Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another from England; just a good day for it

Martyn Cornell, one of the new breed of beer history revisionists (and a fearless writer), has a piece up on his excellent blog The Zythophile about "The mystery of sessionability." Martyn was nice enough to provide a quote for me for a piece I did on session beers earlier in the year, and has taken that original quote, in its entirety, and put it here; it was, as he says, much too long for me to use.

But I think that's part of the issue about 'session beer.' It's NOT an easy concept, and that's part of why so many people here in the U.S. don't get it (right, Keith?). Here's the first part of what Martyn says:
I love session beers. I love the way they make a good evening down the pub with friends even better. What makes a good session beer is a combination of restraint, satisfaction and “moreishness”. Like the ideal companions around a pub table, a great session beer will not dominate the occasion and demand attention; at the same time its contribution, while never obtrusive, will be welcome, satisfying and pleasurable; and yet, though each glass satisfies, like each story in the night’s long craic, the best session beers will still leave you wishing for one more pint, to carry on the pleasure.
That's just the start. Go read the rest. It's lovely. And Martyn? Thanks again for the quote!

Oh, now look at that!

One of my favorite 'beery' blogs, Jeffo's Beer Blog, is from a former beer geek/lawyer who threw it off (young, before he got stupid rich) and took over a pub, The Gunmakers, in London. He's quite staunch on real ale, and low-alcohol ones to boot. So when he posted this, I had to pass it along to all of you here. That's five pints of mild, all going to the same lunch table.

Sigh. Makes you thirsty, don't it?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kennett Square Conn-O-Session a success...mostly

The Kennett Square BrewFest's session-strength Connoisseur Session happened two weeks ago, and it was a lot of fun...for most of us. Some very good beers: my favorite was probably McKenzie Brew House's Gringalet ("Weakling"), a 4%...I think Ryan Michaels said it was a 'French lager' with black pepper. I went back several times on that one. Flying Fish -- once they got there, the traffic just purely sucked -- had a real simple special; Casey Hughes took a keg of Xtra Pale Ale, dosed it with a brett culture, and let it sit on the brewery floor for a couple months (I think he said 'months'). Beautifully balanced, not nail-in-the-head funkified, and drink-o-matic. Erie Brewing had a Banana Nut Bread Brown that was dead-on to its name, and had a line most of the session. Stone brought Levitation Ale, Anchor brought Small Beer. Triumph had the GABF gold-winning Kinder Pils...but couldn't serve it, they hadn't realized that they needed two set-ups for the two different sessions, so I just went over there after and drank some. And there was another brewery there that was under the PA radar, so I won't name them, but their Summer Ale and Oatmeal Stout were brilliant, and I drank them more than once, too. Thanks for coming!

The picture -- two bums who insisted I take their picture* -- shows what a gorgeous day it was, after a thoroughly wet, raw, and nasty morning; it cleared up literally as I was walking down the hill to the fest grounds.

Now, about that "...mostly." The most common comment I heard during the session was "I didn't see the thing about session beers on the website!" There were people complaining about the session-strength thing, feeling like they'd been had because they weren't getting their big 'complex' beers. I actually felt bad: I didn't want anyone to be there under circumstances like that. Besides, they were taking up space that real session beer fans could have been in!

Otherwise? Plenty of folks were very happy about it. I drank so much I had to hit the heads three times in two hours, and never caught even the hint of a buzz. Well, maybe a little, after the main fest opened up and I was drinking Otter Creek imperial stout mixed with Wolaver's pumpkin beer. Yum. Groundhog's Kevin (hell, Kevin, I know your last name but I don't have a clue on how to spell it other than it's not "Crucial," sorry) gave me a bottle of spiced cider, and I was embarrassed to admit how much I liked it. But I did press it on a bunch of other people to taste, and they almost all liked it too...with a similar reluctance. We're all babies.

Anyway...was it a success? Yes. It could be better, especially if brewers gave it a better shot; some scrambled to throw something together, some just brought their regular sub-4.5% beers (not that I'd kick either Victory Donnybrook Stout or Sly Fox Chester County Bitter -- on cask! -- out of bed). Will Kennett do it again? Doubtful, because the reason they did it in the first place was to do something different. It wouldn't be different next year. So we'll look for another venue, or maybe try an idea Brendan at Memphis Taproom gave me...we'll see.

*Two bums named Spencer Niebuhr and Ric Hoffman, who, okay, are two of the coolest guys in the biz. The bums.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Avril 'blowout' tonight at Tria in Philly

Just got this tip from the folks at Tria Cafe, about one of my favorite session beers, Avril. Get down there and help drink it up!
We're in love with a rare brew from Belgium's legendary farmhouse brewery, Brasserie Dupont. It's called Avril and at 3.5% ABV it's significantly lower in alcohol than domestic light beers. Oh, and it tastes better.
We're taking Avril off the menu for the colder months, but we're sending it off with a super low price tonight only, at both Tria locations. Help us kick the kegs starting at noon at Tria Rittenhouse and 4 pm at Tria Wash West - while supplies last.
If I could, I would be there...but I'm packing for my trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival tomorrow and writing a story that's due...er...yesterday. So go drink my share.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Brilliant idea from CAMRA (no, really!)

