I admit it, I like my beer, but I am a very fussy drunk. One of the sources of constant distress to me is the use of isinglass (derived from the swim bladder of a Russian sturgeon) to clarify nearly every British beer worth drinking. While there are many substances derived from seaweed and minerals that can clarify beer, isinglass has an interesting trick up its sleeve in that it can repeat the trick several times if the cask is moved. The others are just one-shots. The exact mechanism by which it does this isn’t well understood, making the development of an alternative somewhat tricky.
It leaves me with limited choices. I could stick to the bottle-conditioned beers from Black Isle and Cropton, and others, but that means drinking at home which I very rarely do. I could drink German and Belgian beer, which I do sometimes, but I doubt importing my beer is particularly kind to the environment and it’s not as good as British beer. Not even the Rauchbier. I could drink industrial fizzy keg pish, but I’m not that desperate for a pint. I could simply not drink alcohol, but I recently did that for a month and the state of non-alcoholic drinks in British pubs is deplorable – I ended up drinking water it was that bad. Or, like many people, I could accept that it’s one of the unavoidable things in life and quietly hope that CAMRA, the Vegetarian Society and the Vegan Society would get together and help fund a brewing science PhD or two.
This morning, my copy of What’s Brewing (CAMRA’s monthly newspaper) arrived, and the headline story is good news indeed. It’s not online, but Roger Protz, the author of the piece, has another version of the same story elsewhere: Marston’s Unveils Fast Cask.
Basically, Marston’s, a Burton-on-Trent based brewer, has been doing some research into methods of making cask beer “drop bright” more quickly and has come up with Fast Cask, something completely different: the yeast is removed at the end of the main (“primary”) fermentation and replaced with small balls of yeast for the secondary fermentation (this is the stage that takes place in a cask or bottle, and gives proper beer its fizz). Magic happens (the process is patent pending) and the beer clears really quickly while still being conditioned in the cask.
CAMRA’s Technical Advisory Group is looking at the process to confirm that the resulting product is still real ale, and seem likely to conclude that while it won’t make much difference to traditional pubs, it might make real ale more practical in a wider range of venues. Both articles mention the real advantage, though. One that would do a remarkable amount to promote the consumption of proper beer: the resulting product (unless it’s a honey beer of course) is suitable for vegans.
The first beers to use Fast Cask will be Marston’s Pedigree and Wychwood Hobgoblin – the latter being one of the regular beers in The Auld Hoose. Marston’s are suggesting that traditional venues will continue to receive the fishy version of their beer, but hopefully they’ll consider supplying the vegan version to those pubs who feel they have enough vegetarian and vegan customers to justify it.
Update: A friend has just drawn my attention to the Great Vegan Beer Festival in Nottingham in early June.