How many times have we seen this? Man walks in to a pub (and it is invariably a bloke) and orders a pint from a hand pump, and what does he do first? Holds it up to the light to make sure that it’s as clear and bright as a mountain stream. Should the beer have a haze on it he’ll invariably sling it back over the bar mumbling that “It’s not right”. Brewers use finings to make beer bright. Here at Uley we use the highest quality Isinglass finings. We have to as, being traditional brewers we transfer straight from the fermenter to cask for ‘cask conditioning’. Most breweries use large conditioning tanks these days but here there simply is not the room for that on our site. And yes, we expect our beers to be clear and bright at point of sale.
But the situation has become somewhat muddied (do you see what I did there?) in recent times with the wide proliferation of ‘unfiltered’ beer ie unfined and ‘naturally cloudy’. There’s nothing wrong with this of course. Some argue that you get the full flavour and benefit of all the ingredients which is a wonderful way to market beers that are like the Missouri River: “Too thick to drink, too thin to plough”. What unfiltered means is that the yeast and some of the proteins are left suspended in the beer. It’s not going to hurt you but personally I find the flavour of yeast dry and claggy that sticks to the roof of the mouth and unbalances the palate. Like the gentleman (and it is invariably a bloke) passing the beer back over the bar saying that it’s not right, I too am looking for a ‘clean’ flavour that’s not muddled by the process.
Cask conditioning the traditional way (Straight to cask from fermenter) is a noble time honoured method of brewing and gives rise to the reason why casks are designed the way they are with a greater diameter in the middle so when you lay them on their sides in the pub cellar the lees (non viable yeast and proteins) drop into the belly of the cask as a result of a reaction with the finings. However more pubs are buying into vertical dispense systems where they are not laid down but stand straight up on their bases. The most extreme method is using a float system so when you draw a pint from the hand pump it’s being drawn from the surface. The idea being that all the things you don’t want in your beer have sunk to the bottom. The bright spark who invented this clearly knows nothing of how Saccharomyces Cerevisiae (The yeast used in English style ales) actually works. During secondary fermentation in the cask the new yeast generated will float to the surface. It’s called ‘top fermentation’ . By drawing from the top you are taking out yeast and Hey Presto! unfiltered beer! - with loads of clear beer just underneath!. So when somebody says in the pub that you’ve reached the bottom of the barrel, what they really mean is that you’ve reached the top!