Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 3, No. 20
What's a small beer?

Feb. 27, 2003

We hear a lot about "big" beers this time of year, most particularly barley wines. Does that mean there is such a thing as a "small" beer. In fact, it even merits a dictionary entry (there is none for big beer). From the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary:

Main Entry: small beer
Function: noun
Date: 1568
1 : weak or inferior beer
2 : something of small importance : Trivia
- small-beer adjective


The history of small beer dates back for centuries. In the days when sanitation was bad and water dangerous to drink, small beer was served to servants, field workers, the poor, even the young. The first runnings from a brewer's mash would go to a stronger beer, the second for ordinary beer. A small beer, taken from a third running, was probably about 2.5% alcohol by volume. Belgian monasteries, in particular, produced large quantities of small beer in the Middle Ages.

In 1997, Anchor Brewing in San Francisco began brewing its Small Beer from second runnings of its Old Foghorn (barley wine) mash. Anchor first bottled the beer in 1998, in 22-ounce bombers (small beer/big bottle). It is 3.3% abv.

If you want to make your own, you could try this 1757 recipe from George Washington:

"Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste -- Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gall. into a Cooler put in 3 Gallons Molasses while the Beer is scalding hot or rather drain the molasses into the Cooler. Strain the Beer on it while boiling hot let this stand til it is little more than Blood warm. Then put in a quart of Yeast if the weather is very cold cover it over with a Blanket. Let it work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask. Leave the Bung open til it is almost done working -- Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed."

We're not sure how well this would turn out, but if you try it be sure to let us know how it tastes.

News of beers
- Stone Brewing Co. releases the second of eleven Stone Vertical Epic Ales on Monday (03/03/03). Each of the eleven Vertical Epic ales is to be released one year, one month and one day apart. In other words, next year's edition will be released April 4th, 2004, followed by May 5th, 2005, all the way to December 12th, 2012. The premise is that each edition is to be brewed in a different style from the previous year, and since the beers will be bottle conditioned they should mature when cellared.

Stone 03.03.03 Vertical Epic Ale was fermented with both a Belgian yeast strain and Stone Brewing's own signature ale yeast. The resultant style is roughly "a Belgian-ish strong dubble-ish (with an emphasis on the 'ish') dark ale, with a healthy dose of alligator pepper, a dash of coriander and a nice addition of Stone-style hops."

Stone promises to release detailed tasting notes for the beer and a homebrewing recipe, just as was done for the Stone 02.02.02 Vertical Epic Ale.

- Specialty Beer Services of Seattle will be importing Bombardier Premium Ale from the Charles Wells Brewery in Bedford, England. Bombardier Ale was created in 1997 to celebrate the company receiving the Queen's Award for Export Achievement. It has been described by British beer writer Roger Protz as "a distinctively copper colored beer with a rich, spicy aroma, beautifully balanced malt flavors, and a lingering soft, spicy finish of fruit character and gentle hop bitterness."

- Laurelwood Public House & Brewery has earned the distinction of becoming Oregon's first Certified Organic Brewery. Laurelwood makes both Organic Free Range Red and Organic Tree Hugger Porter, and brewer Christian Ettinger will feature additional seasonal organic beer styles throughout the year.

Tasting notes

Brewed by Cisco Brewers in Massachusetts
Michael Jackson writes: Tall, cramy, meringue-like head. Garnet color. Perfumy, fruity (dark raspberries, blackberries?), creamy aroma. Against, creamy in flavor, but lighter in body than its performance so far had led me to expect. It is a big beer, but liquer-ish rather than rich and toffeeish. The fruity flavors linger, with an almondy, sappy dryness. Enormous surge of warming alcohol in the finish.

Brewed by Gray's Brewing in Wisconsin
Roger Protz writes:
A truly pale ale, just a tad darker than a pilsner, as it should be. A gorgeous aroma of sweet biscuity malt and gentle hops, with the hops coming through powerfully in the mouth but balanced by citrus fruit and creamy malt. The finish is comparatively gentle, a long and linger balance of malt and resiny hops. A superb refresher.