Beer of The Week: Anchor Small Beer

Posted on June 15th, 2011

About: Session ales are attracting an increasing amount of attention lately in craft beer circles. For years it was the big and bold beers that caught the eye of craft beer enthusiasts, brews that were intense in both their flavor and alcohol content. While everyone still loves those bold beers as much as they always have, beer lovers and brewers alike are beginning to investigate what possibilities there are at the opposite end of the spectrum.

This means beers that are low in alcohol and more balanced in their flavor, brews that are more laid back, rather than in your face. Although there is a rich history of brewing beers in this style, it is only in recent years that major American craft brewers have begun putting out beers that meet this criteria. One of the first was Anchor Small Beer, which debuted in 1997 and is brewed in the partigyle tradition.

As we discussed in our article on how beer is made, one of the key steps in the brewing process is steeping grains such as barley in a hot water mash to extract the sugar contained within them. These sugars are later used as food by yeast, producing alcohol, CO2 and creating beer. Partigyle brewing is when a second running of hot water is passed through the mash, resulting in a different set of sugars and as a result, a different beer from the very same ingredients.

In A Nut Shell: Anchor Small Beer is worth a try as an example of partigyle, but it leaves much to be desired

Review: Anchor is a partigyle brew made from the same grains that are used to create Anchor Old Foghorn Barley Wine, which is a massively sweet and hoppy brew that weighs in at 9% ABV. In contrast, Small Beer is just 3.3% ABV and in stead of a huge malt and hop flavor it has a lightly toasted flavor, which reminds me more of a pale ale than a barley wine. However unlike most pale ales the hop profile is almost non-existent, leaving the grains to do much of the heavily lifting. The result is a bit uneven and frankly unremarkable. While I hardly noticed that the beer has such a small alcohol content, in the end Anchor Small Beer is worth trying only  for it’s unusual brewing method.

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  • Pete Wagner

    Sounds like a good beer as a refreshment at outdoor events. Has a place.