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18-10-2016, 11:11
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While CAMRA formally champions bottle-conditioned beer, I’ve long gained the impression that a lot of people who promote it don’t properly appreciate what it entails. They seem to think that it involves an unfiltered, unpasteurised bottled beer, probably a bit hazy, with a low level of carbonation and a layer of sludge in the bottom. But nothing could be further from the truth. As the name implies, it’s a beer that actually enjoys a secondary fermentation in the bottle and, I’d say, many British so-called bottle-conditioned beers don’t experience this.
Earlier this year, I discussed how most Belgian bottle-conditioned beers managed to achieve this quality (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/perfect-condition.html). A beer that actually has conditioned in the bottle will be distinctly fizzy, typically with a dense, rocky head and visible spires of carbonation rising in the glass, albeit with a finer grade of bubbles than those produced by artificial carbonation.
Someone was recently comparing bottle-conditioned beers with sparkling wines made by the méthode champenoise (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparkling_wine_production#Traditional_method), which involves conditioning in the bottle. Now, I have to say I didn’t really understand what this involves, so I looked it up. Do you know? I bet you don’t.
Apparently it’s no longer permitted to describe it as the méthode champenoise, as it involves the addition of a small amount of “outside” wine, so it’s now called the méthode traditionelle. But the essence is still the same. The bottles are stored on their side, with the top at a slightly lower level, so that the lees accumulate at the end where the cap is. Eventually, the cap is removed, the lees extracted, and the bottle recorked, resulting in a bottle of fizzy, but crystal clear, wine.
Would that be acceptable as a method of production for bottle-conditioned beer? And, if you don’t think it would be, aren’t you rather missing the point?
It seems that some people have experimented (http://www.winemag.com/2010/09/23/the-world-of-champagne-beers/) with beers given an in-bottle fermentation using the méthode champenoise style, but so far they don’t really seem to have caught on. Possibly the cost is a deterrent, because it's a rather labour-intensive process.

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