Beer Style 12B: Australian Sparkling Ale
There are dozens of beer styles and we know it can get a little confusing, so each week we profile a particular style of beer in the Devil’s Peak Beer Guide. We’ll outline beer styles from the 2015 BJCP guidelines, offering both a technical and somewhat anecdotal overview of the dozens of beer offerings from around the world.
Australian sparkling ale, also known as Australian pale ale, was first developed in the 1800’s as a lighter, more refreshing alternative to what was being imported and produced at the time. There were many breweries producing the style, but it eventually fell out of favour with imbibers preferring lagers (shocker). Luckily, the story doesn’t end there.
In 1862, a man named Thomas Cooper produced a tonic (read: beer) for his wife Ann. Well, it was actually Ann’s recipe. She grew up as the daughter of an innkeeper and knew her way around the brewing process. Inevitably, the neighbors got a hold of this beer, word spread, and pretty soon old Cooper was in business. As the lager insurrection hit, Cooper and his sparkling ale were still standing. Hooray for unique beers.
If the name sounds familiar, perhaps one of your first adventures into homebrewing included a “Coopers Kit.” These extract kits are shipped all over the world and are known for their near bulletproof results. It’s the perfect way to get into homebrewing for those who might have a bit of doubt about their abilities. The Australian sparkling ale is still one of the kits being offered, and Coopers is still producing a commercial example of the style.
Australian sparkling ale is characterised as being exceptionally smooth and balanced. Nothing sticks out too much. It’s almost like a lager in its flavour profile but with a bit more going on. Bottle conditioning is common and leads to a slight haze and yeast-forward flavours and aromas. If you’re looking for something to knock back on a hot day, you’d do very well to consider this unique style.
So let’s check the specs, straight from the BJCP Style Guidelines.
Overall Impression: Smooth and balanced, all components merge together with similar intensities. Moderate flavors showcasing Australian ingredients. Large flavor dimension. Very drinkable, suited to a hot climate. Relies on yeast character.
Aroma: Fairly soft, clean aroma with a balanced mix of esters, hops, malt, and yeast – all moderate to low in intensity. The esters are frequently pears and apples, possibly with a very light touch of banana (optional). The hops are earthy, herbaceous, or might show the characteristic iron-like Pride of Ringwood nose. The malt can range from neutral grainy to moderately sweet to lightly bready; no caramel should be evident. Very fresh examples can have a lightly yeasty, sulfury nose.
Appearance: Deep yellow to light amber in color, often medium gold. Tall, frothy, persistent white head with tiny bubbles. Noticeable effervescence due to high carbonation. Brilliant clarity if decanted, but typically poured with yeast to have a cloudy appearance. Not typically cloudy unless yeast roused during the pour.
Flavor: Medium to low rounded, grainy to bready malt flavor, initially mild to malty-sweet but a medium to medium-high bitterness rises mid-palate to balance the malt. Caramel flavors typically absent. Highly attenuated, giving a dry finish with lingering bitterness, although the body gives an impression of fullness. Medium to medium-high hop flavor, somewhat earthy and possibly herbal, resinous, peppery, or iron-like but not floral, lasting into aftertaste. Medium-high to medium-low esters, often pears and apples. Banana is optional, but should never dominate. May be lightly minerally or sulfury, especially if yeast is present. Should not be bland.
Mouthfeel: High to very high carbonation, giving mouth-filling bubbles and a crisp, spritzy carbonic bite. Medium to medium-full body, tending to the higher side if poured with yeast. Smooth but gassy. Stronger versions may have a light alcohol warmth, but lower alcohol versions will not. Very well-attenuated; should not have any residual sweetness.
Comments: Coopers has been making their flagship Sparkling Ale since 1862, although the formulation has changed over the years. Presently the beer will have brilliant clarity if decanted, but publicans often pour most of the beer into a glass then swirl the bottle and dump in all the yeast. In some bars, the bottle is rolled along the bar! When served on draught, the brewery instructs publicans to invert the keg to rouse the yeast. A cloudy appearance for the style seems to be a modern consumer preference. Always naturally carbonated, even in the keg. A present-use ale, best enjoyed fresh.
History: Brewing records show that the majority of Australian beer brewed in the 19th century was draught XXX (Mild) and porter. Ale in bottle was originally developed to compete with imported bottled pale ales from British breweries, such as Bass and Wm Younger’ Monk. By the early 20th century, bottled pale ale went out of fashion and “lighter” lager beers were in vogue. Many Australian Sparkling and Pale Ales were labeled as ales, but were actually bottom-fermented lagers with very similar grists to the ales that they replaced. Coopers of Adelaide, South Australia is the only surviving brewer producing the Sparkling Ale style.
Characteristic Ingredients: Lightly kilned Australian 2-row pale malt, lager varieties may be used. Small amounts of crystal malt for color adjustment only. Modern examples use no adjuncts, cane sugar for priming only. Historical examples using 45% 2 row, 30% higher protein malt (6 row) would use around 25% sugar to dilute the nitrogen content. Traditionally used Australian hops, Cluster, and Goldings until replaced from mid-1960s by Pride of Ringwood. Highly attenuative Burton-type yeast (Australian-type strain typical). Variable water profile, typically with low carbonate and moderate sulfate.
Style Comparison: Superficially similar to English Pale Ales, although much more highly carbonated, with less caramel, less late hops, and showcasing the signature yeast strain and hop variety. More bitter than IBUs might suggest due to high attenuation, low final gravity, and somewhat coarse hops.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.038 – 1.050
IBUs: 20 – 35 FG: 1.004 – 1.006
SRM: 4 – 7 ABV: 4.5 – 6.0%
Commercial Examples: Coopers Original Pale Ale, Coopers Sparkling Ale
Tags: standard-strength, pale-color, top-fermented, pacific, traditional-style, pale-ale-family, bitter
Image Credit: Coopers Brewery