The Session Beer Project™

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


As I've noted elsewhere, I'm back writing about beer and whiskey as a freelancer. That means more time to do Session Beer Project stuff, which means Session Beer Day 2016 is on!

Session beer has made a huge impact on American beer drinking in the past five years. We've made a difference, and people are drinking lower-alcohol beers, and loving them. Brewers are making them and succeeding financially; not all, but there are some notable successes, like all-session beer gypsy brewer Notch, which is going to be opening a real brick and mortar brewery this spring, shortly after Session Beer Day; congratulations! Yards continues to sell a LOT of their non-hoppy Brawler. Victory always has at least a dry stout and a delicious bitter at their taproom. Hell, Yuengling Lager is a session beer; that's pretty damned successful. (There's session elsewhere, of course: I just happen to be in Pennsylvania.)

So...has the Project succeeded? Do we take a victory lap and happily shut down, liter mugs in hand, well-done, thou good and faithful servant?

No, we do not!

The continued success of session beer in America — and yes, in the world, I'd argue — is threatened by two things. First, ABV creep, the same thing that got us here in the first place: a slow, persistent rise in the alcohol content of craft beers, leading to our call to offer some session beers as a real choice for beer drinkers faced with an increasingly 7+% tap array. We saw success there, but inevitably, ABV creep set in.

"Session beer" has become a trend and a desirable label, which makes it subject to overuse, much like "IPA." It is successfully being applied — as a marketing tool — to increasingly strong beers that are still under 6% but range as high as 5.5%, sometimes even more. Brewers may simply call these beers "session!" and move on, they may justify it with the lame (and somewhat worrisome) "that's 'session strength' for us!", but the fact is...yes, that seemingly small gap between 4.5% and 5.5% is significant. For one thing, well, this, Joe Stange's exposition on how drinking 5% beer will get you drunk significantly quicker than 4% beer. For another, 4.5% is supposed to be an upper limit, a ceiling, not a target! If brewers had some serious session skills, they could make deliciously drinkable beers at 4% and lower, not pussyfoot around at 4.8% and say, "Well, that's almost 4.5%, and it's really hoppy, so what's the difference?"

And that's the second thing: really hoppy. Like the rest of the non-mainstream beer category, session beer has been plowed under by the hop lovers: "session IPA" is an inexorable binding of two of the hottest brands that has crushed the possibilities for variety in this budding category, where the promise for variety was so sweet. American brewers have played it safe, gone with baby IPA as a sure thing, sticking with hops as the only tool in the box when it comes to customer enticement and ignoring the fact that the session beers of the rest of the world rely on all the ingredients of beer to make great lower-alcohol everyday drinking beers. It's a farce, nothing less, that American "craft brewing" continues to trumpet the self-congratulatory message of their vaunted innovation when their best idea for making a good, enjoyable lower alcohol beer was simply to make a lower alcohol version of the category best-seller, followed by a Cascading rush as everyone else then raced to imitate it. In case you didn't get it, let me note: that's about as innovative as the big brewers who made a lower calorie, lower ABV clone of their light lagers, called this even-lighter lager "light beer," and then raced to imitate each other. Is that what you've become?

Before "session beer" becomes a 5% IPA, I'm going to propose a challenge to the brewers who are innovative, who have the will and the skill to make something different and delicious for Session Beer Day 2016. This year:

Show Us Your Session Smarts!

If you're a brewer interested in participating, it's simple. The "session IPA" has taken over the American session beer category, when it was supposed to be a meta-category, a category that would include many different types of beer at 4.5% and less. Session beer awareness is supposed to be about increasing choices for the beer drinker...and we largely got one extra choice out of it.

Snap out of it! Take this opportunity to show off your skills and make a session-strength beer, 4.5% or less (you can do it; you can go lower!), that doesn't rely on shouting hops for all its character. We get it, brewers know how to make a light, wildly hoppy beer: EVERY brewer's doing it.

Be different! On April 7th, show us some real innovation, or some real skills to make a beautiful example of a classic session-strength beer that stands apart from the herd of 'monkey-see, monkey-do' dialed-down IPAs. Work with specialty malts or non-barley grains, a different yeast, light souring, smoke, herbs or spices, wood-aging, or sure, a light hand with the right hops, a pale ale, there's a thought. Make it tasty but not crushing, make it something "more-ish," as Michael Jackson used to say. Show the world you're not a monkey, thumb your nose at the "me too me too" crowd, and who knows...maybe find your next big seller.

