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Monday, August 08, 2011

Get Ready for Some Big Little Beers: Mighty Mites

mighty (adj): possessing might; powerful.
mite (n): a very small object or creature.
I am a fan of small beers. However, unlike many of my fraternity, the reason isn't because I particularly care about long sessions in a pub. For me, the reason is purely aesthetic: small beers taste great. Aesthetics is something we don't often apply to beer, but we should. We should approach each beer with an eye toward a kind of artistic mark of perfection and say: how does this beer perform against an ideal? In this way, best bitters are not judged ill because they lack the roasty heft of an Imperial stout.

Beer geeks are generally pretty good about this, except when it comes to beers that ring in at under 5%. They are then dismissed as lesser substances, like diet soda, skim milk, or frozen yogurt. (And indeed, in America the small beer has been roughly treated--it's often a throwaway beer aimed to appeal to Bud drinkers.) Yet a small beer by its nature is not a compromise. It exists as a fully-formed beer, ready to be judged on its own merit.

Many small beers are vivid with flavor. The virtue of small beers is that they have less molecular density; the flavors have room to unfurl and blossom in the mouth. Certain styles have taken full advantage of this: Bavarian weizens have remarkable complexity (and are just psychedelic, period); Irish stouts can be sharp and intense with roast and hop bitterness; Berliner Weisses are so sour that Berliners developed the practice of cutting them with sugar syrups. And on cask, British ales reveal flavors you can never find on regular taps, sometimes with such bell-like clarity you feel you've found a fourth dimension of beer. Unlike heftier beers, the flavors in these little ones are distinct, particular, and knowable.

With this in mind, I have helped nudge along a wee fest of wee beers. The idea was to find examples that showcased how much flavor a brewery can pack into a low-alcohol beer. I will reveal the full, final list later, but breweries include Hair of the Dog, Block 15, Coalition, Oakshire, Upright, Double Mountain, Breakside and several others. (Also, full disclosure, although I solicited beers for the event, I am not involved on the business end of it at all. No dollars spent or earned on the event will come near me.) This year we're starting out small, but I hope we see a recurrence of the fest in the future as the inevitable groundswell for small beer builds. I'm also very excited that it will be happening as a part of this year's inaugural Portland Beer Week, August 19-28th.

Saturday, August 27, noon - late
Coalition Brewing, 28th and Ankeny (in the parking lot behind the pub with the Grilled Cheese Grill)
Bring a mug or glass from a past fest (or buy one at the door), tix $1 a pour.
Also bring: an open mind about how tasty small beers might actually be.

Finally, we need a few volunteers who are OLCC-certified as servers and alcohol monitors. Would you please email me [the_beerax @ yahoo (dot) com] and I'll put you in touch with Elan Walsky at Coalition. As usual, the brewery will ply you with free beer for your labor.


  1. This looks like a lot of fun and I really like the brewery line-up. I'm looking forward to some wee tasting.

  2. The special little tidbit for the festival gets tucked away to cask tomorrow. I'm shooting for a whopping 3.4%.

  3. Next time you come to England, get yourself up to Yorkshire and I'll take you for a few pnts of stunning sub 4% beer. Milds, light bitters, session pales, if theres one thing brewers from yorkshire do well, its small beers!

  4. Ted, I will go ahead and put you in the "confirmed" category--with my very biggest thanks.

    But in a twist, you may not have the smallest beer at the fest. I haven't seen the final scores yet, so you may, too. It'll be a nice competition to see who brings the littlest beer.

  5. Whee! I mean, wee! I guess wee heavies are out, since they're more heavy than wee? I also hope to see some good Koelsch examples, what comes to mind for me first when I'm asked about good low ABV beers.

  6. Consider the music from Terrytoon's 'Mighty Mouse' as your theme music. The imagery is apt.

  7. Do you steal all your ideas for posts and events, or just the good ones? sessionbeerproject anyone? ;)

  8. Just sayin,

    Lew and I are fellow-travelers, and owing to my remarkable youth, he was probably an advocate for small beers before me. (Which is why I linked the Session beer project in the post's first sentence.)

    Nevertheless, I first wrote about this idea for a fest back in 2007--before than Lew started SBP.

    There are no original ideas, and small beers have been popular in Britain for decades (not, contrary to popular belief, centuries). But it was pretty clear my constant hints weren't resulting in a fest here in Portland, so I took my shot when I had the chance.