Thursday, April 7, 2011

About that 4.5% number...

A lot of discussion around the blogosphere lately about what the top "limit" on ABV should be for a session beer. There are some militant Brits who loudly proclaim that it's 4.0, and anything above that just isn't session; there are militant Americans who say beers as high as 6% are session beers "for them." Plenty of people say I have no authority to set a limit (they're absolutely right, too).

And then there's this brilliant bit from Martyn Cornell.

Martyn doesn't consider the ABV as important as the "quaffability." When I started this thing, I agreed with that, mostly, but "quaffability" doesn't lend itself to consensus, at least not among U.S. beer blog-readers and BeerAdvocate/ratebeerians. So I used a number.

I still like a 'definition' I came up with almost 20 years ago, when Malt Advocate was still a beer magazine. I was at John Hansell's house, tasting some aged Belgians with him and a couple other friends. They were great beers: fruit lambics slowly giving up their character, some nose-opening lambics (Boon just ain't what it used to be), a vertical of Chimay Blue. But I said (something like, can't remember the exact words), "These are great, but sometimes I like a beer that doesn't stop conversation, a beer that you can all simply enjoy without constantly interrupting your friends' stories to say, 'Yeah, that's great, but do you taste those coffee notes? That's awesome!' There's a lot to be said for Sierra Nevada Pale Ale." Even then, I was groping toward this idea.


  1. Lew, to add to the weight of the abv% argument, the MBAA guide to practical brewing, arguably one of the better series of texts every great brewer should own, they refer to session ales as topping out at 4.2% abv. I know the target is a bit of a red herring but I would strongly agree with a 4.5% maximum for session cred.

  2. I think 4.0% borders on strong in the UK, but in the US it borders on urealistic. Meanwhile 5.0% is mainstream here, and strong enough that many would miss the point. I think 4.5% splits the difference and is as good a number as any other.


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