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
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
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

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power