Lots and lots and lots of great tasting beers!
If you accept the challenge, post a comment here, or send me an email (, and let us know who you are, and where you'll be representing that beer on Session Beer Day, April 7. We'll help get the word out.

Bar owners/managers, beer stores, and yes, beer drinkers: we've got ideas for you too. The brewers need more lead time. Your suggestions for a successful Session Beer Day are coming up.

And if you feel threatened by this, or think that beer must be hoppy or else, or that only big beers have flavor, or that "session beer" is a fad that's over...your opinions are always welcome. Just try to keep them civil. Thanks.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Session Science

If you still follow this blog, if you still look to see if I'm doing anything, well...I haven't been, for a variety of reasons. But this article in DRAFTMag by Joe Stange is too important to ignore. It's science, baby, and what it does is show that it's MORE than just the extra alcohol you take in when you're drinking stronger beers, it's the gap between your body's processing that alcohol and you taking on more when you have the next beer.

Here's how Joe explains it.
A 12-ounce beer of 4% strength contains about 1.4 alcohol units. Let’s say you’re drinking only one beer per hour—you’re probably not, but for simplicity, let’s say you are. In that case, your body processes 1.0 units and leaves 0.4 to begin laying down that gentle buzz. Have another beer the next hour, your body handles another unit, and the excess goes to 0.8, and it accumulates from there. The next hour, you’re at 1.2 units excess. It’s a neat (if oversimplified) way to measure intoxication.
Now, a 12-ounce beer of 5% strength has about 1.8 units. That leaves 0.8 after your hour of your body doing what it does. After another beer and another hour, you’re at 1.6. The next hour, you’re at 2.4—that’s double the excess alcohol, and it only continues to accumulate.
Obviously the difference is further exaggerated if we were to compare proper session beers lower than 4%—as they should be—and beers stronger than 5%—like most of today’s novelties.
Chart by Joe Stange, clipped from DRAFT's site.
DRAFT editor: if you want it pulled, just ask
Do I agree with Joe about the 4.0% thing? If you're wondering about that, you're missing the point. The point is...the difference in alcohol is real, and the effects are real. It's not trifling. And 4.8% beers aren't saving you much.

What we want, what we need, are beers that taste good at even lower ABV. Make 'em, brewers, and we'll drink 'em. Consider it a challenge.

Great piece, Joe. Nice work, DRAFTMag.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

May is Mild America, too!

May has been Mild Month in the UK for years now, thanks to enthusiastic support from CAMRA, the vaunted consumer group Campaign for Real Ale. This beautiful session-type ale is celebrated in May, brewers make special milds, regular milds, and of course, cask milds, and folks drink them up.

Now beer blogger Alistair Reese has created American Mild Month, and asked if I would help spread the word. Let's see...unsung delicious beer style; tasty and 'more-ish' at low alcohol levels; classic session beer; and the month after Session Beer Day? Of course!

Here's the scoop, direct from the new website.

The project is called American Mild Month because we want to encourage brewers and drinkers in the US to brew and drink mild ale, but it could also be read as a project to create a new beer style, the 'American Mild'.

It seems almost oxymoronic in this day of ever more extreme beers to advocate for a style as restrained as mild, but here goes anyway, what would an American Mild look like...?
Let's start with color. The SRM numbers for English milds range from 6 to 34, which is basically the entire spectrum of beer. The majority of milds though fall in the dark category, starting at 17 SRM, which is a deep orange to amber color. An American mild then would be deep amber, with red in the mix as well, veering up to brown at the upper limit.
Alcoholic restraint is a hallmark of the modern mild ale, and we believe that an American mild should follow that tradition, topping out at 4.5% abv. We imagine most American milds would fall between 3.5% and 4.5% abv.
Everyone knows that many modern American beers are very hop centric while mild ales tend to be very restrained when it comes to both IBUs and hop perception, remember the official description from GABF...

