How is small beer made?

Answered by Douglas Hiatt

Small beer is a type of beer that is typically produced using the wort from the second or third wetting and the extraction of a mash. This process is often carried out by brewers after they have already drawn off stronger wort for the production of ale. The term “small beer” refers to the lower alcohol content of the final product compared to other types of beer.

To understand how small beer is made, it is important to first understand the concept of wort. Wort is the liquid extracted from malted grains during the mashing process. It contains sugars that can be fermented by yeast to produce alcohol. In the case of small beer, the wort used is usually from the second or third wetting, which means it has already been used to produce a stronger beer.

The process of making small beer typically involves the following steps:

1. Mashing: Malted grains, usually barley, are crushed and mixed with hot water to create a mash. The enzymes naturally present in the malt convert the starches in the grains into fermentable sugars.

2. Lautering: After the mashing process, the liquid portion of the mash, known as the wort, is separated from the solid grains. This is usually done by transferring the mash to a vessel with a false bottom or a screen that allows the liquid to drain out while retaining the grains.

3. Boiling: The wort is then brought to a boil, usually in a large kettle. During this process, hops are often added to contribute bitterness, aroma, and flavor to the beer. Hops also act as a natural preservative.

4. Fermentation: Once the wort has been boiled and the hops have been added, it is cooled down and transferred to a fermentation vessel. Yeast is then added to the cooled wort, and fermentation begins. The yeast consumes the sugars in the wort and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts.

5. Conditioning: After the initial fermentation, the beer is usually allowed to condition or mature for a period of time. This helps to further develop the flavors and aromas of the beer and allows any remaining yeast or sediment to settle.

6. Carbonation: Small beer can be naturally carbonated through a secondary fermentation process in the bottle or keg, or it can be force-carbonated using carbon dioxide.

It is worth noting that the specific details of the brewing process can vary depending on the brewer’s preferences and the desired characteristics of the small beer. Some brewers may choose to add additional ingredients such as fruits, spices, or other flavorings to create unique variations of small beer.

In my personal experience brewing small beer, I have found it to be a fascinating process that requires attention to detail and patience. It is interesting to see how the same wort can be used to produce both a stronger ale and a lighter small beer by simply adjusting the brewing parameters and fermentation conditions.

The production of small beer involves utilizing the wort from the second or third wetting and extracting a mash after the brewer has drawn off stronger wort for ale production. It is a process that has been used for centuries to create a lower-alcohol alternative to other types of beer.