Welcome To The Low-Alcohol Revolution

December 2019Words by Ms Molly Isabella Smith

The Hayman’s Gin Distillery, London. Photograph courtesy of Hayman’s

Mr James Grundy, co-founder of Small Beer, has just finished shipping several cases of his brand’s brew to The Savoy hotel in London, adding yet another high-end joint to its growing list of stockists, which already include The Ivy, Selfridges and The Wolseley. “It’s crazy,” says Mr Grundy. “They said they loved the quality and locality and the provenance.” Established in London, on Bermondsey’s Beer Mile, the two-year-old brewery is different from its neighbours because it’s reviving medieval low-strength small beer, a staple that used to be served as a clean, safe alternative to water. “You would be served small beer in the workplace, you would be served small beer in the home,” he says. “It was as common as bread. We are nodding very much to that historical beer, but we’re making it for those with busy lifestyles who don’t want to wake up with a cloudy head the next day.”

The beers in the Small Beer line-up range from 1 per cent to 2.8 per cent ABV. “At 2.8 per cent the water-alcohol content means the body hydrates quicker than it dehydrates,” says Mr Grundy. “Once you go past that, it becomes a diuretic and you start to dehydrate quicker than you hydrate.” Hence the hangover. The inspiration came from scanning the pump clips in bars and realising that there were few options outside the 5 to 8 per cent ABV bracket. “There was nothing in between,” says Mr Grundy. “You had some 0 per cent or non-alcoholic beers, but it always felt like you were missing out from the flavour perspective.”

When it comes to taste, Small Beer has a clear leg up on its booze-free competitors, which often tout themselves as low-calorie or wholesome alternatives. While the arena for tipple-free brews is rapidly expanding (the European market is projected to be worth $6 billion by 2024, according to a recent report by Global Industry Insights), Mr Grundy says these choices are not always the “healthier” substitute they might seem. “In a non-alcoholic beer, what typically happens is the alcohol is cooked off or stripped out and the beer gets pumped full of lactose, maltose and dextrose and sugars,” he says. “What we’re doing – there’s no funny business. It’s just great ingredients and it’s brewed to strength. At each stage of the process, it’s traditional brewing, just with a focus on flavour efficiencies rather than alcohol efficiencies.”