low-alcohol beer

The low-alcohol lowdown

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In January this year I was up in Newcastle with the family for a few days. While we were there I caught up with Chris McNamara from the Craft Beer Industry Association for a few beers at The Grain Store.

We talked a lot about various beery topics, including one that was close to my heart. And, it would seem, Chris’ as well. That would be the way Australian craft brewers have neglected the mid-strength end of the market. Seems the focus is on making bigger beers, not smaller ones.

But in the process they’re missing the chance to cash in and get some permanent bar tap real estate. As Chris pointed out, The Grain Store has Murray’s low-alcohol Retro Rocket – a 2.8 per cent IPA – on tap as their low-alcohol beer. ALL THE TIME. Yep, while other beers come and go from the taps, that beer is always there.

Now, as I understand the licensing laws, bars and pubs are required to have a low-alcohol beer option. So there’s a huge window here to monopolise a bit of bar tap real estate or, if you bottle the low-alcohol beer, a bit of bar fridge real estate.

So instead of seeing your beer go on tap at a pub and then get taken off and replaced with something from another brewery, make a low-alcohol beer and you could end up with a whole lot more tap time.

And which brewery wouldn’t want more tap time?

And which brewery wouldn’t like the chance to make a few extra bucks either? Usually, the low-alcohol beer drinker is the person who is driving home from the pub. Maybe they’ve stopped in from work, maybe they’ve just driven over to catch up with friends. Whatever – they’re at a pub and they want a beer. So they can buy one regular beer from Brewery XYZ and then sit on it for ages so they remain under the limit. Or they can buy a tasty low-alcohol craft beer, also from Brewery XYZ and then drink it at a normal pace and then drink a second – and still be under the limit.

Clearly the second option is better for Brewery XYZ because the punter has bought two of their beers, rather than one. So they’ve effectively made twice the profit they would had they just had full-strength beers.

I’m also a big fan of the low-alcohol beer because it shows how skilful the brewer is. Less alcohol means less place to hide flaws in a brewers ability to make beer. So a good low-alcohol beer is great evidence of a very skilful brewer.

Which brings me to this year’s version of Stone & Wood’s Garden Ale. They’ve ditched the juniper berries from last year’s version and swapped the Summer hops for Ella. This year’s beer weighs in at 3.8 per cent and throws some lovely citrus aromas. The palate is a smidge thin – which is totally to be expected in a lowish alcohol beer and should never been seen as a criticism – but still offers a nice mix of citrus and biscuity malt notes. The beer then wraps things up with a surprisingly strong level of bitterness.

While the beer’s label calls it a ‘‘limited edition’’ I’ve heard it’s going to become part of Stone & Wood’s core range. This is a very good thing. Hopefully more brewers decide to do something similar.

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