One man's adventure in life!

Small Beers and Table Beers

While I have plunged head-first into exploring <0.5% abv “spacer beers”, I haven't spent as much time in the territory between them and the low 3% realm of Milds, Light Ales, Ordinary Bitters and Berliner Weisses. Wikipedia tells me that 0.5-2.8% beers are “Small” or “Table” beers. The excellent beer historian Ron Pattinson reveals in Beer Advocate and in his Shut Up About Barclay Perkins blog that these were in fact two different tax categories in 18th Century Britain. The terms are starting to pop up again, used a little interchangeably by modern craft brewers but if you see them on a beer give it a try!

I will take a blogger's prerogative now and ramble a little before returning to some specific examples I like. Looking back I guess my history with lower abv beers probably started with a 3.2% Courage Light Ale at an ice skating rink in my early days of drinking (public safety announcement – don't drink and ice skate!). Languishing in the fridge in the bar, these small bottles with their blue label contained a quaffable beverage and promised a bit of booze while seeming a less risky choice than the other options. Still over 3% though.

I found Milds somewhere in my twenties, enjoying their gentle roasty maltiness, and have a fond memory of embarking on a 10 venue pub crawl in Bristol during CAMRA's annual celebration of Milds in the month of May. Myself and a rotating selection of friends worked off our pints through the ups and downs of hilly Bristol. Great beer style. Still over 3%.

Berliner Weisse was a discovery while living in California. Like a good lemonade, the tartness works beautifully on a hot summer's day. While some versions can be found below 3%, none of the ones in California were!

Since getting back to the UK in 2016, I've seen craft brewers dipping their toes into one-off releases below 3% abv to gauge interest. I'm hoping this will advance and that more breweries will start to claim permanent stakes in this tricky-to-brew and tricky-to-market slice of beerdom.

Getting the flavour and body of these beers right is definitely hard and it's all too easy to come up with a thin beer that is either too lacking in flavour or overpowered by the hop addition. There's nothing overtly wrong with a beer that's “inoffensive” in the words of a friend of mine (or my father-in-law when describing some table wine) – indeed, you could argue that low abv “inoffensive” beers harken back to when alewives used to brew “small beers” at a household level to protect against waterborne pathogens.

However, I do prefer a bit of flavour where possible! Perhaps using some of the tricks I've noted in the <0.5% beer playbook – building the complexity of the malt bill, adding lactose for mouthfeel, adding a hop punch (but cleverly, building flavours as well as bitterness), playing with yeast-derived flavours like a funky European Farmhouse Ale...

Anyway, on to some of my favourite examples so far. Let's start off with the non-hoppy ones:

..and now into the domain of hoppy Table Beers:

More of these needed please, especially for me! Writing this blog is helping to distract me. My wife has gone into labour but I can't join her in hospital quite yet due to COVID-19 rules. I have a feeling that low abv beers will be a definite part of my days to come as a father so the more options there are the better!

Entry 18 of my participation in the “100 Days to Offload” challenge – find out more and join in!

2020-06-29 #100DaysToOffload #beer #SmallBeer #TableBeer #SpacerBeer #BeerBods