Last Monday I had my family over for a nontraditional, one day late Robbie Burns Supper. The evening went quite well, at least I think it did, and I was pleased with the food, except for one key element, the beer. I picked up a bottle of Jameson’s Scottish Ale from Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub last September with the intent of serving it at a Robbie Burns supper. Scotch Ale is not my favorite style of beer – I find it cloying and challenging to finish as a result. But I bought this ale anyways thinking it would be great when paired with a rich flavorful dessert – sticky toffee pudding to be precise.
I served a delicious Brown Ale from Canoe Brewpub as a match to a supper of cullen skink, braised beef cross rib and of course neeps and tatties. A sticky toffee pudding was going to be served alongside a strong scotch ale as a conclusion to the meal, but disaster prevented this from happening. The beer had gone bad. The ale that was supposed to be smooth and malty was now offensively sour. I picked myself up from this great disappointment and carried on the evening by serving an oatmeal stout instead. Crisis was averted and dessert was served, but with a lingering sense of disappointment that nearly spoiled the evening.
This is not my first experience with spoiled beer from Spinnakers, this is the third time this has happened to me. Obviously Spinnakers has a problem with their bottling line that should be corrected, but in the world of small craft brewing I deem this to be somewhat of an acceptable error. This is not to say that I look forward to opening a bottle only to find sour beer waiting for me, I don’t. Small brewers operate on a tight budget and do the best with what they have – this means consistency from bottle to bottle may occasionally vary. The main reason why I can overlook this mistake is because craft beer is real beer and real beer is not pasteurized. Pasteurization is a high heat bacterial kill step that most macro brewers use to ensure their beer has a long shelf life. The intense heat of pasteurization does not help to improve beer’s flavour, if anything it destroys the delicate flavour compounds found in a proper brew. A clean brewery and proper brewing practices are all that is necessary to ensure a quality beer is reaching consumers – at least most of the time.
Opening a bottle of spoiled beer is part of the real beer experience. Of course it should be a very rare occurrence, but it will happen. Before modern science many beer drinkers would have regularly found their pint glass filled with sour beer. Without stale beer England’s famous Porter may never have existed. I am certain that the great Robbie Burns came across stale beer from time to time and I am quite happy to have a shared experience with him. Every stale beer I come across will continue to remind me that I am drinking real beer and real beer can go bad.