Light beer, small beer, or table beer, are a type of beverage with a rich history and growing modern appeal. The mid-strength beer has long been a part of human culture. Known for its low alcohol content and historical significance, small beer has transitioned from a medieval necessity to a contemporary choice for the health-conscious. Let’s delve into what small beer is, its historical context, and its resurgence in modern times.


What is Light or Small Beer?

Light or small beer, also referred to as table beer, is a type of beer with a low alcohol content, typically ranging from 0.5% to 2.8% ABV (alcohol by volume). Historically, it was brewed as a safer alternative to water, which was often unsafe to drink due to contamination. Beyond its low alcohol levels, small beer is crafted to be light in calories and carbohydrates, making it a popular choice for those mindful of their intake.

Our small batch brew, Pillars Lite, falls into the category of small beer or table beer. It is ideal for modern drinkers who are looking for a healthier option for session drinking, BBQs and after-work pints in the summer. At 2.8% you get all the joy of a flavoursome beer but with the lower alcohol and only 83 calories.


The Origins of Small Beer

The history of small beer dates back to medieval Europe, a time when clean drinking water was a rarity. Small beer was akin to table beer, a beverage common in medieval Europe. Table beer, or "bière de table," was often brewed in farmhouses in France and Belgium, serving as a hydrating and nutritious drink. Brewing beer was a way to make water safe to drink; the boiling process killed harmful bacteria, and fermentation added essential nutrients. Small beer was typically made from the second or third runnings of the mash, after stronger beers had been produced, resulting in a lower-alcohol beverage.

In the Middle Ages and early modern periods, small beer was a staple in daily life. It was consumed by all ages, including children, and was an integral part of the diet, providing hydration and nutrition. Table or small beer was an inexpensive source of calories and nutrition, often consumed because it tasted better than available water. Mid-strength beer was especially common in households, workplaces, and schools across Britain.

Decline and Comeback

With the advent of clean drinking water in the 19th century, the necessity for small beer diminished. The rise of tea as a popular beverage in Britain also contributed to its decline. However, the 20th and 21st centuries have seen a renewed interest in small beer, driven by several factors:

  • Health and Wellness: Modern consumers are increasingly aware of their alcohol and caloric intake. Small beer offers a lower-alcohol, lower-calorie option that fits well with healthier lifestyle choices.

  • Craft Beer Movement: The craft beer revolution has brought attention to traditional brewing methods and historical beer styles. Many craft breweries now produce their interpretations of small beer, experimenting with flavours and ingredients to create unique brews.

  • Sessionability: Small beer is often described as "sessionable," meaning it can be consumed over extended periods without leading to significant intoxication. This makes it ideal for social gatherings and long meals.


Brewing Light Beer: The Process

The brewing process for light beer focuses on reducing calorie and carbohydrate content while maintaining a balanced taste. Brewers adjust the grain bill, often using less malt or substituting it with adjuncts like rice or corn to decrease fermentable sugars. During fermentation, yeast converts sugars into alcohol, with careful temperature control to produce fewer complex sugars and less alcohol. The result is a lighter-bodied, crisp beer that undergoes extended conditioning for a smooth flavour profile.


Evolving Light Beer Styles

The evolution of light beer has seen breweries experimenting with various styles and flavours. Some create lighter versions of popular beer types, such as lagers or pilsners, while others innovate with unique ingredients and techniques. Craft breweries, known for their creativity, contribute significantly to the diversity of the light beer landscape.

Our small batch Pillars Lite is a light lager brewed with flaked, torrefied corn and Noble hops for a crisp, mildly bitter finish. This lager is exceptionally clear and bright with a refreshing, super crisp flavour. Lite is designed to please all palates and is exceedingly drinkable with a modest 2.8% ABV. Most of the calories in beer come from alcohol content and the rest from carbs, meaning Lite is naturally low in calories and a healthier choice for beer lovers. At 83 calories you can enjoy a bottle of full-flavoured Pillars Lite and feel smug in the knowledge it contains 40-50% less calories than most other beers.

The Popularity of Light Beer Today

In the United Kingdom, light beer has carved out a steady niche. Its presence in pubs, supermarkets, and online retailers underscores its popularity among beer enthusiasts. The trend towards low-alcohol and mid-strength beers continues to grow, driven by advancements in brewing technology and changing consumer preferences.

Light or small beer, once a medieval necessity, has found a new purpose in the modern era. Its low alcohol content, reduced calories, and refreshing taste make it an attractive option for today’s health-conscious consumers. Mid-strength beer represents the enduring appeal of a beverage that has adapted to changing times and tastes. Discover the joys of a light lager with the quintessential Pillars Lite delivered to your door!