the flavour stability diagram:

The spider diagram of fined and unfined beer was a real eye opener though:

It's from an article in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing (113 (4) 347-354, 2007) that was actually looking at alternatives to isinglass. And the bloke that sits next to me at work was one of the authors. If you can't see what it says on the slide it's saying how flavour profiling of fined and unfined beer found no difference in taste or aroma. Now it may be that is not always the case but it does support my feeling that fining has a minor effect on the flavour of beer.

The meeting was packed (around 75 people were there) and after the talks various brewing big nobs gave their considered opinions. And there were a few not so considered opinions. A lot of people had concerns about consistency, as yeast haze will settle out even without finings so the beer will be constantly changing. The lack of filtration or pasteurisation also caused concerns about microbiological problems.

It was mentioned that with no finings there's more flavour in the beer (though there's no reference for this!) and live yeast scavenges oxygen so gives the beer a fresher taste. The problem of causing more confusion for bar staff and customers was highlighted, and it was conceded that it's easier to make bad cloudy beer with excess yeast and horrible yeast bite than good cloudy beer.

Protein got a brief mention as a possible haze cause, but I don't think polyphenols got a look in at all. When deliberately hazy hoppy beers first started being sold all the talk was of hop haze, but it seems it's all down to yeast nowadays.

It was a very interesting evening with a generally positive discussion, and most of those with reservations about hazy beer at least seemed open to the idea. I'm not totally adverse to not fining beer, and I very rarely use finings for my homebrew. I'm not convinced by the case for it commercially though, despite the fact some are doing well with it. Certainly in my last job any casks that didn't drop bright were sent straight back, and there was a constant trickle of complaints about 'bits' in bottle conditioned beer, despite the information on the label. 


  1. So. A brewer that knows what he is doing extrapolates to those that don't and the empirical case is that there is no real difference.

    As you were then. Yeast bite is still yeast bite.

  2. Moor do some nice stuff, but I think they're on the wrong track here (and that spider diagram is hard to argue with!). My objection to cloudy beer is purely practical - I don't think cask beer gets enough cellar time as it is, and if the idea gets around that haze is fine & dandy I can see a lot of craft-y bars serving an awful lot of trubby beer. I actually avoid Moor beers on cask now, after being served a pint of porridge on one occasion and not fancying my chances of complaining ("'sa cloudy beer, says so on the pump clip").

    1. That's the crucial point - how can the customer, or the bar staff, tell if a beer that's meant to be slightly hazy is in fact *too* hazy?

  3. Simples. You can't, especially since lack of quality control gives variable beer. No benchmark.

    And doubly especially as no fucker can really tell the difference as Ed points out.