This is a sample of the series I’m doing on German beers, as the country is celebrating its 500th birthday of the beer purity laws. To see the beers I’ve tried so far (and would recommend when visiting Germany), click here for the list so far. Don’t forget to vote on the Flensburg Top Five. You still have time but now would be a good time to look at the candidates and vote. Click here to vote.
Day 13 of the beer marathon starts off with a quote, stating: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” This came from famous statesman, inventor and writer, Benjamin Franklin, who himself was an avid drinker of small beer.
Did I just say that word?
Small beer/ale, known in German as Tafelbier, is one of the oldest known types of beer on record, as historic sources points to the Medieval Ages as the era where many indulged in this unusual drink if compared to today’s standards. It is the most inexpensive of beers and one where creativity combined with alcohol can result in a rather “toxic” but tempting pleasure of draining the mug until being blacked out. 😉 George Washington once had a recipe for small ale with bran and molasses. Mr. Franklin himself had his for breakfast. Thomas Thetcher was claimed to have been killed while drinking it hot. In The Whole Art of Husbandry, there were two recipes of this unique potent.
However, inspite of its high alcohol content, small beer was one of the cheapest and sometimes lowest quality beers in comparison with the high end, purely brewed beverage that we are used to today. People toiling on the ships or at building sites would drink up to five pints of beer a day for two reasons: 1. Water was scarce and therefore had to be used sparingly, sometimes replaced with alcohol and other liquids, designed to quench the thirst and not get the person drunk. 2. Despite its murky color and porridge-like taste, the contents contained vital minerals to enable the people to work hard and not be weak.
Today, small beer is rarely found in stores because of the stiff competition from other beer brands and beer types. Still, it is not abnormal to find them in parts of North America as well as northern Europe, like the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, ….
…and even Germany! Since Tafelbier is considered a sailor’s drink, surely one will find it in places along the Baltic and North Seas, right? 🙂
Not unless it is located in Thuringia- in the small town of Apolda. Located between Weimar and Naumburg, 10 kilometers north of Jena, the Apoldaer Brewery is one of the youngest in the business in the eastern half of Germany but the oldest in the city of 27,000 inhabitants. Interesting though is the fact that the establishment of the brewery evolved around the tradition of crafting beer in the town, which dates back to 1440, according to town records and the brewery’s website. Like many breweries in the region, the Apoldaer was nationalized by the East German Government during the Cold War, only to be reestablished as a private company after 1990. Today, the Apoldaer produces various kinds of pilsner, but they also produce Spezial Domi, Traditional, Schwarzer Esel (Black Ass) dark beer, and other types of wheat beer. The Apoldaer had once produced the Tafelbier- the small beer- before recently pulling it off the shelves for unknown reasons. Was it because the small ale was a seasonal sale or something that was attempted only for the customers to reject it? When I first saw this, I was skeptical because when I think of Tafelbier, I think of a beer with a chalky taste only to be covered up by different herbal hops and bread malz. In other words, I would have had this beer at the bottom of the rating because of bad taste. However, after trying this, this evening, I can understand why Ben Franklin and George Washington fancied this beer type.
Appearance: Unlike most small beers, the Tafelbier had a clear amber color with little carbonation and not so good head. Normally, when a beer has little or no head and a clear color, one can expect a bitter and watery taste to it. While the beer was somewhat watery while drinking it, the flavors and aroma added compensate for the loss of intensity.
Flavor and Aroma: The beer carries a bread malt and two hops flavors of herbal and earth, which can be recognized in the aroma and flavor. Because of the semi-watery taste combined with the herbal hops one can find in the flavor, the balance is towards the bitter when tasting the beer, but is equal between sweet and sharp for the aroma. The intensity is not as strong, but the impression I had with the beer is that it was somewhat stale but has a neutral taste when drinking it.
Grade: 3,0/ C: The Apoldaer Tafelbier represents a classic example of a small ale/beer that has been common in the Medieval times but is still popular today. The beer has a rather neutral taste, which is OK for those who would prefer a mild beer that has a high alcohol and water content. However, some more flavor that is similar to the ones experimented, like George Washington tried, would make it more appealing to the consumer. The beer has the potential for being in the market for a longer period of time, but some improvements are needed in order for it to happen.