5 Dec 2012

Evolutionary bollocks


The other day, after a great post by 2D2dspuma about the need to speak publicly about the bad stuff, Alex Padró came up, once again, with the usual bollocks that unfiltered beer will evolve because it's alive. Later, and in response to my comment on the matter one Guillem Laporta said the following:
Unfiltered beers will CERTAINLY EVOLVE (just like wines) and anyone with a notion about life forms will know that. The beer we are talking about is alive because it has yeast that keeps on working, and the caps and corks will allow the redox process that obviously make them evolve. The best by date means that after a date the evolution of this beer will be such that it will not be like the beer you wanted to drink when you bought it... Well, it seems rather obvious to go on, but someone should say which lapidary phrases aren't correct."
(Before continuing, I should make a couple of things clear. First, the most commonly accepted meaning of "evolution" is "improvement". Second, it is my understanding that, biologically speaking, it is species that evolve and not individuals, though it's true this might be a question of semantics).

Guillem suggests that I don't know much about life forms, but at the same time, he seems to forget one of the basic biological principles, the life cycle. Everything has it, even beers.

Many ancient cultures symbolised the cycle of life with the phases of the moon and (if we forget for a moment the principle of Nature's constant regeneration also symbolised by our satellite) we could also say that beers have a crescent, full and waning phases. How long they will last, it will depend on the beer. It some cases it can be years or decades, but every beer, regardless of how it was made, will eventually start to wane.

The thing here is that we aren't speaking about beers that have been specially made to have a long life, but about "unfiltered beers" in general (it should be also noted that at no point any sort of further conditioning is mentioned in this discussion), which in most cases are beers of moderate ABV and (I'm almost sure) relatively high levels of attenuation.

What are the "evolutionary" possibilities of these beers? Quite small, I'd say (and here I'm not taking into consideration the conditions in which these beers are transported, handled and stored before reaching the consumers, let alone what they do with them). Czech lagers (and actually, all lagers) reach their best condition the moment the secondary fermentation, or lagering, has finished. Past this point, the quality of the beer will start to decline more or less rapidly, depending on several factors. That's the reason why the breweries that commercialise the filtered and unfiltered versions of their beers will always assign the later a much shorter shelf life (we are speaking about days vs. months) and will never sell them through third party distributors, and often only in kegs.

This is, once gain, due to the nature of life forms, in this case, the yeast. As every living organism, saccharomyces cerevisiae, in all its shapes and colours, needs to feed in order to survive. When the food runs out, or it's not enough to support all the population, our microscopic friends start to die and anyone with a basic knowledge in brewing science will know what the consequences of this eventually are.

In other words, it's very possible that by the time an unfiltered beer with moderate ABV reaches our glasses, the zenith of its development (or evolution, if you want) has been already left behind. And if we now do consider the conditions in which these beers are transported, handled and stored, which are often far from the ideal, we shouldn't be surprised then to find ourselves with a beer that is much closer to their New Moon than their Full Moon.

But well, science, logic or facts have never been much of a hurdle for those determined to spread the delusions, lies and bollocks that best fit their interests.

Na Zdraví!

PS: I think Guillem is also wrong about the thing that wines also evolve, two examples should be enough as proof, Don Simón in Tetra-Pack and Beaujolais.

PS2: Unfiltered beers are very much alive, indeed. Now, that potato I found the other day in a dark corner, soft and with 10cm long roots might have been bursting with life, but I doubt it would have been very useful for a bramborák...

3 comments:

  1. Beer is chemically unstable and will always "evolve." That is, it will revert to a stage of chemical neutrality, an entropic process that breweries attempt to forestall. One of the best ways to do this is bottle-conditioning, but largely because the yeast will harvest the oxygen from within the bottle to replicate and replace it with CO2. Oxygen is one of the main actors in the entropic dance, and if brewers can figure out how to get it out of there, all the better.

    My science is a bit bad, but I think it's also the case that things like proteins and chunky matter is ultimately bad for beer, hastening staling and other unwanted processes.

    The thing is, it all comes down to preference. If you like a smidge of oxidation, you're going to like "evolution." If the conversion of compounds into sherry-like flavors pleases you, age is good. Many brewers would prefer you drank their beer within a few days of when it went into the bottle, since they brewed it to be as good as it could be and age only acts as a chaotic actor, unspooling the brewer's hard work. That's true no matter whether the beer is bottle-conditioned, unfiltered, or pasteurized.

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  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWBmaKk32fE

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  3. I don't see the problem so much in the death of yeast in unfiltered beer, but bacteria that start to multiply quickly if the beer is left in room temperature. If you store your unfiltered beer in a fridge it can still be good after half a year and more(my personal experience). The salesman in Dejvice in Prague in the little shop with wide choice of beer sells sometimes unfiltered Hubertus from Kácov and stores it outside of the fridge(which is full of Gambáč etc.. ofcourse). I bought it when it appeared there, it was a wonderfull beer. Then I bought it after a week and it was the crappiest beer, sour and disgusting. It is a pity that the guy knows so little about beer. Once I wanted some 10°plato beer, and he asked me how many % alcohol do I want. I did not want to give him a lecture so I just said 10. sad story.

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