“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Right now, there are so many craft beers full of different flavors. Super imperial pastry stouts, fruity milkshake IPAs, and barrel-aged spice craziness. I love some version of those beers, depending on the circumstances; but they can be too filling, too overwhelming, have too much alcohol, or too sweet for more than a small pour.
I enjoy the flavor of beer, and there are times when I want to be able to enjoy more than 8 ounces. This is where well-crafted, low alcohol, “simple” beers save the day. There’s a reason Pilsner became what is probably the most-consumed beer style in the world.
I’m talking about real Pilsner-style beers, not light American lagers. Pilsners made by craft breweries tend to be rich in malt flavor, just enough bitterness to contrast with the breadiness of the malt, some hop flavor to keep things interesting, and a simple fermentation character. This combination, when done well, hits all the right buttons. And they stay enjoyable, even if you have two or three.
Pilsner-style lagers are phenomenal, and some of my favorite breweries make really good Bohemian Pilsners, Czech Pilsners, or Munich Helles lagers. These beers are light-colored, well balanced, and delicious. But they’re lagers. While they’re delicious, lagers take longer to ferment than ales, and many commercial breweries are unwilling or unable to tie up a fermentation tank long enough to properly ferment a lager.
Enter ale styles that mimic many of the characteristics of light lagers: cream ale, golden ale, blonde ale, and pale ale. These beers have many similar characteristics to pale lagers, where they are relatively simple recipes, low in alcohol, and focus on balanced flavors and aromas so you have a beer that can be enjoyed in quantity without losing coherence or having a rough day-after.
I recently started working at Sawtooth Brewery in Hailey, ID. After a hot day in the brewery, their Mountain Time golden ale really hits the spot. The first time I tried it, before I started working with them, opened my mind to the immense enjoyment provided by simple beers. The flavors that result do not have to be simple, their complexity comes from how the ingredients balance against each other as a result of proportion, technique, and attention to detail.
Don’t overlook those simple beers just because they are lower in alcohol than the brewery’s IPA, strong ale, or other offering. A list of some of my favorite beers that illustrate the perfection of simplicity: