I think I’m sensing a change in the winds. A longing for sessionable quaffers, for afternoon ales, for mild pints. For going home with a smile on your face, but still the ability to navigate public transport. For a couple of beers with dinner and then legally driving home. I’m talking about the rise of mid-strength beers.
There is various evidence to support the new-found popularity of mid-strength beers, those somewhere between 3 and 4% ABV. The first is the popularity of the Limbo Home Brew Comp here in Auckland, which had more than a dozen entries. Possibly the most informal home brew competition in New Zealand, the only rule is that the beers entered have to be under four percent – a challenge for many home brewers where high gravity is often used to deliver taste and body. Everyone who turns up judges and the only judging criteria is ‘would you like to drink some more of this?’ Admittedly, not all the beers are amazing – some are terrible – but everyone gets to learn from everyone else’s successes and mistakes. The improvement from the first to the second Limbo was astounding, and I’m throughly looking forward to the next competition.
Another voice in support of mid-strength beers is the Beer Diary podcast. Phil and George did an entire episode on Mid-Strength Beers and have a regular mid-strength news section. This to me is very important – the monster IPAs and decadent Imperial Stouts get a lot of coverage in the media, both mainstream and social. The workhorses though, the Best Bitters and light Golden or Pale Ales, get less attention. It’s hard to know where these beers are available, until you get to the pub or bottle store.
So, as I’m in flavour of promoting workhorses, here’s my top five mid-strengths beers – feel free to tell me I’m wrong and what your Top Five are.
5) The Brewery Britomart: Black Rose
One of the Brewery Britomart’s aims is to have a core range of beers that appeal to non-beer geeks – the bankers and journos and other workers bees who surround their pub. In my opinion, Black Rose fulfils that aim, as it is a lovely introduction to stouts. Despite the low ABV, there is still plenty of body in Black Rose and roasty malt flavours.
4) Home brewer Damian Peterson: Doris Plum Stout – 3.5%
No one else seemed to really take a fancy to Damian’s Stout at the last Limbo Comp, but it was my firm favourite of the Winter Limbo Competition. I can say that because not only did I want to drink more than one, I did. Damian added a tin of Black Doris plums late in the fermentation, giving his beer a tangy sweetness.
3) Galbraith’s Ale House: Bob Hudson’s Bitter – 4.0%
This is a must-have beer if you’re ever in Galbraith’s Ale House. It’s delicious, with lovely malt flavours and, as it’s a cask ale, it can change over time, meaning it’s always interesting to order. I’m not a huge fan of having a regular beer, but Bob’s would comes close if I had one.
2) Hallertau: Minimus – 3.8%
Like many lower alcohol beers, Minimus is best of tap, either at Golden Dawn in Ponsonby or at the brew pub in Riverhead (I think you can also get in at the Malthouse in Wellington). Because it’s a creation of Steve Plowman, brewer of such beers as Maximus and Stuntman, it’s not short on hops, but it won’t put you on your arse like his bigger beers.
1) Emerson’s: Bookbinder – 3.7%
You knew this was to be number one. I’m not going to describe it, because everyone knows it and if you don’t, you should should go out and buy one. Now.