Saturday, July 23, 2016

Over to you. (Not "over you") Bottle conditioned beer.

Some of our beers are bottle conditioned. This means we bottle them with the beer (pretty much) flat, but make sure that there's enough yeast (and sugar for it to eat) for the beer to carbonate naturally.  We store the beer warm for a couple of weeks so that the bottling yeast can do its thing, and then (once we've tested it, natch) it's released for sale.

At this point it's over to the retailer - we'd love them to store the beer cool at all times, but obviously this isn't always possible.  We're confident that the beer won't over-condition (the food for the yeast should be pretty much all used up by the time it leaves us) but warm, or agitated, beer can be prone to gushing.  This will not only produce a lot of foam and loss of beer (horror!) but also disturb the sediment.  The sediment spoils the look (and some would say the taste) of the beer but also triggers more bubbles - making the situation worse.  So don't open the beer as soon as you've bought it.  You'll be disappointed. And wet.

Anyhoo, once you've bought the beer, it's over to you.  It's become clear to us that some folks aren't sure how bottle-conditioned beers should be handled (there's no shame in that, it's not something we were born knowing) so, if needed, here's some tips for managing your bottle-conditioned booty:

  1. Always store and transport bottles upright (with the top, er, at the top).  The aim is to keep the sediment on the bottom of the bottle, not to shake it up into the beer.
  2. Allow the sediment to settle before serving.  This can easily take 24 hours if the bottle has been bounced around in the boot of a car. Longer is better (but waiting is hard).
  3. Store them in a cool place away from direct sunlight.  If you're lucky enough to have a (unheated) cellar, that's where you want it. 12°C is generally thought to be the best temperature for storing and serving. 
  4. When you pour the beer into your glassware of choice, try to do this smoothly, avoiding "glugging". You should be aiming to leave a little in the bottle.  This is all about getting the beer while leaving the sediment.
I have to point out here that some beers which claim to be bottled-conditioned,  are no such thing. While they may contain a little yeast (which certainly does no harm and may protect the beer against oxidation somewhat) it's often no more that will "paint the bottom" of the bottle.  These beers have usually been force-carbonated before bottling.  Nothing wrong with that of course, some good beers are packaged in this way, and unless the thin film of sediment has broken up , they can be good to go as promptly as a filtered beer.  The downside, at least from our point of view, is that folk's expectations have been changed - some don't expect to have to do anything to enjoy their beer. (In which case, please consider choosing our filtered products.)
You probably don't want to store your beer in the fridge (it's too cold, really) but half an hour or so in the fridge won't do any harm. Some beers drink nicely a little colder.  Indeed, if you've been forced to store beer warmer than the ideal 12°C, carefully moving it into the fridge for a while will be useful.

And what about "laying down" beer?   Some folks suggest that bottle conditioned beer will continue to improve (like "fine wine")  over years.   If you want to try this, firstly, don't actually lay the bottle down - you want them upright. You probably do want a real cellar, unless you can think of another way of keeping a stable low temperature, dark environment for your stock. Strong dark beers will usually remain perfectly drinkable for a number of years, decades even  (that best before date assumes less than ideal conditions).  Do cellared beers keep on getting better?  That's a matter of taste, with which there is no arguing.