Is 'still beer' still beer?

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Is 'Still Beer' still beer?

Is

When a brew pub is located in an industrial park, that's a good sign. It suggests that the brewer is paying a lower rent than his colleague in the fancy neighborhood. Lower rent means lower costs overall, but it especially means that it costs less to store the beer during the period of conditioning between brewing and serving. A brewer who doesn't have to worry so much about the costs of conditioning can serve properly matured beers. More importantly, she's likely to make more ambitious beers-ones that benefit from a few extra weeks in the tank. So I was excited to see Fletcher street Brewery off the main drag of Alpena, Michigan and surrounded by parking lots. The atmosphere is strictly industrial-chic, very low overhead: another good sign. Our bartender, Aaron announced that he was an aviation mechanic by trade and that he was tending bar for the love of the beer. I'm imagining the price going down and the quality going up as he speaks.

Now this sounds like a set up for a story where the beer is miraculously good or splendidly awful, but in fact it's more fun than that. It's a story about a technical glitch that leads to an interesting tasting and a discovery. I ordered a sampler: eight beers served in four ounce glasses. The first one was barely carbonated, the second was dead flat. Number three had some fizz, even a little bit of lacing on the glass and the fourth was as dead as a pickled herring. The last four were completely uncarbonated and if I were a more frivolous sort, I'd be ranting, Python like through a list of synonyms for 'dead'. (In keeping with proper care of the dead, they were all chilled to an appropriate temperature.) Of course, I asked Aaron what was up. It seems there was a little technical problem. He didn't know what it was, but until the brewer came by in a few days, all he had was the unfizzy stuff. The bubbles are more than just traditional. Carbonation helps to carry aromas to the nose. This is important since beer is usually served at a cool temperature. It also creates a prickly tactile sensation that suppresses sweetness perception. Brewers design the taste of their beers with a particular level of carbonation in mind-that's why flat beer always tastes sweet and a bit out of balance.

Then I noticed something interesting: the lack of carbonation also made the individual flavors stand out. I was intrigued. I decided to imagine that somebody was inventing a new category. We could call it malt cider, but I think I'll go with Still Beer. Still Beer aims forthe bubbly beery balance of rich, smooth cereal tastes with the sharp sensations of hops, spice and acidity-fruit is optional, but the same rules apply and balance is king.

Here are the results of my first-ever tasting of Still Beer.

E.B. Allen Ale
4.0% wheaty ale with a malty profile and a bit of bubblegum and a mildly phenolic finish.

Northern Lite
4.5% light body, refreshing and earthy with a light, piney finish

Cool City Kolsch
5.5% -the only beer that retained some carbonation-a
classic kolsch, lacy head, slightly sweet.

Windiate Weizenbock "White Bock"
6% Creamy texture, mild flavor, gentle
malt profile. I suspect it would only take a bit of gas to make it interesting.

Rail Car Red
4.5% a light-bodied ale with the nutty taste of a specialty
malt.

Thunder Bay Bock
6% in its flat form, this one is way out of balance- the
caramel/honey/toffee flavors are too much for its hops. There was a hint of citrus aroma, but not much else. Definitely a beer that shouldn't appear in public without its bubbles.

Tactical
7.6% At last, enough of a hop presence that the loss of bubbles isn't so serious. Toasty malts provide enough of a counterpoint to make this a plausible still beer.

Sinkhole Stout
5% This toasty typical America Stout isn't quite hoppy enough. The roasted malt aroma without its carbonation cover ends up with a mouth feel a bit like soda pop.

What's notable about this tasting is that the flavors were so achingly isolated. The taster experiences each characteristic singly, like listening to individual notes instead of a chord. I think all of these beers were well-made and I would definitely want to to returnto Fletcher street when the bubbles come back. And I look forward to someone working up the Still Beer Style.

--Lynn
Hoffman the author of the Short Course in Beer from Skyhorse Press

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16 COMMENTS
Posted: 
November 21, 2013  •  01:13 AM
Serving un-carbonated beer is simply unacceptable in my opinion.
Posted: 
November 21, 2013  •  05:40 AM
Sounds interesting. I would be willing to try it out.
Posted: 
November 21, 2013  •  11:27 AM
When i was there the bartender said he was the I.T. guy, the beers were way overcarbonated and he was trying to fill growler by faucet with no hose.
Posted: 
November 21, 2013  •  04:07 PM
I have grown to greatly appreciate the way pre- carbonated beer tastes; I agree with you on the isolation of flavors.

As for serving to others still or undercarbonated- if only I had a beer engine.
Posted: 
November 21, 2013  •  08:37 PM
Some places with guest casks usually end up flat by chance or by choice, and in the case of The Only on Danforth in Toronto, more often then not served at room temperature as well. Very old school.

