Sunday, January 11, 2009


I chanced upon some Guinness Mid Strength the other evening. I had heard it was about the city but wasn't terribly bothered in hunting it down because I imagined it wouldn't be worth the effort. It turns out I was right; it really isn't worth the effort. Even the effort of raising the pint to your face is wasted on this beer. It looks just like full strength Guinness and for the most part smells just like it too but everything goes wrong when it enters your mouth. It has no length whatsoever and is miserably watery.

At the same bar I was very interested to see a tap for Carlsberg Mid Strength. I didn't anticipate it at all but of course had to try some despite rarely drinking its full strength namesake. Once again things didn't quite work out, but it wasn't so bad because I am familiar with non alcoholic lagers such as Beck's Unleaded, and in a blind tasting I would say that this Carlsberg was in actual fact alcohol free rather than the 2.7% stated on the tap. It has the classic alcohol free taste that is shared also with Erdinger's isotonic excuse for a sports drink. Laughably the blurb on the beer mats scattered around the pub suggest that the mid strength tastes exactly the same as the full 4.2% Carlsberg. Absolutely ridiculous, but if anyone knows the power of advertising, it's the peddlers of mass produced bland lager. I think I'd prefer go alcohol free and drive home than sink a couple of pints of mid strength lager and run the lottery of a roadside breath test.

The experience was interesting to me for a number of reasons. Firstly it highlighted just what ethanol brings to two different and distinct beer styles and just how difficult it is to make a tasty low strength beer when you are unwilling to up the malt or hops in order to add some character to the beer. Britain has any number of very tasty low alcohol ales, but they differ to this attempt by Guinness because session ales in Britain are designed to be tasty and low strength, while Guinness appeared to have merely removed the alcohol but left everything else much the same. Secondly it pissed me off that the mid strength was almost the very same price as full strength beer despite the reduction in excise that Guinness had to pay on the production of these beers. This is nothing new of course - a bottle of entirely alcohol free beer is the same price as normal beer in Irish pubs, but clearly Guinness have carried out expensive and extensive market research to establish a demand for this type of beer and perhaps might have considered making it a little cheaper to attract those who might be happy to drink this type of beer and drive home afterwards. Finally, despite the lack of satisfaction I derived from these beers, I am very happy to see them on the market. As I said, it is likely much market research pointed to a consumer demand for low strength beer, which is a wonderful thing as it can only inevitably lead to the availability of tasty bitters and mild in Ireland. Or maybe I'm just getting carried away.


The Beer Nut said...

I completely see your point about the need for low-strength beers, but if they don't taste good then their alcoholic strength is irrelevant.

I also don't see the line that starts at pints of Diageo Mid-Strength and finishes with Guinness Cask Mild. It's the leap sideways from stout and lager to ale that won't happen: Irish macro-ale is in decline and may not be around much longer. Look, for example, at how Diageo recently introduced new illuminated keg fonts for all their core range except Smithwick's, which is now almost invisible at the bar.

It's possible that the micros might follow the big boys and we'll get low-strength beers from them, but it's more likely to be Rebel Lager Mid-Strength than TSB2, unfortunately.

Thom said...

I agree with you about the problem with the sideways leap, and perhaps it wasn't clear how far my tongue was in my cheek when I wrote the last few sentances.

My main point is to do with the notion that Irish drinkers might start drinking lower alcohol beers in general. Every one of the light beers on the market strenuously reminds the comsumer that the beer is not light in alcohol. They clearly fear that people will not buy the stuff lest they are cheated out of their ethanol allowance.

I see the arrival of these 'mid strength' beers as a source of potential change in the Irish market which could in the distant future result in a sufficient amount of drinkers moving to lower strength craft beer. Once the public has kicked the need for a dose of full strength ethanol in each pint, which is typical of the major brands available, the potential for change might increase.

We are happily aware that the craft market is growing. Perhaps this might be the next phase. Sadly, Rebel Lager Mid Strength will taste like shit too - lagers just don't do well without alcohol. Specifically crafted low alcohol ales are the only way to go.

The Beer Nut said...

Yes, I take your point that a perceived market for low-strength beer is a good thing. Especially, y'know, if one has plans to start making some commercially.

The "It's-Light-But-Will-Still-Get-You-Pissed" lagers aren't going anywhere, however. But there's no point going after that taste-free market.

Boak said...

Interesting - I'd like to know "how low can you go" and still have flavour. We've just drunk / reviewed the Badger Harvester Ale at 2.5%, and while this is noticeably better than any low alcohol beer I've had (extra hops), it's still noticeably a "low alcohol beer". Whereas I've had cask ales around the 3.5% mark which have had real flavour, and in fact we brewed a mild around 3% that was pretty tasty (we were actually aiming for 4% though...)

The Beer Nut said...

Have either of you tried Mann's Original Brown Ale? It puts on a pretty good show at 2.8% ABV. Thom, I have a couple of bottles set aside for a tasting some time.

Oblivious said...

Nice post Thom, but I sadly have to agree with john on the state of macro Irish ale.

A I do like a bottle of Mann's

David Curran said...

So essentially these mid strength beers are just watered down versions of the original? That's a bit depressing.

I like the session ales you can get in Yorkshire but they have a distinct difference from higher alcohol beers.

Thom said...

I had Mann's Brown ale in mind when I wrote the post. I'd love to try some.

Dave, it is certainly true that low alcohol session ales are distinct to the stronger ones. I just happen to love the full flavour lower strength ones. As for how the these particular mid strength beers are brewed; I'm not certain but it certainly does taste like they have merely halved the alcohol and left everything else unchanged, but that just seems too crude, even for a macro brewer.