Earlier today, I put up a post about bricks-and-mortar breweries, beer commissioners and so-called “gypsy” brewers, and why what matters most, to my mind, at least, is what ends up in the glass. Which seems to me to be a good set-up for a chat about a couple of new beers from the largest brewing company in the world.
The brewing company in question is, of course, Anheuser-Busch InBev, or more specifically their Canadian subsidiary Labatt, and its Maritime sub-label, Alexander Keith’s.
Now, many of you might know Keith’s by its namesake “India pale ale,” printed in quotations because it is quite unlike any other IPA I have ever encountered and has far more in common with a mainstream lager than it does, say, Meantime India Pale Ale. And thanks to that knowledge, you’re probably going to be quite sceptical when I tell you of two new Keith’s brews, both part of the Alexander Keith’s Hop Series: Hallertauer Hop Ale and Cascade Hop Ale.
As the names imply, each is a single hop beer, and were in fact delivered to me with two little jars of hop flowers, one filled with Cascade hops and the other with Hallertauer, ‘natch.
(I’m assuming the Hallertauer is Hallertauer Mittelfruh, and it smells as such, but Labatt isn’t saying.)
Tasting them simultaneously, I found little difference in their appearance, but rather more in their aromas. The Hallertauer, as befits the hop’s characteristics, is herbaceous and a little sweet, with notes of fresh grass, alfalfa and just a bit of rosemary. The Cascade, on the other hand, is predictably citrusy and quite nicely balanced with a bit of caramelly maltiness.
On the palate, the Hallertauer offers no hop flavours jumping out, but rather a mix of dryish maltiness and some dryly herbal notes, ending lightly bitter and very dry, but with an odd sticky sensation lingering on the tongue. The Cascade, I found, works much better, with the citrusy hop shooting forward from the outset and just outshining the orange, peach and caramel malt. On the finish, there is a moderate bitterness and lingering dryness, which makes it much more refreshing and appetizing, and ultimately more successful ale.
So both beers are quite competently brewed, as you’d expect, with the Hallertauer recommended for more timid palates and the Cascade for those just entering pale ale and IPA territory. In other words, I’d say this is not a bad effort at all. But is their creation and marketing a wise move for Labatt?
I wonder. If they’re trying to prove their mettle to craft beer aficionados, such timid attempts are unlikely to sway many people. If they’re offering hoppier alternatives to Alexander Keith’s fans, I’d say they run the risk of turning them on to pale ales and IPAs brewed by smaller, competing brewers. And if they’re simply throwing something out to counter the Molson Six Pints division, I’d say it looks like they’re trying to use a beagle to corral a stallion in full gallop.