Robust, dark and spiced beers flood the shelves during the holiday and winter seasons.
But, what if one craves beer that’s light, refreshing, flavorful and pairs well with a meal? Look no further than the table beer.
Table beers are not a beer style, per se, but a concept, which is nothing new in the beer world. You’ve probably heard people speak of lawnmower beers or burger beers. Table beers, though, enjoy a bit more clarity. Mainly born of Belgium and French traditions, table beers usually exist as low ABV, gently hopped beers that pair well with a variety of foods and intended to be shared. Even kids drank the low-ABV table beers back in the day. Obviously, things have changed a little since then. Still, the craft beer renaissance has brought attention to this historical, communal beer genre and allowed brewers to put their spins on it.
Rhinegeist Table Beer, a Grisette, ages for several months in an oak foeder where it acquires mild acidity and funk, along with some subtle notes of stone fruit and vanilla. A Grisette is similar to Belgian and French farmhouse style that utilizes multiple grains, which provides complexity and depth. Still, “everything is restrained and delicate,” said Chris Shields, Advanced Cicerone® & Director of Education for Rhinegeist Brewing in Cincinnati.
“When we set out to design our Table Beer we wanted to offer a beer that embodied our goal of approachable complexity,” said Shields. “To me, that is the definition of a table beer. You want a beer that can stand up to food, but be versatile and adaptable enough for anyone to enjoy” He added, “We were drawn to the story of Grisette as a welcoming beer for the masses served after a long day.”
Feel free to age them, too. “[Rhinegeist] Table Beer is a foeder-aged beer with active cultures of Brettanomyces bruxellensis and our house Lactobacillus blend. That means it will continue to evolve over time.”
Heading south from Cincinnati to Atlanta, one can find Creature Comforts. Its 2020 Table Beer (Belgian-Style Ale) not only tastes great, but benefits Giving Kitchen, a charity that provides emergency assistance to food service workers. “As we step into a season of gratitude, we want to lend support to those in our industry and community, especially as we consider the additional strain brought on by a global pandemic,” notes Creature Comforts.
“Table Beer has long been a favorite seasonal of mine,” said Matt Stevens, Vice President of Strategic Impact at Creature Comforts. “Given its original concept as a beer designed to pair with food, add to it our longtime partnership with Giving Kitchen, then throw in a global pandemic which has been devastating to the food service industry, it just made sense to integrate this beer with our other community impact programming.”
Just as philanthropy attached to Creature Comfort’s Table Beer honors its communal customs, the beer itself speaks to French and Belgian biere de table traditions. “The light Belgian yeast character of the beer has some historical context,” explained Creature Comforts co-founder and brewmaster, Adam Beauchamp. “The esters and phenols that the yeast contribute are well melded with lightly citrusy American hops, used judiciously and balanced by a backdrop of lightly bready malt. The beer has a nice spritzy carbonation which is amazing for clearing the palate between bites. It is a balancing act that has taken many pilot scale batches to get just right and I believe this year’s Table Beer is the most finely balanced and elegant we’ve ever offered.”
The evolution of table beers includes a few tweaks, too. New York’s Arrowhead Farms Farmhouse Table Beer attains a unique flavor because it is aged in white wine barrels with the brewery’s house-mixed culture. And then, it’s bottle-conditioned with maple syrup. One can also find porters and dark lagers that brewers denote as table beers.
Meanwhile, Maine’s Allagash Brewing, a brewery integral to re-introducing Belgian-style brewing to the American craft scene decades ago, launched its Hoppy Table Beer a few years ago, which differs from the usual non-hoppy table beer tradition. The Maine brewery has ostensibly replaced it with the very similar River Trip, a beer that reminds one that tables don’t necessarily have to be located in one’s dining room. The brewery notes, “River Trip is a low-ABV, Belgian-style table beer with hop-forward grapefruit and stone fruit notes. It’s brewed with local grains and spiced with coriander for an extra hint of citrus. Dry hopping with Comet and Azacca contributes to the mix of melon and grapefruit notes in the beer’s aroma. Good for any adventure.”
In the end, table beers serve as a terrific alternative to the multitude of strong beers available during the winter season. It’s great for sharing (even on a Zoom call) and excellent with meals. Shields of Rhinegeist commented, “This year, things sure will look a bit different, but I’d say that gives our beer an advantage. Our Table Beer comes in a 500mL bottle, so everyone can have their own, and at 4% [ABV], maybe a couple.”
Beauchamp of Creature Comforts summed it up nicely: “It’s one of those beers that can be closely contemplated for its simple beauty or enjoyed without pretense.”