Food and Drink: It's time to turn out the lites: Miller's Clear Beer died, but its Amber Ale lives. Michael Jackson takes hope from a year that saw a shift from watery brews to the real thing

The date was 2 April, but this was not the report of a joke - just one of the more transparent topics of the past year. The Independent had, among more familiar concerns, a wholly new subject that seemed to require comment on its editorials page.

Underneath leading articles on Bosnia and proportional representation came what is known in the trade as a 'third leader'. Such mini-essays customarily ponder quirkier matters. This one took a worried look at the fashion for domestic fluids as clear as water.

A clear washing-up liquid made by Palmolive entered the argument. There was speculation as to the likelihood of 'clear' pea soup or 'white' blackcurrant juice. Crystal Pepsi was cited as an example of the trend. The notion of white wine being less boozy than red was mentioned.

These ruminations were prompted by the testing in some American markets of Clear Beer by Miller, the second biggest brewer in the United States. Clear Beer sounded like the brewing world's answer to fashionable vodkas with such names as Absolut - or to a question that had not been asked. It was one thing, mused the leader writer, to abstain from artificial colourings; quite another to remove a natural hue (Miller had killed the colour by intensive filtration).

Clear Beer was never available in the UK, but I encountered it in the United States, where it was presented in marketingspeak as 'in the finest tradition of the Miller Brewing Company . . . full-flavored but without heaviness'.

This curious product was a lager the colour of 7-Up, which formed little head and tasted like a sweetened seltzer with the faintest touch of oily, medicinal hoppiness in the finish. It looked like a soft drink, but contained 4.6 per cent alcohol by volume, a level found in many 'premium' lagers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Miller has a history of trying to remove the character from beer. It popularised Lite Beer, memorably described as 'wet air' by the native American writer William Least-Heat Moon; and it marketed a so-called Genuine Draft in a can long before Irish and British brewers developed their rather better approximation.

Such marketing may not be wholly a bad thing. Miller is sufficiently sophisticated to realise that, though some consumers may like colourless and tasteless beers, not all do. It introduces special products for these people, rather than fiddling with its existing brews. This point could be taken by those British brewers who feel that the only way to appease the unformed palates of the young is to beat even their best beers into a bland uniformity.

On occasion, Miller has tried to make beers for people who would prefer more taste. Last year, it introduced not only Clear Beer but also Miller Reserve Amber Ale.

The latter has a beautiful balance of malt and hop, and is made with a traditional ale yeast imported from Britain. The encouraging news, for those of us who savour flavour, is that Clear Beer has been withdrawn - and Amber Ale is doing well.

After decades in which ales and lagers alike have become ever more like fizzy, sweetened water with alcohol, the failure of Clear Beer and the success of Amber Ale may well mean that last year the tide turned.

Another of the world's largest brewers, Molson of Canada (the company is controlled by Foster's of Australia, which owns Courage of Britain) announced a volte-face. In eight-page, four-colour inserts in the Canadian press, it has been declaring in the past couple of months that it will 'dare to be great' (marketing speak is rarely modest). 'Starting now,' say the ads, 'every Molson beer in Canada will be naturally aged and free of preservatives. As we speak, our brewmasters are creating new recipes . . . and bringing you some very distinctive beers.'

Distinctive is not a word I would have associated with Molson's products, until the company offered me samples of a new, amber-red, malty, Vienna-style lager and a dryish Cream Ale of a similar colour.

A few weeks earlier, in the Netherlands, Heineken had told me that it had quietly reverted to the tradition of all-malt beer, rather than using cheaper, lighter 'adjuncts' such as maize. This company also offered me tastings of its latest ideas: a malty (and hoppy) Vienna-style lager, and a fruity 'Irish red' ale.

The similarity of the Canadian and Dutch changes is a coincidence, but that is not true of the shared notion that perhaps there was room for tastier beers. It is always tempting to make bland products for the lowest common consumer, but that is a blind alley.

If you train drinkers to believe that the less the flavour, the better the beer, how long before they prefer mineral water or soda-pop? If you keep making beer more like sweetened water, what happens when no one can tell the difference? If the drink looks and tastes like soda but contains 4 or 5 per cent alcohol, does it not mislead in a way that plays into the hands of those who would deem beer, wine or spirits socially unacceptable?

If it is beer, we should be aware of that. We can know only if we understand what beer is. I would define beer - be it lager, ale, stout or some other style - as a fermented product made wholly or primarily from grain, and seasoned with hops or other herbs and spices.

Brewing grains such as barley have deliciously nutty flavours. When they are malted, they begin the release of their fermentable sugars and have to be dried in a kiln: this imparts attractive colours, ranging from gold through amber, ruby and ebony, and even more luscious tastes. Hops add flowery, herbal, aromatic, resiny dryness.

To remove these colours and flavours is to despoil a product that offers sensuous pleasure and enlivens our social life and our table. Recent beers, tasteless or tempting, clear or richly coloured, have rendered me reflective. The brewers, too, I hope.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas