Recently I bought a beer that appeared to have separated into murky layers in my plastic cup. I politely asked if it was supposed to look like that, to which I was told that OatMilk had been used, so (obviously), yes it was supposed to look like that.
I wasn’t really that concerned with what the response was going to be, as I make my own mind up on whether I enjoy my beer, regardless of how it appears. Sometimes bar staff can be a wealth of knowledge, on others just entertainingly inaccurate. Did you know that using different hops increases the alcohol, that murk is a sure sign of a complete fermentation or that canned and cask beer have the same carbonation? I’d have been equally impressed to have heard that Veil and Omnipollo recently used OatMilk in a beer too, because why not? Here they are pouring 100 litres of OatMilk into a beer that was by no means clear.
Craft beer customers seem to be more forgiving in the pub, but much more brutal online. There are only so many craft beer bars though. CAMRA members are often ridiculed for wanting their beer to be crystal clear, but sometimes they have a point. Pubs that survived the macro takeovers stereotypically have a mixed bag of drinkers favouring clear ales. It’s a regular occurrence in local free-houses where someone unwittingly orders a pint of guest ale that doesn’t settle. Much to their bemusement it never will. How much longer will it be necessary to educate drinkers that not all beer is going to be clear anymore. Back in the day if a cask wasn’t settling in the cellar, it wouldn’t have been served on the bar. Nowadays though, it’s kegs and cans. How is every bar worker supposed to know if the beer is pouring right? It’s not likely they brewed it.
During the great real ale wars the focus was on cask beer as Tickers sought to collect as many new independent micro beers by jotting them down in filofaxes. There were no digital cameras and instant blogging options to report the DGM or share like beers. As long as a beer was clear, and had a different pump clip, it would get a tick. I had heard great things about the beer in my plastic cup, but nothing about its clarity. In a way my intention was to tick off this beer without leaving a trace, but just as the Tickers would have questioned its clarity, so too would I.
Tickers have evolved to badge collectors. Phones have replaced filofaxes. There are two main beer rating sites; Untappd and RateBeer. Both appeal differently and follow different formats. Until recently, one of these may have claimed to have more craft credential, but support seems to have stagnated in light of recent events.
Both though are used somewhat religiously to rank brewery performance. It would be perilous to ignore the power that these sites have over drinkers opinions, just as much as any Facebook group or online forum. This is inspite of the rather arbitrary nature of their data. The scores are very subjective, and of course anyone can be judge, jury and executioner. I have used both sites, but feel a conflict of interest prevents me from truly immersing myself in virtual ticking. Just like a politician voting for themselves, I should award myself top marks, yet I’m never truly satisfied that nothing can be improved. There’s also the small matter that my scores are of course subjective and somewhat arbitrary too.
Some raters see opaque murky beers as a sign of the times. An intentional and unavoidable byproduct of a well made beer. There are so many off flavour experts these days too, that unless diacetyl is “perceived” or the flavours are less “hazy” than the last beer, it’ll pass inspection and receive a respectable score, irregardless of appearance. How many drinkers will question a beer’s clarity and have the confidence to return it outside of a traditional cask ale pub? Is it only when the badge collectors start rating a beer down that lines are drawn between appearance and flavour, or should we be able to make our own judgement without drawing off of others?
It doesn’t matter what score a beer gets if it was swayed by hype or if it’s a style that just isn’t going to get the best score, simply because it doesn’t have the fuss factor. It doesn’t matter if the beer is centrifuged, filtered, hazy, murky, or opaque. It doesn’t matter how a beer is rated. What matters is whether you like the taste, and you get it as the brewery intended.
Of course it would help if a brewery could upload an image of how it was intended to look, but something tells me a lot of breweries would rather intentionally leave that benefit to the drinker out.