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Searching for clear answer to unfined beer debate

IMAGINE you’re listening to Radio 5 Live’s phone-in show Your Call.

Dawn Miles of Anarchy Brew Co

IMAGINE you’re listening to Radio 5 Live’s phone-in show Your Call. Presenter Nicky Campbell brays into the mic as the excitable 5 Live jingle fades out.

“This is Your Call and today we’re asking: ‘Is it ever right that beer is unfined?’”

LEDs flash on the control board as the phone lines fill. Cue angry calls from both sides using the usual linguistic currency of one-button activists. But what is unfined beer?

Made from fishes’ swim bladders or seaweed, finings are added to clear yeast and protein haze. Beer clarity is much-beloved down the years as ale aficionados hold their pint up to the light to admire the various shades of gold, ruby and amber.

But not all beer is like that ... many world beers leave the haze alone, such as Hefeweizen, a deliciously cloudy wheat beer. And a movement has gathered speed in Britain to have more unfined beers.

As usual, Nicky also has a few experts to speak on each side. Why shouldn’t beer be left in its natural state with all the flavour that provides? But isn’t presentation of the beer just as important, and can it affect the flavour?

It’s another typically controversial topic which, like the cask versus keg debate, pits a new generation of brewers and drinkers against the old guard. All sides surely have to agree that it’s great that new ideas come along to challenge preconceptions.

But it divides opinion. What would the callers on the 5 Live phone-in say?

On the one hand, beer is an all-round sensual experience which encompasses sight, and it will take a lot to remove that belief. Part of the reason Pilsner took off was its beautiful clarity at a time when clear glasses were introduced, and some beer colours really are beautiful.

On the other hand, finings not only remove yeast but also hop oils and proteins which add to the mouth-feel and flavour of the beer. Do we really want to sacrifice taste just to have a clear pint? Unfined beer is also often understandably called “natural”.

Finings effectively speed up the time it takes for casks to drop bright – but since when was quality beer dictated by the words “quick” and “easy”?

Drinkers can make their minds up by tasting unfined beer.

Morpeth’s Anarchy Brew Co has launched two unfined beers: Quiet Riot – a 6.6% South Pacific IPA launched at Lady Grey’s yesterday – and 3.9% smoked beer Smoke Bomb, launching tonight at Tilley’s.

“We’ve been working with another brewer, Moor Beer, down south so it’s the first two of our natural beers,” says Dawn Miles, who runs Anarchy with husband Simon. “It’s something we all like here and we prefer drinking them personally.

“It’s about getting people to think about what their palate’s actually doing. People drink with their eyes, but really they should be listening to what their palate is telling them.”

Head out and try these two beers, I have a feeling both are going to be something very special. Anarchy are brilliant to be in the forefront of this idea which fits well with modern tastes for natural products. But they also have the right approach by offering both fined and unfined lines of products.

“There’s nothing wrong with either fined or unfined,” says Dawn. “There’s been a good response and we’ve actually put it on the pumpclips ... as long as it’s on the pumpclip people are fine.”

The hour-long Your Call comes to an end. Like with every single 5 Live phone-in ever conceived, I guess the boring answer is that, just like the cask/keg debate, there’s no right or wrong – it’s about it being right for certain beers, or certain drinkers, and we shouldn’t deny ourselves that variety because of arcane rules about how beer should be.

And how wonderful that we’ve got such great brewers in the North East to give us that choice.



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