Hop aroma is very low...Hop flavor is very low. Hop bitterness is very low to low
Clearly then the American Mild is not a hop bomb, but neither need it be a hop free zone. 'Low' is not the same as 'none', it is all about restraint, and with the wide variety of American hops available the range of hop flavors is actually quite broad, whether its the spiciness of Cluster, the grapefruit of Amarillo, or the tropical fruit of El Dorado, there is room here for differentiation, and dry hopping is ok too. Remember though, before going crazy with the hops, an American Mild is not a Session IPA, or a Session Cascadian Dark Ale, it's still a mild. Traditional English milds top out at 25 IBUs, but for an American Mild we would suggest an upper limit of 30 IBUs.
One major departure from the English mild style in a theoretical American mild is the yeast. The classic American yeast strain used by many an American craft brewery is known for being very clean, allowing the other ingredients to shine through without contributing the fruity flavors of the British yeasts.
So there we go, a restrained, darkish ale, with gentle hopping and a clean finish so that the malt and what hops are present, shine through.
At the end of the day drinkability is the key feature of an American Mild.

There you have it. When do we celebrate it? May. How do we celebrate it? Brew and drink mild ales! Where do you find them? There's a list of participating Maryland, DC, and Virginia breweries at the American Mild Month website (that's where the founders are based). Also try ratebeer, BeerAdvocate (dark and pale!), and, well, tell your local brewer to make one, dammit! 
Actually, that should be repeated:

Tell your local brewer to make one! 

Get news on American Mild Month at their Twitter feed and Facebook page. And if your local brewer does make a mild, post it there! Or here! And drink Mild!

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Is it on? Of course it is. 

Certain issues beyond my control have kept me from posting here, and I apologize. I blame myself for the proliferation of over-4.5% ABV beers tagged as "session beers" recently; I blame myself for the number of stories in the news that have categorized session beers as "generally considered to be 5% ABV or less." Mea maxima culpa. I'll pay for it, and Lent certainly seems like the right season to begin.

What better way to start than to declare that 
Session Beer Day 2015 is on for April 7!

Displayed in Italy, Session Beer Day 2012

Of course it is. Because this is our victory lap. After several years of being on the cusp, of thinking 'okay, this is the year session beer goes mainstream!', we're here. Almost every beer bar I walk into these days -- hell, here in Philly, almost any new bar I walk into -- has at least one session beer on tap. Every major brewer has a session beer in their portfolio (or comes grudgingly close; I still won't call Founders All Day IPA a session beer at 4.7%). There are session beer events regularly, there are brewers who make only session beers, session beer has been recognized as one of the major trends in craft brewing.

We can do Session Beer Day right this year. If you're a bar manager: please consider putting at least three beers on tap that are 4.5% or under. If you really want to support things, don't make them all "session IPA" choices; the Session Beer Project has always been about expanding choices. Lead, don't follow. Find something different, and reward it. If you have equipment for cask ale, by all means put the session beers on if possible; that's where they shine.

There are so many choices now! Try Smuttynose's new Hayseed (at 3.8%!), or the usual SBP favorite: anything from Notch Brewing, where Chris just keeps cranking out the great lower-alcohol beauties. Here in Philly we've got an embarrassment of choices: the consistently popular Yards Brawler, PBC's citywide Kenzinger, Sly Fox's traditional Chester County Bitter, Victory's nitro-fueled Donnybrook Stout, and not a session IPA in the bunch! Boston Beer has added Rebel Rider to their regular portfolio (and I just picked up a sixer yesterday), Green Flash -- Green Flash! -- has a series of Hop Odyssey session IPAs, Deschutes has their River Ale, New Belgium is on board with Slow Ride...and there are hundreds of others.

But insist on 4.5% or less.  If it ain't significantly less, it ain't significant. We've watched "IPA" become an increasingly meaningless marketing term; even "craft beer" is being hollowed out by arguments over what is and what isn't. I welcome the discussion of whether session beer should be under 4.0%, but I dismiss the idea that it is under 5.0%. There's just not enough difference to be different there. If you want more on why, I've written plenty: have a look.

So let's do this. Brewers, get your little beers ready; bars, get your little beers on; and the rest of us? Start asking if YOUR local is doing anything for Session Beer Day, start planning what you're going to do, get creative! If you've got good stuff, let me know! Tweet it up: #sessionbeerday

Get ready for OUR DAY. Session Beer Day. April 7. Dream Big for Small Beer!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What's Your Problem?

Jason and Todd Alstrom put an editorial in the latest issue of Beeradvocate magazine titled "The Problem with Session Beers in the US." They've had a passive-aggressive stance toward session beers from the early days, and this piece fits neatly into that. Because they have such a large bully-pulpit with the magazine, I felt I should at least respond. Because I only see ONE problem the way that they do; the rest of their problems are manufactured, questionable, or just plain wrong.