The Campaign for Real Ale has a fantastic idea they're pushing to the UK government, which is simultaneously struggling with the country's boozing problem (drunk youth violence) and imposing ridiculously high and unpopular taxes on beer (whilst claiming there's a connection between the two). CAMRA's brilliant suggestion: zero tax on beers that are 2.8% ABV or lower.

What? 2.8% ABV? Yes, really. CAMRA is showcasing Welton's 2.8% ABV Pride'n'Joy ("Strong in Character. Weak in Confusion.") at the Great British Beer Festival this week. CAMRA chief executive Mike Benner said: "Zero duty on low-strength beer is a win-win scenario for brewers, pubs and consumers. Low-strength beer can be packed with flavour -- low strength does not translate into a reduction in flavour. It also makes it easier for people to drink responsibly."

And with over 100,000 members, its biggest membership ever, CAMRA may have the voice to be heard. The organization estimates that the zero tax option would drop the price of a pint of 2.8% beer by about 60p, a substantial amount that should encourage folks to grab a pint of something reasonable -- and tasty.

Seriously, this is genius. I think the key to successful alcohol policy is not to merely punish folks for doing the wrong thing; we have to reward them for doing the right thing. You're drinking responsibly? Hey, we'll knock down the price of your beer! Question is: will the UK government put its tax policy where its mouth is?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stone Levitation Ale

Small is beautiful.

Less is more.

Who would have thought I'd ever be using phrases like that to describe a beer from Stone, the people best known for Arrogant Bastard (7.2%), Ruination IPA (7.7%), Old Guardian Barley Wine Style Ale (9.5-11.25%), and Double Bastard (10.5%)? Hell, who'd ever have thought I'd be reviewing a Stone beer on the SBP blog? Yet here it is: Stone Levitation Ale, at a lovely and quaffable 4.4%

And it's good. If you're looking for a real California-style pale/amber/red ale, with that pine/citrus wash of hop flavor and tingly hop nose, that you can drink all night...here it is. I cannot fault this beer; it's clean, it's tasty, it's balanced -- on the hop side, but balanced -- and it passes the quaff test. Hats off, Stone: nice job!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Another Voice in Support of SBP

Got this note from Steve Gale, one of the founders and operators of the Burgundian Babble Belt, the place to go for talk about Belgian beers (and Belgian-style, and European beer in general, and other stuff). He tried to respond to the previous post, but his software didn't want to talk to Blogger's software, so he just e-mailed it to me. Take it away, Steve.


Kennett Square BrewFest planners - my hat's off to you. I have been to too many tasting events where it has become apparent that the beers which are held in high esteem are the extreme ones. It breaks my heart that the beer world seems to have become so hard of tasting. So I guess it's no big surprise that some would see a session beer direction as limiting choice and variety. My God. I mean, would anyone say that about the Extreme Beer Festival? How much more limiting is an event that only offers behemoths? But that's sacred, it doesn't matter that the world offers far more variety with low to medium alcohol, non-hop monster brews, if you only offer beers that bludgeon your palette you're a hero.

I don't mean to suggest insult, but IMO if you cannot see variety and choice potential in a strict session beer environment, you really don't get beer. Session beers can be sour, spicy, malty, hoppy, smoky, funky, sweet, bready, fruity, dry, chocolately, roasty, simple, complex, etc. Thank you, Kennett Square, for standing up to the "if its not >9% its not top 10 material" mindset that has taken hold. And thank you Lew, for working to bring back value to non-sledge hammer brews.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

For Those of you Against the Conn-O-Session...

There have been a number of complaints about the Kennett Square BrewFest Connoisseur Session going all session beer this year. The easy response would be, "Bummer, dude. Open your damned mind a little." But that's not right: people are used to the idea of "extreme" beers being where the innovation is taking place in American craft brewing.

So take a look at this -- Shaun Hill, hardly a shrinking violet when it comes to extreme beer -- is returning to the U.S. (to open a new craft brewery) and returning to the Kennett Connoisseur Session...with the following: "I'll bring along some one offs - like a 2 year old Flemish Red, Fresh/Wet Hopped IPA, Smoked Sour Wheat beer (loosely based on a Lichtenhainer - a suggestion by Loren (aka Venom)) - 50% home smoked malt, fermented with Brettanomyces and conditioned with Lacto)." That last one's going to be at the Conn-O-Session, weighing in around 3.9% ABV.

Yeah. Session beers are dull, just bitters and milds. See you at Kennett!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Great session beer coverage in DRAFT magazine!

Zak Stambor interviewed me a while back for a piece on session beers for DRAFT magazine, and the article's out and available online. It's a good piece, and has links to SBP, but the great thing is that it covers session beer in a national beer mag, quotes folks from two exceptional brewers (Greg Hall of Goose Island and Tom Kehoe of Yards) that both have session beers as strong-selling year-round beers, and Stambor doesn't feel the need to take Maxim-style shots at session beer as being weak or unmanly. Thanks for that, Zak.

It's a good piece. Go read it, and send it to your friends.

Mikkeller? A Session Beer? Alright!

As a spelling geek, I hate the construction "alright." It's "all right," dammit. But I'm willing to let the Danes at Mikkeller use it, since they've put it on the label of a brett-fired session beer, It's Alright, which is a spunky, funky 4.5%. Read Minnesota beer blogger ("Legal Beer") Beckel's review of it here.

