Drinking with Small Beer
Rooted in history but tailor-made for today’s pace of living, Small Beer offers a ground-up, bespoke approach to brewing low ABV beers that make drinking a guiltless pleasure
Words by Will HALBERT
Rare are the occasions when low ABV beer isn’t an afterthought, but a bona fide mission statement. So rare, in fact, that Small beer are one of the world’s first. While other brands tend to relegate their low ABV options to a half-baked, sugared-up afterthought, Small Beer make it their bread and butter. It’s a novel approach in the grand scheme of things, but a timely one, and it’s seen Small Beer carve out a dedicated niche amongst those looking to have a ball without missing a beat.
Small Beer is more than just a name, it’s a unifying philosophy. The whole Small Beer operation is shot through with an almost subconscious drive to stay small. From its ABV to its environmental footprint, the brand’s approach to all things small lends a much-needed personal touch to an often dizzying drinks category. EJ
Keeping the ABV low without compromising on taste is no mean feat; Small Beer’s operation is a balancing act, and an impressive one at that. Their knack for delivering big flavours and bold statements without the usual kick-in-the-teeth alcohol content is a glowing testament to the knowledge and skill of Small Beer’s similarly small team.
Nestled in Verney Road, a mere stone’s throw from South Bermondsey station, the Small Beer brewery has quickly become more than just the business end of beer production. The rugged and brew-ready edge of the brew tanks are offset by the communal benches and appropriately charming little bar. Both give the brewery a local homeliness and convivial warmth that elevates the site from fit-for-purpose warehouse unit to evening destination.
It’s of little surprise that the half-brewery-half-event-space finds itself in high demand for just about anything. From comedy nig orhktohts to wedding celebrations, live music to yoga, the Small Beer Brewery is more than just a stop on the beer mile, it’s a community hub in the making.
Get the Round In
Quickfire questions answered in the time it takes
Small Beer’s Co-founder to show us around the brewery
Why small beer specifically?
First and foremost, we don’t want low-ABV drinking to feel – or taste – like a compromise. Small Beer is built from the ground up for those who like to enjoy a few drinks without the slowdown that usually comes along with them. At 2.1%, our lager is still hydrating in nature. Now, this doesn’t mean you’ll find your doctor recommending the stuff to beat a cold, but it does mean you can keep pace on a night out without the cotton wool head and sandpaper tongue that typically hit you the morning after.
What are the challenges that come along with making small beer in the way you do?
There are many! It would be far easier to make a regular beer and simply strip it of its alcohol, but you’d lose a lot of flavour in the process. So we refuse to do that. Our brew kit is designed to produce small beer specifically. Our bespoke set up is such that – by design – we can’t realistically make a regular strength beer. That was a conscious effort to encourage us to really push the boundaries of what can be done with small beer, and we’re happy with the results.
Is sustainability high on Small Beer’s agenda?
It’s in everything we do. We’re the only UK brewery to operate a ‘dry floor’ policy, which has seen us cut down on water waste in a huge way. Most breweries use up to ten pints of water to make a single pint of beer. We’ve managed to cut that down to just a pint and a half. So I’d say we’re doing pretty well! On top of that, we’re powered entirely by renewable energy sources, and close the loop as much as possible with our use of grains. So yeah, we tick a fair few boxes on the sustainability front, but we’re always looking to push things further.
Lager – 2.1%
Lagered for six weeks for a fuller flavour, Small Beer’s lager is a labour of love to be sure. But the payoff is more than worth it: A crisp, clean lager with an almost continental finish. A masterful malt-to-hops balance and an exceptionally smooth mouthfeel makes for a lager that stands head and shoulders above its competition despite its size
Dark Lager – 1%
At a tiny 1%, the flavour that Small Beer’s Dark Lager manages to retain is nothing short of witchcraft. By all accounts, it’s a testament to the quality of the beer’s superlative foundations. Kilned, floor malted, Warminster barley imparts a subtly coffee-forward and rounded roast to the brew. Intense without ever being imposing, it’s clear from the first sip that Small Beer’s Dark Lager is looking to please, not punish.
Steam – 2.7%
An ale-esque depth meets a lager-like refreshment in this Cascade and Chinook-heavy brew. Rye-forward with an amber hue, the crystal malt lends some weighty, wheated aromatics that are more than matched on the palate. Steam has all the familiar trappings of a great ale, with a lightness and drinkability that sings of Small Beer’s low and slow production methods.