Beer School

Cloudy or clear

Cloudy or clear – would a haze phase you?

Q: I’ve been served a pint – it’s cloudy. Should I send it back?

Don’t be too hasty. In the bad, old days of mass-produced, commercial beer and lager – we’re talking late 20th century – we were schooled into thinking of clear and bright as good, cloudy as bad. Back then, cloudy might have indicated either dregs from the cask or a beer that’s been poorly kept. It still can, but now there are also plenty of good reasons for a cloudy glassful. The Guardian gleefully declared, “in craft beer bars, murk is fast becoming the new normal.”

Q: What makes a beer cloudy?

Haziness is caused largely by particles left in the liquid – the hop compounds, spent yeast cells or indeed the live yeasts that are still at work. Nowadays, as haze has become more trendy in beer, other methods have been introduced to encourage it. These aim to increase hoppiness and creamy texture and reduce bitterness.

Chilling can also create cloudiness. Most common in unfiltered beers, proteins in the liquid join together and create the haze (it happens in whisky and olive oil too). They are tasteless and will disappear if you warm your beer slightly.

Bottle-conditioned beer may contain yeast sediment. If the bottle is left upright, this sediment will collect at the bottom and, poured carefully, that’s where it’ll stay, not in your glass. With some beers, this sediment is all part of the taste experience. For others, it’s not and has been poorly served.

Q: Cloudy is one thing, but what happens if it smells like vinegar on my chips?

Microbiological infection – when bacteria get to work in a bad way – can also cause haze. So, if your beer has a sour, vinegary edge, then it’s time to send it back.

Q: What makes a beer clear?

To make a beer clear, it is laced with a fining agent – egg white, gelatine, isinglass or a vegetarian alternative – that binds with the particles in the liquid, largely spent yeast cells, and drops to the bottom and is removed. The downside, however, is that it also joins with hop compounds and proteins in beer and drags those down too, thereby stripping out some of the flavour.

Q: When did the latest haze craze start?

In about 2004, The Alchemist Brewery in the States released Heady Topper – an IPA that hadn’t been filtered, fined or pasteurised (all of which extend shelf life by removing bacteria). As a consequence, it poured cloudy. Customers were impressed by its extra flavour. A few other brewers tried it out, but only in 2017 did craft beer lovers take to it in a big way.

If you’re a vegan beer lover, you’ll be delighted a beer is hazy as you’ll know that none of those non-vegan fining agents have been used. For all hop-loving, flavoursome beer drinkers, haze is a look you should welcome, too.

It’s got to a stage now that some breweries go out of their way to embrace methods that bring on the haze. They know it’ll increase hoppiness and also the creamy texture of the beer, whilst reducing bitterness.

Q: Where will I find hazy beers?

Everywhere is the unhelpful answer. To be more specific, in America’s craft beer scene today, the trend is for proper IPAs to have a hop haze and sometimes residual yeast to make them extra hazy.

In southern Germany they have Hefeweizen, also known as witbier and weissbier; in Belgium beers are often hazy, naturally conditioned in bottle and still containing live yeast.

The Czech Republic also naturally condition their beers, retaining the live yeasts and serving them with varying degrees of haziness. And there are plenty now in the UK. Today, brewers are seeking new ways to create hazy beers, as it enhances the silky texture and preserves more flavour. Verdant in Cornwall, Pilot in Edinburgh, Cloudwater in Manchester, Moor Brewery and Wiper and True, both in Bristol … are giving some, if not all, of their beers the ‘cloudy’ look, some more cloudy than others!

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