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Filtered, pasteurised = Craft

There are not few among the craftophiles who believe that craft beer should not be pasteurised or even filtered.

Frankly, I find it hard to understand, in particular, the opposition to filtering, of any kind. To me it is as reasonable as saying that, in order to be considered "craft", a beer has to be of a certain colour, have at least X IBU's and no less than a certain percentage of ABV. It wouldn't make any sense, would it? The only reason someone has been able to give me was that a filtered beer will not evolve and therefore it's not craft.

If by "evolve" we understand "improve" then this person doesn't seem to know very much what they are talking about. Without conditioning, unfiltered beers, once matured, will not evolve, quite the opposite.

In the e-mails about this topic I exchanged with Stan Hieronymus, author of Brew Like a Monk, he explained that dead yeasts in unfiltered beers will rupture and produce some off-flavours. How fast that happens and how much will those flavours be perceived will depend on many factors, like yeast strains and type of beer, but it is something that will eventually happen. As an example, Stan told me about some brewing instructions for a Helles, which suggest that autolysis (the rupture of the cells) can happen after six weeks of lagering and therefore, it is suggested to remove the beer from the yeasts after that period (though, come to think of it, there aren't many craft brewers outside Germany who'd dare to brew a Helles, so forget I've said this).

Personally, if I tabulated which version I like better, if filtered or unfiltered, unfiltered would win by several lengths, but not by unanimity. There are some beers that I prefer in their filtered version, there are also times when the only thing that will do the job is a clean, crisp, filtered beer and, on the other hand, I'm convinced that most of the Czech Pale Ales I've drunk would improve considerably if they were filtered in one way or another.

In other words, it's all about taste, it's about what works better not only for a style, but also for a given beer and a good artisan will take this into account if their goal is to offer the consumer a better experience.

But what about pasteurisation? That one's nasty, it's something the evil multimacronationals do so they can sell their rubbish all over the world, perhaps my few years ago self would say, while GECAN (the association of microbrewers from Catalunya), define "Craft Beer" as a beer that is "unpasteurised, therefore, natural".

What a bucketful of bollocks nonsense!

Firstly, pasteurisation isn't something exclusive to the macros. There are many regional brewers in the Czech Republic and in Germany that pasteurise at least the bottles and some American Craft Breweries also do it. Stan told me about one that does a lab analysis of every batch to decide which will be flash pasteurised.

Secondly, beer, whatever its label, is not a natural product, it has never been. The members of GECAN can argue about that all they want, but they are wrong, unless they can show me where and how malts are grown, and they will still be wrong.

Semantics aside, though, the truth is that technically speaking, pasteurisation (which, by the way, was originally developed for the brewing industry) is as natural (or should I say artificial?) as boiling the wort. Both are based on the same principle, sterilisation through high temperatures, and that is exactly the main purpose of both. The difference is that boiling the wort kills bugs that can contaminate and fuck a beer up later, while pasteurisation also kills microorganisms, but is applied to a product that would otherwise be finished with the intention of extending its shelf life. The problem is that it also eliminates certain flavour compounds generated during fermentation (or biotransformation as Stan calls it) that are actually desirable.

So, unpasteurised beers are better after all!

I must confess that I don't remember having tasted the same beer in both versions, with the exception of tanková, but I don't know how valid the comparison can be because I believe that the dispensing method plays a not insignificant role in the profile of what gets to the glass. However, and regardless of that, I'm convinced that a beer is indeed better when it's not pasteurised.

However, if I look at the usual dwellers of my cellar I will notice that not few of them are pasteurised, and yet, I have some of those beers among my favourite in their respective categories. So, I've got no quarrel with pasteurisation.

"But Max," says someone there in the back, "if you could drink those beers unpasteurised, I'm sure you'd like them better". I've got no doubt about that, but I'm also sure that I would like them a lot more if I could drink them straight from their lagering tanks. But I don't drink hypotheses, theories or wishes, I drink beer and the best version of any beer, with no exception, is the one I can drink in good condition.

The conclusion I reached with all this is that, just like adjuncts, specialty malts, automatisation, hop pellets, lagering, barrel aging, bottle or cask conditioning, extracts, parti gyle, etc., pasteurisation and filtering, in their different shapes, are tools brewers have available in oder to shape their beers according to their wishes and needs, and their use is not contrary to the craftmanship ehtos.

