Contamination in the Lines

The other day I was eating at one of those chain English-Style pub restaurants. It has decent English style food and decent beer. It’s actually more than descent in the form of Fuller’s ESB and London Pride. I’ve had Fulller’s beers on several occasions, but I have never had a Fuller’s London Pride on draft, so I figured it was time. I get the beer, waft in the aroma, and take a sip. Wait a minute! There seems to be something horribly wrong here. I take another sip. It tastes off. It certainly doesn’t taste like any of the London Prides I’ve had before. I know the draft should be a bit different from the bottle, but not this different. In fact, no beer should have this flavor. It seems kind of spoiled, maybe moldy, and just plain off. Sadness.

My first suspicion is a contaminated draft line. This has happened in the past and I never did anything about it. This time I figured it wouldn’t hurt to email the brewery, or at least the US representative Paulaner HP. They responded to say that their Chicago sales person would look into. Hope it changes something at the restaurant. All it really takes is cleaning the lines at a minimum of once every two weeks, and preferably weekly. If somebody had this beer for the first time and found this foul taste, there is a good chance they would think it was Fuller’s fault and never get that beer again. A damn shame. Before I started studying draught systems for the Cicerone Beer Servers exam, I never really understood how prevalent dirty lines are, and how most people (including myself) would never attribute it to the dirty lines.

It is important to understand what the differences are between flavors from  contamination and from poor recipes.  A professional brewery didn’t become a professional brewery by having poor quality control and off flavors in the beer. If you find a beer that has offensive flavor, that is probably a contamination due to poor handling or dirty lines. If you drink a beer with an offensive flavor, especially if it is from the draft, I’d try the beer from somewhere else before giving up on the beer altogether. If everything is alright there, it was probably the restaurant or bar’s fault. Sometimes things happen beyond a bar’s  control, but if you properly clean your lines and equipment on a regular basis, you shouldn’t be getting these problems.

Fullers London Pride

Bitter. Why would anybody want to drink something called a Bitter? Bitter is the flavor of poison in the wild.

Fullers London Pride

It’s the reason kids don’t eat their vegetables. It’s generally seen to our American palate as unpleasant, but this isn’t always the case. What would marmalade be without the use of bitter oranges? What about Tea? What about Coffee? Oh wait, coffee without the bitterness would be something like the Starbucks Peppermint Mocha with whipped cream. So many foods have so much artificial sweetener that most people don’t even know what sweet is.

I'll get off my soapbox now.

Why bitter? It’s the balance. Balance is important in everything in life, and this is especially true for your gastronomic experiences.

Without bitterness, beer would taste like malt syrup, and though you might drink a spoonful of this, you certainly wouldn’t be drinking it by the pint. Since about the 15th century, bitterness in beer has come mainly from hops. In darker beers, you also get some bitterness from the highly roasted malt (just like how the darker roasts of coffee are bitterer than lighter roasts). Before this, at least in Europe, you generally had a mixture of spices called gruit. Gruit is usually made up of herbs like sweet gale, mugwort, yarrow, wild rosemary, cloves etc. It varied from region to region and the recipe was usually kept secret. Gruit usually came only from the church or nobility, and acted as a tax on the beer since you had the get your Gruit from them. If you do want to make your own Gruit beer, you may want to omit the yarrow and wild rosemary, as these are questionable at best for human consumption.

Hops eventually came along, and over the period of several centuries and almost completely overtook other spices. This is probably due to its better antibiotic properties that favor beer yeast, and the reason that regions that resisted hops the longest and still to this day prefer other spices, still will include a small amount of hops in their beers.

Fuller’s London Pride is an English Style Bitter. It has a lot of overlap with a pale ale, and some would claim that the only difference is a bitter comes from a barrel and a pale ale comes from a bottle. Others like Garret Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery would claim that Pale Ales are drier and have a very clean sharp hope flavor. This generally is a result of using water with a high level of gypsum in it (very hard water), most famously from Burton-upon-Trent, and adding gypsum to your brew water to make it harder is generally called “Burtonizing,” but that’s another post.

This beer is not exactly the same London Pride that you would get if you went to a Fuller’s pub in England and ordered a Bitter. The we get comes in a bottle and theoretically in England the bitter would come from a “real ale” system. Which means that it is naturally carbonated in the cask, and uses gravity or a hand pump to pour from a cask instead of compressed C02.This method almost died out in England until the Campaign for Real Ale came along and basically saved beer in England. I say you would theoretically get it from a “real ale” system because although these systems are on the rise, using a real ale system is kind of a pain, and since there is no C02, the beers need to be consumed within a few days. It also requires a skilled cellarman. When the cask is ready to be used, the cask is breached and carbonation is let out of the cask until the preferred level of carbonation is reached. This varies depending on the region of the country. Less carbonation in the south and more carbonation in the north.

Now to the beer of the moment.

Fuller’s London Pride

Fuller’s along with Youngs are probably the most famous of the London Breweries and what you think of when you think of beer in London. You could even divide London into the Fullers side and the Young’s side. just like you divide Chicago into the Cubs side and the Sox side. Beer has been brewed on the site of the Chiswick Brewery for the last 350 years, although the current company Fuller, Smith, and Turner only dates to 1845.

Aroma
The aroma is very fruity with some hints of breadiness. The most prominent fruit is orange. This actually confused me a little because you generally expect citrus flavors from an American Pale Ale due to the variety of hops used. I went to the BJCP style guides, and low and behold, there was no mention of orange in the British Bitter/Pale Ale aroma or taste. I didn’t think it was a bad batch because I smelled and tasted orange in more than one bottle. I went to the beeradvocate.com site and a few people mentioned orange in the aroma and taste. Now in looking at my copy of “The Brewmaster’s Table” by Garret Oliver and he does claim the nose contains notes of homemade orange marmalade, so I guess I’m not too far off.

Color
Golden brown and very clear. A short white head that laces nicely as you drink it.

Taste
I still taste orange first with some caramel tastes in the middle. The bitterness is prominent, but there is no real aroma or taste from the hops.

Mouthfeel
Low mouthfeel with a relatively light carbonation.

Overall Impression
This is a great crisp bitter beer that will go as easily with Fish and Chips as with some Chinese takeout. It’s a good session beer to drink all night.