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RIP Full Moon Pale Ale, Long Live Full Moon IPA and Other News

We shall miss you, pale ale friend.

We shall miss you, pale ale friend.

Normally when I do a news roundup I try to give the various breweries involved relatively equal billing. However this week it is a bit different. Upon hearing the news that Alley Kat is re-formulating its flagship Full Moon Pale Ale to become an IPA, I found myself with very mixed feelings. I find I can’t just simply report that tidbit in a bullet with all the rest. So, once I have done a run-down on the other news, I will offer my thoughts on Full Moon’s transformation.

But first some of the other beer happenings around the prairies, as usual in no particular order:

  • Big Rock released a surprising new beer to its Brewmaster’s Edition series with a collaboration beer with a Spanish brewery. Colaborador Español Farmhouse Ale was developed and brewed by Big Rock’s Paul Gautreau and Alberto Pancheco Martinez of Mateo & Bernabé & Friends, an artisanal brewery in Spain’s Rioja region. [edited to add the following:] As usual the day I publish a round-up someone announces something else. Today Big Rock released a limited-edition pack containing three barrel-aged beer. The three strong ales have been aged in different barrels, Bourbon, Sherry and Cognac. No word on the base beer involved.
  • Hog’s Head in St. Albert continue their furious pace of new releases. Last week Toboggan went on tap at their tap room. It is described as a darker-coloured pale ale aimed for winter. Then in a couple of weeks look for Death by Gingerbread Man, which as the name implies will have the character of gingerbread. It also will be a one-time, keg-only product.
  • A couple weeks back Grizzly Paw in Canmore released its winter seasonal, Hibernation Winter Ale. And then last week announced a very interesting new series. Called their Sour Beer Collection, it includes soured versions of their Indra Island IPA, Big Head Nut Brown and Barley Wine. All were aged in Kettle Valley Caboose wine casks to create the sour effect. All are available only at the brewery.
  • Tool Shed Brewing can now OFFICIALLY call itself a Calgary brewer, as late last week they officially got their production license from AGLC. Test batches are ongoing and Calgary-produced beer will be appearing in the new year.
  • BR colaboradorFor those of you in the Regina area this weekend, be sure to swing by the Bushwakker Brewpub as on December 6 they will be releasing their 2014 version of their very popular Blackberry Mead. This year’s is made with 400 pounds of Lumsden Valley honey and 84 pounds of blackberries. Last year’s version reportedly sold out in under two hours and some people waited in line all night to ensure they go their allotment.
  • While we are in Saskatchewan, Paddock Wood in Saskatoon has two new releases. First, their annual Winter Ale is now out and will be working its way across the prairies in due course. Remember, this is not a traditional winter ale, as it is brewed as a Belgian Dubbel. This year’s edition of Heartstopper chocolate stout is also ready for release.
  • Over in Winnipeg, we have a case of “sorry you missed it” and “better line up now if you don’t want to be sorry” at Half Pints. Ursa Minor, an Extra Pale Ale brewed with Galaxy & Nelson Sauvin hops came out a couple weeks ago but is already sold out. However, do not fear, next week, The Mighty Red, an Irish Red ale will be available at the brewery. It, too, will be a keg/growler option only.

And now I turn my attention to Full Moon. The new IPA version will be first available at the Next Act Pub on December 6 and at the brewery retail store starting next week. It will work its way into liquor stores in the new year as current stocks of the original version are bought up. The new version will be slightly higher in alcohol (5.5%) and will up the IBUs from 31 to 45.

Why my mixed feelings? Well, in a way I grew up on Full Moon. Not really, as I was already into craft beer before Full Moon existed. But Full Moon has been an anchor of my Edmonton-based beer drinking life. In the early 2000s is was one of the (very) few local beer you could find on tap in pubs. For many years it has been a reliable fallback for me; when I couldn’t decide what I wanted, the other offerings didn’t appeal or sometimes when I  just simply wanted to have something familiar and loyal. To this day I pick up a six-pack of Full Moon every once in a while, simply because I know it is a beer I can always rely on. Everyone needs a beer like that, and Full Moon was mine.

Welcome aboard, newbie!

Welcome aboard, newbie!

More than that, I believe strongly that Full Moon was one of the best pale ales brewed in the country. It found a way to create balanced flavour with distinguishing cascade hop character. It was, in many ways, a superior example of pale ale and even stood up well to American offerings in that style. At least that is my opinion.

Now, of course, I realize none of that has to change. It is still Full Moon after all, just a bit bulked up. I imagine many of its qualities will remain. I could choose to see this as more Full Moon to love. On that front we will have to wait and see.

I also get that Full Moon’s  (as pale ale) time had come. When Alley Kat owner Neil Herbst informed me of the switch he said that when Full Moon was introduced it was on the edgy end of the beer market – something bold and challenging – but over time the consumers’ palates have shifted and it has been overtaken by so many other assertive beer. In particular the rise of IPA as a popular style eclipsed what Full Moon was trying to do. I get that.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Mature beer markets have room for a wide range of beer. For every IPA there should be an equally good pale ale, just as for every stout there should be a brown ale. I don’t always want an IPA and in those moments a Full Moon Pale Ale might exactly hit the spot. ‘Tis a pity, really.

AKfullmoonold

Where it all started.

