By now you’ve read the title for this post, maybe glanced at the photo, and are a little confused, possibly even slightly worried. Please bear with me. Every now and then it’s fun to stop focusing so intently on craft beer and see what else is going on in the beer world. Usually most emails from the big breweries get deleted automatically from my inbox. (New wide-mouth cans? Deleted! A new contest featuring cheerleaders on a boat? Deleted!) On the rare occasion, one of these emails is actually interesting and that has led to today’s discussion on Alexander Keith’s new single hop series. As a card carrying hophead, I was curious (and admittedly very skeptical) about these new beers.
Sometimes these press emails also come with the opportunity to interview someone, like the assistant to the assistant of marketing, and I wonder if anyone ever takes the brewery up on this offer. But this came with the opportunity to chat with brewmaster Steve Durand, who was kind enough to speak with me for a bit about the single hop series. Steve was able to confirm that the beers are all-grain, made with hop pellets and dry-hopped – a good start. The base beer is the same with the only difference being the Cascade and Hallertauer hops used in each beer. The hops are mainly used for flavour and aromatic properties, so don’t expect much bitterness from either. (They clock in at 27 IBUs.) Other single hop beers are currently in development and somewhere in the product testing phase.
The Hallertauer is a fairly subtle beer and the hops really struggle to come through. I had expected a lighter, cleaner malt base, but the caramel and biscuit notes dominant the spicy and earthy hop characteristics. The beer is just too sweet and unbalanced, lacking any of the properties one would expect from a single hop beer. The Cascade beer is definitely more intriguing as the juicy citrus component of the hop shines through and matches the sweet caramel body. The aromatics aren’t quite as strong as most other hoppy pale ales, but it is surprisingly not far off. It definitely plays up the floral and citrusy hop flavours, which help give the beer a more refreshing quality that the Hallertauer lacked. A little more body and some bitterness in the finish to provide balance would round out the beer, but it was still enjoyable enough to drink the whole can. The closest beer that compares is the Hop City Big Mouth Pale Ale, another beer that emphasizes the flavour and aromatics of citrusy hops but lacks bitterness.
One of the big questions that always gets asked when multinational breweries start to make crafty beer is, “Who are they trying to attract with this beer?” Steve said the beers are not aimed at the kind of people that only drink Keith’s, but those looking for more flavour and character in their beer. The goal for the series according to Steve is to “give the consumer what they want,” meaning a beer with more character and flavour. The beers in the hop series are not meant to turn hardcore Keith’s drinkers into hopheads, but to appeal to the different segments of the beer market. Read into that what you will – my suggestions are either something along the lines of “We realized there were beer drinkers that we weren’t making money off of” or “We realized that some people have figured out that Keith’s isn’t really an IPA.”
Maybe people are expecting me to lay into Keith’s for making a beer that seems purely based on business reasons, but craft brewers do the same thing all the time so I can’t fault them just based on that point. They didn’t take a short cut with malt extract, hop extract or adjuncts, which is impressive and commendable. There are still strides to be made in terms of overall quality, but I am also not the intended demographic. My general opinion is that Keith’s is more than welcome to put their marketing force behind single hop beers. People that drink Mad Tom or Boneshaker won’t be switching to these beers any time soon, while more flavourful and aromatic beers like these can only end up pushing consumers into the arms of craft beer. The Cascade and Hallertauer beers only continue to emphasize the importance of the craft breweries that push the envelope, rather than the multinationals that exist two years behind the curve.