Theoretically, any beer could be a “table beer.” From the sound of things, the qualifications are pretty straightforward. It has to be a beer. And you have to put it on a table. Table beer. Done. That was a great article. Glad you guys took the time to read it.
No, life is not that simple. Table beer is, in fact, a little more than that. Historically, a table beer was a beer for everyone at the table, most prominent in Belgium and France. Your mom. Her friend Carol. Your great uncle Victor. And the kids. All of the kids. Like, six year-old kids, drinking beer with their 16th-century meatloaf. In medieval Europe, table beers usually contained less than one percent alcohol by volume.
But, yeah, kids used to drink beer at the table — not behind the shed in their friend Chad’s backyard. Table beer (or biere de table) varied widely in color, but probably tasted something like soaking Wheaties in water and then squeezing out all of that absorbed liquid. Kinda bready. Kinda sweet. Gently carbonated (or maybe totally still).
These days, table beer is a bit different. The alcohol percentage has gradually climbed, from the sub-one percent to somewhere between two and four.
You might be thinking, “Wait, this is just one of those low-alcohol session beers.” You’re not wrong, but in terms of style, modern table beer has a tendency to lean toward a saison (the Belgian farmhouse ale that tastes like laying your head down on a pillowy soft loaf of freshly baked, lightly sugar-dusted bread).
In Indianapolis, Central State Brewing is canning an easily crushable, pleasantly tart, 4-percent table beer that tastes something like lemon curd spread over a baguette. It’s the ideal “I am currently sitting in a chair on a porch/deck/balcony/patio and have no intention of moving” beer.
Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing and London’s The Kernel brew table beers in a similar style to Central State (which is my favorite table beer I’ve had recently), but some breweries are hitting table beers in different ways. In Connecticut, Kent Falls brews a dark, 4-percent porter that they label as their Common Table Beer, while Switzerland’s Brasserie de L’Improbabe’s Petite Fille is a 2.1-percent ABV IPA. On the higher end of the alcohol spectrum, in Portland, Maine, Allagash Brewing’s 4.8-percent Hoppy Table Beer drinks like a grapefruit and pine needle-flavored seltzer.
Table beer is whatever you (and the brewer) want it to be. It’s a burger beverage. It’s a summer backyard staple. It’s a beer in hand for your 17th game of horseshoes. But really, table beer is just an excuse to pull another from the cooler and hand it to a friend. It’s about sharing the experience of drinking in the same way our Belgian friends did so many years ago. At the picnic table, in the dining room, or by the pool, table beer is about spreading the love.