While wearing their trend-spotting thinking caps, other beer writers have wondered in print why Keith’s produced this new beer. On one hand, because their “India Pale Ale” is really nothing like the style should be, Keith’s has more to lose than some other macrobrewers by acknowledging the existence of craft beer. On the other hand, the end game question comes up: if regular Keith’s drinkers try this beer and like it, won’t they then turn to actual craft beers with their fistful of limited beer dollars?
I’m not really sure how to answer these questions. Maybe Keith’s thinks that craft is a trend (the decades-long history of real ale campaigning in the UK probably indicates otherwise) or maybe somebody at the multinational, brewing behemoth realised that dollars are being left on the table. Either way, the Cascade ale (and to a slightly lesser extent the Hallertauer version) is a very good beer. It will be easy to find this summer and I’ll be happy to drink it again.
For my first post of 2013, I questioned where craft beer starts and ends. In that case, I wrote about Granville Island’s Lion’s Winter Ale, a long-established craft brewery that was acquired by a much larger competitor (Molson Coors). The other route for macrobreweries that want to compete in the growing craft segment is to design flavourful beers from the ground up.
That’s what Alexander Keith’s Brewery has done with its new series of single-hop beers.
Both offerings — the Cascade Hop Ale and the Hallertauer Hop Ale —use one well-known hop variety each. Much of the bitterness and finer aromatic qualities of beer come from hops, and by choosing a single variety, drinkers get a clear sense of its particular flavours. Beers have never really been identified by their variety of hops the way wines are for their grapes, but the variation between types is similar.
Of the two, I like the Cascade Ale better. The aromas of grapefruit and citrus peel that I expect from this Pacific Northwest variety are more forceful because the beer is dry-hopped. That means the brewer adds hops very late in the process, well after the boiling has finished, so that volatile aromatic compounds don’t have the chance to evaporate.
Light-footed flavours of zest and pith continue on the palate with only a mild hint of bitterness. The balancing sweetness from the all-malt base (unlike other Keith’s beers, the Hop Series doesn’t useadjuncts) is there, but I would have liked a bit more complexity and body. Still, this is a better than decent beer, and with the Keith’s distribution muscle behind it, I’m sure it will marginally improve the selection in many places.
With all of its carbonation and low alcohol (compared to other pale ales), the Cascade Ale will do a good job of lifting fat and spicy heat. Serve it with mussels in a yellow Thai curry sauce, or with deep-fried cod tacos.
Last summer, Keith’s beat its mass-market competition to the first seat on the cider bandwagon. I won’t be surprised if the Hop Series turns out to be the leading edge of a trend that sees macrobreweries making beers that borrow tools like dry-hopping and single-hop-variety recipes from the craft brewer’s kit.
Alexander Keith’s Cascade Ale, $2.55 for a 473 mL can. LCBO #331314