I have written on several occasions in the past, about my wariness when it comes to bottle-conditioned ales, (BCA’s). To me they seem very hit and miss, and whilst at their best they can be up there amongst the very finest of bottled beers, all too often they are over-lively, so they fob everywhere making it impossible to pour the beer in one movement (as recommended, to prevent disturbing the sediment), or they’re flat, cloudy – due to non-flocculent yeast, and taste like someone’s very bad home-brew. There are even times when they are un-drinkably bad and end up being poured down the sink, an expensive way of buying drain-cleaner!
It was therefore like a breath of fresh air when I cracked open a bottle of Cornish IPA, from the M&S range, which was given to me by a work colleague this Christmas, as part of a selection from Marks and Sparks. Brewed by St Austell, to an abv of 5.0%, this BCA not only poured nice and bright, with just the right amount of head, but also ticked all the right boxes.
Amber in colour, with a biscuit-malt base, and loads of aromatic hops, this beer really was a pleasure to drink. Maybe I just struck lucky, but I suspect not. St Austell are a well-respected brewery who know what they are doing. M&S are also well-known for their high standards, and I am certain they would not tolerate a product which fell short on the quality front. I also think that bottle-conditioning is a process which is best left to the bigger players in this game. Fuller’s, of course, are the other brewery whose name springs to mind with respect to BCA’s, and the large number of bottles of 1845 I drank over the Christmas period, all of which were excellent, stand testament to this.
I will now give some of the other BCA’s in the M&S range a try; but in the meantime, especially when it comes to some of the smaller or newer participants in the bottle-conditioned market, I believe it remains very much a case of “buyer beware”!