GAVIN AITCHISON reports on a beer festival destined to get to the bottom of the cloudy pint.

YOU might find yourself seeing double at York’s newest beer festival. Things will get a little hazy at times. But don’t worry - that’s the whole idea.

Two weeks from now, over the second May Bank Holiday weekend, The Rook and Gaskill in Lawrence Street will host a miniature festival that promises to be enlightening as well as enticing.

The beer list will look quite short and simple, with a comparatively modest seven ales.

But each will be there twice, in two different forms, as landlord Paul Marshall sets out to challenge one of the most widely held ideas in the British beer scene.

The ideas that a pint should be clear is ingrained in the British drinkers’ psyche. Pop into any real ale pub, or wander into its garden, and you won’t have to wait long before you see a drinker lift his or her pint aloft and smile contentedly as it sparkles in the light.

Clarity has become a marketing tool (note Copper Dragon’s “clearly better” slogan) and has been presented as the sign of a good pint. All of which drives some brewers mad.

The issue for them is that, usually, such clarity is largely thanks to the addition into the cask of isinglass finings. These finings, derived from the dried swim bladders of fish, act like a magnet, pulling the yeast sediment to the bottom of the cask quicker than would otherwise happen, thus meaning you can get that lovely shiny pint as soon as possible.

Most brewers have little problem with this; but there are some vociferous opponents. Vegan breweries such as Brass Castle and Little Valley shun fish-based finings on principle.

Others argue that the whole idea that beer should be clear is a misconception and that adhering to it compounds the myth. They point to Germany, Belgium, the United States and numerous other countries where haze is at least accepted and at best a sign of quality.

As is the way with these things, a hardcore of entrenched advocates on either side are almost evangelical about their cause. Those opposed to finings say that good beer will settle clear if given enough time and that the finings pull some of the goodness and taste out of the beer, and that we shouldn’t want needless additions to the cask.

Proponents say customers want a clear pint so should get a clear pint, that finings help deliver this, and that if beers are routinely hazy, then we remove one of the regular drinker’s tell-tale signs that a pint is not right - potentially making it even more difficult for drinkers to challenge a landlord. Ah, but a pint can be crystal clear yet still taste awful, the opponents retort (as many of us can no doubt testify) - and so the argument spirals once more.

At The Rook and Gaskill, Paul Marshall simply wants to see whether the finings have any impact on taste, and to encourage people to drink with their mouths rather than their eyes.

Following an appeal in The Press, he has found seven breweries that will produce two casks of a beer, one using finings and one without. Each will be on the bar, and drinkers will be encouraged to try both versions. Sometimes, it will be patently obvious which version has been fined, but Paul will offer blind tastings if people wish. Or you could always bring your own blindfold.

“The idea is to buy two halves of the same pair and see if you can taste any difference,” says Paul. “To me, the unfined should taste better. I recently had an unfined beer and a fined version of the same, and the unfined one tasted better.

"The whole idea is not that we should serve cloudy beer, but to change people’s knowledge of what cloudy beer is. I want to stop the perception that cloudy beer is necessarily off.

“The average person might not taste the difference - but if you have sharp tastebuds you might.”

The seven participating breweries are Atom, Brass Castle, Great Heck, Half Moon, Loch Ness, Two Roses and Wharfebank and the festival runs from May 22 to 25.