Big Cheers for Small Beer

Big Cheers for Small Beer!

A beautiful summer’s evening in the Garden of England, sampling the best of the best food in the pub world, with great music and a glass of Pimms in my hand. Such a fabulous event put on by Tom Kerridge at Pub in the Park, Tunbridge Wells. Strolling through the food and drink stalls, my husband and I came across a man giving out beer samples “would you like to try some beer?” Of course we didn’t say no and as we were sipping beer from the newest drink in the market, I instantly realised that I knew this man from somewhere and that it must be from the industry. As he talked about how he came to set up Small Beer, it came to me; I knew this man from Sipsmith.

I first met James Grundy while working for Byron Hamburgers and was on a site visit to Sipsmiths where James worked. Sipsmiths and Byron had a longstanding relationship as both companies had a synergy in that they both had origins in London and they both had an authenticity around the roots of their products.

It’s this authenticity that now parallels Jame’s new venture with the low alcoholic beer, Small Beer.

The Beating Heart of Bermondsey

Walking into their premises in South Bermondsey, straight away the passion shone through the light streamed ceiling, hitting the spanking new, sparkly shiny kit, and lighting the mini cooper , Lulu, below, who accompanies the team to festivals to show off the product, parallel in name! However, I can tell you now, there’s nothing small about small beer! The big personality of the brand, the people and the product will convert any boozy beer drinker!

James and fellow co-founder of Small Beer, Felix James, met whilst working for Sipsmiths. Both with an extensive background in the drinks industry, working with wine, beers and spirits. James in sales, and Felix with the technical brewing experience, noticed a gap in the market with good tasting low alcoholic beer. They realised that the products available compromised on flavour, and that all good tasting beers were 5-6%. The growing trend of health conscious consumers, which doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and for extending people’s enjoyment whilst out socialising, James and Felix decided to bite the bullet and set up the product they believed in, and true to their belief, it’s taken off a storm.

Technically Great Beer

For James, Small Beer is about the ‘joy of having a great beer at hand, the enjoyment without the slowdown’. And this has taken off in city pubs, where a social lunch doesn’t automatically lead to an unproductive afternoon. In today’s fast paced life, where everyone is juggling life/work balance, there is no time for hangovers, with Small Beer you can now have the enjoyment  of drinking without paying for it later! One customer put his “Small Beer moment” perfectly. His wife is thrilled with the product because he can’t do DIY without a beer, and since discovering Small Beer, the pictures around the house now always hang straight! Families can go to a pub on a Sunday lunch time, parents can have a drink and still feel ok to have the kids running around in the afternoon, not to mention the benefits to the designated drivers out there!!!! Success has come because the benefits are wide ranging to all social settings.

With Felix’s technical knowledge, they commissioned a bespoke brewing kit, which was specifically designed to brew a low ABV product, whilst retaining the flavour. Other products on the market brew to full ABV and then filter and water down the product to take the alcohol out. This process in effect also takes away flavour. The Small Beer kit maximises the flavour and aroma profiles at each stage of the process to stay true to the natural product. James and Felix tried various ingredients before landing on the perfect malt for Small Beer. Marisota from Warminster is the product’s most important ingredient. It gives the product body and depth to compensate for the low alcohol content. The full bean is used to maximise the body and flavour. Having tasted Small Beer at Pub in the Park, I can guarantee that you would never know it was low alcohol.

There’s currently three products in the range, a 2.1% lager, which is a Pilsner style with a citrus nose, stone fruit pallet and continental finish. The Dark Lager is 1% abv, with coffee, toast and dark chocolate notes. On the nose you’d think it was a stout or porter, but it’s surprisingly light and drinks like a lager. The highest ABV product is the 2.7% Steam, which bridges the gap between lager and ale. It’s defined by the use of rye with its rich red colour. On the nose it’s dried fruit and spice, grapefruit and citrus on the pallet and a hoppy bitterness to finish. The range will be extended sometime next year with Small Beers fourth product so watch this space!!!

Success at the Savoy

One of Small Beer’s first successes was the launch at the Savoy in November 2017, just after they won the World’s Best Bar award. What an accolade to the product, and what a way to start!!!! The batch was from the one barrel pilot kit which was a challenge due to inconsistencies, however it wasn’t long to wait for the first brew on the main kit in December 2017, which James describes as ‘a big moment for Small Beer’.  It’s now stocked off-trade in Whole Foods and Majestic Wines nationwide, as well as Hopburns and Black and Borough Wines. On-Trade it’s in so many of the top names including Claridges, Aqua Shard, The Wolsey, D&D, as well as theatres such as The National and the Old Vic. It’s on draught in pubs across the city and in country gastro pubs. The success in the space of nine month’s is phenomenal, and paramount to that first belief in a product that was missing from consumers lives, that no one else had the vision to create. Move aside the non-alcoholic/flavourless low alcohol beer category, there’s a new category in the industry that’s taking you on!!

The Conscious Consumer

As well as the obvious benefits that the product itself brings to the industry, there’s another focus that ticks many boxes for today’s environmentally conscious consumers. Small Beer aim to be the UKs most sustainable brewery. They’ve done so much already to ensure that the effect of production on the environment is limited. It takes 8 to 10 pints of water to produce 1 pint of beer. With Small Beers’ bespoke kit, they’ve increased the amount the 8-10 pints of water makes to 1.5 pints. Reducing water usage by 33%. They are the only dry brewery in the UK, using a drainage system within the kit to recycle cold water to re-use for the new brew. This reduces even more water as there’s no hosing down the floors at the end of each production. As much is recycled as possible, even the waste grains from production are collected and sent to West Sussex to feed the Dexter cattle. I’d love to try the beef that’s produced from that farm!! Imagine the taste! 100% of electricity used is from water and solar energy, all boxes used are 100% recycled and all labels and business cards are 100% recycled. Next on Small Beers agenda is to push forward with even further responsible production, although from what I’ve just described above, I’m not sure there’s anything to improve on!

Cheers for Small Beer

As a Buyer, supplier/buyer relationships are paramount to me, and Small Beer, as a young and passionate business are building their customer relationships through knowledge and fun! From brewery trips and in-house tasting sessions, to involvement in the fun environment that their space brings, with live music nights and theatre, Small Beer have the passport to become a product that in time we won’t believe we lived without, as well as a place for the community to enjoy a few beers and an evening of culture (without the staggering home). It’s not just a new product but a new way of life.

So, if you have the opportunity to try it, please do and share your Small Beer moment #smallbeermoment

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