Pricing. This is a horse they've beaten well past expiration: if session beers are lower alcohol, they should be less expensive. Other people say it too. But we've had that discussion, and the truth is, lower alcohol beers don't really cost that much less to make or sell. Materials -- hops, malt, spices -- are only part of a beer's cost; there's energy, labor, transport, taxes, promotion, facility costs, debt service... If a pint of 4.5% pilsner is a good pint, a good-tasting beer, why should it be cheaper than a 6.5% IPA? Because it cost a nickel less to make? Or because it has less alcohol? I thought craft beer was all about flavor. If it's about the alcohol, well...why are you drinking it, again? Maybe you ought to think about that. In any case, I'd certainly encourage any brewpub operator or bar manager to think about dropping pints a buck just to encourage the multiple sales sessions are about, but it's not about session being a somehow "lesser" beer. We don't buy that, no matter what the price.

USA! Americans don't understand what session beer is, they say; we're not the UK (this ignores the session beers in Belgium and the Czech Republic, of course, but we'll let that go). Our drinking culture is different. Well...the biggest selling beer in America is Bud Light. It's 4.2% ABV. We get lower alcohol beer; the session beers we're supporting are lower alcohol too, only they have a lot more flavor. What's so hard to understand? We don't need to be told a story, as the Alstroms suggest. Judging from the success of beers like Founders All Day IPA, all we have to do is get a choice. And boys? Seven bucks for a "faux-pint" of ANY "beer that might be good" is more about the problem with craft beer, not session beer.

A Session What? There's no definition of a session beer, they say. Well, we're working on it. I think that the BeerAdvocate 5% definition isn't definitive enough; I like 4.5% better, and 4.0% is good too. But look at how long it took to define "craft beer." Oops...the Brewers Association is apparently still working on that one. Doesn't seem to be hurting sales, though. Yeah. Another non-problem.

Boring! I'll quote them here, because I agree with a little bit of this...but not much. "There's a serious lack of creativity when it comes to session beers. It's either an attempt at an old beer style, or a weak, watery failure. Even worse, some fool (or genius) created the 'Session IPA,' and it's taking over the session beer category thanks to bandwagoning brewers releasing hop water into the market in order to capture twice the hype."

This really is a 'Wow, where to begin' moment. "An attempt at an old beer style?" What, like much of "craft brewing?" Pale ale, porter, Pilsner, imperial stout, milk stout, Baltic porter, and yes, even IPA: all attempts at 'old beer styles.' What's so bad about that? We're adding mild, bitter, grisette, and Berliner Weisse to the list, oh horrors! If there are weak, watery failures, well, honey, there are overhopped, unbalanced monsters out there too (and they'll cost you a lot more, despite your fear of overpriced session beer).
Then there's the one spot where I agree with them: "Session IPA." It is taking over session beer, and it's about making money, and it's about a lack of real creativity and the worst kind of monkey-see monkey-do brewing. a time where we have IPA, DIPA, TIPA, Black IPA, Red IPA, White IPA, Wheat IPA, Rye IPA, Blue and Green IPAs, and perhaps IPAs as yet undreamt of just waiting to be born...why single out Session IPA? Again, this is a failure of craft beer, not session beer. If the Alstroms really want to be muckrakers, and call for a better brighter world of beer, they need to step up and tackle the real problems.
Snobs. And this is the one that baffles me. "...we find that many proponents of session beer are snobs." Really? Where on earth do you find that? The people I know who are proponents of session beer are mostly just trying to get a couple taps, a few more choices. Complain about people who don't get session beer? Well, yeah, if those are the people who are keeping session beers off the taps! That's not snobbery, that's the same kind of frustration we felt back in the late 1980s when no one wanted to sell craft beer. Just put some on, we'll drink it! Sure enough...Founders makes a lower alcohol beer; it's now their flagship. Odell makes a session seasonal; sells so much they take it year-round. Brewers are finding that if they make a good session beer, it's going to sell well. Of course it is: it's a good beer.

They conclude by saying that these problems have to change for session beers to be truly accepted in the US. Well...okay. I mean, it's not like it's happening already, without the Alstroms' permission or anything. Heh. Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha!

Sorry. In the meantime, tell me: what's it going to take for sour beers to be "truly accepted" in the US? Because while I love 'em, I think there's a much longer list of why they ain't going mainstream anytime soon. Gonna write that editorial next issue, guys?

Monday, April 7, 2014

CHEERS to Odell!

