Thursday, June 16, 2011

Session gets more good -- smart -- press

Financial news site has a piece on session beers and canned crafts this week -- "Cans? Low Buzz? What's up with Craft Beer?" -- that really does get it. One of the things they get is how session beer is fighting a real headwind: low-alcohol = low flavor/quality.
As craft brewers embrace beers with less than 5% alcohol by volume and can packaging long held to ridicule after being stacked in "beeramids" and smashed against one too many frat boy foreheads, they're battling both for market share in an increasingly crowded segment and against longstanding beer stigmas passed down through generations of drinkers. 
True. But craft session beer also addresses a problem, as ratebeer's Joe Tucker (a strong ally of session beer) points out: 
"We have a 'usability' problem -- average alcohol by volume is way too high to be sipping multiple beers down at the river, cutting the lawn or at the game," says Joseph Tucker, owner and operator of RateBeer, who sees session beer as a solution to craft beer's summer quandary. "High-alcohol beer is more filling, it has more calories and it's dehydrating, and this makes the average craft beer a problem in the summertime."
Can you drink big beer in the summer? Sure: that's what air-conditioning is for. I had an Otto's Double D during Philly Beer Week in the coolly chilled Grey Lodge Pub, and it tasted great. But when I was sweating it at a packed event later in the week, doors and windows open wide to try to get a breath of air into the place? Nice cold Kenzinger, baby.

One problem I continually struggle with is the folks who want to up the definition of session to include 5% and even 5.5% beers. I don't want to get to be an ABV Nazi, but the fact is, if most world beers, if average beers home in around 5%...that makes "session beers" no big deal, and once again stuffs 3.5% beers down into the "not enough" category we've seen expanding in beer judging, and in the pale ale, IPA, and even double IPA categories, a real "go big or go home" mentality that I've pegged as the "get a bigger monkey" syndrome. Keep "session beer" defined as 4.5% and less -- or 4% or less -- and you'll get a more level playing field for these beers, and you will see more creativity and more flavor at that level. We're seeing it already.

Chris Lohring, at The Notch, doing all session beer, naturally thinks a lot about the subject, and offers this:
"If it's fine to call something 'extreme,' and the craft beer community has really embraced that term, then what's so bad about embracing a term that's the opposite of that in 'session'?" 
Indeed. What's so bad about it? What is everyone so scared of? Summer of 2011, baby: the Summer of Session? Finally? 


  1. "Financial news site has a piece on session beers..."

    Think about that opening line a little bit! Awesome.

  2. Session is relative, says I. I've made a case in the past that Brugges Zot, at 7% alcohol, is a session beer for Belgium. (Not when it's steaming hot, but that's rarely an issue in Belgium.) The pour size is right, the refreshment quality is right, the mouthfeel is right, and it's lighter than a hell of a lot of Belgian ales.

    Right, that's two comments in 10 minutes. Back to work.

  3. Tell you what, relative of mine: have three Zots in 90 minutes, and I'll have six similar-sized Avrils, and we'll have this discussion again, eh? Besides, if Zot is a "session beer," what IS Avril?

  4. Well, Lew, in the situation you describe, we would have each consumed the exact same amount of alcohol. I just would have been drinking at a slower pace, which is part of the relativity I noted: Belgians generally drink more slowly than do, say, Britons.

    Avril is, in Belgium, an anomaly. How many other 3.5% Belgian beers can you name?


Comments welcome: please stay on topic. Spam will not be posted; don't bother.