It’s Friday evening. I’ve had a tough, booze-free week and I’m ready for a well earned beer. But I’m playing in a high-stakes skittles game* at 9pm and the last time my team had a fixture at that hour we went out drinking beforehand and got thrashed, so tonight I want to turn up sober. But I’m gasping for a beer…
Earlier this week a new brewery, The Small Beer Co, sent me a few bottles of their beers – a lager and a dark lager. As you might guess from the name, they’re dedicated to brewing ‘small beers’ or, in other words, beer that isn’t going to get you drunk in a hurry. Their lager is a very sensible 2.1% and their darker brew barely registers on the alcohol charts, coming in at a mere 1%. I like dark lager, so this seems a perfect opportunity to test it out.
The first thing to note is the bottles. They’re the squat 330ml type that you only occasionally see (ace Bristol brewery Left Handed Giant also uses them) and they have clean, well designed labels with sketchy fingers making the ‘small’ sign over a shrinking white arrow. The smallness of these beers could hardly be emphasised any more.
Small Beer’s dark lager looks great in my fancy tulip glass. It has a clean, almost jet-black body with an off-white honeycomb head that rises majestically as it’s poured, before steadily crumpling, leaving behind its lacy fingerprints on the glass. And it smells equally enticing: reassuringly beery with some lovely toasty notes from the well roasted grains. My expectations are rising.
But like that tan head, those expectations become a little deflated on the first sip. It has the thinner, harder mouthfeel of a low ABV beverage and, with its eager fizz, the first impression is of a soft drink. But that’s the trouble with high expectations: they can only set you up for a fall and, on continued drinking, I start to focus more on the beer’s flavours and realise what a mighty fine brew it is.
It has a malt cleanliness you would hope from a lager but with none of the sweet off-flavours that I’m used to from such a weak beer. It’s those roasted grains that do most of the work: they’re strong enough to cover for the lack of malt-body elsewhere (I suspect the 2.1% of the more standard lager is as low as the brewers dared to go without them) and they lend an easy-going burnt toast flavour that lingers without dominating. The toasty package is completed by light, peppery, lager-style hopping which is adeptly suited to the dark side of beer-life.
It’s an impressive beer and meets the brief I gave it for the evening: I turn up to the sporting arena sober, but with the satisfying taste of beer already in my system, and I’m ready to smash some skittles
It’s midnight and I’ve had a decent fill of beer (Green King IPA – the club where I play skittles doesn’t go in for choice). I can still taste residual toastiness from the dark lager and our team won its vital mid-table clash, despite me hitting my lowest ever score. So while I’m sure there will be many more occasions where a Small Beer Co lager will be very welcome, Friday night skittles won’t be one of them.
Brewery: Small Beer Brew Co, London
Beer name: Dark Lager
*This is Somerset, where pubs and clubs have skittles alleys and league competition gets everyone together for a beer and top sporting action.