Cloudy beer is never acceptable…

Unless, that is, it’s wheat beer, which is naturally cloudy.

From my search engine slush pile “is cloudy beer from a pub bad for you?”

Maybe, maybe not, but as the only way you can find out is by drinking it, by which time it’s way too late, cloudy beer should always be sent back.

I have, by the way, spent a large part of my life behind the bar, from barman to manager – from beer engines, through keg, to the now ubiquitous swan-neck – and have never served a bad pint. The interview for my first bar job was a tray and three pint glasses – I had to pull three perfect pints, with a beer engine and with the glasses on the tray, despite the fact that I’d never set foot on that side of the bar before.

That doesn’t happen any more – staff aren’t asked to demonstrate whatever innate skill they might have (a pity, because some people simply have no place behind a bar – they just have no feel for the job, and no interest in doing it well and, as always, the customer pays the price); hell, they’re all too often barely shown the basics, and it’s left to customers to wet-nurse them through their first few days, until they can pull a pint without overfilling it, when it will go flat, or leaving a 2-inch head. Still, the latter can be fixed – you can always add more beer, but if you’ve overfilled the glass, you can’t take beer out; it’s buggered and it stays buggered.

There are those who say you shouldn’t “drink with your eyes”, which is pretty damn pathetic (anything to avoid making waves), as well as wrong. The first indication that all is not well with a beer is its appearance, closely followed by smell and taste.

A beer that is served a little before it’s ready will have a slight yeast haze, which is harmless but unless you trust the pub, especially the guy that runs the cellar, then that, too, should be treated with suspicion. On one occasion, I specifically asked to be sold a beer that wasn’t 100% ready, because I trusted the cellarman. The beer was excellent, if a tad hazy, and I suffered no ill-effects

The bottom line, though, is that there is just no excuse for cask beer not being as bright and clear as lager – the idea that cask beer  is cloudy because it’s cask beer is bullshit.

There are several reasons for cloudy beer, and none of them good news:-

Beer that was inadequately fined at the brewery will never clear, and should not be sold, but returned to the brewery. Sadly, many publicans will try to sell it, for which there is no excuse (hell, they get their money back when they send it back to the brewery). Don’t accept it.

Poor hygiene is a big factor. This can be almost anything, from simple lack of cleanliness to complete ignorance of what needs to be done, or a failure to clean pipes adequately. Also, it’s good practice to run a bucket of cold water through the line and pump when changing a cask, especially if it’s a different beer that’s going on. That, too, happens rarely these days.

Beer drip trays are a bone of contention – the contents should be thrown away but, all too often, in the past, the slops would find their way back into the beer. This is less easy to do now mild is so hard to find – you can hide a multitude of crimes against beer in mild’s dark depths!

Beer is pretty much a living organism (the yeast is anyway), and unless kept in scrupulously clean conditions, can easily pick up infections, either from rogue yeasts or bacteria. You’ll seriously regret drinking that beer, which is why I say that all cloudy beer should be rejected.

Bear in mind, though, that in most pubs you won’t be popular for refusing cloudy beer, and some managers will flatly refuse to accept anything is wrong with it. These people are in the wrong job – they care nothing about customer satisfaction and everything about maximising their profits at the customers’ expense.

We were in the Wirral CAMRA 2010 pub of the year, the Wheatsheaf, at Raby, last Monday, and the beer was dire. Now, the previous Monday, the beer had been in perfect condition, if seriously over-cooled, but this week it wasn’t over-cooled, but it was cloudy. We returned two rounds of different beer, one cloudy, one very cloudy, which the barman exchanged only with reluctance (holding the very cloudy pint up to the light and asking, quite seriously, what’s wrong with it? You couldn’t bloody see through it you dozy sod! A look around the pub showed that the sole person I could see drinking cask beer had a cloudy pint too, but either hadn’t bothered looking or happy to accept any old rubbish.  If more people refused dodgy pints (politely, of course), pubs would be more inclined to clean up their act. Possibly – but I know at least two other pubs where the customer is also always the villain of the piece for sending back substandard beer – a manager who takes that as a personal affront is in the wrong job. Serving bad beer is always the manager’s fault. If it’s defective when it’s tapped, it should be sent back to the brewery, not sold to the customers; if it goes off in the cellar, odds are it’s bad hygiene. Both are the responsibility of the manager to sort out.

