Friday, 9 September 2011

Golden or pale?

Every brewery now seems to have a golden ale, especially the new microbreweries which have expanded the market for cask beer.

As Martyn Cornell has shown in his book Amber, Gold and Black, golden coloured beers have been brewed in England since the late nineteenth century, Manchester's Boddingtons Bitter being a notable example. But the start of the trend towards golden ales is normally dated to the late 80's and Hop Back Summer Lightning, the success of which apparently prompted CAMRA to set up a new Golden Ale category, separate from that for copper coloured bitters.

The CAMRA claim that brewers started producing golden ales to appeal to lager drinkers seems a bit shaky to me. The pubs who first stocked it already sold cask beer so it is much more likely it started as a seasonal summer ale for cask beer drinkers. Talking to one of my mates who normally drinks lager, I asked him whether he had ever drunk golden ale. He hadn't heard of it, despite drinking in pubs where it's available. If he drinks cask beer, it's a standard bitter, what he thinks of as "real ale". He asked me what it was and I had to say rather confusingly "It looks and tastes a bit like lager but has the mouthfeel of bitter".

Which brings me to my main point. What really distinguishes golden ale and bitter? Some would argue that it is merely a type of bitter/pale ale. I suppose the real dividing line is between beers brewed with pale malt and English hops which taste like bitter (Boddingtons) and the new category brewed with pale malt and European and/or North American hops which give them a citrusy taste.

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