|Extemporaneous Small Beer (Part 2 Taste Evaluation)
By James Brownlow, Life Member, Windsor Historical Society
|JUNE 24, 2000: Charlotte, NC--
This Part 2 of a 2 part series
on Extemporaneous Small Beer
To read part one: Click Here
I tasted the small beer about one week after I bottled it. I waited a week to allow the beer to mature in the bottle; to develop some carbonation and to settle (clear) somewhat. I sampled the beer at about 45deg F. My first impression was that the beer was tart and had a faint molasses taste. Unlike many present-day ales and beers, I could not taste the hops. There seemed to be a slight hint of clove and ginger tastes, but not of lemon. Although pleasant enough, it did leave a slightly tart aftertaste. The tartness was likely the result of the cream of tartar that was used in the wort. I also sampled the beer at room temperature (as it was consumed when John Gaylord II made it). Unlike its present-day counterpart, this beer was easy to drink at room temperatures. This was probably because the molasses and tart tastes dominated. Unlike American commercial beers which have to be cold to be enjoyed, small beer is just as good at room temperature. I found that this small beer went well with spicy foods and I particularly liked it with Caesar salads.
I sampled the beer at one-week intervals after it was bottled. Both of the batches of small beer that I brewed tasted the same to me and the taste did not appreciably change over a four-week period. The beer was a light brown in color (as opposed to the pale straw color of American commercial beers). It was about the color of dark beers from Europe. It had sufficient carbonation, but was somewhat murky. Present-day commercial beers are filtered to remove all yeast and precipitates; American commercial beers are at their best the day they are bottled. Many types of ale, like John Gaylord IIs small beer, condition over time and can improve in the bottle.
I solicited the help of a number of friends to evaluate John Gaylord II and compare it to the (equivalent) beer we drink today- the American commercial beer. Each taster evaluated both John Gaylord II small beer and an American commercial beer on appearance (0-3 points), aroma (0-3 points), taste (0-10 points) and overall impression (1-3 points). Thus beer ratings fell between 1 and 39. Both beers were served at approximately 45( F. The results of the taste tests (10 people rated both the small beer and an American commercial beer) are shown in figure 1.
Figure 1. Ratings of Small beer and American commercial beer
Each x on the graph represents a tasters John Gaylord small beer rating and his/her American commercial beer rating. xs above the line indicate that the taster preferred the American commercial product to the small beer; those below the line are ratings where the taster preferred small beer to the American commercial product. The 45-degree line in the graph represents equal preference for both beers. Were the xs concentrated above the line, a clear preference for the American commercial product would be indicated. In a similar manner if all the xs were below the line, a clear preference for the small beer would be indicated. Ratings in the 1-20 range indicated an everyday beer, ratings in the range of 20-39 indicate a special beer. Figure 1 shows, remarkably, that there was about an equal preference for the two beer styles. All ratings for both beers were in the 1-20 range, so both were perceived by tasters to be ordinary- that is, nothing special. I expected that both beers would be judged as average or ordinary; I did not expect John Gaylords small beer to do as well as it did in terms of preference.
Tasters indicated that the American commercial beer was insipid and thin compared to John Gaylord IIs small beer. John Gaylords small beer was perceived to have more body. Some of the tasters were able to identify the molasses and clove taste in the small beer; and comments about the small beer ran from awful to pleasant taste.
Small beer was meant as an everyday drink; it was not something special. It was brewed from molasses and cream of tartar, largely because this was cheaper than brewing from barley malt. All things considered, it was not a bad drink!
Were I to make it again, I would probably use less cream of tartar, maybe a little more hops. Id use one ounce of cream of tartar and two ounces of a mild hops, like Saaz or Kent Goldings. The small beer that John Gaylord brewed was a bit tart for my taste. I suspect that there were very good reasons for brewing it with the amount of cream of tartar that John Gaylord prescribed in his recipe; a more acidic wort (sour) was conducive to better yeast activity (fermenting), it probably served to help preserve the beer, and to cover any off tastes that may have resulted from spoilage.