Fundamentals On How To Make Small Brews

Have you ever been in a rush to get a brew made then be able to drink it quickly?   Well, if you have been in situation you know that a lot of homebrew recipes will get thrown out.  They are just too high of a gravity.  That’s when small beers (pretty much session beers) become the option that you lean on.

First off, what is a “small” beer?  Well, that’s a bit of a subjective term.  It means a beer with a low starting gravity, but how low?  It seems that the concept of small beers has changed.  At different times and in different places, small beer has meant different things.  So don’t get all hung up on any specific definition.  We’ll just go with the notion that small beers normally mean a starting gravity below 1.045.

Everything about a small beer is usually, small (sometimes pointing out the obvious is just too easy).  The low alcohol cannot support a big malt backbone.  Without the malt backbone, the beer can’t support big hop flavors and aromas.  Small beers are easily overwhelmed by the slightest imbalance in the recipe.  In an odd way, they are super delicate.  Not a lot goes into them, so you can’t easily hide mistakes.  To me they remind me of a lager in that sense.  I digress…

OK, enough introduction, how does one go about making a lively, tasty, fun small beer that doesn’t taste like BudMillerCoors?  Besides water, there are usually three things in beer:  malt, hops, and yeast.  So naturally that’s what we have to work with.  Try some specialty malts in your small beer.  Dark Crystal, and Biscuit Malt are a few of my favorites.  They are very noticeable even in low quantities. Use aromatic and flavorful hop varieties.  Since small beers can’t handle tons of bitterness, use hops with distinctive aromas and flavors. If you want the hoppiness to stick out then maybe Chinook, Cascade, Columbus, and Northern Brewer.

A nice thing to remember when it comes to session or small beers is that, “Brewers make wort; yeast makes beer.”   You really want to know the different yeast strands and what they will do for you when it comes to session beer.  One that I found just works great is White Labs WLP002 English Ale Yeast.  This is the Fuller’s ESB strain and it is distinctive, to say the least.  A great stand up yeast especially for British Styles.

When it comes to small beers, know that balance is the key.  If you want to make a great English Mild, don’t throw Chinook hops into it just because I mentioned them above.  Likewise, there are plenty of times that you will want to use a neutral yeast and you won’t want the funky flavors that some yeasts provide.

Small beers can be delicious and refreshing,  at the same time with a little practice.  At the end one of my favorite aspects about session beers is how easy it is to make them quickly.  Cheap, fast, fun, honesty what more could you ask for.


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