On Valentine’s Day I had my heart broken.
Little Creatures announced they were changing the recipe of their Bright Ale, a beer I’ve always had a soft spot for. I wasn’t optimistic and based on the response on their Facebook page, I wasn’t alone.
You see Little Creatures has always been a favourite brewery of mine. I’m a regular at the bar in Fitzroy, had a very memorable day in the sun at Fremantle, and most recently an all day session at the newly opened brewery in Geelong.
But the reason I have a particular preference for the Bright Ale is because it introduced me to craft beer. More than any other beer, it was the Bright Ale that transitioned me away from “a jug of Draught, thanks” and into a world of hops, malt and most importantly; flavour. The Bright Ale was the catalyst that opened my eyes to this small but growing category of beer.
Although since then my palate may have developed towards beers with a little more kick and usually something a bit darker, I still count the Bright Ale as one of my all-time favourite beers.
So it was surprising when speaking to a fellow amber-loving colleague about the change when he said he couldn’t have cared less. He’d never been a fan and found the beer metallic, mild and lacking anything interesting going for it. At first I couldn’t have disagreed more, but as I thought about it I recalled the time I’d ordered a pint at a pub and after the first mouthful wondered if they’d poured me the wrong beer. Without that recognisable yellow label on the bottle – it didn’t carry the same flavour. I questioned how I’d go in a blind taste test, and somewhat superstitiously I’ve only ordered it in a bottle since.
The more I thought about it, I realised that maybe the reason Bright Ale was my ‘transition beer’ into craft was because it was in fact so mild. The fact that it’s not overly interesting is why it was a good introduction. And what worked five years ago in a burgeoning craft market, maybe five years later lacked a bit of distinction in a quickly maturing category.
There’s no doubt Little Creatures is a smart brewery and they’ve done a lot for craft beer in Australia. When they describe the new recipe as “pretty subtle changes including slightly different hops and a touch of wheat in the malt grist”, it sounds like they were looking to give it the something I hadn’t realised was missing.
My bias, it would seem, was more sentimental than based entirely on flavour. I’d fallen in love with a brand whose logo was Cupid and I was starting to think that maybe this change wasn’t going to a heart-breaker after all. By the time it came to the side-by-side comparison, I was even looking forward to it.
The verdict? A very slight change with more hops on the nose and a subtle kick in flavour. More than likely your average punter wouldn’t notice, and without the new label I question if I would have myself. In the period of a week I’d gone from not wanting any change, to wondering if it should have been less subtle.
Even so, the Bright Ale will always have a special place in my heart, but now I recognise why. While it’s not the stand out beer I once thought it was, I realise now it was never intended to be one. lt will never be as distinctive (or tasty) as some of their Single Batches, or a growing number of competitor beers, but no one would be insulted if you brought a six pack to a BBQ. And it’s certainly better than the crap I was forced to drink for dinner at a fancy restaurant on Valentine’s Day.