Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

3.4 Children

It's now been a fair few months since changes to UK Duty legislation made it advantageous for breweries to produce beers at a strength of 3.4% or weaker, and we should be starting to see the effects of this at the bar counter as breweries seek to offer beers meeting this criteria.

Speculation at the time suggested that this could be the death knell for cask ales in the 3.5 to 3.7% range, with a host of new beer launches and reformulations of existing recipes hitting the market in order to comply. But to what extent has this actually happened?

Taste the difference?

Of course, it should be remembered that brewers do get some leeway with regards to deviation from the advertised strength. Cask ale, in particular, is a living, evolving, maturing product that can easily get stronger as it sits in a pub cellar. However, if breweries were to leave, say, a 3.8% beer unchanged and just write 3.4% on the pumpclip, they'd be cutting it very fine indeed, so by and large I'd expect them to be playing with a straight bat and brewing their revised beers 'down the middle' rather than trying taking unnecessary risks trying to get away with something that lurks in the margins. And, theoretically, a weaker beer should be cheaper for them to produce too, though this isn't always the case.

3.4% is something of an iconic ABV in certain quarters, mainly because of Brakspear's Bitter. Back when I was a youngster, before the brewery closed, this was considered an absolute classic session beer, and proof that great things can be done at this sort of strength.

This isn't the first time we've been in a situation like this. A few years ago, cut-off points at 2.8% and 7.4% became a thing and affected the beer market at its fringes. Almost all beers that were just below 8% were weakened to 7.4%, and while I'm not sure a single beer was reduced to 2.8%, some new ones were introduced to the market at this strength - Adnam's Sole Star, Harveys R, Marble Petite amongst others. But for 'normal people' who like to drink the same beers at 4.2% it didn't much matter. What kind of geek cares about Alcohol by Volume, really? (Answer: me, obviously.)

But even among those of us who take an active (or obsessive) interest in such things, the changes didn't drastically shake things up, apart from making 2.9% and 7.6% beers almost extinct. This time it turns out I've actually got through 21 different 3.4% cask beers since the change in the law last Summer, so let's review a few of the new generation of 3.4%ers and see what they're like, starting with the new releases before moving onto the existing beers that have been weakened...


In with a bullet

Anspach & Hobday Citra - a single-hopped pale ale. There's a lot of this sort of stuff around these days, and it's not an unreasonable tactic to put one out at 3.4%. Very sessionable, if a little unremarkable with little to distinguish it from the glut of similar beers out there. 6/9.

Arkell's Tradition - a light mild, which is a style that would seem to fit the 3.4% bill perfectly, only very few people seem to want to drink it, which is perhaps a shame. I thought it was perfectly decent. 6/9.

Brew York Calmer Chameleon - I think this may actually have been brewed at a higher strength previously, but didn't drink it until 2023 and so have only sampled the 3.4% version. It's also gluten-free and is pale and hoppy. Again, easy drinking but doesn't particularly stand out. 6/9.

Theakston's Quencher - specifically launched as the legislation came in, it's pale and citrussy, and, yes, it's another 6/9.

Five Points Gold - maybe it's because I got to try this at the brewery when they launched it, but this seemed to have just a little more going for it, with a bittersweet fruitiness providing great refreshment. 7/9.

Lune Brew 101 - apparently the first in a series of 10x dry-hopped Northern Bitters from this new brewery. This version used Admiral and Goldings. I found it a bit average. 5/9.

Brentwood Santa's Paradise - a Christmas-themed beer with Australian hops. I didn't really get it. 5/9.

Buxton Hatchet - quite cleverly, this is a half-strength version of their 6.8% Axe Edge IPA. Packs reasonable flavour, but like so many of these session pales, struggles to stand out from the crowd. 6/9.

Westerham Apricity - another one that fits the template perfectly for the 'nu-gen' 3.4% beers. It's light and relatively hoppy and easy to drink. 6/9.

Titsey Vanguard - very much in 'ordinary bitter' territory, but not in the same league as the Brakspear's of old. 5/9.

Torrside Pace Setter - an attempt to bring some of the dank, resinous flavours of a strong IPA into a session strength, which mostly succeeds. 6/9.

Marble 1847 - pale, pleasant and ultimately forgettable. Standard. Or 'Based'. Are we supposed to say 'Based' these days? I can't keep up. 6/9.

Atom Elemental - also pale, but cryo-hopped and had a strange, slightly uriney flavour that I couldn't entirely get along with. 5/9.

Church End Spiders have feelings too - for a beer with a lot of Mosaic going on, I didn't actually mind this. Nicely dry and easy to drink, but swiftly forgotten. 6/9.

Pig & Porter My Father was a Nun - green-hopped, so a bit twiggy, and generally unspectacular. 5/9.


Walking wounded

Perhaps surprisingly, there are far fewer beers that have been brought down 3.4%. Maybe we'll see more of this happening throughout the year, but let's start with the most ubiquitous of all:

Greene King IPA (previously 3.6%) - a controversial beer in so many ways (not really an IPA, shouldn't have won CBoB medal, and so on) and not one I'd choose to drink with any regularity. The weaker version is no worse, I'll give it that. 4/9.

By The Horns Stiff Upper Lip (previously 3.8%) - as well as being weaker, it's also now Vegan-friendly and, as a consequence, fairly hazy. But don't let it be confused with super-hoppy hazy beers; this is a malt-led, fairly bland beer that isn't as good as it used to bee. 5/9.

Anspach & Hobday The Ordinary Bitter (previously 3.7%) - another beer that scores a point less in its new form. It's fairly well-made, but just doesn't do a lot for me and is a bit thin at the new strength. 5/9.

Moor Beer Revival (previously 3.8%) - Hoppy enough that it doesn't lose anything much when the strength is brought down. I quite like it. 6/9.

Burning Sky Plateau (previously 3.5%) - given that this has only decreased by a single .1 it's easy to make a case that it hasn't really changed at all. Same New World hops, same easy drinkability. It was, is, and will remain a solid everyday drinking beer. 6/9.

Purity Bunny Hop (previously 3.5%) - another one that's come down by the smallest of margins, but I've actually uprated it compared to the earlier version. The new recipe feels a tad crisper and hoppier with a little creaminess from the oats and wheat. It's more complex than a lot of these beers and all the better for it. 7/9.

And there you have it - conclusive proof that 3.4% beer is quite possibly the biggest non-story of modern times!


  1. A couple of beers in the North that have been cut to 3.4% are Hawkshead Windermere Pale and Marble Pint. The latter was previously 3.8%. Plus breweries are launching new 3.4% beers such as Theakston's Quencher. The huge financial benefits mean it's a trend that is only going to increase over time.

  2. A few months back I tried what was purportedly the last batch of 3.9% Marble Pint, and hope the 3.4% version doesn't lose too much. Last night I had a 3.4% beer that has come down from 4.3% which to me is taking the piss.


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