Review #19 – Coopers Sparkling Ale

Urk…is that what I’ve been drinking for twenty years?

Name: Coopers Sparkling Ale

Style: Golden Ale/Blonde Ale

Brewed by: Coopers Brewery (Regency Park, South Australia)        

Alcohol: 5.8% abv.

Price: $5.49/750ml bottle

From: Khandallah New World

Woohoo! Tight-arse Tuesday!

I’ve been drinking this stuff for nearly a quarter of a century now. I have been known to say in my more belligerent moments that this is the best beer Australia has produced. That plainly isn’t the case of course but compared to the rancid bilge many Australians erroneously call beer it’s astoundingly good. Coopers occupies a strange middle ground between independent and mainstream, between craft and mass production. Very consistent for something that is bottle-conditioned and has no additives or preservatives, comfortably in the budget range, thoughtfully sold in big bottles perfect for home brewing, it’s definitely one of my go-to beers. And yet in all that time I’ve never, ever, poured in into a glass, taken my time and really tasted it. I wonder why that is?

It might be, partly, because of how it looks. It looks bad. Murky, swampy orange/brown river water with floaty bits in it that only very, very gradually clears to a vaguely goldenish colour. There is though a decently sized white, foamy head that clears relatively quickly to a filmy ring which is fed by a stream of rising bubbles (hence ‘sparkling’) that saves it from looking and tasting dead; it actually has a nicely full, rich mouthfeel with medium carbonation. There’s a subtle, fruity aroma, maybe with some honey and spice and the flavour is again subtle, pale malts, some yeastiness, some alcohol with a pronounced short, dry and bitter finish. Thankfully it doesn’t have that nasty metallic twang a lot of Australian beers seem to because it’s the bitterness that predominates. As for the rest, it doesn’t excel or is interesting in any way but it’s very drinkable, not at all intense or heavy, and at 5.8% does the job before you get too sick of it.

As a suggested musical match for the Sparkling Ale I’m going to go with something else I remember fondly from my youth: songs from the first three albums or so from Hunters & Collectors (Hunters & Collectors, The Fireman’s Curse and The Jaws of Life). Early H & C seems to occupy a similarly weird space between mainstream and alternative. Every bit as quintessentially Australian as Coopers, it’s also got that feeling of being a bit rough around the edges, unpolished and unprocessed but not amateurish, it’s pub rock you can dance to with a credible arty edge hasn’t been scrubbed clean to make it radio friendly. It’s not all dark and shoegazey, it’s not mass produced crud stripped of any personality and character, it doesn’t wear you out by making your ears bleed and doesn’t bore you senseless. Recorded on Mushroom’s ‘independent’ label, White Label records, which was formed specially when Hunters & Collectors were first signed (thanks, Wikipedia!) The Jaws of Life would be their last album before they abandoned their experimental art-rock origins and broke through into the mainstream with Human Frailty (which had that one that everyone knows on it) and they became just another one of the many bands making up the juggernaut that was 80’s Aussie pub rock but to me, though it’s all good, their early stuff is the best and those are the songs that will stick with me the longest.

Verdict: Nothing very interesting in particular but the whole adds up to something very drinkable and refreshing, a good all-nighter. Ugly to look at but consistently quaffable. 65/100.

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