LOW-ALCOHOL beer. What is the point? To me, something always seemed disingenuous and suspicious about low-alcohol beers and lagers. In the same way that ‘edutainment’ computer games would try to cover up learning with fun. Or Open University documentaries would try to disguise facts with a garnishing of entertainment. Whenever you consumed them, you would always have that suspicion that you were being manipulated into being ‘good’.
Realising this, yet still wanting new markets, the big brewers scratched their heads and did a spot of innovating. Most notably, Carling with their “mid-strength” 2% volume, C2 launch in 2006, aimed at the so-called ‘metrosexual’ man who wants a “proper pint” without getting drunk.
While I haven’t reviewed C2, I did review Tesco Value Lager. Which is also 2%. And a taste-less, pointless waste of time. And that, I suspect, is true of most low or mid-alcohol lagers. But… what about low-alcohol ale? Could that be the answer? Could it be a genuine, tasty, full-bodied beer for the health conscious socialite?
To answer this question, I have here a bottle of Hall & Woodhouse’s Badger Harvesters Ale. This comes from the same brewer as Badger Original Ale, Badger Golden Glory Ale and Badger Golden Champion Ale, whom insisted that I try a few more of their beers. So, let’s take a closer look at Badger Harvesters Ale.
Broughton Double Champion Ale and Ridgeway Blue both have them, and Harvesters Ale joins them as a 2008 winner in the Tesco Drinks Awards. This time, in the category of ‘Lower & No Alcohol’. From my experience with those two other Tesco award winners, they tend to pick good drinks. So my expectations are going up. Albeit from a low starting point.
The entire design shouts, or rather whispers “take it easy”. The soft yellowy colours and the little picture of, presumably a harvester, relaxing under a tree paint a picture of pre-industrial rural bliss. Look a little closer and you’ll also notice the stylised ‘Harvesters’ logo has an arable touch to the letter ‘H’. There are also some simple pictures of birds, one of which is placed like an apostrophe above the logo. Or is it supposed to be Harvester’s and not Harvesters?
Standing out prominently is it’s own corner is “ALC 2.5% VOL”. And that could be key. It’s 0.5% higher than some of those awful medium-strength lagers. Over on the other corner, Harvesters is described as “refreshing” and “well-hopped” and as having a “lighter touch”. I hope all of that proves to be true.
The main part of that godsend of a chart gives ‘Sweet’ the highest of them all, with ‘Bitter’, ‘Hoppy’ and ‘Fruity’ all in joint second place. ‘Malty’ is the lowest.
The additions come in the form on three little boxes next to it. ‘See’, ‘Smell’ and ‘Taste’ all have their little icons, and, as you’d expect, give us yet more of an insight. Under ‘See’ we have “Light golden brown”. Under ‘Smell’, it is “Light and hoppy with grape undertones”. And for ‘Taste’, is tells us to expect “Medium bitterness & sweetness”.
I happen to think that these little boxes and the taste profile are terrific ideas. They give you an idea of whether you’ll like it or not, when you’re in the shop. And it gives me something to judge it by when it comes to my own taste test.
As with the other Badger ales, this one comes with a story behind it. This one revolves around the ale given by landowners to labourers at harvest time. And how, to avoid the calamity of drunken labours failing to do the harvest, less potent ales were sought. And that this is just such an ale. Light, yet supposedly not comprised in the things that matter.
There’s also all the small print you expect. That this is a 500 millilitre bottle. The Hall & Woodhouse Ltd. address in Blandford, Dorset, England. And www.badgerales.com web address. That this contains malted barley and sulphites. The fact that this only has 1.3 UK units of alcohol. And a few more details that don’t make it onto most other bottles. There’s a small table listing the recommended daily maximum of alcohol units; 3-4 for men and 2-3 for women. Also, next to the usual ‘drink responsibly’ message and recycle symbols, there’s one indicating that pregnant women should not drink. This takes corporate social responsibility to the next level.
But is it any good. We’re about to find out…
Well, it’s a golden brown colour. As described on the label. It’s topped off by a creamy and consistent head. As for the smell, it is as mildly hoppy as hinted at by the label. I’m not so sure about those grape undertones however. Although there’s a hint of something citrus in there if you sniff it hard enough.
The label described the taste as having medium bitterness and sweetness. A couple of gulps in, and I’m undecided about it. It is bitter. A little too much so for my personal taste. And leaves a hoppy aftertaste. But the sweet fruitiness. And the rich, complex flavours that make ales so good just weren’t as much in evidence as I had hoped.
On the other hand, it is refreshing. Not too gassy. And importantly, it’s also quite easy to drink.
While this is much much better than the watery Tesco Value Lager, it doesn’t quite deliver the full ale experience minus the alcohol. That said, it does get pretty darn close. If I were having a beer with a meal during a lunch break at work, this would be the right thing to have. It sets the standard for low-alcohol ales. By and large, it accomplishes what it sets out to do. Even though it didn’t really do it for me.
Have you tried Badger Harvesters Ale?
Or do you have any recommendations of your own for low-alcohol beers?
Comments, ideas, suggestions and insults below please.