With darlings of the extreme beer set like Mikkeller (Beer Geek Brunch (Weasel), Black As Hell, Mikkel's Monster) making session-strength beers, maybe we'll start getting through to people who think life begins at 8%.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Conn-o-Session tickets selling briskly

Folks, the Kennett Square Brewfest organizers took a bold step this year. Their Connoisseur Session has been one of the real showcases for adventurous brewing, an anticipated and greatly enjoyed event. This year, they decided to have a "Conn-o-Session," a Connnoisseur Session of all Session Beers.

To tell the truth, we -- the brewfest organizers and I -- loved the idea, but didn't know how it would go over with you, the beer festival-loving public. It was a gamble. We'd received some very negative feedback from folks who, honestly, sounded like they were only interested in high-alcohol beers. Hmmmm... We worried a bit.

I'm feeling pretty good right now. I just heard from the festival organizers: tickets went on sale this morning at 7, and at 10:30, they had already sold 104 of the 300 tickets. You like session beer, you really like it!

Get your tickets: I'll see you there!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bars, Brewpubs: Show Your Support for The Session Beer Project!

The sticker I talked about just below? I did get a sample, and today I went down to Memphis Taproom and watched Brendan and Leigh proudly place it on the side door to the bar (the front one has that nice decorative ironwork). "We have session beers," the sticker says, "come on in!" We toasted it with Cantillon Vigneronne (delicious), and then talked about a big session event for this fall; more about that later.

In the meantime...bar owners, brewpubs, brewers! Show your support for sub-4.5% beer with flavor and balance, and let your customers know you have session beer available, by displaying your own sticker. (The link takes you straight to CafePress, where you can buy the sticker direct; realized that was easier for everyone than having me buy them and have to charge twice for postage.) If you get one and display it, let me know and I'll put up a list here and on our Facebook page.

The rest of you, I decided to scrap the idea of putting something on the back of the t-shirt. I couldn't come up with something I really liked, and it was an additional $4. The logo's good enough. So you can get a Session Beer Project t-shirt here. I wore mine to Mahar's in Albany over the weekend, while I was drinking Fuller's Chiswick Bitter.

Drink up!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

More evidence

Boak and Bailey go on a session beer bender...and wake up "fresh as a daisy." Please, more good low-alcohol beers!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Some projects advance

I know some of you have asked, 'Now that you have a logo, when can we get t-shirts?' Well, I'm experimenting. I got a larger version of the logo, loaded it up on CafePress, and had myself a t-shirt made, in black. It looks good, and that's how we'll go...but I'm thinking about what to put on the back, because the logo deserves (and maybe needs) an explanation. I'm thinking about the definition we have over to the right, tweaked a bit:


Session Beer!

► 4.5% ABV or less
► flavorful and balanced
► conducive to conversation
► reasonably priced
"Thanks, I'll have another!"™

How's that look?

I also had a sample window-sticker run up for bars and breweries to put in their front window, indicating that they endeavor to have at least one session beer (not a mainstream light, and in addition to Guinness!) available at all times. That's the graphic above: what do you think? I think the wording and line graphics enhance the 'interwar" look of the logo itself.

Finally, here's a nice bit about session beer from Stonch's Beer Blog, explaining how Jeff made the progression from big head-bangers to appreciating session beers (and it's not just in there because he says nice things about my blog).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Harpoon Brown Session Ale

I was in the midst of posting this over at STAG when I realized it would be better to put it here. So here we are.

The good folks at Harpoon recently asked me if there was anything in their line-up that I hadn't tasted, anything I'd like to get a sample of (believe me, folks: this does not happen every day! I have a long relationship with this particular brewery). Yeah! Send me some of that Brown Session Ale, if you could. Harpoon's head brewer Al Marzi had told me that he was going to add a session beer when I interviewed him back in 2007, and this was it, but I hadn't had a chance to taste it. So they very nicely sent me some (along with some UFO White, which was real nice, but at 4.8%, it's a STAG review).

I chilled some, and broke one out yesterday afternoon. It does pour brown, and it's aromatic, too: a chocolate touch wrapped around a malt sweetness in the nose. Don't expect cloying, though. It's nicely attenuated (that means it's fermented long enough to eat up most of the sugars), and has enough hop to tidy things up. My only reservation is that it may be a little too dry; I'd almost like to see more malt left in there to bulk up the body just a touch. Good beer, though, and I opened another bottle when this one was done; it held up fine on the 'volume test'!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sorry, I'm under the weather

Haven't been doing much drinking or blogging lately. Allergy season is starting up, and that always makes me stupid and lethargic. (Please, spare me the cheap shots!) Hope to have some good session beer news for you in May, and we should have some SBP-logo merchandise for you as well. Have to figure out what to do with any profits; my taxes are screwed up enough as it is. Wonder if there's a charity for retired beer styles...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

ReSession™ Ale at Elk Creek

From my friends at Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks, a new beer that seems to embody the idea of session beer:

Still waitin’ for your bailout?
Well, we got a bucket for you. Of beer.
Introducing our own little community stimulus...
ReSession™ Ale.
A British-style Best Bitter
Nitrogen-dispensed, dry hopped w/East Kent Goldings
ReSession™ Ale, our first session beer
brewed to give something back:
High quaffability, moderate alcohol, economical price
(Imperial Pints only $3.00)
“pleasing on the palate, easy on the wallet”
Starts pouring tomorrow.

And "tomorrow" is today. So if you just happen to be up near Millheim...embrace the ReSession. Elk Creek is really a great place for a session, and one of these days...I'm doing it. (They've still got a little of the excellent -- and also session strength -- Big Trout Stout left, too!)

