Pale but… not so interesting

At some point between when we started taking an interest in beer and now, the niche ‘golden ales’ had found in the market got taken over ‘pale and hoppy’ ones.

A few weeks ago, we had a bottle of Summer Lightning for the first time in a while and, although we enjoyed it, we were taken aback at how sweet and yeasty it tasted. It was one of our first loves and, in our minds, was a super-hoppy, crisp, clean beer. Not so. The same day, Neil Chantrell of Coach House Brewing, said almost exactly the same thing on Twitter.

Exmoor Gold was even more of a shock when we drank it at the George Inn at Middlezoy a fortnight ago: like golden syrup and, sadly, not that enjoyable. We dumped it: “It’s not you, it’s us; we’ve moved on, but you’ve stayed the same.”

We don’t think either beer has changed, though. It’s just that we’ve come to expect a certain lightness and much more bitterness from yellow-golden ales. At the George, our second pint, Glastonbury Ales Mystery Tor, hit the spot: tropical fruit and almost-but-not-quite puckering bitterness were present and correct.

Where does this leave the previous generation of golden ales? Should they change to keep up? And will the same fate befall the current crop of pale and hoppy beers in ten years time?

12 thoughts on “Pale but… not so interesting”

  1. I’m not sure I want Summer Lightning to change. Still have a lot of time for that beer when it’s served in good condition. Never drunk the bottled verson though.

  2. I have never been that keen on pale golden, low hop rate beers and perhaps it was because I had already tried things like hophead before those others.

  3. T_i_B — I don’t think it ought to change but wouldn’t blame the brewers if it did.

    Steve — some of them would probably seem more exciting if they were brown. At least then there wouldn’t be such an obvious disconnect between the drinker’s expectation and the flavour.

  4. I’ve had both Summer Lightning and Exmoor Gold recently and can’t but agree with your thoughts. When I see something pale, I expect it to be refreshing and hoppy, not sweet and sticky. Shirley they should only need to change if they face declining sales etc, after all, plenty of people drink Greene King IPA and enjoy it…

  5. I sometimes think the name “Whatever Gold” can be deceptive as to the beer in what ever way it’s served. Some can be fantastic, but not always particularly hoppy, others the opposite and then some that are down right boring bordering tasteless.

    I had a very similar conversation with @kempicus last week as it happens after tasting a bottle of Buxton Gold which was an absolute triumph IMHO. He agreed, but said that it didn’t sell particularly well which is a real shame

  6. That’s interesting, Phil. Wonder *why* it doesn’t sell? Would “blonde” do better? My Dad still isn’t convinced by blonde/golden beers, so I know they don’t appeal to everyone.

    Odd that St Austell Proper Job is never called “golden”, cos it bloody is.

  7. Phil — we’ve not had the cask version for a while. The last time we did, I don’t remember finding it sweet but it didn’t strike me as being anywhere near as bitter as, say, Hophead. Think the cask and bottle have always had different recipes so it’s possible the bottle is less bitter again. Or, which is the point we’re making here, we’re getting so used to *intense* bitterness from pale yellow beers that we’re perceiving as sweet something which isn’t at all. Wonder how it measures on the international bitterness scale?

    The Exmoor Gold (cask) really was sweet. A bit like drinking honey.

  8. I have only had bottled travelled Summer Lightening and it has never appealed. In fact it has always ended up going down the drain but I suspect thats the travel fatigue rather than the breweries fault.

    I have been told the cask version is much better. It is alot stronger than many of the other golden ales its competing with. So it could be as bitter but not present like the lower strength ones.

    At a wider level tastes do change , hopheadism is big but I am sure in time (a long time) tastes will mature and subtle will come back into focus.

  9. KHM — good point re: strength and the impression of bitterness.

    We once had a whole case of bottled SL we had to ditch — tasted buttery. and greasy. Not good.

  10. Surely it’s only in relatively recent years that an expectation has developed that golden-coloured ales should be assertively hoppy. Many of the original wave, such as Exmoor Gold, Tanglefoot, Fuller’s Discovery etc were notably soft in character, and I’ve had some from micro breweries that were utterly insipid. Summer Lightning was originally very much at the hoppier end of the spectrum.

  11. Curmudgeon — you might have a point there. I vaguely recall seeing some golden ales marketed almost as if they were milds — less of that harsh brown flavour, a gentler beer for the ladies, etc.. We’re fans of Fuller’s beers but Discovery leaves us totally cold. A bafflingly boring beer.

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