The Australian booze brand Coopers is immediately familiar to most of us home brewers. For years they’ve been knocking out some of the best beer kits on the market, enabling amateur brewers to conjure up 40 pints of tasty ale with little more than a kettle, big bucket and spoon. Despite moving on to other home brewing techniques we still resort to these kits every once in a while, using them as a beery base to test out our home grown ingredients, or simply to rattle out a quick-n-easy big batch for Christmas, pimped up with some fresh hops.
Such is our familiarity with Coopers’ home brewing fame, it’s easy to forget they also produce some superb commercial ales having started out brewing beer way back in the 19th century.
We were reminded of the Coopers legacy in a recently launched book, The 50 Greatest Beers of the World by Tim Hampson (we’ll be interviewing Tim about his excellent work soon). He has deservedly found a spot for Coopers Sparkling Ale among his choices, stirring me into beer ordering action to reacquaint myself with it.
For decades, Australian beers have a bad reputation among British ale enthusiasts, which is hardly surprising given the high volume of insipid lager that is all to frequently seen clogging up bars, supermarket shelves and hogging major event sponsorship deals. But this ale is the real deal.
Australia is now home to some of the most exciting new hops around, but it’s a more established variety, ‘Pride of Ringwood’, that flavours Coopers Sparkling Ale. In this beer, Tim describes these hops as having “peppery, herbaceous and even woody notes”. My taste buds also hit upon a tangy fruit bitterness and I’ll agree that an oaky spiciness is definitely detectable. It’s far from a head-shaking bitter attack that many modern ales possess, but it does linger well, along with some light yeastiness as the booze begins to bite.
That booziness weighs in at 5.8% and the malt that’s responsible for it is very similar to a traditional English bitter, accentuating the fruitiness (or maybe it’s the main cause of the fruitiness) and giving it some smoothness beneath a dry fizz.
The sparkle from this ale comes from bottle conditioning, so it’s all natural, and also means there’s a layer of yeasty sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Coopers pouring instructions invite its ale guzzlers to gently mix the sediment before drinking or pour carefully to leave it behind. I’m usually a mixer and think doing so, particularly with this beer, brings an extra bit of character to the drinking experience.
The mass produced Aussie lagers that proliferate British bars are not a patch on our home brews and shouldn’t be used to judge a nation’s beer output. Coopers Sparkling Ale is much more like the standard we would want our brews to achieve.
Fancy some proper Australian beer? You can get hold of a bottle of Coopers Sparkling Ale from Beers of Europe
Tim Hampson’s ‘The 50 Greatest Beers of the World’, published by Icon Books, is out now and can be ordered from Amazon
Brewery: Coopers Brewery, Adelaide, Australia
Beer name: Sparkling Ale