Sunday, 12 January 2014

This isn't just any BCA - This is M&S BCA

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”!


Bailey said...

St Austell have their own proper bottling line which probably makes the difference. All their BC beers are good quality.

Paul Bailey said...

Bailey, thanks for confirming what I suspected - St Austell are doing things right; in fact, if you'll pardon the pun, they're doing a "Proper Job".

There's a whole world of difference between having an up to date bottling plant, capable of handling BCA's, and doing it by hand and bottling straight from the maturation vessel or, even worse, straight from the cask!

The results normally speak for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I had a couple of Fullers Past Master beers over Christmas and there was so little yeast that they poured clear. Supposedly bottle conditioned?
john g

Paul Bailey said...

"BCA's with so little yeast that they pour clear.". I wrote about this back in 2010.

"The method involves removing all of the yeast used for primary fermentation, usually by centrifuging the beer, and then re-seeding it with a different strain of yeast that is both bottom-fermenting and which will also cling to the bottom of the bottle. This is the approach favoured by the bigger players in the game, notably Fullers, Coors (with White Shield), and a number of others. Whilst this results in a far more consistent product, to my mind it is "window dressing" that borders on cheating. Sure you get a beer that doesn't foam all over the place, and nor do you get a glass of cloudy beer, but I do wonder just how much secondary fermentation actually takes place in the bottle given the minuscule amount of yeast present?"

I'm still not convinced whether this practice constitutes cheating or not, but the resulting beer is definitely more consistent.

BT said...

I buy a lot of this, and have never had a bottle that has been anything less than excellent. The ordinary Cornish pale ale is very good too - reminds me of the old King & Barnes bottle-conditioned bitter.