Well it’s New Brew Tuesday (okay it was…), and I’m flying by the seat of my pants! As I type this, I’m actually at a launch party of Alexander Keith’s new Hop Series Cascade Hop Ale at the Duke of Westminster. Now, let’s just get this out of the way upfront: Yes, I know Keith’s IPA is not really an IPA by most people’s standards. We can argue till we’re blue in the face about this one, and it won’t change the fact that they have a strong brand presence as such, and won’t likely change anytime soon. Keith’s IPA is not geared towards craft beer drinkers. It’s made to be a Premium brand for people who are main line lager drinkers. Also, yes, I know Keith’s is not independent anymore. They are owned by AB-InBev. If you’re a really hardened macro beer hater, feel free to stop reading, but I really hope you give this post a chance. If you’re here reading this, scratching your head wondering what I’m talking about, my apologies. Craft beer folks get all bent out of shape about the big guys (often for good reasons), and it’s easier just to make clear I know A) Keith’s is a “big guy” and B) That I’m going to objectively write about them anyway.
When I first started drinking beer, Keith’s and Moosehead were go-to brands. As I drank more local stuff, and my tastes grew, I sort of left them behind. In the case of Keith’s, owned by AB-InBev (who also own Budweiser and Labatt), I have some baggage, as I don’t really like The Beer Store; this baggage is also carried about Molson-Coors. But when I heard that Keith’s was actually sending a cask to last fall’s Cask Days, I was impressed and intrigued. They were sending a beer to be tasted by people who generally spend their energy trashing the Keith’s brand. And while I know many people who passed it by on principle, I tried it and was, perhaps not impressed, but certainly not let down. Compared to many of the other epic beers that day, the Keith’s offering was simply “okay”, but it was being held against things like Bellwood’s Hellwoods on sour cherries, and Amsterdam’s Full City Tempest Imperial Stout. Based on what I tasted, it was clearly an all-grain brew, and I joked that the one cask probably had as much hops as a full batch of Keith’s IPA. It didn’t set my world on fire, but I would happily order it in a bar.
Obviously, when I got an email from a PR company inviting me to come out and taste one of the two new beers Keith’s was producing, focusing on hops (and made with all grains), I was happy to reply yes. An article in the Globe and Mail talks about the beers, and how they’re “stealing a bit from the wine industry”, exploring the concept of terrior (though I would say they’re stealing more from the craft beer scene, using a lot more hops than in other brews). And now, here I am, and here is the Cascade single hop. Let’s do this!
Served on draught Keith’s Hop Series Cascade Hop Ale pours an amber with hints of brown at the centre. About 1″ of dense head drops to a nice layer of fuzz. Aroma is clearly cascade hops. Some citrus peel and a touch of earth. Very clear and prominent, you don’t have to look for it. A nice gentle touch of biscuity malts are there too. Taste is quite nice. It drinks like you would expect, with a good foundation of malts, and a genuinely big shot of cascade hops. Citrusy, a little spicy and with a touch of damp earth. Body is good, not quite medium bodied but with a bit too much carbonation for my palate. Still a very nice beer, and one that objective craft nerds will have trouble finding flaws with.
I was able to have quite a nice conversation with Kevin Hryclik who has brewed across the country for Labbatt, and he was amazingly open about the beer and its production. It’s styled as a single-hop pale ale. The cascade does drink with an obvious American-ness, though he tells me the Hallertau is more herbal and earthy, which makes me think, with it’s malt profile, it will drink more like a British PA. The beer is all-grain, and that doesn’t include rice or corn (both of which are grains). In fact, he very specifically told me that the mash is Pale 2-row base, with Caramel 16° and Munich 20°. Obviously, the hops are all cascade, and it’s worth noting that while the beer is only 27 IBU, it is dry-hopped with 0.5kg of hops per hectolitre of beer. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, basically it’s a lot of hops, especially for a “big” producer of beer.
Haters goin’ hate, but as a beer, this is quite nicely done. If you’re used to Keith’s IPA, this is totally different, but nicely executed. In fact, I think this will surprise people on both sides of the fence; staunch Keith’s drinkers as well as hardened craft folks.
Nice job to the crew at Keith’s and AB-InBev, and thanks to Kevin for sharing a beer and a good conversation.
Buy Alexander Keith’s Hop Series Cascade Hop Ale
Coast to coast Cascade Ale will be available in tall boy cans and bottles (depending on the market) at your local beer seller. In Ontario, Cascade Ale is being sold through The Beer Store, http://www.thebeerstore.ca/beers/keiths-cascade-hop-ale in 473ml tall boy cans and in a 12-pack mixer with 6 of each variety (there is also a Hallertau Hop Ale). The LCBO will have the 473ml tall boy cans. It is also on draught in bars across Ontario and the Country.
Eat It With
Fish and Chips! Not just because that is what Kevin and I were munching on while discussing the beer, either. Its bright citrusy notes and sharp carbonation help keep the fatty fried fish light on your palate. Similarly, it would do well with a spicy curry made with coconut milk (like a good thai prawn red curry). For cheese pairings, think medium to old cheddars. Not too farmhouse/funky, but sharp and somewhat rich, where again, the citrus and effervescence will balance the density of the cheese. A nice ripe chevre would also work, in a different way. The sharp sour tang would compliment the citrusy hop well.
About The Brewery
Alexander Keith’s maintains the quality and heritage first introduced by Alexander Keith himself in 1820. Only the finest barley malt and select hops are used to brew the Alexander Keith’s family of fine beers, which include the newly introduced Alexander Keith’s Hop Series, Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale – the #1 specialty brand in Canada – Alexander Keith’s Red Amber Ale, Alexander Keith’s Original Cider and Alexander Keith’s Dark Ale. For more information on Alexander Keith’s beers, visit www.Keiths.ca or www.Facebook.com/keiths.