Logo Announcement


Well...it wasn't easy.

I'm not sure what I expected when I asked for logos, but the response was great. After evaluating all of them, and your comments, and my own tastes and preferences, I've finally decided to go with Steve Herberger's design, which you see posted here (in a version that incorporates a few post-choice tweaks: the color of the glass outlines and the lettering, a slightly deeper red). Steve gets the $50 honorarium and a firm handshake, and we get a common image: three beers, three different beers, and our tagline: "Thanks, I'll have another!"

Thanks to everyone who designed a potential logo for The Session Beer Project!

Errr... Anyone know how I go about copyrighting this image? Trademarking it? Whatever?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Logo selection: we need your comments!

I need some help.

I asked for submissions for a SBP logo (offering an admittedly scrawny fee) and got seven. They were all good, but I've been unable to pare them down past these four, which I present in random order. (And yes, some of the logos are being tweaked by their designers in response to comments, so keep looking!)

So I'm asking for comment. Not votes, mind you, because as the guy who's doing most of the work for now, I have to live with the winner, so I'll make the final decision, which I will announce next Monday, April 6.

In the meantime, I have decided on the slogan, a last-minute tweak to an earlier suggestion. We're going with Thanks, I'll Have Another! It's friendly, personal, and encompasses the message: good beer, lower alcohol, flavorful, social.

So comment -- and keep it friendly, this is session beer, not e*treme mud-wrestling -- and I'll make my decision in a week, and announce the winner then. Thanks!

My own comments. First shown: I like the font, like the glass graphic a lot; not sure about the red. And I do like using the full name "The Session Beer Project."

Second shown: Like the three different beers. Didn't like the arms at first, but they're growing on me...so to speak. Drew the most positive comments from you.

Third shown: Dramatic, and real beer. Nora's favorite.

Fourth shown: very suitable for a coaster, a project I'd like to try to fund. Maybe too much like a Guinness ad? The shamrock should probably go. Like the compact arrangement.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Chris Leonard on Brewing Session Beer, Part II

General Lafayette owner/brewer Chris Leonard has posted another part of his 'treatise' on brewing session beer at his blog. This one's about how to make session beer that's more than light beer. Interesting stuff, and I'm looking forward to this continuing. The first part is posted here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Tiedhouse: details on the Session Beer Project event

The Tiedhouse, the Philly outpost of the General Lafayette Inn brewpub (20th and Hamilton), has invited me to host a session beer event Monday night, March 9th (tomorrow...). I first mentioned that here, and now I have more details from Chris Leonard.

It all starts at 6 PM. There's a $5 cover, and the session beers will then be available by the flight or full pint. I'll be there with Chris's brewer, Russ Czajka for an exploration of these full-flavored, low alcohol beers. We will discuss history, styles, brewing techniques and nuances that make these beers so appealing.

Beers we have on-line so far include:

  • General Lafayette’s The Economizer (a new, very hoppy 3.5%er from the General)
  • Earth Bread + Brewery Stout (part of 'Philly Weak Beer' at EB+B)
  • Philadelphia Brewing Company Kenzinger (crisp, refreshing)
  • Yards Brawler (the surprise hit from the new Yards)
  • Sly Fox Seamus Irish Red (rolling with fruity esters)
  • Conniston Bluebird Bitter (a classic)

With more to be added! Possibly the largest selection of session beers Philly has ever seen, all at The Tiedhouse tomorrow. Hope to see you there.

(Double-posted from my regular blog, Seen Through A Glass.)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

It comes down to a personal decision

The tagline run-off poll was too even to be effective, so I'm just going to make a decision. The number of logos submitted is at six, with one still being tweaked, so I think we'll have a decision there soon. And when that happens, we'll have a logo and a tagline, something we can think about making into coasters for events, and window stickers for participating bars and brewers, and shirts, and tattoos...temporary tattoos, of course: we're not extreme types.

Got two more logos since I posted this, so it ain't over yet!

Monday, March 2, 2009

"Part of a growing trend in craft brewing..."

Session beer continues to get more press: whether it's because of any push from the SBP or not, it's a good thing. Today's Inquirer had another of food critic Craig LaBan's short beer reviews in the "Drink" featurette: Yards Brawler.
One might expect a "pugilist style ale" to pack a knock-out punch, but the Brawler, the latest hit brew from Yards, scores points like a crafty lightweight with distinctive style and malty finesse.

The Brawler is a "session" ale, a relatively low-alcohol approach (about 4 percent) that's part of a growing trend in craft brewing to counter the high-octane extreme beer movement. It doesn't sacrifice flavor, though, with a malt-forward amber richness that won't cloy or weigh you down after a few rounds (thus the name.)
You bet, brother. A growing trend indeed. More and more session beers are hitting the taps, and they are no longer afraid to flaunt their low alcohol status. The hard-core geekerie may still be calling for big beers -- and I don't mind 'em at all! -- but finally, session beers are getting some attention. That's what I said I wanted over two years ago...and it's happening.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Session Beer Evolution

Chris Leonard has written Part I of an exposition on session-strength beers, and how he's tried -- and tried, and tried -- to sell them at the General Lafayette Inn, and is finally succeeding. Well worth reading for anyone who is learning to love these beers, and there's more -- more technical -- to come.

