In Part 1 we learned why Bottle Conditioning is used and how it effects the end beer. So what does it all really mean to us as the consumer? Bottle Conditioning or Bottle Re-Fermentation produces what’s known as sediment; dead or still slightly alive yeast which floats or rest in your beer. It comes in a few forms, and may either be cherished or discarded depending on your tastes. The way sediment shows up in your beer and the character it will have is completely dependent on the beer. The type of yeast and the amount of it, the amount of sugar, and the chemistry of the beer itself will all play a huge role in determining how the sediment appears in your bottle and tastes. Also, how the bottle has been stored can affect its character too.
Sediment will show up as either flakes or chunks floating in the beer when shaken or turned on end, or it will be more of a fine cloud of dust glowing in the beer when disturbed.When you first grab a matured bottle conditioned beer, you most likely won’t notice anything unusual. But, if the beer is transparent and not very dark, tip it upside down and give it a slight shake and see what happens. As the above picture shows clearly, heavily bottle conditioned beers will release a flood of sediment pouring down from the beer, gently floating in sublime suspension.
I know it looks gross, but its just yeast, and with time you may even come to appreciate and love the sediment. Now-a -days, when I tip a bottle that is streaming with thick sediment and I exclaim “gross!”, it is usually in an endearing manner of excitement.
The flavor of the yeast varies greatly. Typically, especially among the Belgian Yeast Strains, the yeast has a very earthy funk and lightly tart flavor to it. Notes of blue cheese and grass or even moss can be detected, and may not always be palatable in your beer. Often the sediment can also be lightly sweet and tart showing sourness and ripe fresh flavors. Then on occasion it can add a savory juicy character to the beer building on the beers body and warming stature.
Depending on the beer style, you may want to include or exclude sediment. Belgian Trappist beer have been designed for both purposes over many years, so this is totally your call. If you are triking a Tripel, Imperial Weizen, or Lambic, the sediment can add a valuable layer of depth and complexity. However if you are drinking a Dubbel, Quad, or any sweeter beers, the sediment may bring it down with an unnecessary funk.
If you do want the sediment, simply turn the bottle a few times to let it distribute itself before pouring. Pour the beer as you normally would, then when there is only about one fifth left in the bottle, stop and swirl it around to collect the last bits that may be settled, and pour them into your glass.
If you don’t want the sediment make sure you do not disturb them resting on the bottom of the bottle. Gently pour the beer and reserve the last centimeter or so in the bottle to contain the sediment and not let it escape into your bottle.
Not every bottle will tell you if it is bottle conditioned or not. Some will say that blatantly on the label, other will say “naturally carbonated”. Both of these are a sign of bottle conditioning. If the bottle mentions that it can be aged, is a Vintage, or is corked, most likely it is bottle conditioned – but this is not always the case. efer to the breweries web site for the most accurate details.
There is really no way to tell if you will like it or not without trying it. So when you have the opportunity, pour two of the same bottle, one with and one without sediment so that you can depict an accurate representation of how it affects the beer. Sediment can add just another layer of complexity and flavor to beer, but it is an acquired taste. Test it with some of the beers that you are familiar with which are bottle conditioned and see what you prefer. Hey, its going to be fun.