Golden Ales

by Steve Renshaw

You can tell that craft beer is taking a hold because the big boys of the brewing industry are starting to muscle in on the act. Guinness dipped their toes in the water last year with two bottled porters. Fair enough, that’s not very different from their core product, namely Irish stout. But now, according to their big-budget TV ad, they’re producing a golden ale. That just doesn’t seem right!

“Good Beer Guide” editor, Roger Protz, commented, “The bigger brewers are under pressure from younger drinkers who don’t want to drink what dad drinks, and if dad drinks stout they’ll have something different.”

A few small brewers launched golden ales in the 1980s. They didn’t have the right equipment to make lager but wanted to introduce younger drinkers to the delights of paler beers. The hallmark is the biscuity and juicy malt character derived from pale malts, underscored by tart, citrus fruit and peppery hops, often with hints of vanilla and cornflour. Golden ales are pale amber, gold, yellow or straw coloured and above all, such beers are thirst-quenching and should be served cool.

Exmoor Ales, established in Somerset in 1980, claim that they produced the first modern golden ale, Exmoor Gold, in 1986. Hop Back Brewery’s Summer Lightning was another early example. Now, most micros and regional brewers make their versions of the style.

Judging from sales at the Lincoln Beer Festival, golden ale is now the most popular beer style. And recent figures from pub chain, Nicholson’s, show sales of paler-coloured ales increasing by 27% over five years.

Golden ales are particularly popular in the summer months. There’s nothing more refreshing than quaffing a hoppy, golden beer in a pub garden.

I well remember my first taste of Caledonian Deuchars IPA, after it had been crowned CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain in 2002. With its delicate aroma and subtle, citrus flavours, it was very different from the traditional bitters I was used to. However, tastes have moved on and today’s drinkers are increasingly seeking out the intense flavours produced by New World hops.

Since 2005, golden ales have had their own class in the Champion Beer of Britain competition. Local drinkers will be familiar with Castle Rock Harvest Pale which won the gold medal in 2010 and was also named Supreme Champion that year.

This year’s champion golden ale, as announced last week at the Great British Beer Festival, is Jaguar, brewed by the Kelburn Brewing Company in Renfrewshire. Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to see it in these parts. However, last year’s winner, Oakham Citra, can often be found on local bars.

And what about the beer? Oakham Citra (4.2% ABV) is brewed with 100% Citra hops. This variety was developed in the USA and was released in 2007. The beer has a refreshing grapefruit and peach aroma. The flavour is bittersweet and there is a long dry aftertaste. It’s a summer’s day in a pint glass!