Session beers at Devil's Backbone

Just heard from Jason Oliver, who's opened a cool new brewpub in the mountains of Virginia, Devil's Backbone. Jason's been brewing at Gordon Biersch DC for years (and other DC-area breweries before that; he's a pro on both sides of the top/bottom-fermenting divide), and has now gone out on his capable own. And he's a big fan of drinkable session beers:
Right now I have two seasonals that fit the bill, the Ale of Fergus English Brown Ale on at 4.5% and the Ramsey's Draft Stout at 4.1%. My year round Helles, called Gold Leaf Lager is around 4.5% as well.
Sounds like a hill trip for a Session is in order.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Recessionale at Flossmoor, Golden at Fifty Fifty

Just heard from the outgoing Matt van Wyk at Flossmoor Station (he's moving on to Oakshire Brewery in Oregon, and good luck to him!):

Hi Lew-
I currently have a beer called RecessionAle. It's a 3% small beer that leans towards American Pale Ale. American mild, if you will? We serve it as the lowest priced beer, to go along with the name. It certainly is not getting the love of our 7.5% IPA (which is $1.75 more per pint) but I love drinking a whole growler at home. Delish! Oh, and our two lightest beers (Golden Ale and American Wheat) hover around 4.5%. Cheers!
And then this from Todd Ashman at Fifty Fifty in Truckee, CA:
We are currently making 'Blonde #1' which is a Golden Ale that clocks in at 4.2%. Selling well and gaining new friends all the time...

Sessionate it!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Session Beer is Without Honor at Devil's Den

Oh, depressing. Cathy and I went out to test-drive TDI Jettas today, then popped down to Devil's Den to sample Flying Fish's Belgian Mild, a second-runnings beer (off their Imperial Porter). It was good, full of flavor, herbal and fresh (and Cathy's Weed Brewing Shastafarian Porter was good too), but the bartender dissed it! Compared it unfavorably to Brooklyn Blunderbuss Old Ale. "A lot better than that stuff," he said. Now, he was good enough to offer a taster of the Blunderbuss, and it was good, but...come on. It's like comparing a dirt bike and a tank for cross-country performance.

Then I asked about the Eel River Organic Pale Ale, and the dude disses pale ale! Said he just didn't think pale ale had much to say. Then he dissed the flagship lineup of Philly Brewing and Brooklyn -- now wait a minute, I said, Brooklyn Lager is delish, I could drink it all day. And the waiter, walking by, does a spit-take laugh and blows a raspberry! "Grow up!" I bellowed. "No one appreciates subtlety any more." So I got a 16 oz. glass of Eel River, at 4.5%, and enjoyed the hell out of it: crisp, hoppy, grassy, light and nimble on the palate, delightful. Ah, me.

Truthfully, the guy did a great job tending bar, talked smart, right on top of things. We had a great time, too, and the apps we got were very nice. But damn me, this strong beer madness gets irritating sometimes.

Friday, February 20, 2009

More press for Session Beer

I just got interviewed for a piece on High-ABV vs. Session Beer for the Philadelphia Weekly, part of their Philly Beer Week coverage. Like I keep saying, this is the Year of Session Beer. No way this story would have even been thought of two years ago. We need to keep talking it up. Thanks to the Philly-area brewers who are backing SBP up with great beers!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Philly Beer Week gets Sessional

We have a (soon-to-be) official Philly Beer Week/Session Beer Project event! Chris Leonard is still working out the details, but we'll be doing an all-session beer event at The Tiedhouse (Chris's new place in Philly: 2031 Hamilton St., 215-561-1002) on
Monday March 9th, at 6 pm.
Still to come: price, menu, beer list, and all that jazz, but we'll have that soon, and I'll just post it here as it comes in. I'll be talking about what session beer is and why it's getting popular, and I hope to get Chris to talk about how brewing session beers is different from brewing big beers. (Chris won't actually be there; he's got an event at the General the same night, but his brewer, the beloved Russ Czajka, will be there, and can get down and geeky with you. I'm trying to talk Chris into writing us a treatise on session beer, to be posted here.)
If you can't wait that long, Chris also told me that he's got a new session beer coming on next week: "Our new low-alcohol offering -- a dry-hopped, hop infuser-poured APA (Columbus and Cascade hops) at 3.5%, called The Economizer -- will be ready to go next week." Looking forward to that.

Do we have a winner?

The poll's over, and the winner, with a solid plurality, is Good Enough to Have Another. But since I posted that poll, someone sent in a logo proposal with a tagline on it: "Good beer is good company." I like that, too, and both of them really get at the idea of session beers.

So I think we're going to have a run-off. Please take the time to vote again, thanks!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Session beer in the Times

Forgot about this one: there was a piece in the New York Times last August about session beers. I do feel foolish about forgetting this one, because this quote, from well-known importer Don Feinberg, was what really re-kindled the session beer fire for me:
“A bunch of guys talk in the market,” said Don Feinberg, a founder of Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y., and an importer for Vanberg & DeWulf there. “We’ve all been saying the same thing for about 18 months now, which is, enough of the high octane.”
I was quoted briefly, but my main contribution to the piece was directing the writer to some of the other people she talked to. Which is just what I want to do with the Project. I want to help brewers, publicans, retailers, and beer drinkers get together over session beers. That's all. We can do it together: spread the word!

Philly Weak Beer!

