Showing posts with label light beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label light beer. Show all posts

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Gap in the Market?

A couple of Saturdays ago I was working in the Tasting Room at Starr Hill Brewery. To cut a long story short, one of the visitors to that brewery that day was someone I went to school with in the Outer Hebrides - he was a couple of years ahead of me but it turns out we share a few Facebook friends, and he is in the USA for a few months. Needless to say I was flabbergasted, you really don't expect to meet people from South Uist when you are doing your one day a month stint behind the Tasting Room bar.

Over the weekend just gone we met up a couple of times for beer, on Friday night we went to Beer Run and then yesterday afternoon we were out at the Timberwood Grill. Naturally we talked about the beer that he liked, and the pubs he ran when he lived in London, and those conversations got me to thinking that there is a very obvious gap in the craft beer industry, non-premium lagers. Essentially, very few of the up and coming craft brewers, and even fewer of the older microbreweries make low alcohol, session lagers (interesting thing to note, the term "craft beer" meant nothing to my friend, but microbrewery was instantly recognisable).

Of course in countries like the Czech Republic, lager isn't really all that strong to begin with. Pilsner Urquell for example fits very handily in Lew Bryson's definition of a session beer, at 4.4% abv. Many of the standard everyday lagers of Bohemia and Moravia are 4%. The fact that a pale lager with less than 4.5% abv can be tastier and more satisfying than something like an "Imperial Pilsner" (a total sham concept) is only noteworthy to those who have no real appreciation of the golden drop.

So where are the craft session lagers? Samuel Adams does a reasonably drinkable light lager which weighs in at a mere 4.07% and for widely available craft lagers, that's about it really. I am not sure about the lager scene in the UK, though I believe there are a few breweries making session strength lagers.

For all the growth in the craft beer industry, and the stagnating of sales for the macros, the fact remains that the most commonly drunk beer on the planet is pale, session strength lager. Bud Light, regardless of your opinion on the taste, is the best selling beer in the US, with 16% of the market, for a comparison, Samuel Adams has just 0.9% of the market when you add together all their brands.

There is a huge thirst out there for pale lagers but where are the craft pale lagers, the craft pilsners which are less than 4.4% abv? It's all good and well to be self-congratulatory and be "sticking it to the man" by drinking your 10% imperial stout aged on your grannies corset strings or some such, but if the big boys are truly going to be afraid of craft brewers then perhaps taking flavourful pale lagers to the guys sitting in the pubs and bars is the way to go?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Meaning of Lite

I am on record, either here or through my Twitter feed, as believing that the mark of a truly talented brewer lay not in his, or her, ability to brew an imperial India stout and then age said behemoth in a bourbon barrel whilst dry hopping it. For me the truly great brewers are those that can put a glass of something below 5% abv in my hand and my hand come back for more, time after time. As such, I am a fan of bitters in their various forms, mild as understood in the modern world, proper Bohemian pilsners and a multitude of other beer styles than don't knock me on my arse after half a pint. There is a reason why I differentiate between a drinker and a drunkard.

Something that has been trundling through my mind of late has been finally make the move to brewing lagers as well as ales in my little homebrew operation - a quick aside, sometimes when I read Brew Your Own magazine and see these huge great fancy setups, I feel positively embarrassed by my pot on a stove. I posted a little while ago about the technical difficulties of lagering in my small flat, but I feel as though I have a viable idea to solve that - basically my fridge has space to stand up a couple of 1 gallon jugs, so that will be the location for primary fermentation. For lagering, I plan to buy a chest cooler to fill with ice and do the lagering in the cellar, changing the ice as required.

With the technical aspects solved in theory, my mind has turned to what kind of lager to make first. Doing a proper Bohemian Pilsner would obviously be something I would love to try, but I want to learn as much about the mechanics of decoction before I step up to that particular plate. There is however a style of Czech lager that is exceedingly rare, that kind of takes my fancy as a fun little proof of concept project, I am talking about lehké pivo.

