What is “bottle conditioned” beer?
Unlike 90% of of ordinary bottled beers, Bottle conditioned ales are a live product, bottled with a small amount of yeast that provides additional fermentation and maturation whilst in the bottle, leading to a much deeper character and flavour, and a natural, soft carbonation, rather than the forced carbonation used on soft drinks and ‘bright’ bottled beers.
Whilst treating the bottle with care in order to avoid a cloudy glass of beer when pouring, the yeast is nothing to fear: in fact, it features many health benefits — it is a rich source of B-complex vitamins, protein, and minerals such as chromium. “German doctors used to prescribe bottle-conditioned wheat beer to patients with vitamin deficiencies.” As a probiotic organism, yeast helps your body break down nutrients, regulates your digestive system, maintains your nervous system, and even helps modulate blood-sugar levels.
Bottle conditioned beer, ale, and lager are often misunderstood terms, and we at The Real Ale Shop are not averse to the word ‘lager’ and don’t think that you should be either. One of our favorite guest beers was an unfiltered lager from Bavaria! Here is our quick guide:
- ‘Beer’ can be brewed with any malted cereal grain, and under any number of fermentation processes. It is a broad term for various styles and methods.
- ‘Ale’ is a specific type of beer that is brewed with barley in a warm fermentation process.
- ‘Bottle Conditioning,’ as explained, is an in-bottle fermentation method. It can be applied to any style of ale.
- ‘Lagering’ is a process of brewing where the fermentation and conditioning takes place at low temperatures. Pale lager is the most commonly known, but there are also dark lagers. A well brewed craft lager will often have little in common with the big names sold in bulk in supermarkets.
How to store and care for your bottle conditioned beer
In order to enjoy your bottle conditioned ale, we recommend the following steps:
- Always store and transport your bottles upright, with the cap facing up.
- Store bottles in a cool place away from direct sunlight. 12c is the optimum temperature for storing and serving.
- Allow the sediment to settle before serving if it is visibly ‘floating’ or has caused an otherwise clear beer to become cloudy.
- Pour your beer smoothly into a glass, not allowing it to ‘glug’ out otherwise the yeast will become disturbed.
By following these simple steps (especially the last) the quality of bottle conditioned beer will speak for itself.
Things to note
– It is a common misconception that real ale or bottle conditioned beer should be consumed ‘warm’. Whilst it should not be stored in a refrigerator (as noted above) but rather at a cool room temperature, a chilled bottle conditioned beer can accentuate the complex flavours and cool you on a hot summer day! We recommend chilling your glass in the freezer for 15-30 minutes before pouring in your real ale; or placing the bottle in the fridge for 30 minutes until refreshingly cooled. This works best with pale and golden ales but will often dull the enjoyable characters of darker, maltier beers.
– It is a requirement of law that bottled beers have a Best Before date on them, but in reality the bottle conditioning process will lengthen the life of the beer and, over time, increase the ABV (alcohol by volume) until the yeast reaches the end of its activity. It is not unknown – although The Real Ale Shop does not recommend it – for a brewer to set aside a case of their bolder, heavier bottle conditioned beer for some five or even ten years, and the resulting strength and depth of flavour can be unparalleled.
So what happens if it is kept at the wrong temperature?
If it is stored for too long under temperatures that are too COLD, the flavour will be compromised and the beer will become cloudy and flat as the low temperature slows or stops the fermentation process.
If it is stored in conditions that are too WARM, the yeast goes into overdrive and not only will it consume all the sugars and shorten the life of the beer, but the beer will over-carbonate and will ‘gush’ (foam over) when opened as a result.