Since the eruption of its current renaissance,craft beer has defined itself through counterculture; it’s as much about what it is not as what it is. Generic, bland, cheap — these are the adjectival Enemies of the trade. As a result, the pervasive ‘bolder is better’ mentality has become a licence to constantly bash consumers’ masochistic taste-buds into submission. And apparently the sick bastards can’t get enough.
Which is all well and good. Without challenge, mediocrity reigns forever. But an idea has lately been on my mind, like a cavity I can’t help playing with: a rift is forming in the beer world. There will always be a contingent of die-hards who yearn to have their envelopes pushed ad nauseam. But the weirder that end of the spectrum becomes, I see the other end moving eerily closer to That Which Must Not Be Consumed … ‘Big Beer.’
Maybe it’s because we will all eventually become what we once raged against. Maybe I’ll be beaten, dragged into the street, and quartered by Clydesdales. The future is unclear.
But this is my confession: my palate feels like a punch-drunk boxer. It can still take the hard knocks — I often crave them — but I no longer need to take up a corner of the ring at every opportunity and duke it out all night with the heaviest of hitters. Leave that to the fire-eyed boys with glitter in their hearts. I’m happy now to step in for a quick spar, tap gloves and leave the battle, headed for a sauna and a rub-down.
And I don’t think I’m alone. I see a trend evolving in craft beer that reverses the finger-pointing vitriol against Big Breweries for trying to surreptitiously impersonate the small guys, via vague labelling and suggestive branding. Our quaint little breweries are taking cues from the Enemy. Case in point: Light Side of The Moon, by Moon Under Water brewery and pub.
Packaged in “tall boy” cans (473ml), like so many of those frost-brewed, triple-hopped, or beechwood-aged beauties of marketing, the Light Side pours a very hazy light-gold, which is the first indicator that this is not Big Beer. The label notes that it is brewed with “rice, malt and sweet orange peel.” Fittingly, citrus aromas of orange cordial and lemon peel are dominant. The body is light, the mouthfeel fully carbonated, the finish is pure balance and refreshing cleanness. Hops play a cameo just present enough to keep the second can from becoming a sweet-water cocktail.
Restrained, rounded, and flavourful. The goal is not to challenge, but to satisfy. And despite the rallying cry of most small-brewery branding over the last three decades, I do not see any shame in that
ambition. Harness up the Clydesdales.
Words by Daniel Murphy
Daniel Murphy writes freelance poetry and prose on urinal walls and independent magazines. He supports his chronic brewing habit through functional alcoholism. You can sample his beer (and the occasional salacious limerick) at Canoe Brewpub, where he has been Brewmaster for the past 3 years.
originally published in analogue magazine’s April/May 2015 issue