The gentle touch
It took two decades but Rooster, the Yorkshire brewer with a cult reputation for its cask beers, has finally got round to bottling some of them Though kept off the front pages of the nationals by spring snow, the death of Hugo Chavez and Justin Bieber’s late show at the O2, the early March event was some- thing of a red letter day for Rooster fans deprived of the opportunity to sample their favourite brews in their own home.
By the Knaresborough-based brewery’s own admission it was a “bit overdue” and, although it didn’t account for the entire waiting time, head brewer Oliver Fozard did suggest that the last half-year at least had been spent trying to perfect his beer’s transfer from cask to bottle.
“We’ve been working hard for the past six months to ensure that the beers are pre- sented in the best possible way when poured from the bottle,” said Fozard, “as there are a lot of differences between that and beer dispensed from a hand pump.”
To anyone studying for their beer sommelier qualification that wouldn’t have been news, but for beer mortals further back down the path of enlightenment it might have come as a shock to find that the Old Scruttock’s they drink in the pub was not the same as the one they got in the local offie.
Brewery-conditioned bottled beers – as opposed to those that undergo a secondary fermentation from yeast in the bottle – have to be pasteurised and filtered before they go into glass.
The danger is that the process can strip out some of the best of those aromas and flavours that make the same beer come alive when drunk in a pub.
That’s why Camra-types stick to the ideology that bottle-conditioned beers are best, because the beer is “live” as it is with cask ale and not subject to the flattening out process that bottling brewery-conditioned beer may cause.
Founded by Sean Franklin in 1992, Rooster was among the first British brewers to cotton on to American hops and its Cascade-laced Original pale ale, Yankee, was one of those it’s put into bottles.
With a potently-aromatic and headily- citrus variety such as Cascade, there was certainly a lot of character at the risk of being sacrificed if the transition to bottling wasn’t handled sensitively.
Rooster chairman Ian Fozard said much of the work that had been done centred around the pasteurisation and filtration. “It’s a fine balance between getting some carbonation into the beer and making it not too fizzy, and between making the beer clear, but not so clear that you take away all of the flavour and aroma,” he said.
“A lot is about getting that right so all of those wonderful aromatic compounds that come from the hops aren’t lost.”
But brewers are also tinkering with recipes before the beer hits the pre-bottling stage to ensure their bottled versions come up to scratch against the cask delivery of the beer that carries the same name.
For Yankee, this involves dry-hopping to give the bottled version an extra hop character before it hits the bottling line. The aim isn’t to give more flavour, but to compensate for any flavour that could potentially be lost at that point.
Get it right and the bottled and cask versions should smell, taste and feel in the mouth pretty much the same.
“We dry-hop to give it more intense aromatics, which counter the fact that we have to filter it to put it into bottles,” said Ian Fozard. Bristol Beer Factory, one of the rising stars of the microbrewing scene, favours bottle-conditioning, which avoids the harsh filtering of brewery-conditioned beer, but still makes subtle differences to recipes.
“Generally, bottled beers tend to be a bit higher in abv and the recipe is ramped up a little bit on hop aroma and bitterness,” said head brewer Chris
Kay. Bristol Beer
Factory also uses a different yeast strain for its bottled beers than for cask. “We found that the one we were using was fine for cask but we were having a few problems in bottles, so we now use one that’s specifically for bottled beers,” he said.
“We also add some priming sugar to give something for the yeast to work on during secondary fermentation.
“It gives more consistency, which is very important and can be hard to achieve in bottle-conditioned beers if you’re not careful.
“Consistency’s very important for something like our Southville Hop which is what we’re best known for and is listed by Waitrose. If you’ve got customers of that stature, you have to do everything you can to make sure there aren’t any problems down the line.”
The influence of overseas brewers’ hop trends on UK micros’ beer styles has been well-documented in recent times, but they’ve also inspired the way British produc- ers approach bottling.
Manchester-based Marble favours krausening, a German technique associated with lagers and wheat beers, in which some freshly-fermenting wort is added to beer that’s already been matured in casks ahead of bottling.
The method takes away the need to add priming sugar – which HM Revenue & Customs sometimes frowns upon – providing natural carbonation and reducing the risk of chemical compounds associated with off flavours forming in the beer.
“With something like Lagonda IPA, we start with a cask-conditioned beer that’s been dry-hopped in the cask, so it’s already got a really fresh character,” said Marble head brewer James Campbell.
“We then transfer to another cask to mix in the wort and send it off to bottling.
“You can capture more of that massive hop aroma that can be lost in a bottle and it gives you a longer shelf-life because it’s more stable than adding sugar. It just tends to give a feel of life and vitality and a far more pleasing character to the beer.”
It’s good to know small brewers are taking time to deliver flavoursome beer to the off-trade as well as the hand pumps of pubs.