A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sampling a collaboration between Fyne and Wild called…er…Fyne and Wild, a low-alcohol (2.9% abv) Saison with Cucumber and Mint. Sounds disgusting, I hear you say….beer for hipsters! I hear the outraged splutter. Actually, it’s none of those. It’s a low-alcohol beer that compensates for its lack of body (which, let’s face it, all low abv beers have) with another flavour. By that, I mean a flavour other than hops.
Low alcohol beers lack bass notes; although some are plenty tasty – Adnam’s Sole Star and Rooster’s Low Life are two I’ve enjoyed a fair few times – you do end up moving up a level after one, purely out of a need for something a little more in terms of body. This new generation of low-alcohol beers are experimenting with flavour and style as much as making beers for the pregnant or designated driver (or to enjoy cheap duty, if you’re cynical).
As I drained my Fyne & Wild it occurred to me that this is almost brewed for food; drinking, my mind wandered to Salmon and Watercress, Baked Feta, a bowl of Olives – all down to the flavours in the beer. It wasn’t even registering that it was low in alcohol, if I’m being honest.
There was a difference to it – call it a novelty, if you like – but in a more homogenous way than a celebrity – endorsed beer for food. You see, beer brewed for food isn’t necessary. There’s simply no need for it. They are of no use to bring people in who don’t regularly drink – or buy – beer with food in mind.
Beer is so diverse that any beer that you brew specifically for, say, Chinese food, will be the last in a long line of beers that go well with Chinese food; one for every taste, preference and palate. But you know that already, right – that’s why you get celebrity chefs to endorse them. Then they disappear; no matter how good the chef or how genuinely into beer he is, they always feel like cash-ins. Chefs; if you want to genuinely further the cause, use your considerable reach to simply put beer into the hands of your diners in your restaurants. That’s all you need to do.
Could the niche of low-abv beers work better when supplemented with spices, herbs and whatnot? A blank canvas for flavour and experimentation for a different audience than your regular beer drinker? Would non beer-drinkers be more inclined to try a low-abv sharing bottle of something with a meal than launching straight into the Belgian classics, for example? There has to be more than simply boosting the hops to bring the focus away from the lack of depth in the body, right? Or is alcohol too much of a major factor in what makes beer good with food?
Wild are currently bottling this, and I hope to get my hands on some before this weather inevitably disappears.