A few weeks ago, I posted about the release of Alexander Keith’s Single Hop ales. As you can read here, I pontificated about what it might mean for the evolution of beer and expressed mixed feelings about it. At the time I was careful to avoid judging the beer itself, as I had not yet tried it.
Since that time I have tried both the Hallertauer and the Cascade Ale, and even did a CBC column around them. In the interests of completion I thought I would post my review of both beer here as well.
Keeping in mind the base beer for both versions is identical, and Labatt never promised that they would be IPAs or anything, here are my observations:
The Hallertauer is medium orange with bright clarity. It builds a fluffy white head that manages to hang around for quite a while. I find the carbonation fairly high for an ale. The aroma is moderately earthy with an accent of floral hop aroma along with light biscuit and grainy malt. Overall a fairly subdued aroma.
The flavour begins with a soft biscuit and light toffee malt upfront. A pleasantly gentle malt effect. The bitterness levels are present but not strong, and I pick up some earthy, musty hop flavour that seems classically Hallertauer. There is s a light bitter linger, but nothing I would label as pale ale-ish.
In contrast, the Cascade Ale emits a balanced aroma of pine and citrus hop with light biscuit malt. The appearance, of course, is the same. A very similar malt profile at the front of mouth, but then the beer re-shapes. The middle is sharper and a citrus, grass Cascade hop character is noteable. This beer is not particularly bitter either, but has a sharper mouthfeel and a more accented hop flavour.
I have three observations arising out of my tasting. First, both beer actually come across as very pleasant cream ale-type beer. they are smooth, gentle beer with a rounded body. They are not particularly bitter, but with still enough bite to create a bit of hop character. I am told by Labatt that they are both 27 IBUs, which is below a pale ale level, but offering enough bitterness to make a drinker take some notice. Mostly the beer are about the rest of the hop presence. Flavour and aroma are accented. Anyone who thought it would be Alexander Keith’s with some hop aroma would be mistaken. They are decent sippers, overall.
Second, the beer do their job. They provide a very clear measure for how hops affects the flavour of the beer. Not only are the hop characteristics different – one earthy, the other more citrusy – but you can easily see how the hop character alters the overall impression and body of the beer. The Cascade Ale seems sharper, drier and spicier, while the Hallertauer more rounded and sweeter. Since the base beer is the same, it must be the hops that create the differeing impressions.
Third, this experience – while hardly making me a convert to the big boys – does suggest to me that when they apply themselves, and let their brewers be brewers, they know how to make decent beer. I like both beer. I wouldn’t brew them like this, personally, but that is irrelevant. They have produced decent product that will actually do a thing or two to educate beer consumers.
And for that I tip my hat to them. At least this once.