Lehké pivo translates literally as "light beer" and is, according to the Czech brewing laws, a beer which is brewed below 8o Plato, or 1.032. From what I can discover in my reading, the actual colour of said beer is not defined. "Light" in this context then is all about the low alcohol content of the beer. As far as I know, only a couple of breweries in the Czech Republic make this kind of beer, including the wonderfully titled Sklárna a minipivovar Novosad & Syn Harrachov - which translates as the Novovsad and Sons Glassworks and Microbrewery, Harrachov. The name gives us a reminder of the alleged origins of lehké pivo as a form of hydration for glassworkers, as well as for workers in heavy industry such as steel mills. Paraphrasing from memory, Evan Rail described the lehké pivo made in Harrachov as better than many a 10o lager made by the bigger breweries.

My planned recipe then is as follows:
  • 83% Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner Malt
  • 17% Weyermann CaraBohemian Malt
  • 18 IBUs of Saaz @ 90 minutes
  • 4 IBUs of Saaz @ 20 minutes
  • 1 IBU of Saaz @ 1 minute
  • Wyeast 2000 Budvar Lager
My target OG is 8o Plato, finishing off at 2.3o Plato and having 3.1%abv. In terms of fermentation and lagering, I am going to do primary for 14 days as usual (I recently learnt that Budvar is fermented for 12 days), and then lager for 30 days. Given that 30 days is pretty standard for a 12o lager, that should be plenty. I chose the Budvar yeast because it apparently brings the malt to the fore, and I don't want this beer to feel thin despite the low gravity nature of the brew.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Little Light Identity Crisis

There are some beer styles that I simply don't get. Among that less than august list is "light" beer, in its various guises, whether the mass produced Bud Light (for some reason I have the urge to call it Butt Wipe, but there we go) or Samuel Adams Light from one of the bigger "craft brewers", to even the abysmal Ybor Gold Light from the Florida Brewing Company which I have just had the misfortune of sampling on the beach in Daytona - seriously it was so bad even my non-craft beer drinker father-in-law thought it was awful.

Before continuing my rant let me just say that I am 100% behind the Session Beer Project, and thoroughly enjoy beers which are below 4.5%ABV, however I have serious misgivings about the fad for light beers which seem to take up the vast majority of cooler space in supermarket beer aisles, especially when it comes to light beers from the craft brewing section of the industry.

I assume there is a market for such beers or people like the Boston Beer Company wouldn't be muscling in on the act, but I fear that products such as Samuel Adams Light takes away from the core Boston Lager brand - which in my world is up there with the finest of Czech lagers and will most likely assume the status of permanent lager in my cellar. However, the very thing that created a national demand for beers such as Samuel Adams is the very thing that the company should cling to, it is different from the mainstream in that it is a flavourful quality lager, by comparison the Samuel Adams Light is an abberation.

Say yes to session beer, but session beer is so much more than just a light lager with nothing going for it other than a low ABV.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

6 Beers, 18 Phrases - Southend Brewery and Smokehouse

On Tuesday Mrs Velkyal and I went to Charleston, down on the coast of South Carolina - ostensibly to go and see Charleston Battery get massacred by the Houston Dynamo in the Lamar Hunt Cup, the American equivalent of the FA Cup.

As we hadn't really celebrated our first wedding anniversary on Saturday, overshadowed by some local bash as it was, we decided to have a special lunch and visited the Southend Brewery and Smokehouse, a lovely place for lunch and a sampler tray (I have a feeling they will be a big part of life here for a while), here are my thoughts.

  • Southend Blonde - pale yellow, faint citrus, thirst quencher
  • Southend Blonde Light - pale, crisp, weak
  • Seasonal Ginger Ale - amber, grapefruit (amarillo?), refreshingly tart
  • Bombay Pale Ale - light copper, citrus aplenty, hoppy marmelade
  • East Bay Brown - crimson, caramel, smooth
  • Southend Oatmeal Stout - dark drown, coffee and smoke, lusciously smooth

Overall I left the Southend Brewery with very positive feelings, afterall I had some excellent beers, the service was perfect - I can't remember the girl's name but she was everything a waitress should be, and she was on the nail in recommending the Bombay Pale Ale. Only the two blonde ales did absolutely nothing for me, perhaps blondes aren't my thing (don't tell the wife!!). The Oatmeal Stout was up there with the Sam Smith's I luxuriated in last year, high praise indeed, and this is certainly a pub I will be visiting again when I get to Charleston again, although next time I hope the real Charleston Battery turn up!

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...