No, silly, I don’t mean that kind of light beer, the “lite” sort of stuff. Rather, I come to sing the praises of simple 4% alcohol ale, what Lew Bryson has been championing as session beer and others have been alternately glorifying and vilifying.
Even more precisely, and at the same time more generally, I want to talk about the pint of Harviestoun Natural Blonde I enjoyed at the Tennents Bar in Glasgow just a shade over a week ago.
Before I begin, however, I should mention a couple of things. First off, what I remember of that fine pint of cask-conditioned ale is precisely that, what I remember. I had just come from a rather large dinner at an Indian restaurant and as such my palate was in less than fine fettle, so no written notes were made. And secondly, although I believe that the Summer Blonde to indeed be a very lovely ale, in this instance I see it as more a composite of many such ales on cask in pubs across the United Kingdom.
Now, back to that pint. It was, as its name suggests, blonde of hue. It had a bracing and refreshing, even stomach-settling, twang of American hops in its aroma and flavour, hops I later discovered – thanks to Harviestoun’s annoyingly slow-moving website – to be Cascades, although I would have guessed as much. It had a lightness of character that suited it equally to the consumption of several pints over the course of an afternoon or evening and the slaking of a pepper-and-salt-induced after-dinner thirst.
It was, in summation, the ideal beer for the moment. And for me, it proved several
First and most obvious of these is that it is entirely possible to make great-tasting, characterful beer at 4% alcohol by volume. Hell, it’s possible to do so at even lower levels of strength, although it probably gets quite tricky below, say, 3.2% or so. This is not to say that such beers are the be-all and end-all, or that they are what I want to drink all the time, but I’m happier knowing that they do exist.
(I knew this before, of course, from many trips to the U.K. and more than a few pints and half-litres of lower strength ales and lagers, but it’s nice to have that moment of pure clarity from time to time.)
Point number two is that British brewers tend to use American hops in cask-conditioned ales more effectively than do American brewers. This only makes sense, as they have more experience with creating cask-conditioned beers of all stripes, but it also reinforces the relative novelty of such ales on North American shores and their – again, relative – newness to brewers on this side of the proverbial pond. Nothing wrong with keg beers, says I, or the fact that it serves many North American ales much better than does cask.
Finally, and on a very much related note, the Natural Blonde reminded me that Cascade and other C-hop varieties work so well over here in part because of the quenching nature of their citrusy character. A well-Cascade-hopped ale can be a most a refreshing animal, whether poured from the keg or cask, and when the temperature soars well above normal Scottish or Yorkshire summer levels, or the three-pepper-symbol curry was the choice for dinner, that quality is very much appreciated.
6 Replies to “In Praise of Light Beer”
Warm day, been walking a bit, I’m tired and thirsty. 10º Plato or 10% ABV? ’nuff said.
I love Session beers, and they are generally less than 5%. Agree and re-agree. There’s even a brewery in my town that specializes in them. The strongest beer they have is their IPA at 5.2, and their Bitter is only 3.8, And yet they’re all good!
Nice typo, Stephen: “it proved several pints.” I’m sure …
Thanks, Martyn. I’m tempted to leave it…
I agree with much of what you wrote. Regarding hops: I “accidentally” had a beer made with American C-hops (Centennial perhaps?) at the Old Brewery in London last summer and was quite literally shocked at the first taste that it was a well-balanced beer with the hoppiness present but not the sole star of the show.
Secondly, apparently it is not that tricky to brew beers at less than 3.2 percent: http://goo.gl/RuVhr
And finally, a word in praise of cask-conditioned beer: whether it’s called Real Ale or Bayrischer Anstich, you just won’t find a more pleasing drinking beer.