No it’s not an actual beer style. And it might not even be a real ‘thing’ anymore…But the term has been resurfacing lately, so we thought we’d take it on.
We first ran into the term ‘table beer’ on our last visit to London when we dropped by The Kernel, one of our favorite craft breweries over there…
They’ve a regular release they’ve named Table Beer, and it’s a lower alcohol IPA that’s always a little different depending on the hop menu that they decide to play with that week.
We loved the name…and the Kernels’s version of Table Beer was delicious.
But what we didn’t realize at that time, was that the term ‘table beer’ had historical roots in the United Kingdom which can be traced back to British government legislation and taxation practices in the 18th century.
Death and taxes…right? Seems like they factor into everything.
Let’s start with death…
Hundreds of years before the ‘table beer’ became a designation, low alcohol brews were served all over medieval Europe. Commonly served with all meals (and to all ages) these brewed variations arose from the need to boil the tainted water of the times…water so bad it could kill you.
In the 18th century, England implemented three tax classes on beer that gave birth to the term table beer. These three class definitions (which descended by order of strength) were Strong, Table and Small and each designation affected the beer’s wholesale price.
Strong Beer had more alcohol, was more expensive, and taxed at the highest rate. Table Beer, whose alcohol by volume content (ABV) might range from 2.75% to 4% at the time was taxed at a lesser rate. And the Small category was taxed the least.
According to BeerAdvocate, the Table Beer classification disappeared in 1830, when taxes shifted from the finished beer to malt and hops used. But for a while low ABV beers continued to be brewed under the name of Table Beer (especially in Scotland), until they gradually dwindled away towards the end of the 19th century.
What a table beer is today is fairly amorphous…but it’s safe to say that it’s basically a session beer with a more ‘Pottery Barn’ name.
Stylistically, current table beers run the gamut, from the lower alcohol Farmhouse Saisons like Stillwater’s Beer Table, to the Kernel’s Table Beer which although it’s never the same is always a low ABV IPA variation.
In today’s craft beer world, we think it’s pretty safe to say, that the Table Beer and the Session Beer are more than conceptual cousins.
Not beer styles at all, but more of an approach to drinking, be it at the dinner table, working in the yard, or at the beach.
We do like the name though…