Given that you’re interested in beer, and given that it’s 2011, I probably don’t need to tell you much about Summer Lightning. What a very fine beer that is – an early example of the pale and hoppy style, and such a good one that it won over people who didn’t even like pale and hoppy bitters (e.g. me). I like everything about it, including the fact that it’s still brewed at 5% (cask as well as bottle).
I had a pint the other night, following a perfectly decent Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, and thought I might as well follow it with another. I’ve never known a big beer taste so clean, or vice versa. That full but light body, that palate-cleansing astringency, that great big thud of bitterness in the aftertaste – glorious stuff. But there was still some evening left at the end of the beer, so I went back to the bar in search of something light and unassuming (and weaker, not to put to fine a point on it).
Then I noticed a pump I’d overlooked before, serving Marston’s EPA – English Pale Ale – at an unassuming 3.4%. I had a half (it was late) and was very pleasantly surprised. There’s hops in there – there’s a bit of biscuity malt, but it’s only there for background: the foreground is fully occupied with big, smoky hop aromas. It made the Summer Lightning look a bit unsubtle by comparison. It was the kind of flavour that I usually associate with much stronger & more specialised beers – if I’d tasted it blind and then been told I was drinking a limited-edition single hop varietal ale brewed at 6%, I’d have believed it without a question.
A pleasant surprise, then, but also a beer that changed my mind about a couple of things. I haven’t had much regard for the Marston’s name in the last few years, but EPA suggests that there are some interesting things going on there at the moment. It also suggests that the promised brave new world of sub-4% and even sub-3% beers might not be such a bad place to be: if you can put that much flavour into a beer brewed at under 3.5%, why go higher?