My first attempt at putting this argument got a bit sidetracked into talking about weird and unusual styles of beer, which wasn’t really what I wanted to focus on. So, fortified by a dark and murky bottle of something from East London Brewery, let’s have at it again.
Sourness. There is a sour flavour – let’s not over-complicate things, it’s the flavour commonly known as ‘sourness’ – which is characteristic of a lot of the hip new beers. It’s also characteristic of a lot of the beers we know and love, if they’re kept badly or kept on for too long (or, more rarely, brewed badly).
Murkiness. There is a cloudy quality which is very characteristic of a lot of the new beers the cool kids are drinking; really very characteristic. It’s also characteristic of a lot of the beers we’ve been drinking all these years, if they’re kept badly or tapped too early, or if they go into bottle in the wrong condition (or if the brewer just plain gets it wrong).
Soupiness. There is a rich, complex, malty ‘flavour soup’ quality, which – done well – is characteristic of some very good dark beers (old ales, abbey dubbels, that kind of area – one hell of an area). A similar but much less successful effect is also characteristic of dark beers that aren’t actually ready to go, in cask or in bottle. (Such as the ELB Nightwatchman I drank this evening, I’m afraid – a fan would have called it complex, but I thought it was twiggy.)
A soupy beer may be terrifically well executed – the complexity that’s in there may be there to stay. A murky beer may be (a) unfined and (b) superb (although the two don’t always go together). A sour beer may be Rodenbach. Alternatively, a beer that’s sour, murky or soupy may be a beer that’s gone off or isn’t ready yet (or wasn’t ready when it went in the bottle). Come to that, a murky beer may even be an unfined beer that isn’t ready yet – cloud is one thing, yeasty cloud is another.
I worry that there’s a culture of low expectations developing: that people are assuming beers are “meant to be like that” when they really aren’t – or, if they were meant to be like that, they shouldn’t have been. (This is where the “oak and almond porter” part of the original rant gets a look-in: the more people are expecting something different every time they go to the bar, the less they’ll have any firm idea what anything is “meant to be like”.) For the time being I’ll be avoiding anything I know, or suspect, to be sour, murky or soupy; the scope for sweeping failures under the carpet (for the bar as well as the brewer) is just too great.
Or I could just avoid all these pesky condition problems and go over to keg…