Some time later, the manager pronounced the beers “perfect”, announcing loudly, to the barman, but for the benefit of all, “We don’t serve cloudy beer, after all, we’re the pub of the year!” Stupid bloody woman – she was holing a glass of cloudy beer! If you serve manky beer at least have the good grace to accept that. “The customer is always wrong” attitude is prevalent in far too many pubs – too many publicans lose sight of of a fundamental fact – piss off the customers and it’ll cost you money. In a recession, you simply can’t afford to do that.

Anyway, at that point we thought, bugger this, and left, and I sure as hell won’t be going back. I always resent poor quality beer, I resent it even more when I’ve stumped up £10 in taxi fare to wind up with beer that should never have even been served in the first place.

Wirral CAMRA, incidentally, of which I used to be a member, has form when it comes to giving awards to pubs that don’t warrant it, as this post demonstrates.

There is a brewery here whose beer is almost constantly cloudy, to some degree, no matter where I drink it (I’ve only once had it bright and clear – over 2 years ago, at the Wheatsheaf!). It can even start out clear, go cloudy, then become clear again. Clearly, then, there’s a layer of cloudiness in the cask. How and why this happens, I have no idea, but it is something that shouldn’t happen at all. My first thought was that someone in the cellar had clumsily bumped the cask, but it happens when they’re all present and accounted for. My best guess would be a bacterial colony, floating in the beer.

Beer, incidentally, is drawn off from the bottom. In a slow-selling beer that means the last couple of pints (in some extreme cases, you can taste this with a gallon or so still to go), will inevitably be oxidised to some degree, through exposure to air, and are often cloudy as some sediment can be drawn with the beer. Two  reasons I never accept the last pint from a cask.

Cask breathers, which introduce a layer of unpressurised CO2 into the cask, above the beer, eliminate this problem (or should – I know at least one pub where even top-pressure CO2  doesn’t prevent it. CAMRA constantly briefs against CO2, but I feel that attitude is short-sighted, They say “Such gas systems are not needed in a well run pub,” which is a tad simplistic, especially in rural pubs where the main business is done at weekends – better a little CO2 which fermenting beer produces naturally anyway, than wasted, or poor-quality, beer.

Cloudy beer, as I said above, isn’t always the fault of the publican, of course, and beer should always be changed with goodwill (hey, if you want my money. . .). If a manager reacts angrily to what is, after all, a perfectly reasonable request – as long as you’re polite about it – then it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re at fault and they know it, either for knowingly serving a beer that’s cloudy and hoping no-one would complain, or by creating the conditions which caused it. Or both.

If they react angrily even when it’s something beyond their control, then they have problems;  screw ’em, take your business elsewhere

CAMRA, too, are constantly bemoaning the many pub closures, but the closures don’t seem to be sending a message to the rest of the industry at all or, if they are, it’s not being heeded. That message is, if you want to ensure your survival – if, that is, you want our money – give your customers what they are entitled to expect – good beer in perfect condition.

Nothing less is acceptable.

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2 thoughts on “Cloudy beer is never acceptable…

  1. Two thoughts:

    Short pints: “Sorry, love/mate. Can you fit a large whisky into this pint?”

    Smile, and as they turn, say “Well, can you fill the bugger up with beer then.”

    With you on always hand it back. Went to a pub on a rare visit to the south (in Henley, I think). Pint full of floaters. Walked back to the bar (GF had bought it) “What you been eating?”

    Not the meal for 4 I had been about to buy, that’s for sure.

    • Bits in beer – missing or broken tap filter (you sometimes get hop fragments in beer, if they don’t settle out properly the filter makes sure they don’t get to you). And if they’ve missed that, they’re probably not too assiduous about hygiene either! You can also get crap flaking off the line, or the pump – another hygiene problem.

      The “Can you get a whisky in this?” line does rather tend to piss staff off though, not least because local customs vary, and in many areas what I’d consider an over-full pint is the norm, in others a big head is. I once had a regular customer who always insisted on the sparkler being removed – a breach of hygiene laws now** – so he got a full pint, while his mate wanted a head of about an inch and a half.

      “Can you put a drop more in this, please?” always works for me, and everyone’s happy. Never antagonise people who are supplying your food or drink – revenge is very easy, from gobbing in your soup or sarnie to you suddenly becoming invisible at the bar.

      **But they still do it for shandies, and they really shouldn’t.

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