Sunday 28 October 2018

Triumph and agony

It's been ages since I've seen a band, but a run of gigs started on Saturday with the return of several crusty bands I saw a lot of in my youth. It was at the New Cross Inn, which looks and sounds like a pub but I'm not sure if it actually is one.

I was delighted to see they had hand pumps on the bar. Until I tried drinking the beer.

Am I an animal?
It was not good, not good at all.

This is station x
I had two pints of cask ale and both tasted more like bleedin' cider than beer. I did finish them though, at those prices I couldn't let them go to waste.

Please don't fight
It was on to the Guinness after that, which may be less spiritually fulfilling but it tasted better. As I was putting the disappointment of the beer to the back of my mind and settling in to enjoy the bands I noticed an astonishing development: they were serving beer in quarts!

Apparently they've started doing this at gigs. I was simply astounded. This is surely the greatest development in British beer for a generation. Will pewter pots or strawberry pink china mugs be coming back next?

That's a pint on the left and a half on the right
There was a major drawback with having quarts at the gig though. With the beer being rubbish I didn't want to have one!

Monday 22 October 2018

Diacetyl and VDK

I must confess it did bring a smile to my face to see Cloudwater brewery post something scientifically nonsensical on their blog soon after announcing their head brewer was leaving and not being replaced. Maybe, just maybe, there is a need to technical brewers after all!

The offending passage is where they call for their publican customers to:
"know to dispense cask when it’s conditioned out past any rise and fall of diacetyl producing VDK"
Ignoring the dubious point that it's the customer's job to make sure their beer doesn't taste of diacetyl, saying "diacetyl producing VDK" doesn't make any bleedin' sense. Diacetyl doesn't produce VDK, it is a VDK. It's like saying "ethanol producing alcohol" or even "brie producing cheese".

VDK stands for vicinal diketones. "Vicinal" means "neighbouring" and "diketone" says the molecules have two ketone groups. Diacetyl is more formally known as 2,3 butanedione. To break that down the 2 and 3 say which carbon atoms have the functional groups and carbons 2 and 3 are obviously neighbouring. The "but" bit of "butane" says the molecule has four carbon atoms and the "ane" says it is saturated with hydrogen, the "di" says there are two functional groups and the "one" at the end says they are ketones. So, from reading the name it is possible to see that the molecule has this structure:


Diacetyl is a particularly flavour active compound, i.e. it doesn't take much of it to have a strong taste. A touch of it brings something special to Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Pilsner Urquell, but too much of it, particularly in pilsners, is overpowering and an off flavour.

Aside from infection it gets into beer as it's made by yeast during fermentation. In the most active part of fermentation it's made faster than it's broken down so it accumulates. If given enough time (the diacetyl rest or warm conditioning) the yeast will break it down towards the end of fermentation as growth slows.

It is however, not the only VDK made during fermentation. 2,3 pentanedione is also made. A chemically similar compound, the structure of which I'm sure you can now work out. It is much less flavour active than diacetyl, but because of its chemical similarity some laboratory analyses can't separate the two so will give a result as "total VDK". And this is presumably where the confusion comes from, as diacetyl will be noticed as a flavour fault in beer, but the lab result may come back listing VDK.

Sunday 7 October 2018

Surviving the cask free years

When Cloudwater, Britain's most important brewery*, announced it was ceasing production of cask beer it was the death knell for it. As a devout member of the one, beery, catholic and apostolic beer consumers organisation I was hit particularly hard by this. I gave up going to the pub as I just found it too hard to bear the thought of going there to only drink from the devil's drainpipe.

Bottle conditioned beers let me continue my personal relationship with the one true living beer and my home brew served from Cornelius kegs resembled real ale enough to save me from complete despair. And I recently had an astonishing discovery that prefigured the joyous news that Cloudwater are returning to cask production.

After a long day climbing in Langdale with a friend I called in at the Old Dungeon Ghyll. It was getting late and we were hungry so decided to eat at the pub. To my astonishment and delight I saw that there were hand pumps on the bar that appeared to be serving! I could scarcely believe my eyes! I checked there was no devilry at work, but these were no fake hand pumps, our mother church having seen them off in the 90s.

Eyeing up the beer range I suggested a couple of beers to my friend but he only chose after checking it was the cask beers I was referring to. As if I would suggest anything else!

The beer was everything I had hoped for and to once more be drinking beer as god intended was like a dream come true. How cask beer managed to cling on in Langdale I couldn't say. Perhaps the isolation of the valley and lack of mobile phone reception meant they'd never heard of the death of cask.

My trip to the Lake District ended all too soon, but once home my every waking thought was consumed with when I could get back. Then the momentous news came in that Cloudwater were resuming cask production. On hearing this my plans to sell up and move to Langdale were put on the back burner and for the first time in years I stepped into my local. Nervously I looked across to the bar and yes, the hand pumps were in action. The cask free years were a hard struggle, but the darkness is now behind us, cask beer is alive!

* Not in terms of volume but I think it came second in some online poll or a beer rating site or something.