Name – Golden Summer
Brewer – Wold Top
Classification – I'd better skip this.... (I'd like to just say 'golden ale' but, well, see below!)
Strength – 4.4% ABV
Verdict - At A Glance
On the eye – Warm straw gold. Very attractive.
On the nose – Delicious light fruit and orange zest. Almost no trace of booze.
On the tongue – A miracle of deception. (Read on...)
On the subject – Wold Top bottles seem to be cropping up all over the place in my neck here in the East Midlands, and as a Yorkshire-based outfit, this must mean they are spreading nicely nationwide. They brew beer of a very high standard, and as a company they somehow feel much more 'mighty' than 'micro'. I sense they are seeking to take their place among the major players. I also sense they will succeed.
On the market – The supermarkets in the UK are falling further and further in love with Wold Top, particularly in the North East and the East Midlands. No need for travel these days, of course, just buy online from the brewery.
On the whole – 8.5/10
On the whole – 8.5/10
This is possibly the most overly classified beer in existence.
The label alone claims that this is a 'Fruity Amber Ale', as well as an 'English Summer Beer', and a 'Light Festival Beer', and yet at the same time it makes no mention of the standard term 'Golden Ale' - which is surely what most people would agree it actually is.
The recent shift in brand identity at Wold Top, which includes the design for today's beer as well as their gluten-free ale 'Against The Grain' – is a vast improvement in my opinion, but it's a fine line between attention-grabbing and attention-seeking, and I think this label could do with taking a few deep breaths and calming down. For one thing, a beer which simultaneously describes itself in so many different ways looks a bit like it has potential identity issues, or that it's trying to compensate for something.
But let me add right away that Golden Summer has absolutely nothing to compensate for. It is a very excellent beer indeed. In fact, I reckon that very busy label might actually be missing some far more relevant claims about this beer's classification – like 'Lovely Beer', or 'Moreish Ale', or 'Highly Recommendable Fluid.'
The truth is, after I tasted this beer, I suddenly started to see what might have triggered the brewery's need to describe it so multifariously. It really is a beer of many wonders, with an appeal which is clearly broad, but it's also an appeal which is difficult to comfortably pin down in just one attempt. In a sense, it's hard to imagine who wouldn't like this beer, but it's also hard to think of many other beers with which you could accurately compare it, to get a sense of the target market.
But whoever does end up drinking this is unwittingly setting themselves up for a potentially life-changing experience.
Because there is another word that the brewery really should have added to that label.
This chilling word brings us to the dark heart of this beer's character, and reveals the grim truth behind the difficulty in properly defining it...
This beer doesn't taste like beer.
Now, in the context of a beer review that's a pretty bold statement. But whether it's bold or not – there's nothing particularly life threatened about it, right?
So why say 'lethal'?
Well, I say lethal because of what it does taste like.
This so-called 'beer' tastes like the most exquisite, hand crafted, boutique-style barley water.
When you think about it, beer sort of is barley water – so to a certain degree this kind of makes sense. But the principle difference between beer and barley water is the presence of alcohol, and this is precisely why Golden Summer needs 'lethal' adding to its label.
You simply cannot detect any alcohol.
None at all.
It is as easy drinking and refreshing as a cool soft drink at a kid's summer picnic. (It could be argued that a more grown-up version of a 'kid's picnic' is a 'festival', so I can easily see where the inspiration for 'Light Festival Beer' came from.)
This beer (and I do hesitate to use that word) even looks like the most delicious glass of 'juice', and the fact that there is almost no trace of booze in the lovely aromas only further emphasises the deadly nature of this liquid.
Now, this ain't a weak beer. At 4.4% we are dealing with a brew which could potentially lay claim to 'premium ale' status (lots of very cheeky beers already do at these kinds of levels) so how in hell can there be such a noticeable absence of every one of alcohol's usual tell-tale features?
How have Wold Top disguised the booze in this drink?
Where have they hidden it?
It is a truly remarkable achievement, and I guarantee it will get heads scratching wherever this ale is being enjoyed.
But whatever the science behind the feat, the result is the same. They have conjured-up a drink which is as thirst quenching and satisfying as any drink on the planet – soft or hard – but which is also guaranteed to have you cartwheeling back to the liver donors by the end of August each and every year of your life.
If anyone can possibly summon the presence of mind to drink this one steadily, aside from a deserving a knighthood, they will also derive tremendous amounts of pleasure from what is one the most rewarding summer-styled beers I've ever tasted.
So, yes, drink this stuff by all means – but do remember to scribble '4.4%' on the back of your hand before you start.
Otherwise, prepare yourself for some serious cartwheeling in early autumn.