Just a brief note to say CHEERS to Odell for 1) Not calling Loose Leaf a "session IPA; 2)for acknowledging the love and going year-round with it (YAY!); and 3) doing so on Session Beer Day!

Thanks, Odell Brewing! That gets it. As one person said today, "Whatever. If it says "Odell" on it, I'm drinking it."


Why I called Sierra Nevada "wieners" about their Nooner Session IPA

Heh, heh. It says Nooner. 4.8%? Really? Come on, SN! Can't get it down to 4.5? Wieners...

That's what I put up on Untappd* two days ago as my "review" of Sierra Nevada's new "session IPA," Nooner. If I felt really bad about it, or that I was out of line, I'd apologize. This is Sierra Nevada, after all; a brewery and a founder, Ken Grossman, which I honestly revere(and still do), one of a small pantheon of people and companies who can honestly be said to have started or substantially advanced what we generally call craft brewing.

And on Saturday, I called them "wieners."

I don't intend to apologize, because I think I'm right. But I do intend to explain, beyond saying, 'well, you know, I was pretty well into the day at that point, pints of draft, some whiskey, and maybe I was a little jovial.' Which I was, but I stand with Papa Hemingway on this: 'Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.' Or not. Yeah, I had been drinking, but I'm sticking by what I said, and here's why.

"Session IPA" is becoming a selling point, but it's an ill-defined "style" (and yes, that word bugs me some days, but let's work with it for now) at best. Look at the Smuttynose Bouncy House I just posted about earlier today: 4.3%, and they sidestepped the "session IPA" label. Their beer is a hoppy pale ale, but that's not why they didn't call it a session IPA. They did it because they thought it might be a played-out trend in a couple years.

I agree, and that's why, as I said in an interview with the good people at Craft Beer Cellar, the 4.5% bright line is important:
...not so much because of the alcohol. It’s because of the worth of the label. If “session beer” just means “as little as 0.1% ABV less than ‘regular beer’”, it starts to lose meaning. Session beer has to be significantly less than a regular beer in alcohol content. 4.5% is 10% less alcohol than 5.0%; that’s significant. I want it to mean something, and to continue to mean something, so I’m going to be picky.
We weren’t picky about what “craft beer” meant — Is it about who makes it? What it’s made of? What it tastes like? — or what an IPA is (it’s apparently anything someone chooses to call an IPA), and those terms are losing value. I don’t want that to happen to session beer, so I’m using every bit of influence I’ve earned over 20 years of writing about beer to try to fence it off. Making 4.5% a bright line and calling any brewer — like Sierra Nevada, even — to task who calls their beer “session” when it’s more than that, is part of the job. I’ll take flak. There will be backlash. Okay. It’s worth it. This was thankless in the beginning; I can handle it. 

Maybe I wouldn't have called Sierra Nevada "wieners" if I hadn't been drinking, but...hey, they called it 'Nooner' first! So I'm not completely off there.

I'm actually getting more concerned about the lame groupthink and sheep mentality represented by "session IPA," especially since it's Sierra Nevada. I really expected something better from a brewer that has produced an iconic, leading Pale Ale, Barleywine, American Stout. I expected a brilliant Bitter, a fearless Mild. But we got a following beer from a brewer that's a leader. I expect better.

I expect better from the whole industry. I should be happy on Session Beer Day, and to some extent, I am! It's great, we're seeing a LOT more session strength beers from notable brewers, and more and more of them at brewpubs. unending parade of "session IPA"?  

GOD DAMN IT, AMERICAN BREWERS! You're BETTER than this! And I'm not just talking about session. American craft brewing has become a pathetic nation of followers. Look, a sour sold, let's make one! Look, session IPA sold, let's make one! Look, limited edition beers sold, let's make one! I weep for you. Truly. Show some balls, at least come up with your own name, like "fractional IPA."

I think it's significant that the brewer who's become something of the standard-bearer for the Session Beer Project, Chris Lohring at Notch, said this about his own session-strength IPA, Left of the Dial:
So, after all that, how does it taste? Like an IPA, but without any cloying sweetness and booze that fatigues and gets in the way of multiple pints and extended good times. Call it a Session IPA if you want, but to me it’s simply the IPA I’d like to drink, and I think Notch fans would like to drink.
Which makes me think of his Notch Pils; it's not a good session pilsner, it's a good pilsner. So if your beer is a good IPA, call it an IPA. If it's a pale ale...say so. And if it's a bitter, well, God bless you.