And also more often then not, taste absolutely splendid regardless.
Posted: 
November 27, 2013  •  12:48 PM
My second ever homebrew went to a charity event and came up flat. I over shot my og, and I think the yeast gave up in the bottles. However, the hop balance and maltiness were splendid IMHO, and I received lots of compliments and many people coming back for more. That may have been the 10.5% ABV though.
Posted: 
November 29, 2013  •  06:14 PM
Have you tried cask-conditioned real ale? While neither intentionally flat (aims for 1.2 - 1.3 dissolved volumes of CO2) nor overly warm (45-52'F), the significantly lower CO2 and slightly warmer temperatures brings out more flavor than the usual serving methods, just as you said. It's a great way to meet your old favorites in a whole new way. There's a bit more that goes into it but I leave that as an exercise for the reader. Just don't call it Still Beer!
Posted: 
December 1, 2013  •  10:45 PM
I have been decanting a bit of beer from secondary before kegging the rest so I could drink it un-carbonated. While it does taste significantly different than carbonated beer, it is an enjoyable beverage, especially on ice. I did it because I was having temporary difficulty swallowing and carbonated beverages were painful. I might try it later, mixed with sprite or ginger ale, as a shanty.
Posted: 
December 2, 2013  •  09:17 PM
I live in England and you're often served real ale that is pretty much flat (and not too cold). This is more the case when at beer festivals when beer is often over 10deg C and quite flat. You can really taste the flavours that way. As much as I like real ale - I'm personally a fan of kegging though (like you over-the-pond) and love highly carbed beers.
Posted: 
December 7, 2013  •  03:29 AM
That is quite interesting..
I have been tasting my own brews pre-carbed for a while now, and after convincing myself that it is NOT flat, but more of an alcoholic tea, I was able to pretty easily get past the lack of bubbles.
I wouldn't serve it to just anyone, though.. but just this last month when I went to visit my dad, I took him my latest Oat Stout(9.5%)in a 4L Rossi bottle. It was aged about 6 months, but totally un-carbed and room temp..
At first he didn't like it, but soldiered on and had a few more glasses over the next few days, and ended up liking it.
We did end up bottling 6 with coopers drops, so he can taste it bubbled..
Posted: 
December 8, 2013  •  03:04 AM
After two high-test ales - a barleywine and a Belgian quad - came up flat, I have a greater appreciation for still beer. A bit of carbonation can cover a host of sins, but not so with still beer. A high-test ale without fizz must rely on hops and ethanol to balance the cloying malty sweetness. A much harder game, IMO.
Posted: 
December 11, 2013  •  03:23 AM
Firstly, I want to say that this is brilliant. We've all wondered after a bad prime, "Would someone still want this beer?" It's sort of like the bad karaoke singer who hears the song that was meant to be in his head while the rest of the room squirms uncomfortably.

I do feel like you make a good point as to whether there is merit in evaluating a beer before it is bottled or kegged. Ideally, it isn't how a beer should finally be judged; but it's sort of like tasting the dough before a baker has a chance to burn the cookies. The potential is palpable.

I've been drinking a still beer I made for a month now (because who else would?). One case of it came out carbonated and it was the best beer I ever had; I sip on the other three cases and dream.

D
Posted: 
December 21, 2013  •  06:04 PM
When I started brewing again with my sons we didn't have all the equipment set up. For months we were drinking room temperature and under carbed beer. At first we really didn't care for it but wasn't going to NOT drink it. Then it finally sunk in that we could taste more flavors when warmer. Sometimes the under carbed was nice and fit the beer well however this wasn't with all beers. Some are better super fizzy! Now I prefer room temp (low 60's) and no colder than 45 degrees F. Any colder and it's just any other cold beverage to me!
Posted: 
January 21, 2014  •  10:20 PM
First off...great article and question. I think most would have turned up their nose and ran out. Unfortunately, I'm sure they lost a few customers because of it.

It's funny how by removing one component of beer can so dramatically change the flavor profile. I recently just got back into brewing and just to get something back on tap fast I did a couple of extract brews. The result was mediocre as I put into the keg, but I knew it would be. After a week of carbonating the flavor profile changed to a point were it wasn't to bad. I have had some pretty complex beers that were very light in carbonation and the flavor notes were so pronounced it was almost ridiculous. (It was a German farmhouse ale I believe) I do think it takes a certain open minded individual to try it, but if you do, it can be a very rewarding experience.
Posted: 
February 1, 2014  •  06:22 AM
Funny to stumble across this post. I just brewed a strong brown ale that I forgot to prime (ugh) Opened one to learn about my mistake and was pleased with the un-carbonated balance of flavor. Sweet in the front with mellow caramel notes with a bitter finish. My first thought was to cask this brew in bourbon or possibly port barrels. Flat. Like the idea of non carbonated brews. It opens up a whole new approach to the craft if done well and tweaking recipes to compensate.
Posted: 
March 13, 2015  •  01:45 AM
a friend of mine is a baker and she's recently fallen in love with beer. so she's making breads and cakes with beer instead of water. one byproduct is that if she needs, let's say, six ounces of beer, she'll have six ounces left over. this has led to some next-day tastings of de
carbonated beer. (we used to call it 'flat')
the restults have been mixed with some great surprises. flying dog's gonzo imp porter is lush and sopihisticated without the bubbles. stay tuned..
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