Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Dipping low

I asked blog readers whether they had tried any of the 2.8% ABV beers introduced to take advantage of the reduction in duty brought in last Autumn. Just over half had no intention of doing, while about a quarter said they would if they came across one, and the remaining quarter had tried a variety of them, mostly in cask and bottled form.

Prompted by this blog posting from Steve Lamond, I did put a couple of them in my trolley at Tesco last week – Greene King Tolly English Ale and Fuller’s Mighty Atom. They were £1.39 each for a 500ml bottle, which is cheaper than Tesco’s standard price of £1.99, but you can still get regular-strength premium bottled ales for less, for example in Morrisons’ 4 for £5.50 offer.

In contrast to Steve, I thought the Mighty Atom was the better of the two, with a more interesting and complex mix of flavours. The English Ale had a hint of the typical GK house character, but little else. Both seemed oddly gloopy in consistency, as though the low alcohol content had been achieved by arresting fermentation and leaving a lot of unfermented sugars in the beer, and both exhibited notably poor head retention. I might try the Marston’s one as well, but I can’t say I’ll be making them regular purchases. They seemed to be trying to ape the flavour characteristics of stronger beers rather than simply coming across as honest low-gravity beers in their own right.

As a comparison, I also had a bottle of the 3.4% Brakspear Bitter, a mere £1.09 from Home Bargains just down the street in Edgeley from the closed Grapes. This was a much better and more satisfying drink – a classic English ordinary bitter with a dry edge and a distinctive, earthy hoppiness. And it kept at least some head to the bottom of the glass.

As I mentioned here, I also tried a pint of Sam Smith’s 2.8% Light Mild, which is not a new beer as such, but had its strength reduced from 3.0% to take advantage of the duty concession. This was a nitrokeg, so I didn’t expect much, and I wasn’t disappointed. Bland and inoffensive, but if you were on a budget and just wanted a generic pint in the pub it might appeal.

Over the years I have had a number of very enjoyable beers of this kind of strength in cask form, such as the famous home-brewed pale ales from Mrs Pardoe’s at Netherton and the All Nations at Madeley, and even, on occasions, the much-derided and surely now defunct Whitbread West Country Pale Ale, which had a declared OG of 1030. A defining characteristic of all these beers was that they were honest in what they set out to be – light, subtle and easy-drinking – and didn’t try to be something they weren’t.

I also suspect that the flavour characteristics of dark milds are likely to suffer less from being brewed at such a low strength than those of pale beers.


  1. Doing a pub survey I was told by one pub incumbent that Lees Golden Lite (2.8%) is like Golden 0riginal Lager with half of it thrown away and water added.

    Which may not be far off the mark. He/She no longer sells it. "Couldn't give it away".

  2. I was in a Lees pub that had fonts for Greengate Light and Golden Light, but they were rather dowdy ones tucked away around a corner, so didn't have much "bar appeal".

    Sam Smith's approach of reducing the strength of existing products makes more sense, plus they are already appealing to a value-oriented clientele.

  3. Asda have a 4 for 5quid offer on, includes some 6%+ beers.

    The interesting aspect isn’t so much whether the available 2.8% beers are any good (it is pisswater so what is point of finding out?), it’s that the sector has been created by the government, not consumer demand. No brewery has wondered whether there is demand for it and gone out of a limb to see, the products only exist due to a purposefully created tax discrepancy. The previous tax regime was no barrier to testing the market for pisswater , Guinness & Carling failed with 2% piss.

    In Germany akohol frei bier has a small market, leicht bier(3%) smaller. Here neither alcohol free beer nor pisswater has ever found much of a market. Most pisswaters, whether real ale milds, or Skol lager are in terminal decline and were at 3%. A tax break that clearly hasn’t resulted in a price differential will not create a market. Either the market exists and lay dormant for years with unsatisfied customers demanding pisswater, or it doesn’t.

    My guess is that it doesn’t.

  4. "Sam Smith's approach of reducing the strength of existing products makes more sense"

    I think that's exactly what Lees have done Mudgie. Your comment makes little sense I fear either way, except if you are implying it is better to fool the public by keeping the name the same and watering the workers beer?

  5. PS. But they have kept the original Original as well, so not deluding the assembled masses.

  6. I'd definitely try it on cask as there's every possibility that I had a dodgy bottle, but I'm not concerned about alcohol content; so I'd rather go for something more flavoursome.

  7. I did not like the Fullers myself, nasty aftertaste i thought.

    Cains have a Calcutta pale ale 2.8% new to the shelves, have you tried it?

  8. "Your comment makes little sense I fear either way, except if you are implying it is better to fool the public by keeping the name the same and watering the workers beer?"

    But Sam Smith's have made a fairly small cut in the strength of the existing beer (from 3.0% to 2.8%), which is clearly shown on the fonts, and have given drinkers the benefit of the duty reduction by cutting the price. Nobody's being fooled.

    The point is that if you introduce a separate, brand-new beer called "Special Cheap Piss" it is unlikely to find many takers.

  9. I'd drink "Special Cheap Piss", but it would have to be 5%+ cheap piss.

    At 2.8%, it's a lot of trips to the bog before you get in the mood for a fight outside a kebab shop.

  10. I'll try them out of curiosity, but otherwise the only time I MIGHT drink them would be if I were driving. But even then, unless the taste isn't as bad as I expect, I'd probably opt for less of a better-tasting stronger beer.

  11. Wadworths have brought out a 2.8% bitter called Small Beer. I tried it the other night fully expecting a pint of dishwater and was pleasantly surprised. It has a full malty flavour and tastes more like a 4 to 4.5% brew. It's actually a better pint than their previous weakest, Henry's IPA which is 3.6%-ish.

  12. I did try the Marston's one as well, but that was the worst of the three, with a kind of sickly, gloopy flavour well to the fore.


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