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Classic Beer of the Month January 2012: Coopers Sparkling Ale

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Coopers Sparkling Ale, 5.8%

As in many countries today, the craft beer movement in Australia is gathering pace. The headline grabbers are breweries such as Little Creatures, Redoak, Murray’s and Grand Ridge, but there’s one brewery that has symbolised craft brewing in Australia for well over a hundred years.

Coopers Sparkling AleIt all began when a Yorkshireman named Thomas Cooper emigrated to Adelaide. According to company records, he set up a brewery by accident, after he brewed a tonic, from a family recipe, for his sick wife. That was in 1862.

His brewing talents discovered, he was urged to set up commercially and he built his business on an English-style pale ale that he proudly labelled ‘Sparkling Ale’. The beer survives to this day, its name a well-known oxymoron.

Sparkling Ale is a bottle-conditioned beer, with plenty of yeast left in sediment in the bottle, and therefore, far from being sparkling and bright, the beer has always presented a slight haze that turns its golden colour into a murky orange.

For discerning drinkers such a haze has long proved to be a badge of honour. The beer has been seen as wholesome and natural, a far cry from the homogenized, squeaky clean, but oh-so-dull world of the bland Aussie lager.

Australian beer connoisseurs wouldn’t give a XXXX for a glass of the Amber Nectar: Coopers Sparkling Ale was the beer to seek out in those dark days before the craft beer revolution took hold.

Iconic Brand

Coopers remains a thriving business, a modern brewery still in family hands after they beat off a hostile take-over challenge from Australasian giant Lion Nathan six years ago.

This historic beer is by no means the only beer in the company’s repertoire – check out the lighter Pale Ale, lay down some potent Vintage Ale and don’t miss the wonderful Best Extra Stout, among a now-extensive range of beers – but Sparkling Ale remains an iconic brand.

The beer is built from pale and crystal malts, with some cane sugar, and seasoned with Tasmanian Pride of Ringwood hops.

The aroma is instantly appealing, taking you back to childhood with its juicy ‘fruit chew’ tropical notes, along with a spruce-like note from the hops and a hint of Ovaltine from the malt.

Oranges, mangoes and a lemony sharpness feature in the bittersweet taste, with spruce-like hops adding to the bitterness and lots of natural carbonation keeping things light and spritzy.

The same complex fruitiness continues in the finish, which becomes dry, bitter and pithy. For a 5.8% beer, it’s stupidly easy to quaff.

When you are served a Sparkling Ale in a Australian bar, don’t be surprised if the bartender rolls the bottle along the counter first, just to distribute the yeast.

Remember that the oxymoron is now a major part of the marketing and, if the beer was allowed to live up to its name and appear bright and clear in the glass, it wouldn’t do its image any good whatsoever.

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