As Uncle Jack has reported (and used as a springboard for yet more regrettably personal abuse of my own sweet self), Earth Bread + Brewery has scheduled an session beer 'event' during Philly Beer Week. They're going to expand their session-strength taps to run all session beers all week, house-brewed or local, from March 6 through the 15th, an idea they're calling Philly Weak Beer.

Ordinarily, I'd say this was a good thing. However, I've been sampling Tom Baker's session-strength beers at EB+B since he opened, so I'm going to have to say that this is a totally brilliant thing.

What's even better...I'm putting together another all-session event for Philly Beer Week, and if we can pull it off, I'll make an announcement about that later this week.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

We have a festival!

I am very pleased to announce that the Kennett Brewfest for 2009, a noted beer festival in Kennett Square in suburban Philadelphia, will be featuring Session Beers at their perhaps even more noted connoisseur session, a Conn-o-session, they're calling it. Brilliant.

Here's the release, from Brewfest beer honcho Jeff Norman:
The board of Historic Kennett Square, along with the Kennett Brewfest committee enthusiastically approved the concept of the Kennett Conn-o-session serving all 4.5% (or close) or less session beers during this years Connoisseur tasting. We are thrilled to follow the lead of “the year of session beer” and look forward to unique offerings from local, regional, national, and international brewers. This is a 180 degree departure from previous Connoisseur tastings at Kennett but no less exciting. We constantly strive to make this event unique with respect to brewfests. I already have commitments from 8 breweries and all have been very enthusiastic.
Sorry about getting carried with my usual enthusiastic bolding, but I was pretty excited. Jeff and I have been back and forth on this for about a week, wondering about how to best do this, whether it would be well-received, whether it would even be possible. But Jeff took the bull by the horns, presented it to the Committee, and made it happen.

As Uncle Jack has already noted (Jeff sent the release to both of us, Session Guy and Favorite Son, at the same time, but I was at rehearsal), this may cause some wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the geekerie. They're used to getting their big fat double everythings with extra helpings of hops and brett. It's risky to piss these folks off, but if they don't want to buy the Conn-o-Session tickets, maybe someone else will get a chance to go!

I've also got word of another session beer festival forming up in California. And the year's just beginning. I'm telling you, folks: this is The Year of Session Beer!

Is the End of Empire Near?

Okay, I doubt that the big imperial beers are going to disappear any time soon. But I do sense just the beginnings of a shift in the tides away from the big fat beers that keep getting crazier and crazier.

That's why I wrote this piece in Ale Street News, called "An End of Empire?" Here's the heart of it:
Big beers inevitably cost more, and as layoffs domino through the economy, there are fewer dedicated followers with the money to buy them. But still they get bought, because the hype on imperials is reaching into the mainstream, and trendy consumers are willing to pay wine prices for them – for now. One example: Samuel Adams Double Bock was about $8 for a six-pack, a very reasonable price. The new, bigger Imperial Double Bock, part of the Samuel Adams “Imperial Series,” is $10 – for a four-pack, an increase of 80 percent. Beer enthusiasts are getting vocal about prices they think are gouging them.
It isn’t just price, either. With the sale of A-B to InBev, craft brewers are thinking about how to capitalize on their status as true American-owned breweries, and it’s a snap that most Americans don’t want anything imperial. The most common complaint about craft beers is that they have “too much flavor.” Brewers are making the adjustment. Full Sail is doing well with its Session Lager, Harpoon’s booming along with their American hefe, UFO. They’re smelling opportunity, and it’s not in another small-batch, high-end imperial whatzit.
Beer drinkers may be sensing it, too. Here in Philly, Tom “Heavyweight” Baker’s new brewpub, Earth Bread + Brewery, is successfully selling two out of four taps at under 4%, and Yards Brawler, at 4.2%, is seeing a lot of interest and attention. Scott Smith’s East End Brewing in Pittsburgh has a line of Session Ales that have been consistent sell-outs, interesting and drinkable. It’s quiet — no dance music — but it’s happening.

We'll see what happens. I just got word of a major session beer event...and I don't think it's going to be the only one this year.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Smallville: another article on session beers

There's another article online about session beers, in Imbibe magazine. I'm quoted in it, but it was written by Adem Tepedelen, who I was fortunate enough to meet in Denver last fall when we both won Michael Jackson Beer Journalism awards. Adem's a good writer and a nice guy, and he did a great piece here. Take a look.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Session Beers in All About Beer

I've got an article on session beer in the latest issue of All About Beer. I've picked up some nice compliments on it already from brewers and drinkers, and one just suggested I share it here. So I am. Pick up a copy at your local beer or homebrew store.

Two sample paragraphs:
"Strength doesn’t, I think, have that much to do with it," [Martyn Zythophile"] Cornell said firmly. "What makes a good session beer is a combination of restraint, satisfaction, and ‘moreishness.’ Just like the ideal companions on a good evening down the pub, a good session beer will not dominate the occasion and demand attention; at the same time its contribution, while never obtrusive, will be welcome, satisfying, and pleasurable. And yet, though each glass satisfies, like each story in the night’s long craic, the good session beer will still leave you wishing for one more pint, to carry on the pleasure."

and...
Then relax and enjoy. That’s one of the best things about session beers: you can think about something besides your next beer. You can finally become more of a beer drinker, and less of a beer geek. And you and your friends will find that you have more in common than just beer, and maybe you’ll learn a new card game, and maybe – could we get another round? Yeah, the same – you’ll make some new friends, and maybe instead of constantly beer-hunting, you’ll become a regular and develop a local pub. Hey, even Michael Jackson had a local.