Here's hoping for a better selection next year. Now get out there: still plenty of time to get some rounds in. That's where I'm headed. Cheers! Drink small, drink often!

*And thanks so much for not dropping a Session Beer Day badge on us this year, Untappd. I know, I know, we don't have the money to pay you, and those badges cost, wait, they don't cost anything, they're virtual. What the hell, Untappd?

Smuttynose Bouncy House interview

Smuttynose is coming out with a new 4.3% session beer called Bouncy House; it fits into the "session IPA" slot, but they're calling it an "All Occasion American Ale." I talked to Smuttynose brewer David Yarrington about it.  

Fun name, Bouncy House. And I see you call it Bouncy House IPA, but the term "session IPA" is nowhere on the packaging.

It was named by Peter [Egleston]. We went back and forth about that. The decision was to just call it "All Occasion American Ale." In our marketing, we’ll tell people it’s a session IPA, but we wanted to design a beer that wasn’t just a fad, a beer a year from now, people will say, 'Oh, session IPA.' Even using IPA on the label was a back and forth. But anything we can do to stop confusion is good. People like fanciful names! Look at some of the beers people are talking about, they have an interesting name. 

It’s a session IPA; the term people recognize, being a new style, how do you define it, and has it been defined? Isn’t it just an American pale ale?  

We wanted to differentiate from that. There’s a fine line because it’s so low in alcohol and has such a thin body, it can become too bitter. We’re trying to push that line so it’s more than a pale ale. It’s hop-forward. A big part is the low ABV, it’s sessionable. [Oh that word!] When we did pilots, it came down about half a degree Plato in each batch. We wanted to get it in the 4.2-4.3% ABV range, but still have enough mouthfeel.

The last sample you sent me was at 4.6%, and I chided you about it; that's when I was told you were aiming below 4.5%, and this was a work in progress, looking at malt. What did you wind up with on mashbill? 
The mashbill is our silo malt, an English pale, then Aromatic, Crystal 60, and Cara Hell. We wanted to add — the specialty malts are over 10% — more mouthfeel, didn’t want it to be thin, and a little color. We weren’t doing a hi-gravity beer; it starts at 10 P, so we wanted some complexity. Bittering is Magnum, we do a lot of Magnum. Flavoring is Calypso, aroma is a mix of Calypso and Saphir. We don’t know how much it’s going to sell, but we had to contract last year…and it appears that I cornered the market on Calypso! They asked me to release some of that back into the wild… Hey, look at me, I’m one of those guys who bought all the hops! But one of the effects of being as big as we are is that when I think about a new beer, [I have to consider]; if it catches on, am I using a hop that I can get enough of? Everyone wants Citra; what if it takes off? That’s why we like to blend dry hops, we could adjust it a bit if we had to. All those practical things the beer-drinking public doesn’t think about. 

Would you have made a beer like this five years ago?
Interesting question. For me, there was always a desire… at some point in the evening, I’d take a High Life. Charlie Papazian has been vocalizing for session for a long time. But five years ago, could I sell it? People weren’t buying. I thank Charlie for advocating these beers. It would have been hard to sell this five years ago; people were talking about the proof of beers at the time! People were eating it up. If I were running a brewpub, that would be different, 7 barrels would sell out. But Smuttynose is at a different scale.
One of the things I find fascinating is that we’re all aging at the same rate. We all came in when we were younger and could consume a lot. But the vanguard of the industry is aging. I’m in my mid-40s, and I’m not the guy out there drinking 10 pints. It’s nice to have a choice to have a session, have a few beers, chat with people, and still get up and go to work in the morning. It dovetails in with a movement I’m starting to see to German beers. I think you’re going to see more of the lighter helles and k├Âlsches; difficult to brew, but they have a delicacy and complexity. I think that’s going to mesh well with the session beer idea. 

Making an imperial stout is easier than making these beers. We’ve all matured past saying that more alcohol and more flavor means more craft. I love dialing in a smaller beer, they show their imperfections. I don’t remember seeing beer snobs in the 1990s, but now, some of these places and What I liked was that for five or six dollars you could have the best beers in the world. I like wine, but I’d never be able to afford to be a wine snob! I thought that was part of the appeal. But now this seems to be part of the beer snob.

