September 14, 2017

This history of table beer dates back centuries, with roots in Belgium and much of Western Europe. Today, this low alcohol-by-volume (ABV) beer is finding new fame in breweries, restaurants and homes across the U.S. thanks to its simple taste and ability to complement nearly any food.

For Boulder culinary students and professionals, table beer can be a great addition to drink menus and offered as a vintage throwback. The list of today’s table-beer brewers is growing – now including Allagash Brewing Company – so it’s likely restaurant owners and aficionados will find it easier to source table beer just as the trend begins to take off.

A short journey with table beer

Before hops took over the brewing world, table beer was a go-to for people of all ages – even children! – due to its 1 percent ABV. Sometimes referred to as “near beer” or “small beer,” this brew is somewhat akin to a farmhouse ale, with prominent hints of wheat.

Though its color varies from a pale caramel to a dark brown, there really aren’t many other indicators that set it apart from low-gravity domestic beers. Table beer is mostly defined by its lack of sweetness, bitterness and spice.

In the modern world, brewers have stretched the meaning of table beer to include any beer between 1-4 percent ABV, which has allowed for a more robust makeup of flavors, ingredients and even target audience.

Imbibing a communal liquid

Table beer’s common man mantra still holds true today, as its primary advantage over other drinks is that it can be enjoyed by nearly anyone. Known in some circles as a “communal liquid,” table beer brings people together, as it can be consumed in a leisurely setting, with a meal, while watching sports and during any occasion, really – it’s that versatile.

This allows restaurateurs to rely much less on catering to specific types of beer enthusiasts, instead creating an inclusive option (probably the cheapest as well) that any patron who walks through the doors can be confident he or she will like.

As anyone can attest, it can be difficult to placate the double IPA crowd while also accommodating the milk stout or Bock folks. Table beer serves as a staple for the casual drinker, the lightweight, the “I buy based on price” customer, the beer historian, the “I only buy local” guy and everyone in between.

Sure, the hardcore hops fans may not be satisfied with table beer, but the brew has its own charm and appeal to a wider audience.

Table beer of the future

As time goes on, table beer’s contents continue to shift, matching some of the more eclectic demands of customers. This evolution means restaurateurs can adapt their own menu stylings and food pairings as well, creating more of a craft environment within their establishments.

In recent years, the craft beer industry has grown at a 16 percent annual clip, and Colorado alone is now home to more than 140 craft breweries. By partnering with these local companies, restaurant owners can tap into table beer’s newfound glory and run cross-promotional events drumming up support for a rediscovered treasure. And if there’s something that everyone can agree on, it’s that the average consumer wants to be part of a larger trend, and this works to the advantage of every seller of table beer.

In 2017, table beer may not be a game-changer for your culinary ambitions, but it could provide another avenue for you to explore what makes you and your skillset unique.