Name: Coniston Old Man Ale
Bottled/ Draft: Both!
Colour: Deep gold, almost ruby – draft a little darker
Head on draft: Utterly flat
Head in bottle: Slightly over fizzy but short-lived
Mouthfeel on draft: Positively watery
Mouthfeel in bottle: Pleasantly firm body
Draft Taste: A hoppy nose yields a pleasantly hoppy start, with some good underlying maltiness. Very light and watery, though, and lacking any real body – age may not have helped here (see below).
Bottled Taste: A yeasty tang to the nose, thanks to the bottle conditioning. The surprising fizziness overwhelms the initial hoppiness of the draft, but oddly yields a more bitter tail. All round firmer body and fuller flavour, but needs to stand for a while to lose some of the bubbles.
Comment: One of my automatic assumptions about beer is that draft beer is innately better than bottled, even the most perfectly crafted, bottle conditioned beer. On our visit to Coniston Brewery, I had the opportunity to test this theory properly because their on-site pub (The Black Bull Inn) not only does an excellent lunch, but also sells draft beer to take away. In the name of science, therefore, I bought both a bottle of Old Man Ale (happily bottle conditioned), and a plastic pot of the same beer on draft, to take home and compare directly.
As things worked out, it was 24 hours or so before I got the chance to sit down and compare the two, which undoubtedly harmed the draft beer a great deal more than the bottle. Visually they’re very similar looking (as you would expect) although the draft is clearly flat besides the bottled, and a little darker in colour.
On tasting, however, it’s like drinking two completely different beers. The draft is flat (due to age) but also watery and lacking in body – while the bottled version has a decent body, and better balanced bitterness even if it is fighting a little against the bubbles.
I’d expected them to be different, but I was unprepared for just *how* different they were. And the worst part was, I preferred the bottled version by a mile.
This experiment has been revealing, and I’m determined to repeat it with some other beers in the future to see if this is an exception rather than the rule!