Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Carbonation Quandary

By Owen Ogletree

I'm going to make a crazy statement here. I've come to the conclusion that American craft beers are over carbonated.

After making several trips to the UK in the last several years and judging at the Great British Beer Festival in London, I've come to really enjoy the lack of fizzy, biting carbonation in cask-conditioned English ales. The tongue is not numbed by loads of artificial CO2 pumped into the beer, and the taster can actually appreciate and savor the malt, hops, fermentation character, along with a soft, subtle, natural CO2 sparkle.

I know that Belgian and German beers contain quite a bit of carbonation, but knowledgeable waitstaff in these countries know to pour these beers into over-sized glasses and release as much carbonation as possible. It's a part of the ritual and enjoyment of these brews.

American craft beer is often forced carbonated with a huge amount of artificial CO2 and poured quietly into boring 16 ounce pint glasses right up to the rim. There's little to no release of gas and no possibility of swirling the beer for aroma. Upon the first sip, the mouth fills with foam, the CO2 bite disables the taste buds, and the drinker swallows a gullet full of gas. Intense bouts of burping follow. Maybe these carbonation levels are leftover from the days of super fizzy yellow beers after Prohibition. Perhaps the general public does not really want to taste their craft beer, and the intense CO2 helps achieve this questionable goal.

If I lived in the middle ages, my name would have been "Owen The De-Gasser." Skeptical? Try it yourself. Order a craft beer and ask for a clean, empty pint glass. Pour one third of the beer vigorously into the empty glass and swirl it around to release even more gas. Let the head settle on the agitated beer and then sip from each glass. I guarantee you'll be shocked at the different flavors and mouthfeel of the same beer from the two glasses. One will taste like malt and hops (AKA beer), and the other will taste like a mouthful of prickly, astringent, artificial CO2 with an undertone of malt and hops.

I appeal to craft brewers to simply try and crank back the CO2 a bit -- start to wean the American public off its excess CO2 addiction. Pub owners should also try to lower CO2 pressure on serving lines to make the beer pour a bit softer. Imagine the lowered costs of using less carbon dioxide. Imagine how many more beers will be consumed because customers are not filled up and bloated with gas. Imagine experiencing the wonderful flavors of craft beer without too much CO2 getting in the way. 

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