Hope you can find it, hope you enjoy it!

Monday, February 9, 2009

SBP on Facebook

I've created a Session Beer Project page on Facebook. If you do that thing, have a look. It's all about spreading the word. Do what you can.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Homebrewing Session Beers

I took your suggestion, and suggested a Session Beer homebrewing competition to the American Homebrewers Association. Here's their response, from Project Coordinator Janis Gross (who we like; check out what she's brewing!):

Thanks for sending us your link and your thoughts about something I'm really big on too! I'll definitely check out your blog, and I may even be able to post the link with one of the Big Brew recipes this year, English Mild. (It appears that this year's Big Brew recipes aren't up yet; I'll link to them here when they are. Meantime, here's last year's Chiswick Bitter recipe (in all-grain, or extract-plus), an ordinary bitter brewed in honor of the extraordinary life of Michael Jackson.) I have been championing session beers for some time now, and the mild recipe will be the one I brew for Big Brew.

As for your reader's comments about having a competition for session beers, we had a Low Gravity/Session Beers Club-Only Competition 2 years ago (February 2007) that was hosted by the Maltose Falcon Brewing Society club who are renowned for their giant beers. (Results are here; and the Maltose Falcons may be renowned for giant beers, but as I found out, they do a pretty damned good mild, too!)

The Club-Only Competitions (COCs) are the only competitions the AHA puts on apart from the National Homebrew Competition. The COC schedule is currently booked through May 2012 and there is one session style competition scheduled for January/February, 2010, a year from now. That competition is being hosted by the Impaling Alers in Kent, WA.

The styles for the COC are for the most part chosen by the hosting club from a list I provide. My policy is to not repeat a BJCP style for 3 years, so my available BJCP style list is always changing. I don't see the AHA specifying a Session Beers competition to be one of the 6 COCs each year, but I could be wrong.

So there you have it. Now...if any of you who homebrew would want to start up a session beer competition in their local club (ahem...Bob), I'd be happy to post about that here if you let me know. Meantime, I'll see what I can do about prodding the Philadelphia homebrew scene on sessions.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bar Owners: make more money with session beers

Maybe you're a bar owner, and you're wondering, will these low-alcohol session beers really sell? Here's a note from Drew Topping, who runs Piper's Pub on Pittsburgh's South Side (great place, highly recommended). He's got three hand-pumps pouring cask ale, and...well, here's what he said.
Most of the beer we get for cask consumption is session ale. We also get a knock about the great number of European Sessions we have on tap but with the bulk of consumption during our Live English Soccer matches being between 7am and noon, that is what our clientele likes to drink. And as you say, the volume of sales makes up for the Hophead's disappointment.
"Volume of sales." That's session beer in a nutshell for the bar owner. Once you start serving a tasty, drinkable beer that doesn't get your customers all banged up, you'll see them drinking more and more of it. Everyone's happy...but not too happy. Which is the whole point.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Two Logos Submitted

Two people have sent in prospective logos for the projects. One thing's clear already: asking other people to do this instead of trying to do it myself was a very good idea. Keep 'em coming!

Two more as of 2/5...

Monday, February 2, 2009

More Support

Another blogger has posted in support of the SBP. He's getting it, thought I'd rather see session beers at bars first.

For almost a year, I’ve been saying how much I’d like to see a Seattle session beer festival. All the festivals here are packed with double this, imperial that, with everything at 7% ABV or higher. There are always a few solid, lower alcohol options, but those are in the minority. How cool would it be to go to a beer fest and have 20 samples (hopefully most of which were flavorful and interesting), and come away with nothing more than a slight buzz?
...
So I’m carrying the flag for Bryson’s cause here in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe we can get local brewers to consider making styles we don’t normally see in these parts: milds, bitters, a variety of lagers, etc. Who knows? If this movement gains momentum, maybe Seattle Session Fest will become a reality.

Okay, I'll admit it, I'd like to go to a session fest again too. It's so good to drink for two or three hours and not get all polluted!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Score! I found some nice SB in NJ

I was over at the Mt. Holly Fire & Ice Festival yesterday, signing books with Mark Haney at the little beer festival High Street Grill put on. $20 for a one-hour session, three times, in a tent in the street, and it was rocking. Some excellent beers, those who went definitely got their money's worth. I was getting River Horse Hop-alot-amus (their new DIPA, good stuff, and not all piney/grapefruity, either), Smuttynose Robust Porter, and Founder's Porter, all quite nice and repeatable. Mark and I ducked into the Grill to warm up between sessions; cool place, good taps (whisky, too: I got a snifter of Caol Ila that really satisfied that warming need), and I'll have to go back when it's not so crazy.

But after everything was over, I walked down to Red White and Brew, a small but well-stocked package store just down High Street that I've been using for a few years now when I have a tasting in the area. I needed to pick up some beers for a beer cocktail piece I'm writing, and RW&B always has good stuff. And while I was looking, I saw bottles of Tomos Watkin's Cwrw Brâf, a wonderful session ale (4.2%) from Wales. "Ho ho," I called out, "you've got the Cwrw Brâf! This is great!" And the wonderful woman at the counter (Stacey?) says, "I've got cases of the OSB, too, only $18." Bonus, I'd been wanting to try it! So I came home with 4 bottles of Cwrw Brâf, and a case of OSB (4.5%).

