On Thursday evening, I stopped into Alameda Brewing, mainly for their blood orange saison. (It was beautiful and very close to exceptional, except that there was a slight overabundance of citrus peel, which left an astringent coating on the inside of the mouth. I hope to see version 2.0 next year.) The beer I ended up wanting to write home about, however (or blog as the case turned out to be) was a little number called Maupin Mild.*
Those of you who are sticklers for style would have found yourselves scandalized. Maupin was by no definition mild. It was 4.5% alcohol (almost permissible, given the gravity gigantism that afflicts all of our native beers), pale (also permissible, but a possible surprise to those expecting a mahogany pour), and quite aggressively hoppy. Cue that turntable-needle-across-the-LP sound. Hoppy??? Apostasy! It was not served on cask.
Look. There are a lot of things about British beers that will just never fly here. I have given up the idea that low-gravity, malt-forward session beers will ever find more than the nichiest of niche followings. I haven't given up on the idea of a popular session ale, though. There's absolutely no reason we can't see beers in the 4-5% range that are as bold and saturated in flavor as IPAs--sans that warming booze note, of course.
For reasons historical and cultural, low-gravity beers are almost all quite tame. Irish ales, Scottish ales, bitters, milds, light lagers, etc.--these are beers marked by balance and approachability. (There are a few offbeat styles, like Bavarian weizens, Berliner Weisses, and some sour ales that are quite flavorful. These are, however, fairly obscure styles.) American palates--especially West Coast palates--love them some tangy, sharp, green, vivid hoppiness. For these folks, the gentle low-gravity styles will always seem too tame to be interesting.
But why not milds like Maupin? There's no reason to keep replicating the traditional styles just to brew lighter ales. Let them be "over-hopped." This is how regional tastes develop, and how styles emerge. West Coasters won't drink mild milds?--soup them up. I have no idea how well Maupin Mild sells (though the name might be a barrier), but I'd love to see breweries run experiments with aggressive, low-gravity beers. We have escalated up the gravity chain; why not down? Consider this a request to run the experiment: will drinkers drink low-gravity beers that in all other ways meet their standards for hoppiness?
Just a thought.
*Since I couldn't figure a way to work it into the text without a parenthetical, and since this post was wheezing under the nearly fatal weight of parenthetical digressions already, I will mention, here in a footnote, that Maupin is a town on the eastern side of Mount Hood, south of The Dalles.