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The Missing BJCP Styles, part 2: Going Down Under with Australian Ales

(updated 27 Sept. 2008 with latest info for Australian Pale Ale)

Previously, we covered some lesser known German Alts. In this second installment of The Missing BJCP Styles, we’ll be going Down Under to investigate some beloved Australian beers. First we’ll look at Australian Pale Ale, also known as Australian Sparkling Ale, a style that has been kept alive by Cooper’s – though I hear some other examples of this style are popping up at brewpubs across Australia. After the Australian Pale/Sparkling Ale, we’ll venture into Australian Dark Ale and finally end with Australian Wheat Beer.

I must note that this information came (almost) straight out of the latest draft version of the “2008 Australian Amateur Brewing Championship Style Guidelines“. So a big thanks to the folks at the AABC and the contributors that helped to put these guidelines together. I say “almost” above because I did make one edit that I felt needed, which I will denote below with italics.

One of the main distinctions of Australian beers in general is the use of unique Australian hops and yeast strains. So, if you’re making any of the below, make sure you get the appropriate hops and yeast. White Labs’ WLP009 Australian Ale is a good choice for yeast, though a nice Burton yeast such as WLP023 would also work well. Pride of Ringwood will probably be your hop of choice for bittering and flavor/aroma, though Galena or Cluster make ok hop substitutes.

Note that the descriptions below are in flux, and the AABC will be revising these later this year. More Specifically, Australian Pale will probably have a big revision, the Dark Ale will probably be merged with Mild Ale and the Wheat ale will move into Kristallweizen. If and when these things occur, I’ll edit this post to reflect any changes made. (Some edits made, as noted at top. So far the Dark and Wheat ales retain their own categories.)

Next time, I’ll be continuing with Australia – posting about a few Australian Lagers: Australian Lager, Australian Bitter, and Premium Australian Lager.


AUSTRALIAN PALE ALE
or aka “Australian Sparkling Ale”

Appearance: Best examples will display good clarity, gold to amber colour, persistent snow white head, supported by brisk carbonation from bottle conditioning.

Aroma: Fruity yeast-derived aromas most prominent, with light, sweet pale malt underneath. Hop aroma low to none. No diacetyl.

Flavour: Medium to high fruitiness, often pear-like. Supported by light, bready pale malt flavour. Caramel malt flavours out of style. Banana ester from high fermentation temperature may be noticed, but should not dominate. A mild but distinctive peppery, herbaceous flavour from Pride of Ringwood hops is desirable. Medium to high bitterness – may be higher in historical versions, but not crude or harsh. Long dry finish from extremely high attenuation, with a balanced fruity aftertaste.

Body & Mouthfeel: Light to medium-light body – any impression of palate fullness from residual dextrins should be penalized. Clean, crisp mouthfeel may be enhanced by spritzy carbonation.

Overall Impression: A lively, fruity Pale Ale with surprising lightness of body, solid bitterness, and a refreshing dry finish well suited to a hot climate. Can be thought of as a “light” Burton IPA without the dry-hopping. Relies on yeast character to offset diminished late hop expression – bland examples lacking fruitiness should be considered out of style.

Comments: Historical style broadly defined by Coopers ales as the last surviving examples: “Coopers ales, all heavily sedimented and very fruity, are Australian classics” – Michael Jackson. Note: Colonial brewers strived for pale beer clarity to match imports – entries will be poured quietly without rousing sediment.

History: Basic version of Burton pale ale produced throughout the early colonies, as British settlers established the first Australian breweries in the mid-19th century. Developed to compete with expensive Burton imports – Bass, Allsopp, Ind Coope IPA, using Burton yeast strains of the day, with domestic barley and hops and available native water. Inferior colonial malt often led to inclusion of sugar. Bottled for local sale, not dry-hopped and aged for export, Australian pale ales were prevalent by late century, with 350 breweries operating by 1890. Commonly relabelled Sparkling Ale (UK term coined for present-use domestic pale ale). Superseded by pale lager during early 20th century, popularized by German imports, and favoured by advent of refrigeration, enabling year round production and consistent quality. Ale brewing grew obsolete and a lager-based duopoly emerged – by 1985 only family owned Coopers brewery remained independent. Established 1862 in Adelaide SA, successive generations preserved Coopers flagship Sparkling Ale using traditional brewing methods, including open fermentation and maturation in oak casks. Removal to modern plant in 2001 improved clarity, maintaining original recipe: all-malt, Burton yeast, Australian hops, absent late hopping, bottle conditioning. A lighter version, brewed periodically since 1880’s, was re-launched in 1988 as Coopers first ever draught ale, naturally conditioned in keg. Also world’s largest homebrew supplier, Coopers pioneered kit-beer products soon after legalization in 1973.

