We Need to Talk About “Lawnmower Beer”

by Stephen Beaumont

There is a phrase employed by beer aficionados that has particular relevance around this time of the year. Arguably the ultimate in damning-with-faint-praise beerspeak, it refers to those light tasting, usually mass-produced brews suited only to slaking a powerful thirst after a period of sweaty enterprise, preferably served very cold and consumed with great haste.

I refer, of course, to the ‘lawnmower beer.’

Declaring that a lager – and it is almost always a lager – makes for a “good lawnmower beer” is shorthand for saying that it has little flavour, aroma or, indeed, reason for being, beyond existing as an alcoholic alternative to a glass of lemonade or ice water. For the majority of the phrase’s life, “lawnmower beer” was the way that craft beer enthusiasts justified sucking back a Bud or Canadian or Coors Light on a scorching, hot summer’s day.

All of which is fine so far as it goes, but here’s a surprise: good lawnmower beer doesn’t need to be bland or served so cold that it obliterates the taste buds. Indeed, quenching and refreshing beer can also be both flavourful and satisfying!

When I first took issue with lawnmower beers prior to the turn of the last century, I placed my emphasis on lager and light ale and wheat beer alternatives, citing beers like Brick Brewing’s Andechs Spezial Hell, Wellington’s Arkell Best Bitter and Unibroue’s Blanche de Chambly. These days, in addition to the arrival of numerous other lager/light ale/wheat beer options, such as Hoyne Helios and Tooth & Nail Vim & Vigor, Phillips Blue Buck and Cameron’s Cosmic Cream Ale, Tatamagouche Full Circle American Wheat and Side Launch Wheat, there are even more reasons to not bother with the Big Beer lager brands.

Take the last brewery mentioned above, for instance, Ontario’s Side Launch Brewing. A few weeks ago, much to my surprise, the previously conservative brewery released a new beer called Dry-Hopped Sour, which was exactly as billed. Being a sceptic of both kettle sours and their dry-hopping, I approached it with some trepidation, but was delighted to find that the aromatic elements of the hops meshed beautifully with the light body and balanced tartness. And at 4.2% alcohol, it struck me immediately as a perfect summer quaffer.

(What’s more, and to their credit, Side Launch has priced this at a level comparable with their core brands, rather than trying to gouge out a “sour beer premium.”)

Of course, the Dry-Hopped Sour is but one of a large and growing contingent of light-bodied “sour beers” brewed across Canada and beyond (the LCBO even has a “sour” category on its website now). Add all these beers to the many others in styles known for their quenching ability, from lagered ales and kölsches to the growing ranks of domestically brewed and imported lagers and light ales of quality and distinction and wheats in a multitude of styles, and you have a true treasure trove of refreshing beers. Hell, even a session IPA can be a hot weather pick-me-up if the hops are kept in balance with the malt!

And so, I ask: With such a bounty at your disposal, why on earth would you conclude your lawn mowing with something that has little to commend it other than a light to moderate dose of alcohol?  

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Short Sips with Stephen Beaumont

A corner dedicated to bringing you insight from industry author and beer connoisseur, Stephen Beaumont.

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