When I reach for Lake Louie Arena Premium I often think of the saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Arena Premium is a great local example of a solid American pale ale, one that sometimes gets lost among a sea of hoppy, big, bitter brews. You might consider this the workhorse of Lake Louie. It's one of the first beers that Tom Porter made when he started his brewery in 1999, and its recipe has never changed. "It's a standard that's never going away," says Porter.
What is it? Arena Premium Pale Ale from Lake Louie Brewing Company of Arena, Wisconsin.
Style: A medium-bodied beer, the pale ale is known for its firm yet medium- to high-hop bitterness in flavor and aroma. English pale ales often have an herbal hop character. In contrast, American pale ales feature American hop varieties that are often stronger in citrus or resiny character. American pale ales tend to hold the maltiness more in the background and allow the hops to be showcased. These brews commonly range from 4.5% to 5.5% ABV.
Background: Tom Porter says he considers his Arena Premium an "old school" pale ale. That's in part because its recipe goes back to his homebrewing days. It's also made with a single variety of hops. Porter has always relied on Cascade hops to give this beer its citrus-bitterness. Cascades are the same hop used in prominent national brands like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. In fact, Porter isn't shy about pointing out that it was Sierra Nevada that made him want to homebrew in the first place.
Arena Premium was the early beer of choice for Lake Louie customers. As the brewery grew, the flagship beer eventually switched to Warped Speed Scotch Ale.
Arena Premium is commonly found on tap around many Madison bars. It's a standard, achieving almost house-beer status in such spots as the Harmony Bar and the Weary Traveler. In stores, it's sold in 12-ounce bottles for $8-$9/six-pack. It finishes at 6.1% ABV and 20 IBUs.
Also worth watching for from Lake Louie this summer is the return of Mosquito Beach. Porter has tweaked the recipe a bit for 2013. Last summer, the beer was made as a California Common with ale yeast. This year, though, Porter is brewing it with lager conditions. The subtle changes are likely to result in less fruity tones and a little more emphasis on hops, with a dryer finish. This will be the first lagered beer produced by Lake Louie. It should start appearing on shelves very soon.
- Aroma: Medium, firm citrus hoppiness from the Cascade hops.
- Appearance: Deep orange-copper color, with a slight haziness. A soft, long-lasting, white-to-tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied with a firm but mild sharpness from the hops.
- Taste: Solid citrus-hoppiness throughout with a nice supporting background of toasted caramel and biscuit tones from the malts.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Really nice, firm, middle-of-the-road hoppy finish with citrus and dryness.
Glassware: The Willi Becher is a nice glass for any pale ale. It will focus the hoppy aroma under the nose while showing off the bright orange-copper color.
Pairs well with: Few other hoppy beers seem to have the versatility of Arena Premium. It offers a wide range of pairing possibilities because its level of bitterness works to cleanse the palate between bites. It goes well with grilled burgers and steaks and modestly spicy pizza. It's also very good next to earthy cheeses.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Lake Louie Arena Premium is a solid and flavorful pale ale, ideal for meals. The hops and malts are more balanced in this beer than in many other pale ales. It's the brew of choice for teammates on my MSCR softball team after Friday night games, and is my go-to beer when enjoying typical Wisconsin tavern fare, or when simply reaching for a cold one at the end of the day.