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We often hear people discussing the flavors and aromas of beers. We comment on their appearance and maltiness and talk about hop profiles using increasingly wilder adjectives. But another important quality that contributes greatly to our sensory experience of beer, is the level of carbonation.
Different beer styles vary in their typical volumes of carbon dioxide. When you drink a smooth stout and then move to a prickly Hefeweizen, the contrast is obvious. Beers are also carbonated in different ways. Some beers are bottle-conditioned or cask-conditioned, meaning that they rely solely on natural carbonation within their containers. Keg beers are served under pressure, receiving additional carbonation.
English beers were traditionally cask ales, served straight from the barrel in pubs, dispensed with no extra carbonation. But modern practices have since introduced new techniques and many English brewers now add artificial carbonation.
Yet, the bubbly takeover has left many Brits yearning for the good old days and some brewers have returned to their roots. In fact, in the 1970s, the Campaign for Real Ale coined the term ‘real ale’ in an attempt to preserve the practices of brewing cask-conditioned ales. ‘Real ales’ are beers that use traditional ingredients and mature within casks with no added carbon dioxide. The term now also applies to bottle-conditioned beers.
The power of our sensory experiences is strong and many things can affect how we perceive a beer – the glassware, the environment, etc. If you’re accustomed to drinking highly carbonated beers, it might feel unusual, at first, to sample a traditional English beer with a milder level of fizz. But don’t let this alarm you – one of the wonderful things about beers is just how diverse the styles can be. Even beers that are technically the same style, can differ greatly; not all English beers are mildly carbonated.
A fairly self-explanatory term called ‘mouthfeel’ refers to what it feels like when you take a sip. The feeling is largely influenced by the thickness of a beer and how carbonated it is. Paying attention to mouthfeel in addition to the taste and aromas can enhance your enjoyment of a brew. You may find that you can better distinguish the varying carbonation levels between beers and develop a new appreciation for classic styles.
If you want to check out a great English cask-style beer, we recommend Freewheel Brewing’s English IPA. Like the classics, it has a lower level of carbonation. Feel free to compare it to a few other styles on the menu to get a taste of sparkling variety or ask us about our new beers and recent favorites.