Matt’s Myriad Of Beer Styles #16 – Table Beer

I have a confession to make. My reasoning for selecting this edition’s beer style is purely selfish. I have come across a few examples of this style of late and have been curious as to its characteristics and origins myself. Having done my bit of research, I can now share my findings with you! The style in question is Table Beer (Taflebier in Flemish and Bière de Table in French).

As some of you may know, in France, it is not unusual for families to serve watered down wine to children as an accompaniment to a meal, in order to educate them about alcohol and to try to teach them how to drink responsibly. In neighbouring Belgium, where beer trumps wine, it is often Table Beer that is served to the younger diners instead. Table Beer is typically light bodied and has an ABV of between 1.5% and 3.0%. However, contrary to the stereotype of lighter and weaker beers, it is generally flavourful.

Table Beer is malt-forward, with hops only evident in the background, and can vary in colour – from light blonde to black – with caramel often added to change the colour. It is for this reason that some people do not consider Table Beer to be a style in itself, but more of a class of various styles (which I’m ignoring for the purposes of this article!). Malted barley, wheat and rye may be used as well as unmalted wheat, rye, oats and corn. Unsurprisingly, traditional versions do not use artificial sweeteners, nor are they very sweet. Modern versions can include sweeteners like sugar and saccharine, which are added post-fermentation. Spices like orange peel, lemon peel and coriander can be added in very moderate amounts.

Apparently, a couple of centuries ago, Table Beer was a class of taxation, which as we know only too well these days, is never too far from beer! The three classes were Strong, Table and Small and were based on the beer’s wholesale price. In 1782, beer costing over 11 Shillings was considered Strong and taxed at 8 Shillings per Barrel. Beer costing less than 6 Shillings was classed as Small and taxed at 1 Shilling per Barrel. That leaves beer between the other two (costing between 6 and 11 Shillings), which was taxed at 3 Shillings per Barrel. Sources say that this method of taxation disappeared in 1830 as tax policy shifted to be based on the hop and malt content. That said, the term continued in use until the late 19th century and until the turn of the 20th century in Scotland.

To my knowledge, I have only ever had one Table Beer and that was Janssen’s Lens by Atom Beers (Kingston Upon Hull), which I sampled at the brewery’s new tap room – Ye Olde Corn Exchange – a couple of weeks after it opened, back in June. (The pub is well worth a visit, by the way!). The beer comes in at 3.5% and is described as “a light and refreshing Belgian wheat beer with backing from Vienna and caramalt for a fuller body. Belgian Abbey yeast, coriander and orange peel give citrusy balance to the spice wheat flavour.” Based on my experience, this is a very accurate description of the beer, which also seems to fit well the characteristics mentioned above.

One of the most well known UK examples of the style is The Kernel Table Beer (3.4%) (London) and there seems to be a few versions in Manchester, including Marble Beers Table Beer (3.1%), Track Brewing Table Beer (3.0%) and Cloudwater Table Beer (4.2%).

Local examples include the North Brewing (Leeds) collaboration with Brouwerij de Molen (Netherlands) called Table Beer (3.3%), Bone Machine Lokivald: the God of Tables (3.8%) (Pocklington), Bad Seed Short Stop (3.0%) (Malton) and Brew York Tamarin – Hoppy Table Beer (3.1%) (York). This is definitely one style that brewers want to convey to consumers via the beer name!

So, next time you are sitting down to a hearty dinner with the family, why not introduce a couple of examples of Table Beer to wash down your food and quench your thirst?

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