With the festive season racing into view, boozy temptations are shouting their mood-enlivening qualities louder than ever. We are mostly sensibly restrained drinkers, with Rich’s over exuberance at our book launch inducing a rare hangover in a year when the packet of alka seltzer was rarely broken in to, but come Christmas that restraint is released and the booze flows freely. And sometimes it starts soon after breakfast.
Our beer shelves are already stocked with a full gamut of goodies – from fizzy, fruit beers to big, heavy stouts. There are session beers. There are strong beers. And there are stupidly strong beers. However, it’s also vitally important to stock up on something at the lower end of the alcohol range. A less damaging brew that will still satisfy the beer-battered taste buds whilst keeping the booze input ticking along in the way a soft drink never can. So I’m road testing a 3% pale ale from Hackney – Howling Hops ‘Riding Ale’.
We’re guessing this beer is aimed at the cyclist. Besides the riding reference in the name, the beautifully illustrated label also features the instruction ‘don’t ride home drunk’ and a bicycle. (We’ll ignore the fact that the bicycle is being ridden by a grinning dog who looks like his bone was spiked with something much stronger than a 3% pale ale).
There is often the suspicion that lower alcohol beers are lacking in flavour, but that doesn’t have to be the case, as this bottle proves. The beer shimmers with a very pale, golden haze, like a field of straw bleached beneath a bright sun. And there are hints of straw and pine in the flavour, providing a strong bitter depth that mingles with a few delicately citric flavours of American hops. The body of the brew is undoubtedly light, given its lack of alcohol, but there’s enough maltiness to hold those bitter flavours in place. It’s a bold brew for one so weak with a spiky fizz and scorched earth dryness that will keep your eyes wide open and your taste buds busy in between more bruising beverages.
This Christmas the bike is staying in the shed, but that’s no reason to ignore this beer: it’s fully deserving of its place on the festive drinks list.
Brewery: Howling Hops, Hackney Wick, London
Beer name: Riding Ale
Hops used: Columbus, Cascade, Galena, Nugget
Beer supplied by Beer52