Brewing companies call it “Value Priced” or “Budget” beer. Many drinkers call it “Cheap” and go on to use some impolite terms to describe its taste and appearance. My favourite term is “Lawnmower Beer” — something that will quench your thirst while you cut the backyard grass under a hot summer sun. And, because it’s value priced, or budget, or cheap, if it goes flat or gets too warm, or if the can tips over, you don’t have to worry — just go to the fridge and get another. Make sure it’s cold — realy cold. A lawnmower beer may have a low flavour profile, but when it gets warm it doesn’t taste so good.

But what is “IT”? Basically, it’s a pale North American lager that’s priced about three bucks lower a six pack than a half-dozen of the mainstream Molson/Coors or Budweiser/Labatt products. It is very pale, a washed-out straw colour; it’s very light-bodied (so light, a cynic remarked, that a glass of it seems to want to float upward): and it’s very fizzy — hundreds of little bubbles race to the top of the glass to form a frothy white head.

And, it is very light in taste — unthreatening and, for people who like the malty and/or hoppy qualities of microbrews, bland. That’s because the very restrained use of hops in the brewing give none of the bitterness and floral qualities that the little cone-shaped plant can impart. Some of the malt (barley or wheat), the basis of many a hearty ale, is replaced by corn and/or rice, which contain fermentable sugar as does malt, but which is much less expensive. The result is sometimes a sweet taste that, according to the sales departments of some larger breweries, is what tests indicate people want. Oh, yes, they also say that corn and rice give the beer a greater clarity.

Last Friday afternoon, to celebrate the end of summer, we decided to try three lawnmower beers. We didn’t expect them to please us like the beers we usually drink, but we wanted to give the “style” (I use the word to be polite) a fair chance. We chose one beer brewed in B.C., another in Alberta, and the third in Saskatchewan.

When Labatt started pushing Lucky Lager as one of its main western Canada value-priced beers, the words Vancouver Island were frequently used on posters and cartons. But the brew hasn’t been made in Victoria since the ealry 1980s, at which time Labatt closed its Government Street plant and tore it down, not wanting another brewery to take over the premises. The Lucky we tried was brewed in Edmonton. Light, effervescent, and bland, it was, one taster said, “perfect for what it is. It won’t offend anyone.”\

Our next beer was the 21st Century incarnation of a beer that many older Albertans remember fondly as “Lethbridge Pils.” But it hasn’t been brewed in the southern Alberta city for over two decades. The “Old Style” — its non-geographically specific name — that we tried came from Vancouver. The tasters preferred it over Lucky, noting that it had some roasty notes and a bit of a hoppy taste. “It’s as if they were trying to put good ingredients in it,” one person joked.

Our final beer was Olympia, which used to be brewed near the capital city of Washington state. Like many very popular breweries, the brewer went out of business and the name and recipies were bought up by the Pabst Company, who contracted the brewing of these “beers your father drank” to Miller in Milwaukee. The brewing of our six pack had been subcontracted to Great Western of Saskatoon. The can still bears the old tag-line “It’s the water.” One taster suggested, “They need to leave the definite article out of the slogan.” It was fuller-bodied than Lucky, but less so than Old Style. It did have malty notes.

Some of the comments about the three beers were quite humorous. “It makes water seem thick.” “It’s as if they’ve been trying to put ingredients into it.” “Can I try some wine next?” We won’t say which of the three beers elicitied specific comments.

It was a sunny day on the patio; we drank from small tasting glasses so that we didn’t have to worry about our beer going skunky; and we had fun thinking up silly things to say. Best of all, we didn’t have to mow the postage stamp of a lawn that runs from the patio to the fence. The condo association’s maintenance people do that.

When I see them the next time they come to mow, I think I’ll offer them a Lucky or a Pil or an Oly. I still have quite a few in the fridge.

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