Further, I have some fears that Full Moon will go from a stand-out pale ale to a middling IPA. Of course, I haven’t tasted it yet so I this is pure conjecture, but with the shelves full of big citrusy, bitter IPAs from the U.S., especially the west coast, will Full Moon IPA get lost? I appreciate not everyone is a hop-head and many find those West Coast IPAs too intense, so maybe that will be the spot the new Full Moon will fill. I just know many IPA-natics can be quite harsh on anyone who dare suggest a beer needs more than lupulin.

Obviously time will tell. I guess for me the mixed feelings are part nostalgia, part wondering what my future go-to beer will be, and part pondering what this says about craft beer culture in these parts.

The good news for those of you who want one last fling with Full Moon Pale Ale, it will be on store shelves for a few more weeks.

9 comments to RIP Full Moon Pale Ale, Long Live Full Moon IPA and Other News

  • Albert A

    I’m right there with you on the sadness of Full Moon’s transformation. I moved to Edmonton four years ago, and Full Moon was the first Edmonton beer that I had that made me sit up and take notice. A bit hoppier, nice full flavor, but still easy to drink, more relaxing than most full IPAs. And I say this as someone who often enjoys a really good Pacific Northwest Punch In The Face (aka Cascadian IPA).

    I’ll definitely be getting myself a six-pack or two of the classic before it disappears.

  • I have mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, I agree that pale ales are being left behind in the market. On top of that, chasing IPA as a trend places an innovative brewery in the position of playing catch-up instead of leading the way. I suppose that is alright for the core brands, although Scona Gold replacing Charlie is pretty topical, Kolsch being still a bit of an up and comer. Alley Kat did Saison before Saison was cool. Sour Fruit beers before sour was cool. Tripel before Belgians were cool. Mild before session beers were cool. I know that the seasonals will continue to keep nerds interested.

    That having been said, IPA is last year’s trend at best. Session is the new Big. I hope that my favorite brewery doesn’t get caught playing catch up with the re-branding and updating its core lineup. In my beer nerd heart I suspect that they could have gone a bit more out on a limb. In my cynical brain, I know that IPA will probably be a big seller in this market well into the future, even as ISA and other lower alcohol beers flourish in the trendier markets. Edmonton is a conservative beer town. I think it says a lot about the development of the market that a company that is so tuned in to the local market thinks it is time for a full-time IPA to replace Full Moon.

    The King is dead. Long live the King.

  • Chris

    I am saddened by this news. Full Moon has been a go-to beer for many years, and my standard beer for taking to a house party. I’m not a big IPA drinker, with pale ales and ESB’s hitting just the right IBU level for my palate. Still, I’ll give this one a chance. Scona Gold was a worthy replacement for Charlie Flint after all.

  • Mel

    I have to chime in with my own commiseration. Pale Ale is my fave style of beer, and since I’m mostly a wine drinker I don’t often grab a pint. When I do, it was always nice to have that reliable local pale ale readily available. Come on brewers, jump back on the pale train!

  • Ernie

    I’m not sure why it has to be one or the other. Many breweries will offer a pale ale, an IPA and a double IPA all as regular offerings. I say this as someone that generally prefers an IPA to a pale ale; if I’ll be able to get the IPA where the pale ale was previously available, I won’t necessarily be disappointed, but having a choice would be even better.

    • beerguy

      Ernie, a fair point. But given Alley Kat’s capacity issues (one of the reasons Charlie Flint was dropped) could they reasonably support both a PA and and IPA at this time? Ideally we could have a Full Moon family of beer, from an ESB straight through to a DIPA. That would be fun. But I can hear Neil’s head exploding at the mere thought of juggling that!

      • Ernie

        I understand that to a certain point, and far be it from me to presume to know what’s going on from a business and capacity side, I’m selfishly thinking purely from a consumer side here. But if Full Moon IPA is replacing Full Moon Pale Ale, while they aren’t exactly the same, one could logically assume that they are close enough to “compete” with each other. Would the pale ale need to be produced at the same rate if some of the sales are being siphoned off by the IPA (i.e. an increased demand for IPA means a roughly equivalent decrease in demand for the pale ale)? While on day one, I might be inclined to buy both for a side-by-side comparison, eventually I would probably end up buying one *or* the other at a similar rate to when I was just buying the one. Could the brewing of Full Moon be “split” between the two, even for a period, to compare the demand for each? Again, I’m sure Neil has probably considered these options and is doing what makes sense from a business side, but I’m just thinking and hoping out loud from a consumer side. 🙂

  • Chad

    While I feel saddened by the departure of such an excellent beer, my hopes are buoyed by Alley Kat’s track record. First of all, Alley Kat knows how to put out new and interesting beers such as their Big Bottle series, seasonals, Dragon series. Second of all, the decision to drop Charlie Flint and replace it with Scona Gold was absolutely the right move. Lastly, they did create Full Moon. In the end, I love Full Moon, but I trust that Alley Kat knows better what they are doing with their own beer than I do. Can’t wait to try the new Full Moon IPA!

  • […] From a well-made Full Moon IPA (formerly Full Moon Pale Ale, see Jason Foster’s side-by-side here) to a gluten-reduced Scona Gold kölsch and everything in between, Alley Kat isn’t afraid to […]

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