back in January I noted a beer tasting session in Parliament for MP's to sample some of the 'brave new world' of exciting lower strength beers.
It didn't seem that strange - after all, it was obvious that the punitive HSBD fiasco would frighten a few brewers (and likely many more punters) off strong beer and that the ever so begrudging reward of a duty cut on very low strength beers would spurr some brewers into brewing said products. No-one seemed very sure or willing to provide evidence of the level of this impact though.
Much was made of the innovations that the great magnanimous brewing family had utilised to create a whole range of exciting new beers at 2.8% or below. The scene was set to see what this new breed of ale was about, and, best of all, to make an informed judgement about whether the brewers claims held any credibility.
Well, its April now, and even though lower strength beers may be aimed squarely at a "Summer" market (don't forget we just had it!) it would surely be the case that Brewers were already rolling out their new array of ultra weak ales, which they had since well before the duty imposition in October to create.
I am not saying that no such beers have evolved in that time - as clearly shown by the Beer Today blog I linked at the time, there were quite a few beers from a number of (albeit mainly larger brewers) offered for sale. Yet, I haven#t seen any. And interestingly, there hasn't exactly been any response, commercial or publicity wise, from brewers that, erm, well, you kind of like and respect. Thornbridge dallied with a series of low gravity beers a few years ago but I got the impression they were just experimental excercises in brewing. BrewDog did nanny state, which was a hugely unpleasant beer, now of course not to be seen in cask form.
But that's it.
Good, innovative and respected micro's like Magic Rock, Summer Wine Brewery, Brodies beers, Hawkshead, Ilkley, Dark Star and Red Willow have all done lower gravity beers, but all around the kind of acceptable established cut off point of 3.5%. This weekend I had a bottle of the Ilkley Mary Jane at that strength - it was very nice, but as with all such offerings, I found myself wooed principally by the flavours that I hadn't expected, in a beer that I attributed the oft used description "impressive for its strength".
So, one wonders, where are these amazing new beers? I have seen one 2.8% beer. It was rubbish. I would desperately like to try a few and roll my beer drinkers palate over them all to pick out the flavours and characteristics present in such a beer but I have never seen one other than that I tried once in the Shakespeare.
Maybe I only drink in pubs that sell exclusively micro brewery output, and the weak beers are all made by nationals and mega regionals - perhaps because I buy almost all my bottled beer from Asda, who never change thier beer range more than once a year I am missing out on the bottled 2.8% offerings?
Whatever the explanation though, I stilll haven't seen any.
Which suggests there is a very real chance that the Government will oversee a minimum pricing policy that will do nothing to improve the plight of the British pub, further tax hikes that see us the most punished drinkers in Europe, a nonsensical tax hike on stronger and usually more interesting brews that punishes those with an interest in aged or imperial/export beer styles, and has offset this dire situation with an idiotic plan to reward brewers that make beers that no-one makes, no-one drinks and seemingly, no-one can find!
Has anyone seen a 2.8% or lower real ale, anywhere? And if so, what was it like? Please let me know what you thought - lets see if we have just transferred rarely brewed luncheon ales or light ales from dark bottle shelves to cask, or whether as predicted by CAMRA, and the mega brewers, sub 2.8 really is the way forward...