Rewind to 2006-8 and I was drinking the James Squire Amber Ale by the slab. Back then, I was firmly in their target market – a new/crossover craft beer drinker. During that time, Malt Shovel Brewery’s James Squire range of beers played a significant role in developing my palate for craft beer, before I knew what craft beer was.
In recent years, the Lion (Kirin) owned brand has dropped off my radar. I now favour the never-ending stream of new and varied beers from small brewers. Today, the stagnate James Squire beers are mostly too banal for my aggressive craft beer tastes.
I even developed an arbitrary distaste for James Squire following the release of the bland One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale with its “biocloud” of processed additives and wank. That beer does nothing for me other than hurt my head with terrible hangovers. One Fifty Lashes represents all that it wrong about big brewers trying to pass off generic swill as craft beer. The beer went completely against their brand tag line of “never forsake flavour” by forsaking flavour, and subsequent James Squire advertising was just creepy.
When drinking the once-enjoyed James Squire beers today, such as their Amber, IPA and Porter, I find them lacking fullness, complexity or length. Regardless, I respect the place of James Squire in the local beer market as a good entry point into the more diverse flavours of craft beer. My own drinking history is testament to that. Hence, I’m forever eager to see James Squire beers be redeemed by the release of more genuine, interesting and flavourful beers.
The wooden box, stamped with “The Constable”, contained a bottle of James Squire beer, an unlabeled jar of hops and hessian bag of malt, a police whistle, a Constable styled King of Spades playing card, as well as a mock newspaper poster detailed the story and specs of this new beer.
It was a captivating package, announcing the arrival of James Squire The Constable Copper Ale, an English Mild Ale with an alcohol content of 3.4 per cent.
Sure, Copper Ale is not a beer style, but it’s a clever play on the police officer theme…and it probably makes a little more sense to the wider Australia audience than “English Mild Ale”.
Importantly, the actual message of this package focused less on the marketing-created back-story of the beer’s name – the time that their brand icon, thief/convict/brewer/farmer/butcher James Squire, spent as a police constable – and more on the crafting of a new beer and its ingredients.
I’ve received many PR samples before that are all about the packaging, fake story and marketing bullshit, while completely disregarding what is actually in the bottle.
In this instance, the marketing concept drew in my interest by providing some genuine insight for what’s in the bottle:
“The Constable Copper Ale is brewed in the style of an English Ordinary Bitter. This is a classic British ale style that we’re very excited to share with Australian drinkers as they continue to explore the range of craft beers out there,” said Malt Shovel Head Brewer, Jeff Potter.
“We have used a unique combination of malts and hops to brew The Constable Copper Ale. Pale, Munich and Crystal malts join Super Alpha, Topaz, UK Fuggles and Galaxy hops in a flavoursome, refreshing ale that we think beer drinkers will love,” said Potter.
While the craft brewery arms of the massive multinational brewers continue to pump out so-so attempts of “crafty lagers and pale ales” not far removed from their big brand mainstream lagers, a hop focused mid-strength ale is a welcome difference and a smart move.
Craft beer needs good low alcohol ales. In the warmer parts of Australia, mid strength and low alcohol beers are hugely popular, as the thirsty population seeks constant refreshment from the relentless sun. Highly hopped double IPAs and barrel aged stouts will never be hugely popular in such conditions. People want beers that they can drink several of during a session, while keeping their alcohol intake at sensible levels.
As the designated driver for team Beer Bar Band, I’m a strong advocate for the need to respect alcohol. Further, I appreciate the science and art of crafting beers from across the full spectrum of styles and alcohol content, accommodating drinkers at all ends. Currently, low alcohol beers are drastically under represented, primarily because it is difficult to brew good ones, since the yeast driven conversion of sugars from malt into alcohol is critical in the overall flavour and character of a beer.
I’ve never enjoyed light or mid-strength mainstream beers. I prefer to drink water than try to pretend that the light beer I’m hardly tasting is a worthy beer for drinking. They always lack flavour and body.
However, there have been some excellent crafty low alcohol examples in recent years from small local brewers, such as Thirsty Crow’s Red Ale (2.9%), which has been one of my favourites due to the length of bitterness on it, imparted by the use of Citra hops. There’s also been Murray’s Retro Rocket and Punch & Judy, Birbeck’s The Captain, Red Duck’s K2, Wig & Pen’s Marv Man’s Mild and Cheeky Monkey’s Travelling Monk. Recently, there’s also been the wonderful emergence of Berliner Weisse inspired craft beers, headlined by the sensational Feral Brewing Watermelon Warhead with an alcohol content of less than 2 per cent.
But those beers are few and far between in terms of availability, with most of them only available at their home brewery.
The nationally available benchmark is probably Little Creatures Rogers, which is also now part of the Lion portfolio. Hmm…come to think of it, The Constable’s similarity presents a curious potential conflict of direct competition within the same company (not that such a conflict is anything new for macro brewers).
Anyway, I appreciate a good (flavoursome and characterful) mid-strength beer and welcome another accessible mild ale option to the Australian market.
After such a long time between James Squire drinks, I finally had a chance to use the appropriately branded pint glass that Jenn picked up for a dollar at an Op Shop some time back.
The Constable poured with a beautiful bright copper colour and a good sized head. The beer looks great, it’s spot on in terms of the “copper ale” name and the influence of a traditional English ale.
A fruity and floral hoppy aroma is instantly detectable, more than I’ve experienced from any James Squire beer in a very long time.
In the mouth, yes, the beer is a little thin and lacking the depth and fullness of full strength beers. Some people may describe the sensation as “watery”. However, I think this is not a problem for such a beer as this. At 3.4% it has a good malt taste with notes of toffee, and a surprisingly vibrant hop profile, it’s just short on the tongue. Yet, the lingering bitterness belies the initial lacking of body.
If anything, the carbonation is a little high, thinning out the flavour a bit.
Interestingly, the James Squire tag line “never forsake flavour” seems to have been appropriately regenerated as “a world full of flavour”. Hopefully that’s a kickback from the 150 Lashes Pale Ale which did seem to forsake flavour. Thankfully, there is flavour in this new beer.
A sessionable beer for sure, The Constable is a good addition to the beers of Lion’s Malt Shovel Brewery and an enjoyable concept, linking Constable and copper. It’s a beer that I’ll be happy to drink if I need a lighter option and find myself in a bar or pub that is dominated by a Lion portfolio of beers. And the macro brewers are the right place for this type of beer to come from, instead of trying to dress-up a mass produced beer as something that a small brewer has hand crafted.
Well done Lion/Malt Shovel. I enjoyed this beer and package.