Review: Melville’s Craft Lager

melvillescraftlagerAhh, ‘craft’. It’s a difficult enough term to define and an easy enough one to abuse when it comes to beer. Craft beer is the in-thing with hipsters right now – still niche perhaps, but a rapidly growing trend that is moving into the mainstream, and because of that, the mainstream is moving into craft. After all, it’s not a protected term, so why can’t a giant corporate brewer set up a sub-division with suitably edgy / traditional / cool packaging and try to pass off the beer as being somehow the same as the output of small artisans? Well, they can and they do. And sometimes those beers are actually pretty good, so perhaps we shouldn’t criticise too much – if the craft movement encourages the production of better beers, all the better. That’s especially the case with lager, which has for too long been dominated by pissy, gassy, weak and tasteless beers made by soulless corporations.

Scotland’s Innis & Gunn are far from a massive corporate brewer – in fact, they were arguably craft brewers before the term became widespread. Their bottled beers are pretty nice, and this variation mixes the beer with freshly pressed Scottish strawberries and raspberries – no concentrate.

Of course, fruit beer is nothing new – apart from the popular Belgian varieties, you can sample many a fruit ale at beer festivals, ranging from the delicious to the awful. But as a self-proclaimed fruit lager – a craft lager, no less – this is a little different.

I tried both flavours. Supplied in brown bottles (I’ve seen photos of earlier versions in clear bottles, which presumably drew complaints and was changed), the beers pour a fruity looking pale red, with little head (they are lagers, after all). They are lightly carbonated – in fact, lightness is the key here. At 4.1%, they are not overly strong, and the emphasis is on refreshment rather than alcoholic strength, which made them perfect for a humid summer evening.

Of the two, the strawberry seems the most impressive – this is despite a natural preference for raspberry as a flavour. It’s perhaps the sweeter of the two (the raspberry has a slightly more bitter taste), though not excessively so – this is far from being an alcopop, and still tastes like a beer. But the fruit is prominent – the worst fruit beers are those that seem to have only been shown a piece of fruit, but this is definitely flavoursome. I did, of course, ignore the suggestion of serving over ice, which might be fine for pseudo ciders but seems anathema for beer. Still, like all lagers, they are definitely better straight from the fridge – the fact that the strawberry was the colder of the two I had might be what gave it the edge.

The fact that these had turned up cheap in discount stores might suggest that the beers haven’t been as successful as hoped (or might have nothing to do with that). The cut price does give them an edge over their Belgian rivals, of course, and the carefully designed labels perhaps make them look a little hipper (you don’t score many cool points standing around holding a lambic bottle). And taste-wise, they are up to the job. Worth giving a go if you come across them and fancy something both refreshing and alternative.

DAVID FLINT

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