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22-02-2011, 17:12
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I’ve argued before that bottled ales of sub-5% strength gain nothing in practice from bottle-conditioning, and that the quality control of those produced by micro-breweries is so inconsistent that buying them is an unacceptable lottery. This was certainly the recent experience reported by Paul Bailey here (http://baileysbeerblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/bcas-revisited.html). A couple of years ago I won a bottle of Marble Lagonda IPA at a CAMRA raffle which hadn’t cleared after two weeks’ storage and ended up being poured down the sink, which rather illustrates the problem.

To put this to the test, I recently bought three bottle-conditioned beers from local micro-breweries for sampling. I thought I should give the Lagonda IPA (5.0% ABV) another chance, and also went for Bollington Best and Wincle Sir Philip (both 4.2%).

Now, it must be said that none of these proved to be a disaster – they didn’t fob uncontrollably, and I was able to pour all three and get the beer in the glass either crystal clear or with only a slight haze. However, none exhibited the lively natural carbonation that I would expect if a beer had actually conditioned in the bottle, and all had a somewhat yeasty flavour that I find offputting in a beer. Although the haziest of the three, the Lagonda IPA was the best, with a strong hop flavour trying to get out as well, whereas the Sir Philip was very lacklustre and forgettable.

So personally, the idea of getting a bottle of flattish, slightly murky beer with a yeasty flavour that I have to be very careful pouring doesn’t really appeal, and so to me such beers are actually inferior to the better brewery-conditioned ones. This reinforces my view that, in seeking to promote bottle-conditioning as a superior option for everyday drinking beers, CAMRA is very much barking up the wrong tree. Even to the discerning customer, it’s just not worthwhile. It’s a case of the Emperor’s new clothes.

In comparison, I recently had a bottle of Worthington White Shield which, while still a bit sweeter than I would like, had the yeast stay stuck to the bottom of the bottle and demonstrated good carbonation and a dense, rocky head. The same was true of the two from Wells & Youngs that I tried last year, although regrettably I’ve not seen the Special London Ale in local outlets recently.

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