We're told we don't have a beer culture here in America. Could craft session beers change that? 
For years, anyone who came back from England said; wow great time, drink those beers, and have a great time drinking in the pubs. I went, and I totally get what they’re talking about. They’re easy, anyone could sit there all evening. It’s so well-suited for having conversation and a few beers. I hope that’s what we’re moving to. It’s interesting to see other beer cultures and how they go about it. America still has some of that bingeing, some of that Prohibition feeling of ‘this isn’t right, so I better get it done.’ You don’t want people to see you drinking, and that’s a shame. I spent some time in Japan, and one of the things I love is that it’s always shared. You buy a large format bottle for the table, and you don’t pour your own beer; you top off other people’s. It’s a group experience. 

Thanks, David. Happy Session Beer Day!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Stone's new Go To IPA

Quick link to The New School's post about Stone's new "Go To IPA," so I can say a huge


to Stone Brewing for making this 4.5%: not 4.9%, not 4.7%, not 4.6%...but 4.5%. Stone says the beer is "hop-bursted," which they explain this way:
This beer employs the use of the “hop bursting” technique, which in essence is a hopping technique where all or most of the bitterness in the beer comes from late hop additions in the brewhouse, like at the end of boil and in the whirlpool, instead of the more traditional approach where most of the hop bitterness comes from earlier additions at the start of the kettle boil. The result is a beautifully aromatic beer with substantial, but somewhat mellow, bitterness. The hop bursting also enhances the flavor retention of the hops, and combined with the dry-hop, creates a very intense and complex hop flavor.
Whatever: I'm very curious to try it.

And of course, all brewers are encouraged to show us what they're made of and go lower...if they have the balls.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Betting on "session IPA"

Here's a post from a big beer marketing guy who thinks session IPA is going to be a big winner. Check it out; he makes some great points, and the ad campaigns he mentions were some of the most memorable and most effective ones of the era. This whole thing could have huge legs...and maybe lead to something other than session-strength IPAs...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

North Coast XXV Anniversary a 4% session beer

Sorry for the long silence; I was finishing a book, starting a new job, and getting through two massive events (WhiskyFest San Francisco and New York). I've been tweeting about the session beers I've had (@lewbryson), but haven't been able to post for a while. But this news brought me out of the hole:

North Coast Brewing, noted for big beers like Rasputin, Pranqster, and Stock Ale, has decided to celebrate their landmark 25th anniversary with a session beer! Here's the release, from BrewBound:

Fort Bragg, CA – In anticipation of long nights of celebration with the many friends we’ve made over the last 25 years, the brewers of North Coast have created a Belgian inspired session beer designed to promote a festive mood while minimizing the consequences of overindulgence.
Brewed with pale malts and fermented with the same yeast strain used to make Le Merle, our Twenty-fifth Anniversary Ale is sharp and spritzy with a delicious flowery, spicy dry-hop aroma. This limited offering (4% ABV) is available on tap at fine restaurants and drinking establishments. 750 ml bottles will be available at the Brewery Taproom and the Brewery Shop in Fort Bragg, California.

Add this to session beers being noted as one of three trends at the Great American Beer Festival this year,and the fact that I'm out tonight at a Pilsner Urquell event that celebrates and declares its session-strength nature (and drinkability), and you get more and more evidence of the acceptance of the session beer idea.

Once again: brewers, drinkers, marketers, please keep the meaning in "session beer" by using it only for beers at 4.5% and under. We got something going here, and it would be too bad to see it ruined by the same leveling as has hit "IPA," which these days apparently means nothing more than "with hops."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Meanwhile, over in BudMillerCoorsville...

You know how I know session beer is the smart new trend for craft brewers?

Because the big brewers are making higher ABV beers.

Check out this story in Ad Age. ABInBev and Miller Coors are betting big on boozier beers.
That appears to be part of the playbook for MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, which have turned to pricier, higher-alcohol line extensions to recapture share from growing liquor brands. The latest entry: Miller Fortune, which will debut next year at 6.9% alcohol by volume with a marketing strategy aimed at luring millennial males during nighttime drinking occasions.

The brew, in the works for months, follows A-B InBev's recent launches of Bud Light Platinum and Budweiser Black Crown, which both check in at 6% ABV, compared with 4.2% for most light beers. The goal for brewers is to reach variety-seeking drinkers whose habits lead them to the liquor shelf and away from beers their fathers drank. 
(Can anyone tell me what the latest sales curves are like on Platinum? Thought I heard they sucked. Oh, here it is: "Not Even Justin Timberlake Can Save Bud Light Platinum")

Guys, guys, guys...People don't want beer with more alcohol. They want beer with more flavor. And Bud Light Platinum doesn't have beer flavor, it has added flavor, artificial flavor. Session beers have real flavor, and that's what people want. Good luck with the big beers; you're only about eight years behind the curve.

