Vince Mandeville, head brewer at Saint Arnold Brewing in Houston says the company’s Fancy Lawnmower beer is a Kölsch that uses wheat and pilsner malts and is 18 IBUs. “We’re in Texas and it’s hot all the time,” he says. “This beer is a daily drinker down here. It’s something that will quench your thirst and not challenge your taste buds if you have more than one.”
As proof that beers that are softer on your palate have a place and a time, Mandeville recounts the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego in 2008. As part of the event, a brewer hospitality bar had been set up with around 100 taps, mostly pouring high-gravity, high-hopped or sour Belgian-style brews. “By the end of the conference, everyone was looking for our Kölsch. Their taste buds had been assaulted by the other beers and they were just looking for a good beer,” he says.
There are other beer styles that argue in favor of a softer approach to the brewing art. Vienna-style lagers are similar in color to altbier and offer up a soft maltiness, but finish dry with barely a hint of sweetness. Brown ales, once only found in certain parts of Great Britain, have spread to American craft brewers. Brooklyn Brewery’s Brooklyn Brown is the perfect example of an ale that has hops present, but has a level of malt that takes the edge off the presentation. The moderate level of carbonation found in most brown ales also means that the beer tends to be coating as you taste it.
Jeff Motch, an owner of the Blind Lady Ale House in San Diego, Calif., says when a keg of Russian River’s Pliny the Elder or Alpine’s Nelson IPA goes on tap “they go insanely fast,” but he is seeing a trend where people who used to seek out super hoppy ales now look for Belgian wits and lighter style brews.
When we have Mission Brewery Blonde, a Kölsch, the keg will last only a night. The same thing is true of Hangar 24’s Orange Wheat, which is an American-style wheat that has real oranges, but a pretty light mouthfeel,” Motch says. “People are pretty attracted to these beers.”
One final note on softness when it comes to beer: Beers served on nitrogen provide the kind of velvety mouth feel that makes it easy to think of your next beer while your pint is still half full. If you are lucky enough to get to Dublin, you will no doubt visit the Guinness Brewery to have a pint from the source of what is obviously the world’s most popular beer poured on nitrogen. But make sure you get to one of the Porterhouse Brewpub locations in the city and have one of the stouts on draught. The Plain, the Porterhouse’s Porter, is one of the softest dark beers you are likely to ever encounter.
So the next time you feel the need to dial back the hops and lower the levels of malt, think about making your next beer a brew that engages the softer side of the Flavor Wheel.