Already spring is breaking through in my corner of the world. The home brewed pilsner I’ve been lagering over the winter is almost ready to be bottled. It’s always beer drinking season somewhere, and some time. In this case, warmer weather turns my craft beer thoughts away from the stouts and porters of winter and toward something lighter.
A craft brewed light lager?
As a craft beer enthusiast, you surely revel in the wide world of beer tastes and flavors made available by the growing number of craft brewers both local to you, and across the country.
For many people this enthusiasm for diversity and quality imparts a certain skepticism with respect to the mass produced beers of the Big Corporate Brewers. The corporatization and consolidation of the US brewing industry throughout the middle of the 20th century resulted in the bullying of the small brewer as a handful of big brewers dominated, producing primarily one style of beer – the light lager. And not a particularly tasty one overall.
The craft beer movement in the US happened as a reaction to this artificial limitation placed on the types of beer available. As a craft beer enthusiast who knows all of this, what would you say to the notion of a craft brewed light lager?
A new beer for a New Century
In 2001 Rhonda Kallman, co-founder of craft beer giant Sam Adams, (and a brewer featured in the anti-corporate documentary Beer Wars), struck out on her own to form the New Century Brewing Company. The flagship beer would be Edison Light. The idea was to enter the huge light beer market with a higher quality offering.
Corporate light beers are brewed with adjuncts like rice or corn to thin out the body and make them “light.” Edison, on the other hand, is brewed as a true craft beer, with only the traditional ingredients of water, hops, yeast and malted barley. A special process allows Edison to be a traditional beer yet have the calorie and alcohol content of a light beer. It’s pretty interesting idea – since the big corporate brewers are generating a huge market for light beer, why not enter that segment with a higher quality offering?
Recently I tasted some Edison Light and it’s pretty good.
Edison has the crispness characteristic of good lagers and a nice light hoppiness so it drinks cleanly and easily. There’s definitely a discernible difference here between light lager as a beer “style” and light lager as practiced by the big corporate brewers.
For drinkers, and the beer culture, it’s easy to conflate distaste for big corporate beer with distaste for all light beer. Many craft beer fans feel exactly that way. But it’s not that simple.
Hey, most craft drinkers choose different beers for different occasions. I can foresee plenty of scenarios where even a hardcore craft beer snob would pick up an Edison. The lighter body and alcohol content make Edison an ideal choice for: hot days, drinking with craft beer novices, or times when you want to take it easy, and for those who love the taste but not the calories of any beer.
As an environmentalist who writes about craft beer for an energy magazine, I’ll continually highlight craft brewers who are doing their part to be more sustainable.
This month I checked out Peak Organic Brewing Company, a small craft brewer in Portland, Maine dedicated to using only fine artisanal ingredients. Their stated mission is to “make delicious, creative brews that we can feel good about.” I like that philosophy and I really like their beer. Many of their beers use locally sourced organic ingredients. Peak worked with Maine farmers to produce the state’s first hop harvest in over a century.
Winter wheat treat
The first Peak experience I had was their Winter Session Ale, a nicely hopped winter wheat ale. This beer has a lovely hop aroma, especially on opening a bottle, But it’s very well balanced with just the right amount of maltiness. Very drinkable and just plain tasty, this is an excellent beer. It’s the very definition of a session beer, a term modern craft beer enthusiasts have borrowed from the English. Essentially, a session beer is so tasty and clean drinking that the drinker will want several glasses, while low enough in alcohol content that doing so won’t ruin your night. Peak’s Winter Session Ale definitely fits the bill with great taste and only 5% ABV.
Double your pleasure
It’s always interesting to profile multiple beers by each brewery, so up next is Peak’s Nut Brown Ale.
Brown ales are a classic English style that’s well represented in the US craft beer movement, probably because the homebrew movement that led to the craft beer revolution looked to traditional styles for inspiration. (As an example, most beer drinkers are familiar with Newcastle Brown Ale, possibly the most famous of the English brown ales.)
Peak’s Nut Brown has a nice crunchy maltiness with a caramel undertone that gives it a definitive nuttiness. Another highly drinkable offering, with its low ABV, this also qualifies as a session ale. I’d pair it with a hearty meal. Peak’s website suggests the same.
In my book Peak is two for two and I’m really looking forward to trying their Simcoe Spring Ale which promises a single hopped with piney Simcoe hops to be “hop forward” in flavor.
Is there a rabbit in there?
The final stop on this month’s craft beer voyage is Magic Hat Brewing Company, the pride of South Burlington, Vermont. They’re fairly well known, especially for #9, their popular pale ale.
However, first up for us is their “IPA on tour” which features a different twist on the mega popular IPA style for each season of the year.
Just out for spring is a black IPA called Demo. Now you may be asking yourself, doesn’t IPA stand for India Pale Ale? So how can you have a black pale ale?
This is a raging controversy in the craft beer world.
Fortunately, that controversy is beyond the scope of this column. Just know that there’s an emerging beer style brewed with dark malts but also with the high hop character of an American IPA. Demo is a pretty decent example of this, with meatier body from the dark malt and a great hop smell. To my taste buds the dark malt was the dominant force in this beer so I’d say it’s a good winter beer for hop fans.
Back to spring
I’ll close by returning to the spring theme once more, in the form of Magic Hat’s spring lager Vinyl. This amber lager rewards the nose with that classic lager smell (just a touch “skunky”) on cracking the cap. Vinyl is a clear light brown beer with a nice cascade of carbonation rising up in the glass. It has a bit of a hop bite and is nice and drinkable overall. Consider it another good gateway beer for the craft brew novice.
Until next time, keep drinking good beer!
–Brent Bolin, Transition Voice Magazine