Good session drinking for Super Bowl, coming right up!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Another Country Heard From

The ball is rolling. Joe Stange at Thirsty Pilgrim, an American blogging about beer while living in Brussels (the dog!), has posted this about Belgian session beers. Most American beer geeks don't realize it, but Belgium has just as strong a session beer -- "table beer" -- tradition as their strong beer tradition. The UK gets it, the Czechs get it, Belgians get it...what more examples do you want, folks?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Pints...okay, more like, maybe, 20 pints

Since I've declared this to be The Year of The Session, and we're getting some traction, we need to start pushing the idea. Every good blog campaign has a graphic, a logo: Jeff Alworth's Honest Pint Project, our own beer blogfest The Session (guess I can't use that), Rick Lyke's outstandingly appropriate Pints for Prostates... I'm behind the curve here!

So I'm asking for a logo. I'm good with words, but I suck at creating graphics. I'd like something fairly simple, but not cheesy. The log should include at least one glass of beer -- more or the suggestion of more would be good -- and I'd prefer a photo of a beer rather than a graphic. It should include the words "Session Beer Project", and room for the winner of the upcoming tagline poll (leave space for about five words, dummy in some lorem ipsum in the chosen font, and we'll fill in the tagline later), and a small "sessionbeerproject.blogspot.com" along one of the margins. I would prefer to avoid light green and orange...just don't like 'em.

I can't afford much, but I will pay $50 for all rights to the winning logo. I don't like to work for free either, but I do work for cheap sometimes. If this doesn't produce one I think is just right, I'll hold off and try again later. My judgment is final, of course: this isn't a contest, it's a project.

So if you've got that creative flair, let it fly! Show me what you think crystalizes the idea of the Session Beer Project. You'll get the pleasure of having helped with the Session Beer Project, you'll get that fifty bucks, and you'll get a design credit. Wow, living the dream...have another session beer, bucko.

Pennsylvania's newest brewpub onboard with SBP

Just got a copy of the e-letter from Old Forge Brewing, the new brewpub in Danville, PA (thanks to Sam Komlenic for forwarding it to me). Sounds like things are going well: sales are strong enough that they're having to brew often to keep the taps full, they've started live music, and the chef is now doing weekly specials. But the lead item, the one that caught my eye, was this:

For the past few weeks we had a "name that beer" competition. The ale is an easy drinking British mild, light bodied but dark and malty, a low alcohol session ale. The name that was chosen is Sensessionale! We did have some suggestions that we would like to share with you, hoping that it brings a smile to your face as they did for us: "Thomas had a big brown beaver ale", "I'm not larry ale", "what the ale", and "braveheart ale – long live William Wallace" and some others that aren't fit to print! A big 'Thank you' goes out to everyone who tried to "name that beer".

That's what I like to hear! Old Forge is on the breaking front of the newest wave in American brewing: session beer. Okay, maybe I'm overstating it to make my point, but maybe not. I'm seeing a lot more interest in session beers, and I'm going to predict right here that the Session Beer category at the 2009 GABF will see a large increase over the number of entries in 2008 (33), and there may be more in the two Mild Ale categories as well.

Cheers to Sensessionale and the folks at Old Forge! Can't wait to get up there and try some.

(previously posted on Seen Through A Glass -- the only time this will happen, promise!)

It's Official

After a couple years on this thing -- on and off, actually -- I'm doing what I should have done then, and giving The Session Beer Project a home. I'm sensing a shift in the beer currents -- that's what my February "Steaming Pile" column in Ale Street News is about, I'll link as soon as it's up -- and I think that this is going to be a big year for the comeback of session beer in America.

What's going to happen? Don't know yet. But I'm going to do what I can to get the word out on session beers -- see the definition at the top right of the page -- and see what we can do to get brewers to make them, bars to carry them, and you, my friends, I'm going ask you to drink them.

Brewers and importers: if you've got year-round beers that are under 4.5% ABV, that are flavorful -- sorry, no mainstream light lagers need apply, that's just how it is -- and available, let me know. If you can, send samples (along with notes on distribution): I'll be happy to post tasting notes here. If we're right -- and by 'we' I mean myself, some influential bar owners I know, and some industry people -- there is a market waiting for tasty, lower-alcohol beers, and the good one that makes it to market first is going to have a substantial edge. Start thinking.

Bar and restaurant owners/managers (and that means you brewpub folks, too): if you get the right session beer on -- meaning one that tastes good -- you can substantially increase your sales. Think about it: would you rather sell thirty glasses of El Mondo Grosso Imperial Stout at $6 a glass, or seventy-five glasses of Lulu's Luscious Ale at $4 a glass? Session beer is good at the register, and it's safer for your customers (and your liability). It also makes your bar a more attractive spot for folks who want to hang out for more than an hour, and not get all drunked up (and isn't that the kind of customer you want?).

Drinkers! It's a common taunt: "People who drink light beer don't really like beer; they just like to pee a lot." Well...if you're going out to drink beer, why get hammered on two or three huge beers? If you really like to drink beer, why not find a good, flavorful session beer and have five? I mean...if you like drinking beer, and the conviviality and social fun that goes with it, why not have a beer that lets you keep doing that longer?

Session Beer in '09. Working to make it happen.