Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Charge of the Light Brigade: How Light Beer With Attitude Invaded our Patios


“Why is light beer like having sex in a canoe?”
“Because its ‘effing close to water!”

We’ve all heard this wisecrack in a bar or a backyard before. Perhaps the joker was even specific enough to name names and take shots at a particular brand. Light beer has long been a punching bag for advocates of bolder beers that put flavour first. Why not? It is an easy target.

‘Lite’ beers are perfect straw men that set the stage for the micro vs. macro argument. The product’s most distinctive feature is a hole in the can that lets you guzzle one down faster than you can flip a burger. Sure, you can put away a whole lot of them, but why would you want to?

This is a pretty fair picture but it isn’t the whole picture.

“Light beer” is actually a very broad idea and a lot of beers and beer styles can fit under that umbrella. Session ales are created with the idea of enjoying several over a long period of time. Mild ales, a criminally under appreciated beer style in the British tradition, could also be classed as light beer. Don’t forget about Berliner Weiss, the real wheat king of the summertime patio. You could even count Saison, a style with roots as a rustic Belgian farmhouse brew, as a light beer as well.

Suddenly, light beer isn’t such a bad word after all!

There is more emphasis on lighter beers this summer and for good reason. With crappy beer everyone loses, but good beer is a win win for everyone: “Pub owners are loving the fact that patrons will be willing to stick around and order a few pints, and customers enjoy the full flavour and complexity” says Flying Monkeys rep Nick Baird.

Here is the takeaway: beers below the usual 5% alcohol don’t need to give an inch when it comes to flavour. The beers on this list truly embody drinkability and more-ishness*. Here are some examples that can re-define the light beer category and jazz up your next visit to the patio:

    • Every genius has a secret. The Genius of Suburbia’s secret is a touch of oats that give this 3.8% beer the body of a 5-percenter. A bold-yet-light alternative to their Antigravity light ale. Find it at Milos’, Crossings, The King Edward in Ilderton, and Mercer Hall in Stratford.
    • Don’t think twice about ordering this beer. It may only have 3.5% alcohol but it has a lot of soul and is a 2011 Gold medal winner at the US Open Beer Championship. Best found at Grand River’s retail store, but can also be spotted at Milos’, The King Edward, and the Winking Judge in Hamilton. If you are supremely lucky you’ll find it on cask.
  • Beer Lab - Session Ale
    • Beer Lab is the ultimate local secret. Brewed by mad scientists Adil Ahmad and Nick Baird, Beer Lab’s Session Ale recipe comes in at 4.4%  The formula is still being tweaked and improved but it is already a hit at the only place you’ll find a pint: Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium. Look for special appearances at Milos’. It never lasts long.
    • Detour is widely available and a good example of the session beer trend. The beer packs a hoppy punch, 4.3% alcohol, and capsizes the idea that drinkability has to mean watery. Muskoka chair recommended, but not included. Look for it at LCBO & Beer Store and licensees across Ontario.
    • Many German cities have their own local beer style and Berlin is no exception. The Berliner Weiss style is characterized by practically non-existent bitterness, low alcohol levels, and a mild sour tang. In Germany this is enjoyed with a shot of fruit or woodruff syrup. Uber may be the most quenching beer on this list. 4.2% alcohol and waiting at an LCBO near you. Prost!
    • Session Toronto featured over a dozen collaboration beers and this one walked away the winner by popular vote. Brewed with input from the Sam Roberts Band and featuring a blend of British and American ingredients, this beer can be found on rotation at Beertown and Chaucer’s Pub. It might just be Spearhead’s best beer. Spearhead also has a London connection in head brewer Tomas Schmidt. Look for an LCBO release this fall.
    • Black Oak doesn’t make one bad beer and this is my favourite one to enjoy in the summer months. The beer is widely available on tap and in bottles (LCBO) and it is a perfect introduction to the Saison style if you’ve never tried it. A touch of wheat, a bit of peppery character from the yeast, and a zesty note in the aroma. At 4.5% its also the strongest beer on this list.

* More-ishness is an unstoppable primal urge to order a second beer right after finishing the first. It is a strange paradox of being satisfied and needing another beer at the exactly same time.

Note: this article will appear in print in Venture Cover, a magazine profiling ass-kicking people in business, sports, and culture and is re-published here with their permission.

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