For someone who loves hops, Alexander Ketih’s, with its proud pronouncement that it is an “IPA,” is at best misleading and at worst, irritating.
Like most lovers of hoppy beer, I find the moniker “IPA” here vaguely annoying and I’ve personally witnessed it serve as a point of confusion to fans of actual IPAs who’ve never heard of Keith’s; often leading to potentially dangerous consequences. To illustrate my point, here is a dramatic representation of actual exchanges I have witnessed in bars:
INT. BAR – NIGHT
An American walks into a quiet CANADIAN bar and takes off his oversized cowboy hat as he approaches the taps.
Now lemme see…Ooh boy. Looky here, an IPA. I’ll have one of these “Alexander Keith’s.”
A BARTENDER pours a pint for the AMERICAN, who adjusts his Kid Rock t-shirt as he looks around, wondering where all the Eskimos are.
Here you go, eh.
The AMERICAN takes a long swig of his pint but promptly spits it out.
What in tarnation?! This ain’t no IPA!
The AMERICAN draws an old-timey revolver. All hell breaks loose.
And so it is perhaps not entirely unrelated to the cross-border violence they’ve stirred that Alexander Keith’s this week announced a sort of homage to the hops that have been sorely lacking in their misnamed flagship beer. The release of their “Hop Series,” two beers brewed, appropriately enough, with a single variety of hops and intended to showcase the characteristics of those type of hops, are seemingly Keith’s attempt to introduce people who might not understand that beer is made with hops that, hey, hops have a taste. The beers were Alexander Keith’s Cascade Hop Ale and their Hallertauer Ale.
I’ll admit, when the sample package arrived, I was vaguely excited. The pitch was great and I sort of bought into the idea, namely because the accompanying release used words like “hop-forward” and “terroire” and other beer nerd buzz words; but mostly because they opted to include two little jars of hops along with the beer–something akin to catnip for bitter-beer loving schmucks like me. Perhaps, I thought, the big guys had realized that people like beer with flavour. And with the wealth and resources available to the folks at Alexander Ketih’s, this beer had the potential to be outstanding.
Alas, it didn’t live up to my expectations. The Cascade Hop Ale, the one I had the highest hopes for owing mainly to my love of the intoxicating smell of that variety of hops, poured a coppery, amber colour from the can. It was crystal clear with medium carbonation and retained some white/taupe foamy head for a little while. Cascade hops though were definitely evident in the aroma. At this point I was still optimistic and noted that it smelled promising.
But…let down. The hop forwardness suggested by the aroma just isn’t there in the taste. The most prominent feature of the taste is mostly just a vague bitterness and tastes roughly like a West coast IPA. If I had to compare it to something, I’d say it’s a bit like drinking a flat Tankhouse. It finishes a little bit floral and the after taste is all bitterness with some receding perfumey mouthfeel. It’s not a horrible beer, but it’s not earth-shattering. If non-craft beer bars start carrying this, I might consider ordering it when I’m forced to go to those types of bars instead of my default Guinness.
As for the Hallertauer Ale, which was supposed to be defined by that hop’s “mild herbal and light spicy flavours,” it was roughly the same colour, with perhaps bigger bubbles in the head that also didn’t stick around long. I noted that some of the earthy notes of the hops were present in the aroma but that there was more of a malty sweetness in the nose than there was in the Cascade Ale. Ultimately, it was bland. It has quite a bit in common with the Cascade Ale, but all the stuff I liked about that beer are less pronounced here.
So what does it all mean?
Well, I guess I’m the dummy for expecting any thing radical from Labatt, a company who is very good at making beers that have wide appeal, but I still think this beer is ultimately a good thing for people who like interesting beer. What I mean is that, while some might cynically point to the hop-focused marketing as a clear sign that the big guys want some more of the craft beer segment of the market, I see that as an encouraging sign that at least the interesting beers are having an impact. That Labatt has felt the need to release a beer that looks and sounds like a craft beer at all (regardless of whether they actually hit the mark), means that people’s tastes are changing, and even the big brewers are taking notice.
Furthermore, and more importantly, with Labatt making products with some semblance of flavour, it means that people who heretofore thought the most redeeming quality of a beer was its coldness will discover that beer can have interesting stuff going on. This Keith’s Hop Series, which I assume will enjoy a fairly wide release, might actually drive people to seek out other interesting beer. Ironically enough, I can foresee “crafty” products like this driving people to actual craft beer, which is good thing for anyone who likes interesting beer.
As I noted, as part of their marketing angle, Keith’s saw fit to include two tiny jars of hops along with the sample tall boys they sent me and, I assume, other beer bloggers. The accompanying literature asked you to give them a sniff to appreciate where the flavours in the beer come from.
The cascade hops, naturally, smelled amazing and since I was vaguely disappointed with the actual beer, but left with these great-smelling hops, I decided, when I was about halfway done my beer, to pour my beer in the jar and let it steep. Call it a secondary dry-hopping to the already dry-hopped beer.
With the smell that good, surely it would improve the taste of the beer.
I let the jar full of beer and hops steep for about 20 minutes then strained what amounted to about two ounces of now doubly-dry-hopped beer back into my glass.
The results, as you might expect, were disgusting.
This didn’t work at all. Don’t do this. Yech.