Mid-strength beers have long been seen – unfairly – as a compromise. The growth of craft beer did little to dispel the idea; the bold flavours associated with craft are often accompanied by higher alcohol volumes. It’s one of the reasons why, until recently, there have been few craft mid-strength beers on shelves.
According to Haydon Morgan, head brewer at Malt Shovel Brewery in Sydney, the challenge is balancing full-flavoured craft styles with low-alcohol content while catering to drinkers’ tastes. But those tastes are relative.
“For some drinkers, a pale ale has heaps of flavour, while others may see the same style as easy-drinking and prefer a big IPA,” he says. “But mid-strength drinkers are definitely looking for beers with more flavour.”
Morgan says the key challenge with lower-alcohol beers is the bitterness and body of the beer, which can be on the lower side.
“Alcohol content contributes to the mouthfeel and drinkers’ experience of beer,” says Morgan. “So when we develop a mid-strength beer, we work to give extra body and bitterness to give that same mouthfeel. That can be developed through a short mash profile [mashing is the process of combining crushed malts with water to turn starches into sugar], which enables some residual sugars to support the balance between body and bitterness.
“Dry hopping [adding extra hops at the end of the fermentation process] also gives more character upfront by delivering a bigger aroma prior to drinking the beer. This gives a greater sensation of bigger flavour through aroma before tasting the beer.”
With Morgan’s words in mind, here’s our guide to five of the best, most flavoursome mid-strength craft beers on the market.
James Squire Mid River Pale Ale (3.5%)
Three malts and a blend of five hops drive a depth of flavour in this bantamweight beer. A go-to for those looking for a mid-strength but not wanting to compromise on flavour, Munich malts are used to enrich its malt profile, the selection of German hops offer crisp, herbaceous notes, and US hops add citrus and fruity aromas to make an easy-drinking pale ale.
Little Creatures Rogers’ Beer (3.8%)
Arguably the pioneer of the mid-strength craft category, this could easily be named, “I can’t believe it’s not full-strength”. Vienna malts add body and the ruby red colour, while whole hop cones add a tropical aroma that combine for a very satisfying barbeque beer.
Fortitude Brewing Pacer 2.8 (2.8%)
How low can a flavoursome beer go? At 2.8 per cent, this ale from Fortitude Brewing enters the realm of light beers, but still delivers rewarding flavour courtesy of generous amounts of Citra hops for a crisp and dry-bodied but aromatic beer.
Bridge Road Brewers Little Bling (3.5%)
India pale ales – or IPAs – are the heavy hitters of the craft-beer world. Big, bold hop characters and higher alcohol are the norm, but not with this mini version of Bridge Road’s classic Bling IPA. It’s punchy and bold in every aspect but for the moderate alcohol.
Colonial Brewery Small Ale (3.5%)
Three-and-a-half per cent alcohol, malt body, hop aroma. Here’s another beer riffing on the same theme but with its own interpretation and flair. A delicious but moderate beer for summer sessions.
Stone & Wood Garden Ale (3.5%)
Crystal malts and dry-hopping are commonly used to maximise flavour in mid-strength ales, and this is no different. Crystal malts lend a touch of toffee and mouthfeel to this beer, and Australian-grown Ella hops give hints of stone fruit and citrus for the perfect beer for a day in the garden.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with James Squire.