4.5% Australian Pale Ale
Once upon a time there was a new brewery in South Australia called McLaren Vale Brewing Co. They had their brews made under contract but always said they’d one day have their own brewery. Then, for a while it was MV Brewing. Without a brewery for a bit and then with one. and a hotel. Fast forward to today and the outfit is called Vale Brewing and they do, indeed, have their own brewery. For a while the company ran the Salopian Inn which served as a great outlet for the expanding core range although all operations are now situated at the brewery/cellar door at Willunga. The name change reflects a desire to more closely associate the brand with the region but avoids winey confusion.
Val Ale hit the shelves in 2008 and drew plenty of attention after taking the top spot in the 2011 Taphouse Hottest 100 public poll. Vale Brewing has often been the target of criticism from certain sectors who deemed their beer too ‘gateway’, too ‘slick to be craft’ and too ‘corporate’. If a sturdy business plan devised by a whip-smart bloke with a keen eye for direction and the cheeky likeability to get it delivered is ‘too corporate’ then bring it on, I says. If more brewers had such a cunning grasp of what it takes to get a beer to market and cash a bit of coin at the same time then we might not be constantly chasing wine for the top spot.
But what about the beer itself. Here’s Vale Ale.
The Vale Brewing website says;
“An Australian pale ale with a refreshing balance of malt, hops and yeast characters. Hop additions of amarillo and cascade give a wonderful fresh crisp finish with lingering flavours of citrus, passionfruit and peaches. The hop flavours and aromas are matched beautifully with the sweet honey finish from crystal malt.”
James Smith on The Crafty Pint adds;
“The beer with which the McLaren Vale project was launched – and for some years their only beer – is the epitome of a gateway beer, designed to entice drinkers away from the mainstream. An approachable Australian pale ale that combines light tropical and citrus fruit hop aromas with sweet malt flavours and a gentle bitterness, it clearly set out the McLaren Vale stall as one with mass appeal in mind.”
Mason Hellcat always looks beyond the liquid when he assesses the beers he reviews;
“This is a very cool label. Six white circles stand in an inverted triangle, paying homage to the wine region of McLaren Vale in South Australia. Underneath the beer name ‘Vale/Ale’ stands in very simply text. What I appreciate about this label is that it’s not over top, it’s very minimalist in its approach, and would look damn cool being held, particularly if you have a pencil thin moustache and an off-centre black beret. Actually no, I really hope the pretentious weekend art critics steer clear of this. I fear Vale/Ale is walking a very thin line that could easily see it turning snobby but I hope this day doesn’t come. If you’re a pencil thin moustached, beret wearing, weekend art critic, RACK OFF. Black is most definitely back. Baby.”
He also like the beer. Which is handy.
“Very tasty indeed! A slight twinkle of fruitiness accompanies a strong wheat enhanced ale. It’s crisp, it’s clean, it tastes non-chemically (ie, natural) and immediately I see it as a good beer to take home and savour in style. Very impressed! During my tasting, I noticed that the beer got even better as I progressed down the bottle. It became cloudy with yeasty goodness and it packed more of a wheaty punch.”
The critics have ignored both the hype and the hate to rate Vale Ale in The Critics’ Choice in the top half of the list in three of the four editions.
“Styled as a premium pale ale it certainly looks sharp with its distinctive branding and sexy bottle. Lifting the cap reveals a bottle-conditioned ale with a very pleasant citrus aroma.” [Pete Mitcham]
“Now one of four year-round beers it has gained wider acceptance as a good, honest entry-level craft beer with its approachable bitterness and hop aroma combined with national distribution and a hunger from its masters to bring better beer to the masses.” [Me again]
“A beer amongst vineyards in one of South Australia’s well known wine regions, this Australian pale ale rolls off the tongue just as easily as its name. [Head brewer] Jeff Wright’s Vale Ale is a medley of tropical fruit hops, toasty malts and a smooth finish.” [Pia Poynton]
If you haven’t had a Vale Ale in a while (for whatever reason) get one, pour it into a nice stemmed tulip and take a long slow sniff before you down the contents slowly and longingly. Then think about what really makes a great beer great.
Fun Fact! The newest addition to the Vale Brewing brewing crew is a top bloke and former greenkeeper and beer podcaster, Shane Parkes. Look for hints of ‘19th hole pure flat grassiness’ in recent batches.