Before “Session Beer” there was “Small Beer”

Last year, The Session Beer Project launched to “celebrate great-tasting lower ABV (alcohol by volume) beers! Go 4.5% and under, go 4.0% and under, but show some love.” This year, Session Beer day will take place on Sunday, April 7 2013 so get ready to celebrate!

However, beer low in alcohol content is not a new concept but rather a renewed one in the American craft beer landscape. During the eighteenth century, “small beer” was the term for a lighter, lower-alcohol brew made from later mashes. It was considered suitable for women’s or even children’s consumption.

From Robert Portner Brewing Company history, brewmaster Peter von de Westelaken developed a low-alcohol “Small Brew” (2% ABV) and “Amberine Malt Beverage” (1.5% ABV) in 1908 in efforts to appease prohibitionists.

“Small Brew” was a “Non-intoxicating… mild fermented and carbonated infusion of Malt and Hops containing less than two percent of Alcohol.”

Robert Portner Small Brew Beer Label
Robert Portner Small Brew Beer Label

This reaction was commonplace at the time due to mounting pressure from new laws and as an option for sales in “dry” counties throughout the region.

The company followed up with a third small beer in 1909 called “Yellow Ade” (1.75% ABV) and sold primarily in North Carolina. One was temporarily renamed “No Tax” in Wilmington, NC – how do you like that for creative marketing?!

According to The Brewers Association (BA) style guidelines, “Session Beer” ABV must fall within the range of 4.0 – 5.1% but there are plenty of beers available outside these specific guidelines that are consider “session” beers.

Nonetheless, enjoy a session beer this weekend. Perhaps a recreation of the Robert Portner Brewing Company Small Brew will find its way into development for a future Session Beer day celebration – Cheers!

One thought on “Before “Session Beer” there was “Small Beer”

  1. I was glad to read about the resurrection of the Portner brand. Your great-great grandfather was the owner of Annaburg and Liberia in Manassas. We are holding an opening reception for a new Liberia exhibit, and to kick off fundraising efforts to restore it on May 9 at The Manassas Museum. We would love to have you come and share any information about Robert. It would also be a great fundraising opportunity to involve your brews at some event.

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