It wasn’t so long ago that the term ‘mid-strength’ would elicit grimaces from craft beer fans. But just as the tinnie is making its return, so too are lighter beers.
Whether you’re driving home, heading back to work after lunch at the pub, or simply trying to avoid a hangover, lower-ABV (alcohol by volume) beers make more sense than most people realise. Mid-strength beer is usually around 3.5% ABV – meaning that one 375ml can or bottle conveniently equates to one standard drink.
“People may want to drink more because it’s a hot day, but they don’t want to be too affected,” says Mountain Goat Head Brewer, Ian Morgan. “For this reason, flavourful, low-alcohol beers have been trending internationally for a couple of years now and have been gaining traction here more recently – especially in the hotter parts of the country.”
However, it’s not mid-strength beer as you know it that folks are falling for. While traditionally middies are associated with a ‘watered down’ taste, and often consumed exclusively out of plastic cups at the football, these mid-strength beers are a specialty of their own. To make a flavoursome, mid-strength beer requires a careful balance of the right kinds of malt and hops – the two primary tastemakers in beer – in order to create a beverage that can compete with regular-strength brews.
“There are a few tricks in it,” Ian says. “You can either play around with some of the malts which have been prepared to have a lot of maltodextrin [unfermentable sugar], which gives beer more body, and would also start with less malt,” Ian says. “You can also play around with the mash temperature and the fermentation. For our Billy the Mid we were basically trying to make a mid-strength IPA, so we did that by dry hopping it at a higher weight – we used a greater proportion of hops than in our pale ale!”
Long story short: mid-strength beers require a certain level of skill from the brewer – one of many reasons they’re also gaining respect from craft beer consumers.
There are also lighter styles of beer, such as Gose, Berliner Weisse and ‘session ales’ (though the latter can also be used to describe beer of lighter flavour), which are starting to make a regular appearance in the repertoires of craft brewers across Australia. Mountain Goat may not have a middy in their core range (yet), but you can enjoy their Billy the Mid at their brewery bar in Richmond, alongside their Dirty Pinko Osten Berliner Weisse.
“Berliner Weise is made with less malt but they often have fruit added also. Traditionally they might have sugary fruit syrups added after brewing,” Ian says. “It also has a high carbonation level, which adds a different texture and mouthfeel to the beer and helps mask the lower alcohol level.”
Alcohol provides sweetness and warmth in the palate, so factors such as sweetness (from fruit, for example), or sourness (from fermentation, for example) or brininess (as is characteristic of Gose, where salt is often added) make not only for a tasty beer, but a very exciting beer.
“One I had last year that I’m hoping to see more of is a Grodziskie – a Polish, smoked-wheat beer, which is another example of how you can use elements of flavour to present a really good beer at a lower ABV,” Ian says.
Other craft breweries on top of the tasty-middy trend include Little Creatures, who released their mid-strength Rodgers not long after their trademark pale ale, as well as Bridge Road Brewing with Little Bling and Moo Brew Mid Strength – both mid-strength IPAs. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you’ll find at specialty beer stores from both Australian and international labels.
Want more beer (and, really, who doesn’t) check out our list of breweries.