Monday, 13 February 2012

Bottle conditioned beer - we're all doomed!


  I have made many references to the purveyors of good bottle conditioned beer. I have also alluded to some of the more rubbish ones, but rarely have I mentioned quality bottle conditioned beers or ales (BCA) without mentioning Durham Brewery. I think they are shit hot at the old BCA. Along with Dunham Massey, strangely, Thwaites and Coors (only one BCA each but never lets me down) I consider that they are the sort of brewery who's beers you should give a BCA doubter to try - let them see for themselves that BCA does not need to be sour piss like (insert name of almost any small brewery who's bottle conditioning experiment consists of bravado, guesswork, and hand bottling without any prior knowledge or later product testing)

So, against this paean to Durham's merits, what do you expect would happen then if I tried a crap Durham bottle conditioned beer?

Well, put simply, the world would end.

It went a little like this :

Brewery : Durham, in Durham
Name : Temptation (2008 or 2009 vintage, whichever was the first batch to not confirm the year of brewing)
Strength : 10.0%
BCA/none BCA? : BCA.
Purchased : Archer Road Beer Stop Sheffield.

Pictured below is the beer with the bottle, helpfully demonstrating the noticeable lack of any head, although also its jet black colour, and a few white bubbles have formed at the beer's edge.

Colour : as above, black. Absolutely black. No fannying about with "hues" or nuances of colour shades, this is black as coal and proud of it.

Carbonation/Pouring : no sound on opening - quite worrying since its a good three years in the bottle so you would expect a bit of carbonation. Pours silky smooth but ultimately flat.

Aroma : This is the 5th or 6th Temptation I have had, of varying vintages, and everyone carries a strong chocolate coffee malt aroma and sweet nose that tells you its rounded and alcoholic. This hints at that, but there is yeast. And molasses. I am concerned.

Taste : There is an enormous initial mouthfeel but its not well balanced. Yes, there are roast malts, smoked chocolate hints and warming alcohol in there but there is a niggly piquant bite of yeast, and a big dumb lumbering brute of molasses in the aftertaste. I am starting to worry that this has not been a successful bottling.

On the second taste you get more molasses and despite the pleasing strong alcohol and aged beer flavours which light the beer up its very one dimensional and worse still, slightly sour. There is a strong coffee and roast malt flavour struggling to the front again but all too soon its lost in the sledgehammer of thick vinous and unsavoury malt and yeast in the aftertaste.. As we get further down the glass the aftertaste becomes more prevalent. Below is a pic which shows the enticing velvety black ocean of tempting stout loveliness. If you didn't read this review, and just looked at the picture, you'd probably fall in love with the beer at once...

At this point I assume its just my keeping the yeast aside which has caused the problem so taste it separately. Doing so immediately confirms my fears and explains the problem. In essence, the yeast has died, not activated in the bottle. Its the yeast that has created and generated the off flavours as well as the beer stagnating rather than living since it was bottled.  Its nasty enough, when it should be drinkable, to leave in the bottle.

Head retention - its not really appreciably a head at all. There are some game white bubbles that pop up now and again but its like a tar lake, and this is not how Temptation should pour. The fact that none of the strong flavours are lost in the head is a detriment on this occasion.

WBrating : 3.5.
Alas this is a BCA fail. The yeast should be the main player in the ageing and conditioning process and it has not managed to do that. As a result, the remaining beer gets to go off and slowly lose any of its redeeming flavours in the face of the sour molasses hit of the yeast.

In all honesty, I poured half of the bottle away. I could see that no temperature change or yeast addition would save this brew. It only manages to muster 3.5 because even though the beer is dead it is still from a recipe good enough to demonstrate what the real flavours should have been.

So what does this matter you may ask?

Well, its gutting for me, because I always tell people that not only are Durham Brewery the best bottle conditioned ale purveyors in the UK but that Temptation is their showcase. Its like my signature BCA argument - " I think its a shame that the bottle conditioned beer you tried was crap, but you really need to try something great instead like a Durham" The thing is, really, who is going to have this same experience? Will it be everyone I have proffered that advice to?

Well, I guess not, but this is genuinely the first bad Durham BCA I have ever had, and the fact that I kept it carefully for 3 years prior to opening (I considered in light of recent events I was entitled to a reward) just makes it all the more difficult to swallow. Literally.

I'll go out and buy a white stout instead. The only lingering gripe I have, is that I do still have 4 different Temptation vintages in my beer cupboard. So I will need to be open minded when anticipating sampling one.


Wee Beefy.


  1. Not so good, then, sad, eh? I know you appreciate the darker things in life, and I realise that, following whatever agreement they went into with Wells after dear old Mr Young the Elder died, they're not a brewer anymore... but! Their bottle conditioned Special London Ale is a pretty good bitter in a bottle!
    Incidentally, I had my best pint of their Winter Warmer too when visiting Clapham Junction/Wandsworth Common on Friday (see the Beermeister's blog ;-)
    Cheers mate, always entertaining!

  2. PS. Love it! I just had to prove I'm not a "robot", and I passed the test :-D

  3. Hey thanks Mr C, always appreciate your feedback. I haven't seen Special London for ages, in fact I may have forgotten about it, so thanks for the reminder. Naturally, I will press on with many more Durham beers but I was honestly gobsmacked that this one didn't work. Best thing to do is get back on the horse though. Glad your not a robot by the way....

  4. I've not seen Special London Ale anywhere for some time either. As you know, I am a serious sceptic regarding BCAs from micro-breweries, but I did enjoy this recently. I entirely agree with your comments in the first paragraph. At their best, when they really have conditioned properly in the bottle, BCAs do beat brewery-conditioned beers. But they can't do so anything like reliably.

    1. I am planning a post on BCA's in the next couple of days (there is no link to my FB promotion of this post however). Wee Keefy is a major sceptic re BCA's and it's useful to have his rather annoyed pessimistic outlook sometimes. Every time I have an excellent BCA I try and give him a taste but he won't be swayed - he wants consistency not a lottery.