Slow Beer

Monday, April 09, 2007

Beer News - 'Pale Shadow'

Willie Simpson, 'Pale Shadow', Sydney Morning Herald Good Living, 3rd April 2007

(Ed – I don’t know where Willie’s been drinking but I’m not sure we are in the midst of a deluge of over-hopped pale ales. Bloody hell, we should be happy that these styles are even being released given we have endured decades of drinking some of the world’s most bland, stale, boring pale lagers. As noted elsewhere on this blog 3 of the best local beers I have tasted in the past 12 months have been high hop / generous malt styles from Jamiesons, Beech Road and Mountain Goat. These are wonderful beers with a truckload of flavour, and the brewing of these styles should be encouraged.

Maybe it’s cool to be over the 'extreme' beer scene if you are based in a decent market like the US (boring – reminds me of the ‘I’ve got no idea about wine but I’m SOOOO over chardonnay crowd’) but frankly I’m just happy to drink a locally brewed beer that pushes the boundries of traditional thinking just a fraction.)

"I'm a bit over the whole in-yer-face, sackful of grapefruit-laced hop aromas of the growing number of American-style pale ales being released around the country.

Perhaps I've just had too much intense exposure lately, what with judging the pale ale section at the Royal Agricultural Society NSW Beer Show and tasting a plethora of local craft beers for a coming publication.

This boldly hopped, attention-grabbing pale ale style has suddenly became the darling of Australia's new-wave brewers. But after a sudden rise to ultra-trendy status, as with so many other drinks, it may just as suddenly become passe.

Think about all those over-oaked chardonnays of years gone by or the gooseberry-lashed Kiwi sauvignon blancs of more recent times. Fickle punters embraced them for one moment, then moved on, searching for the Next Big Thing.

The tell-tale citrus or grapefruit flavour notes come from US-grown hop varieties, such as cascade (not to be confused with the Tasmanian brewery). American craft brewers are in love with these varieties and tip them into their pale ales by the bucketload.

Among fans of this style, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is whispered in hushed tones as the trailblazer that pushed the cascade hop component to the limit and beyond. It has been widely imitated ever since.

In Australia, Little Creatures Pale Ale set the benchmark when it burst onto the scene in 2000, its brewers having thrown liberal quantities of imported hop flowers into a huge straining vessel, known as a hop-back.

The big citrus hop character drenched the aroma and mid-palate and rolled on through to a bristling after-bitterness that made some mainstream brews taste like brown water. Even in blind tastings, the beer stood out.

I had first-hand experience with the Little Creatures hop-back at the Fremantle brewery, where I was working as an unpaid grunt looking after a single batch as part of the "adopt-a-brew" program for staff members and beer enthusiasts.

It was my job to weigh out the hop cones, shovel them in and plunge them into the brew while hot wort flowed through the vessel. The smell that arose from this hot, hoppy mixture was seductively herbaceous and caused everyone in the brewery and adjacent bar to turn their heads towards the source.

But over the past 12 months or so the hop presence seems to have been toned down and the beer is now barely recognisable in a masked line-up, despite Little Creatures chief executive Jason Marinko maintaining the recipe is unchanged.

So either the brewery's accountants got nervous about all that cash leaking in the direction of American hop brokers or the hops have lost their intensity between seasons or during storage. Either way, the bubble may have burst on this distinctive style of beer.

Tasting notes
Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale (5.2 per cent)
Burnished gold in colour, this flavoursome ale has bags of rich malt and citrus hop notes in aroma. The opulent palate stars chewy malt, an explosion of resinous hop flavour, building to a crescendo of herbaceous bitterness which lingers deliciously.

Murray's Nirvana Pale Ale (4.5)
Reddish-gold with a thick, creamy head, this bottle-conditioned pale ale uses American and English hops and the complex palate has citrus (grapefruit), spice, biscuity malt initially and a lively hop flavour (zingy, citrus-tinged) and generously bittered finish.

Little Creatures Pale Ale (5.2)
With a slight citrus aroma and minty overtones, this deep golden ale is a pallid shadow of its former muscular self. Its chewy malt palate has some citrus hop flavours and a rather restrained bitterness. "



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