And the Beat Goes On...

Heard from a regular SBP reader recently (and not just any reader: Steven Herberger, the guy who designed our logo!) about something he heard at an industry celebration. I'll let him tell it.
Russ Klisch is a bit excited about this.
Was at a 25th Anniversary tasting for the Milwaukee micro Lakefront recently, and a question was asked of founder/owner Russ Klisch: What do you see as the next big thing in craft brewing?
"I think more sessionable, lower alcohol, but highly flavorful beers are what you'll see next.  We're planning a highly hopped beer with a low ABV." (Not verbatim, but the gist of his answer.)

To which I replied, "That's great to hear."

Yeah, I know: he said "sessionable," and that's verbo non grata around here, but it's the gist of what he said -- as Steven put it -- that's important! That's another solid craft brewing figure who's of the opinion that session beer is the hot trend. Of course, Lakefront's summer seasonal, Wisconsite, is already at 4.4%, so he's putting his malt where his mouth is.

And let me just tell you...there's a LOT more people going to drink (and buy, session beers than there are ever going to be drinking sour beers, the beer that most alpha beer geeks would note as the hot trend.  Sours have their place, and they're trending, and I love 'em (especially now as the weather's heating up again), but it's a niche. Session beer could blow things wide open.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Return of the Mighty Mites Session Festival!

The West Coast is most definitely getting session beer, despite what you might think, given their predilection for big fat IPAs and DIPAs and such. Last year there was a big session fest in Portland called Mighty Mites, for instance...and this year, they're doing it again.

A week from tomorrow, August 18, it's the return of the Mighty Mites. You can get all the details here, at BrewBound, but here's a teaser:

PORTLAND, Ore. — In a world full of Double IPA’s and Imperial Stouts a hero will rise to stand up for the small, lighter, sessionable beers of equal flavor and tastiness.
Faster and tastier than a can of Silver Bullet, The Mighty Mites session beer fest is back for a sequel on Sunday August 18th as part of the Hawthorne Street Fair in front of famed bier bar Bazi Bierbrasserie.

Featuring beers that fall under the “Session” style category as defined by being 5% abv or below [I'll take what I can get...and check the ABVs below; most of the brewers get it.] The Mighty Mites presents a selection as varied as they are flavorful from single hopped IPA’s to tart refreshing Berliner-Weisse’s and Lagers and even a session Cider; our taplist has multiple Great American Beer Fest medal winning beers. These types of beers are perfect for quaffing multiple pints without filling yourself up or over indulging in alcohol and the Mighty Mites street party will make for a perfect summer respite as part of the Hawthorne Street Fair. As part of the annual fair The Mighty Mites will be the only beer garden on the street and the only full street closure on 32nd place just off Hawthorne marking the west side of where the street fair begins.

Partial Beer List:
Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider: “Session-Style Ciderkin”  Under 4% ABV.
Burnside Brewing: lowercase IPA - At 4.8% ABV and 50 IBU.
Green Flash: Citra Session IPA 4.5% ABV, 45 IBU
Eel River: Cali Pale Aromatic dry hopping with Simcoe and Citra hops, 4.8% and 38 IBUs.
Lompoc: Lompeizer  Brewed with Pilsner malt and 30% flaked rice.  4.5% ABV
10 Barrel: Swill  [Been hearing a LOT about this beer.] Grapefruit infused Berliner-Weisse with soda added. More beer and less soda than the traditional radler makes for a great summer beer. 4.5%.
10 Barrel: German Sparkle Party [Straight Berliner, an increasingly popular session style] 4%
Fort George: Devil’s Advocate  Made with 50 lbs of beets, 4 lbs of Blood orange puree, and just enough Citra hops to make this beer pleasantly layered; pours a deep rose color almost magenta with a bright pink head. 4.35%
Widmer: Portlander Weisse  3.4% ABV. Peach ginger and blackberry coriander syrups available.
Hop Valley: 541 Lager A crisp and refreshing American lager. 4.8%
Breakside: Session Brown A rich and full bodied English-style brown ale. SILVER MEDAL, 2012 GABF, ENGLISH-STYLE MILD, 4.0% ABV  14 IBU