Table Beer

Fundamentals #20 – Small Beer

I like alcohol. Or, more pertinently I like the way it makes all the complexities in beer imbued by malt, hops, yeast, water and whatever else interact with my taste buds. The weight with which it presses flavour onto my palate is fundamental to my beer experience. This is why most of my favourite beers are IPAs in the 7% ABV range. This is my wheelhouse in which I will forever turn.

I also like the way alcohol makes me feel – it’s kind of taboo to say such a thing in beer writing, which is a shame. But this is how things are. Of course, I recommend drinking in moderation and always within your limits. But I also think it’s nice to occasionally get a three-pint buzz on. Responsibly. Always responsibly.

Of course, not everyone enjoys getting a light buzz on and there are situations where a lower alcohol alternative might be preferable for example a working lunch, or a prospective evening of operating heavy machinery. People are also being a great deal more mindful regarding their alcohol intake these days.

As a result, we’re witnessing an increase in the number of low or alcohol-free beer alternatives hit the market. Amongst these are breweries that are concentrating solely on producing lower alcohol alternatives.

The problem, however, with most no or low alcohol beers, is that they’re a bit shit. Too often I find them to be thin, insipid and lifeless interpretations of proper beer, which is why today’s beers from new London outfit Small Beer – based in London’s beating beer heart of Bermondsey – took me somewhat by surprise.

The Lager, at 2.1% poured with a tantalisingly pleasing amount of foam, giving way to snappy hop and bready malt aromas. Sure, it wasn’t quite as meaty on the palate as a pilsner at 5%, but the flavour was there and I could’ve certainly done with another bottle considering the speed at which I inhaled it. Next up was the Dark Lager at just 1%, which impressed me just as much. Plenty of robust chocolate and roasted coffee notes shored up the lack of body, making for another surprisingly satisfying beer.

I may not personally be quite converted to the trend for lower or zero alcohol beers just yet, but these impressed and I’d certainly recommend them if you’re looking for lower alcohol alternatives.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up some Small Beer in store or online.

Fundamentals #9 – Jester King/The Kernel Farmhouse Table Barrel Aged Blend

In beer, blending is a true art form. If you’ve ever tasted a great geuze from say 3 Fonteinen or Tilquin, or perhaps even a fantastic Flanders red from Rodenbach, then you’re tasting a beer that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

More and more breweries are investing in oak aging to further the beer experience they can offer their customers. This could involve getting used barrels from wineries or distilleries, or in some cases it could involve the use of larger oak containers called foeders. To make sure the beer that comes out of that oak tastes great, they too will have to master the fundamental art of blending.

If you ever get the chance to walk amongst the foeders at a brewery such as Rodenbach or New Belgium in the US, you should jump at the chance as it’s a pretty magical experience. If you’re lucky you might even get the opportunity to sample some unblended beer from the wood itself. This might help enlighten you as to how challenging blending the perfect beer from various components can be. The key to becoming a master blender is to be perfectly in tune with your palate, so as to achieve the perfect balance of acidity, flavour and drinkability.

To become ready for blending, beer needs time and this collaboration between London’s The Kernel and Jester King of Austin, Texas is no different. The original beer, a humble Table Beer with Citra, was brewed in April 2015. This beer was dry hopped the very same month before spending a year maturing in a steel tank with mixed cultures of yeast and bacteria taken from both The Kernel’s and Jester King’s stocks. In addition to this, some of the beer was aged in brand new – or virgin – oak barrels for 18 months. This beer was then blended back with 50% of the beer aged in steel before being refermented and allowed to mature further in the bottle.

The final blend of this beer is a living, breathing product and its character will continue to evolve in the bottle for years to come. According to the folks from The Kernel, the character from Jester King’s voracious house Brett strain dominated when the beer was packaged. However, this appeared to have calmed down in the bottle I opened, with notes of ripe berry fruit accompanied by strong flavours of vanilla from the oak, leading an incredibly dry and tannic finish.

This is an exceptional beer which blurs the boundaries between beer and wine - and that should come as no surprise considering the pedigree of its makers.

The fundamentals of beer are anything that makes up the sum of a beer’s parts. You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. We have a few bottles of the incredible Kernel/Jester King Farmhouse Table Barred Aged Blend in store or online while stocks last.