Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Anchor – Small Beer

Small beer? Huh?

I mean, seriously. What’s a small beer? It comes in a medium sized bottle, looks normal-ish. Then I read the label. “The tradition of brewing two distinct beers from one mash has existed for thousands of years and for centuries the term “small beer” was used in English to describe the lighter and weaker second beer.” Oh, I see. What happens is that when a beer is brewed, the wort that’s left behind (in this case its from their Foghorn barleywine) has water added and out comes a thinner brew from the diluted wort. An interesting idea, and a historical one, too. So I had to see what happens when you take a barlewine and essentially put it through the ringer again. (Its kind of like making little tarts with leftover pie crust. Or something like that.

small_beer_bottleIt pours a pale yellow (which I expected) but I will admit that I was taken aback by the smell of this beer. I can’t tell you exactly what it was but something in the aroma reminded me of what my grandfather used to drink – and of a half-stale can of beer left behind after a picnic in the backyard. Something about it – the bitterness, the breadiness or the bite of the smell is off-putting. But you know me… I’ll try anything.

The taste is really nothing like the smell (thankfully). I was expecting it to taste like Schlitz, but was pleasantly surprised to have that not be the case. However, the taste was still not what I imagined. It was bitter and a little flowery, very thin and light. The bitterness is unique – and it isn’t purely a hop bitterness. Its almost a biting/acrid bitterness (for lack of a better term) but without it being overwhelming. I am surprised that it isn’t more like its big cousin Old Foghorn, considering they come from the same stock.

Though I can’t say I recommend this, there may be those out there that can appreciate the historical brewing methods and maybe the taste will remind them of other small beers that they may have had in their lifetimes. For me, I’m not really into the aftertaste, and there are other low abv or light beers that I might enjoy a bit more than this. I’m all for history, but in the end, it really does just come down to taste.


Gritty McDuff’s – Red Claws Ale


Harpoon – Ginger Wheat


  1. Nice review and history lesson here. I find this kind of stuff to be really interesting. It reminds me of the time I read about what a “tripel” is. For those who don’t know a “tripel” is a Belgian term I believe used to describe a brew process where they run the wort through the mash tun 3 times before moving onto the next stage of the brewing process. This actually gives the brew more alcohol in the end.

    I think it is those interesting things that make beer really unique as a drink.

    Great review. I suppose I’ll have to give this a try just to give it a try!

    Mike’s Brew Review

  2. Jez

    The reason this is probably “acrid” is because the barley wine gets most of the sugar during the runoff on the grain. Once they get the amount of runoff for the barleywine, then they sparge more water through the grain and get the remaining sugar. So this is going to end up not very sweet and not very strong. Not enough fuel for the yeast

  3. Interesting … I’d never heard the term small beer. Thanks for the explanation. And good review. Sounds a little weird, but I like weird, so it might be worth a try.

  4. BeerBiker

    Although not a great fan of it myself I do appreciate the history involved.
    Re the bitterness as it starts as Old Foghorn it doesn’t surprise me as I’ve never found OF to be as sweet as some English Barley Wines like Harveys Christmas Ale & Sarah Hughes Snowflake both of which are necter.
    Re the history, in the centuries past the water was to dangerous to drink so we British had to drink something after work that didn’t make us drunk quickly – A bit like being in Utah you know – nasty that one.
    I do still have one in the beer celler (garage) so I must try it again over here in the UK.


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