I just visited Anchor Steam Beer brewery, and they had us sample a
number of beers with one being a "small beer." It did taste different
than the rest, but it was about the fifth or sixth one was tasted so I
am not sure of the real flavor. Are there any other small beers so
around the USA? I would like to purchase some so I could have a better
idea. I do not live in San Francisco, and Anchor has a limited
distribution of this beer.
There aren't any others that I'm aware of. One thing to keep in mind is it's
not a style; it's a technique. And it is a somewhat archaic one at that.
Anchor brews their Small by taking a second running from the mash for their
Old Foghorn barleywine. Without getting too much into brewing techniques,
modern brewing techniques usually consist of draining the liquid from the
mash (the soaking of the malt) while simultaneously adding additional liquid
to etract more converted sugars from the mash. With that process, the grain
is spent at the end.
Historically, it was more common to simply drain the liquid from the initial
mash, make a beer from that, add more liquid and drain again, make a
different beer from that, etc. It's one of the origins of the naming
convention still seen in some Belgian beers of double, triple, etc.
That's what Anchor's doing with their Small: the first mash goes to Old
Foghorn, and then they do a second running from the grain for the small.
Even the Belgians don't really follow this technique anymore, with some
occasional exceptions. As modern brewing science evolved, it was discovered
that it was more efficient (and therefore economical) to add a little extra
liquid to exttract maximum sugars from the mash rather than doing separate
Anchor started doing so as a "what if," and it remains a specialty beer for
them. And to this point, I'm not aware of any other American brewers who are
doing that as well.
For a short time, Anchor Small Beer was available in NJ and I really
enjoyed the bottles I had and hated to see it disappear. I suppose that
the method used to brew it automatically limits it (being based on Old
Foghorn's production) and the price combined with it's low alcohol
content (3.3%) probably made it less attractive to many BIG beer fans
(the latter combination being what I also blame for the demise of
imports of Berliner Kindl Weiss in the US), but I remember thinking,
"I'd buy this stuff by the case in the summer if it was widely
distributed...". I liked that it came in 22 oz. bottles (and that OF
*used* to come in 7 oz. bottles)- makes more sense than the "bombers" of
8-10% beers and imperial stouts and barleywines in 12 oz'ers.
For similar tasting beers, I'd look for English ales/bottled "regular"
bitters or US versions of the same, that are relatively low in alcohol
(which, in the US, means under 5% nowadays) and not very heavily hopped.
Brooklyn's recently released a beer that meets that criteria, it's
"Summer Ale", tho' I won't claim it's taste is similar to ASB.
(I'm surprised that the tasting at the brewery had the Small Beer as the
"fifth or sixth"- should have been one of the first. What, did they do
it chronologically ?).
I will note that the technique is still used by homebrewers.
For example, Saturday I brewed a double batch of Foreign Extra
Stout with a friend. After we had collected enough wort for
the primary beer, the gravity of the runnings was still fairly
high so we collected more wort and made a "small beer" (like
a Brit-style dark mild).
I also sometimes make a barleywine and use the second
runnings for something like an Ordinary Bitter.
Joel Plutchak "They're not people, they're HIPPIES!"
$LASTNAME at VERYWARMmail.com - Eric Cartman