Ingredients: Lightly kilned Australian 2-row pale malt, lager varieties typical. Judicious use of crystal malt for colour adjustment. Small proportion of wheat may assist head retention. No adjuncts, cane sugar for priming only. Australian hops, esp. Pride of Ringwood. Burton yeast, eg. Coopers, Worthingtons. Multiple strains common historically (none available commercially, must be cultured from bottle sediment) Variable water profile – low carbonate, moderate sulphate preferred.

Vital Statistics:
OG: 1035-1048
FG: 1003-1005
IBU: 30-45
ABV:4.5-6.0%

Commercial Examples: Coopers Sparkling Ale (5.8% ABV), Coopers Original Pale Ale (4.5% ABV)


AUSTRALIAN DARK ALE

Appearance: Mid-brown to dark brown, sometimes almost black and opaque. Low to medium carbonation. Excessive carbonation or flatness should be penalized.

Aroma: Mild malt aroma, with low to moderate fruitiness and toasty or light roasty notes. No to low hop aroma, caramel or diacetyl. Any yeasty notes or phenolics should be penalized, as should any excessive fruitiness or sweet caramel characters. Slight chocolate is acceptable. Clean aroma is essential.

Flavour: Mild maltiness with no hop flavour or diacety. Low to moderate fruitiness, light roastiness can be evident. Dry maltiness on the finish. Clean and quaffable. Low to medium carbonation. Any phenolics, diacetyl, yeasty flavours, astringency, harshness, or noticeable sweetness or alcohol, should be penalized.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium body.  Low to medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: A dry, mildly flavoured session beer. Malt evident but evenly balanced by hop bitterness.

Ingredients: Pale and chocolate malt, clean bittering hop such as Pride of Ringwood.

Vital Statistics:
OG: 1040-1050
FG: 1010-1016
IBU: 15-25
ABV:4.5-5.3%

Commercial Examples: Toohey’s Old Ale


AUSTRALIAN WHEAT BEER

Appearance: Pale straw to light gold. Excellent clarity. Large creamy head with excellent head retention. Generally very pale. High carbonation and protein content contribute to a thick creamy head.

Aroma: Wheat malt aroma complemented by hints of clove, vanilla and banana. Little or no hop aroma. Wheat malt aroma should dominate with underlying spicy clove-like phenols and fruity (banana) esters complementing. Hop aroma, if present, should be subtle.

Flavour: Mild, slightly sweet beer with low hop bitterness and little to no hop flavour. Wheat malt flavours should dominate providing a slightly sweet finish to the beer. Hop bitterness should be low and hop flavour low to undistinguishable. Only noble hops should be present.

Mouthfeel: Light.

Overall Impression: A mildly flavoured, malt dominated, session beer with excellent head retention.

Vital Statistics:
OG: 1040-1050
FG: 1006-1010
IBU: 10-15
ABV: 4.2-5.1%

Commercial Examples: Redback.


Other Missing Styles to Be Covered Soon:
Kellerbier, Gose, Wiess, Honey Beers (not Braggots), Classic American Cream Ale, Czech Dark Lager, English Pale Mild, Scottish 90/-, American Stock Ale, English Strong Ale, Non-alcoholic “Beer”, Malt Liquor, Imperial/Double Red Ale, Imperial/Double Brown Ale, Imperial Lager, Imperial Pilsner, Imperial Porter, Rye IPA, Dark American Wheat/Rye.