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
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.
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