In my twenties, after a few years of Barleywines, Old Ales, and countless Double IPAs, I was feeling like a wine drinker in mid-March: I was ready for the beer world's equivalent of a crisp Muscadet. My expanding mid-section was ready, too.
In many ways, craft beer has already caught up to wine. Excellent restaurants are hosting dinners pairing their cuisine with local brews; hosts are popping the corks of reserve ales; drinkers are using proper glassware, swirling, sniffing, then sipping before looking off into the distance as they ponder that faint glimmer of something on the mid-palate. However, craft beer still does not quite have an adequate selection of offerings for those times when the drinker needs something lower in alcohol, but not in flavor or complexity.
In early Spring last year, I was lucky enough to find The Bruery's unbelievably tasty Humulus XPA on tap at my local beer bar (Belmont Station, Portland OR). The beautiful hop aroma, grapefruit flavor, and crisp lightness were exactly what I had been wanting for so many months. Overstimulated by this surprise, I wanted a sippy cup of this nearly perfect liquid with me at all times. Unfortunately, this beer rarely makes it to Oregon, so I started to think a little harder about what else could satisfy me, weary as I was.
In Portland, Upright Brewing and Logsdon Organic Farmhouse Ales (among others) are producing wonderfully satisfying Farmhouse Ales (aka Saisons). Upright, in particular, is well-known around here for its experimentation with ingredients (fatali chilies, calendula flowers, and spring yarrow, to name a few). Upright and many other experimental breweries are adding ingredients in order to keep the flavor and complexity high, and the alcohol low. Upright's repertoire includes a number of ales at or below 6% ABV. One particularly interesting brew, its Belmont Station 14th Anniversary Ale (an American Wild Ale), hit the perfect mark at 4.75%. I was able to sip my way through the entire 750 ml without a shred of guilt or lightheadedness.
Many breweries already have undertaken the challenge of producing lower-alcohol beers worthy of a few moments thought, and I hope this trend grows. As craft beer grows, the palates (and, perhaps, diet plans) of craft beer drinkers will continue to get more demanding. No longer will it be sufficient for the larger craft breweries to pump out a half-hearted Summer Ale that tastes alarmingly similar to those adjunct lagers we all left behind in favor of craft. Thankfully, there are plenty of Belgian options widely available already (try Brasserie Dupont's Avril, a biere du table at 3.5% ABV), and your local brewery is almost assuredly testing its mettle in this growingly popular genre.
In the meantime, I'll be in Northeast Portland at Breakside Brewery, enjoying a glass of their highly satisfying Dry Stout (4.5% ABV). If I'm lucky, maybe their next experimental Grisette or Gose will be on tap, as well.
Paul Beilstein was born and raised in Illinois. He earned a BA in rhetoric from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and an MFA in writing from the University of California, Irvine. He lives with his wife Shereen in Portland, Oregon.