So, dear brewers, true artisans aren't those who refuse to use certain tools for dogmatic reasons, true artisans are those who take all the necessary means to offer the consumer a good product of consistent quality.

Na Zdraví!

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  1. Thanks for the dead yeast in unfiltered beer info. I had never heard that before. It might just explain why sometimes we run into unfiltered beers which fail to surpass their filtered brothers and also why unfiltered beers in bad condition tend to taste even worse than filtered beers in bad condition. Apparently, there's just more to go wrong if the beer is left unfiltered.

    To take your tankovna Pilsner thought one step further, how would you compare unfiltered tankovna to filtered tankovna? A few months back it was possible to conduct this experiment at U Jagusta at Palmovka (I truly hope they have both beers again sometime). I found myself really conflicted about which one I preferred. IMO the filtered, unpasteurized beer tasted sharper, cleaner and more bitter than the unfiltered, unpasteurized, but the unfiltered had something of a more deeper maltiness or breadlike taste which was also delicious. I really couldn't declare a winner, but in the end I found myself ordering the unfiltered more because it's such a rarity in Prague and I felt I needed to seize the opportunity. All in all, it was a nice conflict to have, like choosing between the final two winners at a beach bikini contest. Tough work. Cheers, JKA n PRG

    1. If I'm not wrong, the unfiltered Urquell I've had in Prague was always keg and, frankly, quite disappointing, compared to the stuff you can have in Pilsen...

      (I'd say this conflict is better than the proverbial bikini contest, at least you can taste these two beers:)

    2. Has anyone noticed how the taste of tankova PU is different, depending on the pub?
      Maybe it's to do with how clean the pipes are, or how long the beer has been in the tank.

      On a recent visit, I had a *superb* pint of PU at U Bansethu. They had a sign on the bar, showing the date that the beer had been delivered, I think.
      The beer was a week old and was great, I couldn't believe it!
      PU at U Houbare and Olsanske was good, but the pint I had at U Rudolfina tasted different again, and was disappointing.

    3. Yes, I have. For example, I've always liked tanková at U Veverky better than at Bruska a 100m away and it has always amazed me, after all, the whole system is property of PU and is supposed to be the same at each pub...

  2. Now you've got me thinking about past and future Pilsnerfests in Plzen and the cloudy, sublime nectar....

    They've got the beer, the music, the grub - all that's missing is a Miss Pilsnerfest competition. With your industry contacts you might even be able to get on the judging panel!

    1. I don't think my wife would be too thrilled about that :)

  3. I am in the UK and mainly drink unfiltered cask-conditioned beer. At its best this is clearly superior to filtered pasteurised beer but at its worst it is undrinkable. Filtered, pasteurised beer is almost always OK and sometimes good.

    Cask-conditioned beer in UK should (almost always) be bright. In fact a really cloudy beer would probably be returned to the bar for exchange. It seems, to me at least, that a cask-conditioned beer tastes best when it appears clear (although there will, of course, still be a good number of yeast cells floating about in the glass)

    It is bemusing to see that so much micro- and pub-brewed beer on mainland Europe is, frankly, cloudy. I can't help wondering if there is a bit of marketing bollocks going on here. No well brewed beer has to be that cloudy. Yeast and chill haze can, at least, be reduced without heavy processing but, of course, a crystal clear beer speaks of industrial euro-lager.

    I don't have enough experience of small brewery beer on mainland Europe to draw any conclusions but I am working on that.

  4. >there aren't many craft brewers outside Germany who'd dare to brew a Helles<

    How true! Off flavours can easily be hidden in "extreme" beers. Making a subtle helles is tougher task.

  5. "I don't drink hypothesis, theories or wishes, I drink beer and the best version of any beer, with no exception, is the one I can drink in good condition"

    So true. Too many people get caught up in the details of how a beer was made rather than enjoying the end product. The best pilsner style lager I have had in America is done with a single infusion mash, only uses Saaz for the flavour and aroma additions and tastes bloody marvelous!

  6. I must say, your rants on the 'craft beer revolution' and craftophilia in general are a fun read, I often feel you are speaking my mind. I was having your comment on the latest post on The Beer Nut in the back of my head (that one about the 'lager/IPA hybrid'), when I came across this:

    I'm not saying those beers will surely be bad, they might even be lovely but the whole imagery surrounding this whole 'revolution' thing becomes just strenuously farsical.

    1. "Revolution" has become as meaningful as "Craf", when it comes to beer, really...

      Thanks for the comment.


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